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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Whenever possible, I try to squeeze in a destination birthday. This year I was lucky to be able to ring in a new year in Colombia. It just so happens that my birthday coincides with one of the biggest celebrations in the country: Medellin‘s Feria de las Flores, the flower festival.

Medellin is a flat city surrounded by mountains. In the past, the city’s elite would get up the hills surrounding Medellin on the backs of slaves. The cart-like devices used to transport the wealthy were called silletetos, and after the abolition of slavery, they were filled with flowers rather than rich people as a liberation celebration known as the Feria de las Flores.

The festival is held over the first 10 days of August. This year was special with the festival ending on a weekend. On the eve of the culminating day, which also happened to be my birthday, people gather in Santa Elena, a town on top of one of the mountains that surround Medellin where the silletetos are made, for eating, drinking, and revelry. People paint themselves black and wear large fake chains. There were also a number of men in (comically non-convincing) drag, although I never got an explanation of the historical context behind that tradition.

Sunday’s parade, which marks the end of the festival, drew the biggest crowd I have ever witnessed anywhere. Plazas are packed with people and vendors, and the streets are lined several rows deep with people for miles along the route. It was impossible to get a spot with a decent view and I relied on putting my camera above my head to get photos. The atmosphere was intoxicating, as was the cheap beer being consumed by virtually everyone.

If gigantic, unique cultural events are your thing, I highly recommend visiting Medellin in early August. The Feria de las Flores was like nothing I’d ever seen and is something I will never forget.

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