I am back in Colombia from a good week up at the farm. The transition back into work and life was a bit more difficult than I imagined. Up until the flight back to Colombia, I had never really been one to get homesick. While I continue to have the usual problems of fitting into a new community, my new year’s celebration this year went a long way toward bringing me back into the fold.
In Colombia, New Years is not just about ushering in the New Year, but saying goodbye to the old. In line with this custom, on Dec 30th they construct huge scare crow like bodies stuffed with old clothes, old newspapers and old mattress stuffing and then sow on a really old, eye-less, marked up cabbage patch doll head. That creepy looking mix between a man and a baby sits on the principle road where everyone who walks past says or does whatever they want to Mr. Old Year. (Many punched, spit or kicked...making it quite obvious that they weren’t to happy with Old Years performance)
The official party starts at around 3pm on the 31st when they slaughter bull and butcher the meat. For the first time in Colombia, I ate meat that wasn’t fried to a crisp. While this meat was certainly cooked way beyond done, it was actually broiled and cooked with herbs as well as a bit of oil. It was delicious. Dinner is served throughout the afternoon. I made the mistake of waiting for everyone to eat together, expecting someone to call me when dinner was served. In reality, the pot of meat is set out next to a pot of boiled yucca and a pot of buñuelos (cheese balls for my family) and people graze for the entire afternoon.
Then at 6pm the kids ´party starts and the adults, except for the unlucky young girls who are in charge of organizing the kids, get ready for the dance. The kids spend about an hour beating a piñata made of a garbage back full of candy until the room as to be cleared for the dance. These gigantic speakers (I have no idea how they carried these things up a hill for two hours) make up the sound system and, starting promptly at 8pm, start pumping out dance songs and doest stop for a full 48 hrs.
At around 9pm the dance starts and people file into the hall and pick partners at begin the marathon. It is incredible how they dance. First, it is absolutely out of the question for a girl to ask a guy, and it seems even more out of place when a girl actually seems happy to be asked. Basically the girls sit long the walls sulking until they are dragged onto the dance floor. Half of the dancers choose to dance a good distance from each other, with contact only between the hands. The other half and this becomes for as the night wears on and the crowd becomes younger and younger, dance as if they are trying to share clothes. Despite their attempts to meld to one another, the couple spends the extraordinarily long song never looking at each other, smiling or talking, and as soon as the dance is over, the couple parts as if they had abhorred every minute of being together. No thank you, no comments on the dance, no jokes.
This continues for a constant 15 hrs with a break only to set Mr Old Year on fire. This year, they forgot the gasoline so after several unsuccesful attempts to set wet cloth on fire, someone finally ran to their hose, go the bottle of used cooking oil they had been saving and drenched the doll and quickly got the blaze going. Everyone them bursts into a frenzy of hugs and kisses for about 15 minutes until the focus turns back to the dance which rages on until noon the next day. This year, my co workers and bet with several other of the community people that we could stay up dancing the entire 15 hours. Well, we did see the first light of the first day of 2011 and we beat out every one else in our betting group, but there was no way we were going to make it the last 5 hours until 12.
Anyway, I woke up at 1145 to hear the last two songs at which time i got up and started making breakfast, when one of the other dances popped into the house with a small pot of the soup. She said that we had made it farther than any other male FOR employee and so our reward was a bowl of soup a piece. Also she informed us that rather than sleep after a 15 hr dance marathon, everyone was making a trip down to the watering hole to swim.
This watering hole is amazing. It is a 30 walked down the mountain to one of the two streams that line La Union. Once toy reach the river, you walk for about 15 minutes downstream until you get to a small water fall that empties into a large hole that then flows into a larger water fall and a larger whole. All of this is surround by a wall of smooth, black rock face and tope with the greenest of jungle vegetation. It is a scene strait out of fern gully. We spent the whole afternoon, dozing on the rocks, sliding down the waterfalls, fighting the waterfalls and eating candies. Despite being more tired than I have been for a while, it was an incredibly good way to celebrate New Year ’s Day.
However, the holiday is not over, as we have yet to celebrate the New Year. Thus that night commenced another dance marathon that, luckily, only lasted until 4am. (I gathered people were happier about the Old Year leaving than the new Year coming). Then, of course, work starts for most the next day at 7am.
It was certainly a New Years I probably won’t, nor really want, to repeat. Not because it wasn’t fun (it was amazing) but more because I can barely walk today, and there is nothing worse that sore legs in a place that requires uphill mud walking not matter which direction you go.
In the end, I danced more than I have in my entire life, slept 7 hours in two days, ate some of the best tasting beef I’ve had, became a hell of a lot closer with some of the people in town and got to watch a huge doll burn as people joyously ran around kissing each other and bidding good riddance to Mr. old year.
Below are some pictures to make it all a little more clear...