Celebrating Black and White in Colour

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South America » Colombia » Pasto
May 22nd 2016
Published: May 22nd 2016
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After a total of 24 hours travelling, including an 18 hour overnight bus journey we finally arrived in the small charming town of Chachagui - just 2 hours away from the Ecuadorian /Colombian border.

As usual this wasn't even on our itinerary. We were originally going to stay in the city of Popayan to make it easier (and safer) for us to cross the Ecudorian border. That is until we heard about the big carnival taking place here. We said "why not?" or in Spanish "Por que no?" we were heading in that direction anyway and were intrigued by the origins and the growing present day festivities.

The carnival is a 5 day themed festival celebrating the diversity of Pasto's culture uniting the black and white population hence the name "The black and white carnival" aka "Negros y Blancos Carnaval". The festival began over 100 years ago uniting the black and white residents of the area. Officially the festival is from 2th - 7th Jan but preparations start shortly after Christmas. Each day is themed which includes a black day and a white day. On each day locals dress accordingly to these themes.

We arrived in town on black day and seen locals dressed in black, covered in paint - some even in 'black face'. Highly un-politically correct but seems widely accepted by all colours here. Whites day is on the 6th of Jan and is the main day when there's a huge parade through the town and crowds of people flock into the city centre from 7am to get the best seats.

We spent our last evening in Guatape scouring the internet in search of accommodation in Pasto in time for the carnival. Everywhere seemed fully booked, until we emailed one hostel 22km outside of Pasto in Chachagui who had 2 beds left. We were pretty lucky to have got them during that time.

Chachagui is a picturesque town with some stunning green mountainous scenery and valleys. We trekked 5 minutes downhill from our hostel to the top of a large valley to take in some of the breathtaking vistas. Speaking of breathtaking, the walk back up (we were around 3000mts above sea level) took the breath out of us. When the clouds had cleared we could even see the huge volcano Geleras looming over Pasto in the distance.

As we'd come to expect, all the locals were friendly and greeted you with a "Buenas" as we passed them by. Hungry, we headed to the central plaza in search of some food. Children were running around with blue, red and black paint on their hands and faces. Others had engaged in espuma fights with adults and talc was also thrown into the mix. We ran into a nearby restaurant to avoid the being covered and ordered the menu of the day lunch. Chris got soup, a large chicken breast, rice, beans and plantain, whilst P ordered the same meal replacing the meat with an egg. What we love about these menu del dias is that they are so cheap for what you get, it cost us COP10,000 (£2) for both meals with a drink.

Catching the 30 minute collectivo bus to Pasto we almost missed our stop. We had no idea where we going. Eventually we found our way into the centre where the crowds were. Today was blacks day, there wasn't a parade but the locals of Pasto were out en masse putting paint on each other, spraying friends and anyone who came too close with espuma foam. P even managed to get talc thrown on top of her head too. Espuma sellers, children selling beer from push carts, street food vendors and poncho/sombrero sellers were on every corner. Even though nothing in particular was happening, the locals just seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere whilst bands on a stage performed latin music and nearby tents blared out the same.

One Israeli tourist seen us taking pictures and approached us. She told us how her husbands head was sprayed completely by boys with espuma and had been pickpocketed in the process. We'd heard of this happening in Cartagena also during their carnival. Best thing we found was to not buy any espuma as that would only encourage more people to spray you. You can't' avoid being sprayed but having a can in hand says that you are game. Thankfully we had never been victim to any pick-pocketers here. On our way back to Chachagui, we definitely missed our stop this time and so had to walk a mile back to the town. Three times we were sprayed with espuma by passing cars during that walk!!!

Our hostel owner informed us to get to the town early on whites day to ensure we get a good spot. We arrived there around 8.30am. Thousands of people we there already, vendors had placed plastic chairs in front of the parade barrier and charged people for seats. We wondered around looking for a good viewpoint but all the best free ones were taken. In the end we managed to pay for some front row seats to the parade. We noticed a fight nearby breaking out, with plastic chairs being thrown in the air, before the police came hurdling over the barriers. Seems everybody wanted to have a prime spot for the parade.

After waiting around an hour and a half the parade slowly began to start. One by one troupes of stilt walkers, brass bands, dancers and singers all dressed in colourful intricate outfits and marched down the street to a cheering crowd. People were everywhere, from the barrier lines to the nearby rooftops. Slowly the parade outfits got bigger and bigger, we felt sorry for some of the people having to carry these hefty paper mache outfits having to stop mid parade for a rest. The outfits, as you can tell from our pictures were amazing. Huge caricatures and floats depicting something
mythological or representing an area or culture within Colombia.

Before long, we were cramped in place. People at either side and people behind us, every now and then either us or somebody next to us would get a blast of espuma in the back of the neck. Best thing to do is act like it never happened, so not to encourage them to spray more. We were lucky though as we looked across at the crowd on the other side of the parade where espuma and talc was being thrown everywhere. The rooftops and balconies of the surrounding buildings were filled with onlookers too, some sneakily spraying espuma onto passers by.

After maybe 4/5 hours enjoying the parade, we were done. The parade was still going on but we'd felt we'd seen enough floats to last us a lifetime, plus we were desperate for the toilet (we hadn't moved since arriving that morning). Trying to leave was like an obstacle course as we dodged huge talc fights and espuma wielding children (and adults). Looking back from where we'd just left we noticed the bigger floats had just started to arrive but like we said we were done.

On the collectivo back we got speaking to a Colombian guy who was in town for the festivities. We practiced our spanish with him for the whole 30min journey as he sipped on his brandy in between conversation breaks. Arriving in Chachagui we took a pic with him before he offered to help us find our hostel. We kindly declined his offer and said our goodbyes. We'd noticed a lot of traffic in the town as we approached and realised the small town of Chachagui had their own parade going on right here too.

Obviously a lot smaller than the one in Pasto, we decided to have a quick look and walk around. It was very similar with the stilt walkers, floats and music just on a small village scale. It was nice to see that they held their own celebrations in this small community.

With an early rise in the morning we wanted to settle our bill that evening with the hostel. The hostel owner had charged us more for our room so we asked him for the difference. He said that the room he had given us cost more despite us already agreeing on a price
and room via email. Apparently the beds he'd mentioned in the email had gone but he failed to mention that fact when we had arrived the day before. He got really angry when we tried to argue our point and told us "I did you a favour giving you that room...if you want to leave there's the door". Eventually after some back and forth, he finally gave us our change back but it left a very sour taste in our mouths for our last night in Colombia.

We will definitely not let this taint our image of Colombia at all. We fell in love with this country and the people and will definitely return here in the future.

We can now say we fully overstand the statement:

"The only fear of being in Colombia is not wanting to leave"

Hasta proxima!

Country overview will be in the following blog

Transport: Bus(es) From Guatape to Chachagui - 226,000COP for 2 people

Date: 4th Jan 2016

Additional photos below
Photos: 42, Displayed: 28


22nd May 2016
So many amazing costumes

Nothing like a colour bonanza carnival to excite your lens I see. Lots of great pics in this blog full of glee!
29th May 2016
So many amazing costumes

Thanks Dave. The colours here were so vibrant, even more so against the cloudy backdrop. You can only imagine the number of pictures we must've taken!!!
22nd May 2016
A celebration of colours

This one is magnificent...sensational
29th May 2016
A celebration of colours

Re: Sensational
Thank you. We both love this one too
22nd May 2016
A celebration of colours

Fabulous costumes, fabulous valley!
How great that you trusted serendipity and went for a fine celebration--a perfect way to leave the country. I love that the community celebrates their black and white selves and puts such creativity and work into those costumes. That valley also looks so inviting--I imagine with more time, it would have been great walking on the ridge above it. Hope your border crossing was an easy one!
29th May 2016
A celebration of colours

Re: Fabulous costumes, fabulous valley!
Yes with more time, we probably would've ventured around and into the valley, the views were amazing. We loved the carnival vibes here, plus this one had a special positive and uniting message. And the costumes and colours were just amazing.
25th May 2016
Walking the steep slope towards the valley

Columbian Beauty
I like this one.
29th May 2016
Walking the steep slope towards the valley

Re: Colombian Beauty
Thank you. The scenery here was truly breathtaking. It made us feel minuscule within such grand surroundings

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