Monday, November 21, 2011

Big Holiday Weekend

11/11/11 is also the anniversary of Colombia’s Independence from Spain.  Well, maybe I should say Cartagena’s Independence, since they were the first ones to declare and it seems to have taken a while to get it all together. In any event, it’s the holiday  of the year. Flags are flying. Decorations hang from the trees in the parks in Centro, and line the streets. There’s a  parade somewhere every day, starting with children and getting progressively wilder as the weekend progressed. Being otherwise occupied, we didn’t attend any, but we enjoyed watching the peripheral activities and the TV reports.
paraders forming
Down in the barrio by the boatyard, Doug is ‘held up’ by children operating a mini-toll booth with a string across the road; any coin will get him thru it, and a whole lot of giggling ensues.  Among other popular past=times are throwing water at people (Doug got dumped on by two young women on the fifth floor of a highrise, but the water had ‘fallen apart’ before reaching him), powdering them with Maizena, and squirting them with foam.  You might also get 'held up' by youths with something black and messy looking in their bucket - probably they prefer bills! The boat yard workers have a half day off, and then a full day, and I’m glad for them, considering how much weekend work they put in dodging the rainy season.truck water for splashing passersby
I watched these folks splash a passer-by out of their big blue barrel, but they stopped when the police on the motorcycle passed.
A taxi driver warned us against drunks and pickpockets of course, but after watching some young bucks chugging aguardiente in the back of the bus, we knew that!
Friends in the anchorage reported that the boat parade consisted of large rowing boats each with a beauty queen as figurehead. What we saw from our balcony looked more like a giant raft-up that formed twice, once near Centro and again in front of Boca Grande. There were hundreds of boats. Where did they all come from?
And each one was packed with folks. Doug wondered if they all had lifejackets; I wondered where all those women would pee!
The main event of Independence Festivities, at least in Cartagena, however, is the national beauty pageant.  Miss Colombia  is selected this weekend. and she will go on to compete in Miss Universe contests, as well as be given sponsorship contracts, clothing, jewelry, perfume, even, a taxi driver told us, a Rolex watch worth two thousand dollars. At least one past Miss Colombia also received ‘a mansion from the government.’ Being Miss Colombia also may guarantee the winner ‘minor celebrity’ status for life. One, out of office for 25 years, was suffering from some kind of botched plastic surgery, I read in a society magazine, in the dermatologist’s office!
From what I’ve seen, these Señorita Colombias look like Barbie dolls, all in matchy-matchy outfits and there’s not a one who doesn’t look ‘perfect’ in every conventional respect; or wasn't helped along by a plastic surgeon, say certain observers. The critique is that they represent the richer, whiter segment of society.
I even noticed, in Boca Grande, posters on the phone poles of contestants hoping to lure votes, plastered over posters of less attractive political candidates from last month’s election. For these women, it didn’t help. So, there’s also an alternative contest, for the Queen of the Barrios (Miss Independence), and here, while the girls are beautiful of course, they’re a lot more varied in appearance, and the prizes are significantly smaller. Last year's crown was donated by a metal-plating company, for example.
The controversy about these contests, according to a report last year in the NY Times, can be summarized like this: href="">
Here’s the short version-
“One pageant portrays Cartagena as its elite wants it to be seen: rich, white and glamorous,” said Elisabeth Cunin, a French sociologist who studies Cartagena. “The other reflects the reality of the city as the majority of its inhabitants know it: poor and neglected, a complex mix between racial domination and an emerging current of black consciousness.”
The national pageant, founded here in 1934 as a tourism linchpin, employs a multilingual staff at an air-conditioned building in Parque de Bolívar in the old center, attracting sponsors like Edox, a Swiss watch manufacturer. The municipal contest, created in 1937, operates on a shoestring budget from a crumbling structure a few blocks away.
Few nations, with the exception of neighboring Venezuela, attach as much importance to such pageants. In addition to Miss Colombia and Miss Independence, Colombian juries award many lesser titles, like Miss Plantain and Miss Coal. Cellblocks in a Bogotá women’s prison have their own pageants. One town in northern Colombia takes it even further, putting makeup and wigs on its donkeys then parading them for its annual Miss Burro celebration.”
And, if you’ve got ten minutes and bandwidth, here’s a  YouTube video (with music) by a bouncy CuriousTraveler, with bits of video from each contest (last year) which I came across while I trying to find a picture of this year’s winners. Drumroll: Here’s the winner of this year’s Miss Colombia “following a rigorous competition of beauty, wits and winning smiles”, says, from whence this picture came. Daniella made the front page and the contest got several pages in the Society section of the paper El Universal.
In the alternate contest, Miss Independence (Reina de los Barrios)got a full-length photo in the middle of the paper, plus a photo of her parents, but her webmaster maybe hasn’t posted her yet, that I have found.
Reina de los Barrios1
There is certainly no shortage of beautiful women in Cartagena. But one taxi driver assures me that there are even more beautiful women in Medellin. In Cartagena, though, they have better bodies, he thinks.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Room with a View


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We’re living in the lap of luxury here in Cartagena,  during our time in the boatyard, at least for three weeks. We’re in a  Gleaming Contemporary Studio Apartment full of Nice Stuff, on the 12th Floor of edificio Vista in the Manga district, up where the pelicans fly,  with a Most Scenic View  Over Historic Cartagena and Castillo San Felipe.  We stroll in after our 15-minute bus commute from the boatyard, take off our clothes and put them in the Washing Machine, get a Cold Drink with Ice from the Full Refrigerator (Shelves! Light! Self-Cleaning!) and then drift up one floor to the Rooftop Jacuzzi and Infinity Pool – fine places to bask and admire the sunset pastels and rehydrate after a hot day. The Big-Headed Shower with Hot Water pours down unstintingly, although the 5x5 (that’s feet!) Mirror has Shocking and Malign powers. Sometimes we even eat Food Not Prepared At Home. Then we Relax in Air-Conditioned Comfort before our various Entertainment Devices until the Lure of the Most-Comfortable and Well-Clad King-Sized Bed proves irresistible.


And it’s all ours until the middle of November, when we retreat back down to earth. Life is Grand.

The  voyeur in me is happy for such a good spy perch, the neatnik (yes, there is one!) mops and fluffs and makes the bed every morning;  the wastrel lavishly fills the spaghetti pot all the way full of water, and has left lights burning in non-occupied areas. Doug claims that somewhere in India there’s a power failure because of me. I think he’s going to wear out the TV remote. For extra fun we take the trash to the chute and listen as it tumbles down 12 stories. As you can see,  we’re Living Large.

We’re supposed to be strolling the town in the evenings, but between the nice digs, the pool and the balcony and the luxurious ease and ambiance of our aerie, not to mention the fast internet, the satellite TV, and climate control, we generally stay put and let the entertainment come to us. The big sky, the passing scene, we gawp at it all.  Last night Cartagena delivered fireworks, front and center.


Meanwhile, the other half of life is at Manzanillo Marina Club down in the Bosque barrio, where Galivant is propped on a few locally-built jackstands. Its innards are torn  open and it’s a veritable dustbowl on deck as we make some fiberglass repairs and get ready for painting.

“We” mainly means Flavit  and his crew who are doing the dirty work. Not doing the work turns out to also be a chore.  Every day offers a new illustration of the ways in which assumptions can mutate. Good thing that we’ve gotten a little less anal as we ourselves become a little less perfect. ‘It’s only a boat’ we remind ourselves. And a good thing too that Flavit is so pleasant and accommodating. Doug has lots of carpentry projects, and I am relieved to be the designated shopper,  researcher and communicator. I can do a lot of that from ‘home’.

The fact that we can escape the heat and grime each day has a lot to do with our mellowness. I sure will be sorry to descend that elevator for the final time, get  buzzed out the plate glass doors by the security guard, knowing that if my smiling face appears the next day I won’t get past the desk!

A few associated photos can be found here:

PS: even on the twelfth floor, the ants trek up over the edge of the balcony. How did they know I was here?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quick Flight to Florida

From the slow lane to the jet set, she does it all! Climbed down the ladder at 9:30 in the morning in Cartagena and laid my grateful head to rest on super-deluxe high-thread-count sheets in Lake Worth Florida a mere 12 hours later.

Florida by air 2

PHOTO aerial view of somewhere in Broward County

Momentum was building – we needed more stuff, a new computer with an American keyboard, and without Colombia’s crippling import duties. Bottom paint  that we could use without sanding off all the previous applications. Odd bits and pieces like blades for a Fein tool,  a GPS receiver for a computer. Upholstery and awning fabric. Mail for the last six months. So by golly I hopped on a plane and got it all. This after I heard what a friend had paid to have some prescriptions Fed-Exed to Colombia – it cost more than my flight on Spirit did!

Funny how you can just slip right back into the 65mph life, warm up the credit card and sign sign sign as if there were no tomorrow.


PHOTO Our new stuff on the pallet at International Business Cargo, Miami to Barranquilla shipping service.

I packed up a couple blue plastic crates of ‘hazardous materials’ lined with a new wardrobe from my aunt (and Goodwill!), schlepped them down to Miami and with only a few bumps they arrived at the boatyard in Cartagena a couple weeks later.

The worst part of the trip was the 2-hour drudge march through the line in front of US customs, which had my Colombian seatmates laughing about American pride in their superior ways!

Clearly the real estate bubble has had a real bursting effect on many lives- tales of woe abound -but the malls and highways of the former Everglades peninsula are still full. Florida seems like its same old oblivious self, so many constituencies at cross-purposes.

I enjoyed my visit, enjoyed my stay with my uncle and aunt, but also enjoyed getting back to a life for which I am perhaps a little better suited.


caribbean water and cloud reflections from 30k ft

PHOTO water streaks and cloud reflections over Caribbean