Medellín's Feria de las Flores

By Huw Hennessy

huwhennessy@gmail.com


The first thing to be said about Medellín’s Flower Fair is that it’s not New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, or London’s Notting Hill, or even Rio’s Carnaval. Yes, it does have all the same razzmatazz of spangly dancers, costumed parades, marching bands, and floats pounding out ear-splitting sounds from mega-speakers on mega-trucks. What makes Medellín truly special and heart-warming though is its focus on the personal, on its grassroots – sorry for the unintended pun – the silleteros. These are the flower growers, who walk, twirl and sometimes stagger and stumble along the 2-km parade route, bowed under the weight of the circular boards strapped to the sillas – chairs – on their backs, emblazoned with stunning floral decorations. Some of these floral trays weigh up to 120 kilos and have elaborate themes. A couple of my favourites included a cutaway globe fringed with the eco-message, “We live on our planet as if we had another one to move to”, or another depicted a floral machine-gun with a huge dahlia stopping up its barrel (a brief moment of gravity, reminding us that this is the year when Colombia finally sealed its peace accord after 50 years of guerrilla war).



Each silletero: man, woman and child, was accompanied by a girl guide or boy scout, carrying ice and water. If they start flagging from the effort, their own personal assistant rushes to give them a drink and lift the weight off their back for a short break.  The crowd loved little moments like these, giving a loud cheer when a first-aid crew rushed to help one elderly lady who almost collapsed from her huge load.


So, it really is a very personal event, but on a massive scale.  Community workers and service personnel marched en masse before the climactic arrival of the silleteros. We saw every branch of the police and military, in all their finest regalia, from historic independence fusiliers, to combat troops buried under frilly camouflage. Dashing cavalry officers strutted on horses decorated with painted blooms on their flanks, like real live My Little Ponies. One gallant officer plucked a little girl out of the crowd and gave her a free ride, eventually returning her to her slightly stunned parents, but prompting ecstatic cheers. Emergency rescue teams came next, and firefighters pulling their sniffer dogs sitting pretty in decorated side-cars. One frantic dog-lover next to me kept bellowing “Give the poor doggies a drink of water!” A particularly heart-felt cheer came for the city street cleaners and refuse collectors, who were actually cleaning up the parade ground as they walked and waved to the grateful paisas (Medellín residents) in the crowd.



Wave after wave of hundreds of silleteros kept coming all afternoon, interspersed with blaring brass bands and sassy salsa dancers. A tireless MC dashed up and down the parade, thrusting his microphone at the flower farmers, asking them how much their display weighed and inciting the crowd to give them more and louder “gran aplausos!”

I can’t come close to conveying the spirit of this truly unique event, celebrating its 60th year in 2017. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it: a peaceful but vibrant, superbly organized, colourful, perfumed and happy outpouring of the best of humanity. Particularly poignant in this city that has transformed itself from its violent past. Just come, you’ll love it. And the amazingly friendly, welcoming paisas of Medellín will love you for coming and sharing it with them.

 

Factbox:

When: late July-early August, for one week.

What: Feria de las Flores, celebrating its 60th year in 2017, with flowers at its heart, but also including live music, dance, local handicrafts and gastronomy, horse show, vintage car display, and art exhibitions.

Where: all over Medellín, climaxing in the Desfile de Silleteros – procession of flower carriers – on the final day, 2 km through downtown Avenida Guayaval and Parque Comfenalco.

Who: this year, 510 silleteros – flower producers – came from all over Antioquia state, displaying endemic and imported varieties of flowers. The competition categories include junior, commercial, monumental, artistic, and emblematic themes, with one overall winner.

How to book: Tickets from http://feriadelasfloresMedellín.gov.co; book transport and hotels well in advance as the city fills up. This year, more than 1.1 million visitors came to the fair, including some 800,000 spectators at the final parade.


This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
Products in this Region

Colombia Handbook

From its vibrant and lively cities to snow-capped volcanoes and white-sand beaches, Colombia offers...

South American Handbook 2016

South America is epic. Home to the world's highest waterfall, the longest mountain range and the...

Cartagena & Caribbean Colombia

Bursting with colour, history and fine colonial architecture, Cartagena is the emerald in...
PDF Downloads

  No PDFs currently available

Digital Products

Available NOW!
Read more...