Music, dance and dust

My trip has now suddenly turned into a true adventure, a wild ride. I figured at some point this would happen. The past few days have been a bit of a blur but I am going to try and write down the story. I was hoping this blogsite would let me upload videos, but I can't figure it out at this point- it would certainly help to illustrate the weekend.


Friday I arrived at the airport in Cali after a 45 minute delay in the flight. I was scheduled to stay in Cali with a woman named Nidia Gongora and her family. Nidia is a folkloric musician from the Pacific coast of Colombia, and it just so happens that this weekend was the annual festival Petronio Alvarez, a huge music festival bringing in groups like Nidia's from the coast. When I arrived at the airport, I called Nidia and she told me to go ahead and meet her at the festival as her group was performing that afternoon. A buseta and a taxi ride later, I was at the entrance to the festival where in order to enter, I had to undergo a full luggage search much more in detail than what would ever occur at the airport. I later learned that this was because the president of Colombia would be making an appearance at the festival later that afternoon. Sure enough..

Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia

So there I was with my full gear on trekking around the festival in significantly hotter weather than Bogotá, looking for Nidia. I finally found her in the corner of the festival, in full costume, and was able to drop of my backpack behind the booth of “La Tere” (real name was Teresa- everyone has nicknames here), a family friend of Nidia's who was one of the many selling “viche,” a potent tequila-like liquor that was the drink of choice at the festival. (I preferred the “arrechón,” a sweetened creamier version of this liquor that didn't leave a burning sensation in my esophagus.)

The variety of viche

Fresh lime and sugarcane drinks

La Tere- a wonderful woman

We stayed at the festival for a few hours before Nidia's husband picked us up. Back at the house, I met Nidia's beautiful (and pretty hyper) children, Flora and Jorge, showered quickly, and got dressed to head back out as Nidia's group had another performance that night.




Soon I found myself crammed in the back seat of a van filled with fast-talking Afro-Colombian musicians on our way to a show in a park across town. It was here that I got my first full on experience of the hip-swinging music which I would be hearing all weekend, complete with marimbas, bongos, congas, and beautiful call and response harmonies.


It turned out that I was staying with a mini-celebrity here in Cali: Nidia Gongora, a beautiful woman who seemed to charm everyone with whom she came in contact. I felt like a bit of a shadow all weekend (not in a bad way), as we waltzed our way through cover charges, security guards and backstage entrances. Nidia seemed to know everyone and have the connections in all the right places; it appeared the whole world was in love with her smile.

La reina Nidia

I enjoyed most of the festival from the performers's area near the stage with Nidia's friends and family (all with nicknames as well- “Chochola,” “La Pola,” etc). The festival itself took place in the evenings from 6-11pm (give or take, Colombian time). Several bands played on a rotating stage as thousands of people danced on the dusty ground, passing around shots of viche and singing along. Everyone seemed to carry around white handkerchiefs, which I quickly learned served a dual purpose: to wave in the air as part of the dance and to cover one's mouth and nose as the clouds of dust swept across the crowd (black boogers by the end of the night for sure!) The music was incredible, and after a full weekend of it, I eventually even picked up on some of the tunes, which are now constantly getting stuck in my head.

So tired but loving it!

With Nidia and Chochola

Before the conference got tedious

Saturday morning I accompanied Nidia to a conference about the same folkloric music of the Pacific that was being performed at the festival. While it was fascinating at first, after 4 hours of scholarly ethnomusicology discourse, I was exhausted and ready to lay down. Really all day Friday and Saturday I wasn't feeling well and had lost my energy and appetite. It probably wasn't the smartest decision to stay out until 4am on Saturday night with Nidia and her friends at a bar's after-party, but I was somehow still able to enjoy myself.


We're VIP

I felt much better yesterday (Sunday) for the final day of the festival. We ate lunch on the fairgrounds- a delicious seafood platter from Nidia's hometown of Timbirique made me glad my appetite was back. Nidia was singing in the opening act last night and we had Flora with us, so I watched Flora while her mom was waiting to perform. As Flora and I waited on the grass (okay dust) for her mom to come out, we were approached by several police officers and security guards who informed me that under no circumstances was a child under 11 allowed at this part of the festival. Frustrated, I called Nidia who promptly called her husband's aunt who happens to be the “Secretary of Culture” of Cali, an important role in the festival (like I said, it's all about the connections). Before I knew it, Flora and I were escorted up to the VIP platform. We were by ourselves for a little while when suddenly a large party of people came up including a man who was obviously very important. The man shook mine and Flora's hands and I found out later that this man was the Vice President of Colombia. So three days in Cali and I managed to “meet” the president and VP of this country. Amazing.The night last night ended with Nidia and company leading a parade out the doors of the festival, complete with drums, chanting, and dancing. As we circled around the food venders, what started out as a small group of us turned into I would guess a hundred something people, singing and dancing joyfully into the night.


Phew. I was dead tired by the time we got home with poor sleepy Flora around 1:30am, but Nidia was still buzzed and ready to go out. I called it a night and went to bed while Nidia partied till 6am- that woman has more energy at her 33 years of age than I have had at any point in my life.


Today we slept in, lazed around the house, and one of the neighbors gave me an incredibly cheap ($6) mani/pedi, which felt wonderful. Tonight I decided to give myself a little break from the hectic lifestyle of the rich and famous mother of two small energetic children, and checked myself into a hostel. I'm finally finishing this blog entry outside in this beautiful little courtyard next to the pool, drinking a Poker beer (Colombian Bud Light), and listening to the soothing sounds of bachata music. Excited to see what tomorrow brings…

PS. I had a few more photos to fill in here but my camera card to ipad transfer device just stopped working… Problematic. 😦



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