Posted by: Sarah | December 9, 2006

Would you light my candle?

If you believe that there are 12 days of Christmas or 4 days of Carnaval, you are wrong. Perhaps that is harsh, but it’s the truth. Both of those celebrations started two days ago with Las Velitas.

I returned from Bogotá about a week ago and since I have been back, I had heard mentions of Las Velitas everywhere I went. Colombia is traditionally a very religious country, so it made sense that we had off of work on Friday for the Catholic holiday of the Immaculate Conception. Knowing Colombia culture, it also made sense that religious holiday or not, this was just one more chance to rumbiar y disfrutar de la vida. I got butterflies in my stomach as I was walking home from the gym Thursday evening and crossed the courtyard in front of the church next to our apartment complex. From blocks away I had heard the carnaval drums and flutes. As I got closer, I saw the crowds of people already gathered, singing and dancing, watching the performers, energy running through all of them. From the view out our 8th story apartment, Alex, Sarah, and I enjoyed the view of the dozens of dancers, dressed in extravagant, brightly colored costumes, dancing to Shakira…yes, just like the dancers in the music video. Carnaval had started. Later on, salsa, samba, and cumbia versions of Christmas carols began and entertained us as we were getting ready to go out. There may not be snow, but Christmas time is also here.

We partied long into the night, dancing at Rico Melao until we could barely stand, and then dancing some more. It is impossible to sit still for more than a moment without getting caught up in the music. Around 4am, people started to leave the bars and we drove over to Compadres for some greasy (delicious) empanadas. The most traditional aspect of the Las Velitas festival is that after you have partied all night, you light candles at sunrise. In true Barranquilla fashion, just about anything can be bought on the street, so as we drove out of town, we pulled over to a corner and bought a dozen lanterns and several boxes of sparklers from one of the street vendors. Alex and I were starting to get sleepy and dozed off in the car a few times as Ricardo drove us out of Barranquilla. It was almost 5am, but we would make it in time.

Just passed Puerto Colombia, we arrived to our destination: the beach. We drove right up onto the sand and with the sound of the waves crashing behind us, we lined the candles up on the beach, placed the lanterns over them, and lit the sparklers, just as if it were the 4th of July. We danced on the beach to the music streaming from the speakers in the trunk of the car and stood at the edge of the water, in awe of everything around us. The icy cold water splashed my legs, sent shivers up my spine and goosebumps down my skin, but in Barranquilla, we never complain when it’s cold because it is something that happens so rarely. I watched the ocean for what seemed like hours. Colombia is full of mystery that demands no explanation and beauty that is far beyond words.

The sun eventually came up, though it was too foggy to have really seen the sunrise over the mountains. Behind us, and down the beach as far as I could see, were huts with thatched roofs. People started to emerge, simultaneously eating breakfast and raking the sand smooth. A few nodded and said Buenos días to us, the strange combination of two Colombian guys and two gringo girls now kicking around sand, splashing in the water, and laughing as the guys tried in vain to teach us capoeira.

I was home by 8am and spent most of the day asleep in my hammock. With each day that I spend in Colombia, I am more and more convinced that it is possible to laugh more, to love more, to dance more, and to live more here in a day that some people do in an entire lifetime…


    I miss my hot Christmas in Barranquilla!! missing it so much!!!

  2. oh wow. i have no words…

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