Friday, August 6, 2010

En Barranquilla (y Cartagena) Me Quedo!!!!!

Hola!!!!! OK, I know this whole tour chronicle has been a slow process...there was just so much to see that I feel like I need to do it this way. I am in Brazil now and I'm still talking about Colombia. I just wanted to give you guys an exhaustive report.

For the sake of speeding this up, I am going to skip the last portion of my Colombia tour in Bogota because I already talked about Bogota in the beginning. Nothing very interesting happened during the last few days in Colombia. Also, I am going to skip Cali because I was there for like 1.5 days and couldn't take any pictures. All I can say about Cali is the hotel was nice, the concert venue was awful, and the city actually felt dangerous to me, a person who never feels in danger.

Ok--this was my favorite part of Colombia, El Caribe!!!!! Que bello! It reminded me a lot of DR and it felt like I was home...the humid air, palm trees, mucha salsa, the food, el desorden. Everything reminded me of DR.

Cartagena, as I told my parents, to me is a combination of San Pedro de Macoris, DR's feeling, Isla Verde Beach in San Juan, PR and the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo (only nicer). It is poor. When you land at the airport, to the left you see high rises and the colonial neighborhood. To the right you see shanty towns. The airport very literally stands between the two. It is a very polarized city.

The first thing I saw when riding in the taxi was Black people. Lots of Black people. In other Colombian cities you see them but they are a majority. In Cartagena son mayoria, by FAR. They live poorly, lots of dirt roads, etc. But it's, again, that Caribbean poverty that is a little different...miserable and precarious but colorful and somewhat optimistic. The women look well put-together, especially in the hair department....good prospects for El Mundo del Cabello/Antillean Beauty!

Hotel Caribe was GORGEOUS!!!! Very Old-School Caribe (Trujillo and Batista days, unfortunately). The hotel staff was much friendlier than in other cities (no more Natalies to torment me). Emma and I ran some errands and got a chance to see the colonial shell, very old world and chic at the same time. We had food and went to sleep because we were EXHAUSTED. The next day was another story...

Day 2 was concert day. Rehearsal was at the hotel, so staff had the morning off. Emma and I went for a walk on the was kind of disappointing actually. We were happy to see sun after the Macondo rain, but the sand was dirty-looking, which made the water grayish-blue...not Caribbean looking at all. Also, DR style salespeople on the beach were ANNOYING. The same BS: "trenzita, masaje!!!" NO THANKS! No GRACIAS. SUELTAME!!!! I had a talk with one of the ladies and told them how annoying they were, in a good way. I said "if you want tourists to buy from you they have to like you, and they will despise you if you get in their face like that. Let them come to you". She agreed and we talked for a little while, and before I left she asked me if I wanted braids....back to square one. Que estupida.

The afternoon sound check in the Plaza de la Aduana was nice, seeing el famoso Joshua Bell en persona was ok...nothing glamorous, really. But the musicians were really excited to play. Emma and I walked around the barrio colonial and had a beer.

The concert was great, artistically speaking. What was sad was the small audience. It was in an open to the public. It was the night before Colombia's 200 year Independence Anniversary. The orchestra played the Colombian national anthem at midnight. And still, the plaza wasn't as packed as it could have been. It was very unfortunate, because this was our most important Colombian concert. Oh well. It still sounded great.

Then the Board threw us a party at this GORGEOUS, outdoor bar/club thing on a hill that overlooked Cartagena. By the end of the night we were swimming in the ocean, drinking agua ardiente, jumping in the hotel pool and having breakfast, soaked, at 7 AM. It was a great time. The next day we were EXHAUSTED and hung over...ate some AMAZING pescado con coco and other goodies, bought souvenirs, and headed for Barranquilla in the evening.

Barranquilla was another story. I told in advance not to get too excited because it was an ugly city. So much so, that our Board members decided not to even come...they flew straight to Bogota and waited for us to get through the "chusma" that was, according to them, Barranquilla (and Cali). It was chusma...but what I appreciated about it was that it wasn't pretentious. Barranquilla is also a Black city (although not as much as Cartagena). Barranquilla is probably 60% and Cartagena 80%....something along those lines. It is dirty and poor.

All about small businesses. Gritty looking. Super tacky. For example, it was pouring rain, and of course the city infrastructure SUCKED. So the streets were overflowing with water, and there were ppl with wooden boards they used as bridges to help cross the street. I thought "oh they are such good samaritans" until I saw them charging people a tip to cross the street.

But I liked the sincerity of that town and it wasn't touristy at all. Very Caribe also. I was sad to leave. We drove back to Cartagena to catch the flight to Cali. As I mentioned, Cali and Bogota were pretty uneventful. Saying good-bye to the FJC (Filarmonica Joven de Colombia) was kind of sad, especially for our YOA musicians. Many of them became friends with the Colombians. For the FJC musicians it was the end of a very successful first-time tour. I have to say I am very proud of them. They sounded a lot better for the last few concerts and I am confident that they will become a great orchestra with some funding and TLC. On the other hand, I'm very much looking forward to traveling with a smaller group and am happy the YOA will get all of the attention now.

Colombia was a great home for a month. Very nice people in some places, uptight and narrow-minded in other places. Infrastructure problems, poverty galore. Lots of social injustice. But instead of taking care of these issues the government chooses to spend money eliminating FARC and indigenous populations and paying off the paramilitaries. You wouldn't think there is a war going on here, but I had a conversation with a Colombian photographer who documents the going ons in affected communities such as Pasto and Chocó. It is really inhumane and outrageous. But it seems that people in Colombia are aware, but indifferent. Maybe all of the violence over the years left them numb.

On the other hand, the diversity of Colombia in terms of its people and culture impressed me. I really hope to visit someday with my family on vacation. I'll be back again for sure.

Now it's time to replace the rice for potatoes, and the accordion for the charango. Quito, here I come!

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