Feria de los Flores (Festival of Flowers) is the biggest event in Medellin, but was more elusive than I expected. It runs for ten days every August and celebrates the contribution of farmers. From all the hype, I expected to see flower decorations throughout the city, but that wasn’t the case.
My Feria de los Flores experience began with a quiz at the language exchange evening held by Colombia Immersion on Friday night. Rather than the usual ice-breaker where I’d receive a slip of paper with the name ‘Jekyll’ and having to find the person with ‘Hyde’, last week I was given a quiz with ten questions and asked to obtain each answer from a different person. As a foreigner, my questions were in Spanish and I was expected to get the answers from native speakers. The first with all correct wins. I wasn’t the first, but I was perhaps the only one with all correct, so I won a white poncho, which is the traditional costume for local farmers in the area.
The following evening, Sandra and I joined a group from the school at the festival’s main event, a concert headlined by Marc Anthony in the stadium. We arrived before five and were directed into gender lines for a police search at the main gate. That might have made sense if the women were searched by female officers, but Sandra was also searched by men. My water and even my pens were confiscated, while others had their belts taken and had to pay a hefty sum to have them returned after the concert.
Inside, we found water available at prices higher than you’d pay at an Australian music festival, and tetrapaks of rum for about A$80. At those prices, few drinkers were going to bother hydrating, and the concert was set to go until 3am. Most of the acts were a form of reggaeton, which is something like Latino hip-hop, and not at all my taste. We were determined to enjoy the evening anyway, and danced our way through about seven bands. I was impressed by the short duration between acts. Where I’m used to at least half an hour breaks, the Colombians could turn around a new group in as little as a minute, helped by a rotating stage. I assume they were busy setting up one band while the previous was still playing. The sound quality was terrible, usually turned up well beyond the speakers’ range.
By midnight, we’d had enough of deafening, muffled reggaeton and watching people falling down drunk, so we decided to give up and head home. As luck would have it, Marc Anthony was the next on stage, about ten minutes after we left.
The following night we went to a free afro-themed concert at the airport. Again, there were no flowers, but the sound quality was far superior and the acts more interesting. The first was a group called Bomby from comuna thirteen, the area that had been reclaimed from gangs by the military. They performed something closer to western hip-hop and engaged the audience with a number of their better known songs. Soul Gospel Medellin began with traditional gospel songs, but ranged as far as Bob Segar and Michael Jackson. Some people behind us were just waiting for them to finish, but the crowd in general had a great time, singing along to most songs. Finally, Kombilesa Mi, a band from the Pacific coast came on and performed more traditional music, which had a folk feel that resonated with me. The front-man quipped that there were eighty six dialects in Colombia, so why did everyone insist on speaking English. He then taught us some of his local dialect (now forgotten) so we could sing the chorus of a few songs. We missed the last act because Sandra needed to work the next day, but I’ll definitely be adding these free concerts to my list for next year.
Throughout the week, as I went about my business around town, I looked out for the famous flower displays, but saw only a few presented by organisations. I tracked down a guide online with a map of all the exhibitions, but when we went to check them out, they were all performances. Flowers seemed to be limited to the Botanical Gardens and shopping centres, so on Sunday, while everyone else spent hours crowding the streets to watch the main procession, we went to Santa Fe mall. Under a retractable ceiling, in an atrium open through four floors, was a display of two giant birds shaped out of leaves, standing in a vibrant, ornate garden.
Looking down on the flower sculpture from various angles, without too big a crowd, made tramping around the city over the last week worthwhile. Next year, I will skip the events during the week, aside from the free music concerts, in the hope that I’ll have enough energy to cope with lining the streets myself for the parade.