The yearly coronation of Miss Colombia is normally a huge event, and a cause of much celebration / drinking. This year is an even grander fiesta… the pageant is held in Cartagena coinciding with the bicentennial of the city’s independence from Spain on 11 November 1811.
Part of the celebration is the Baillenera, a parade of beauty contestants in Cartagena harbor. The reinas are rowed through the harbor in small white skiffs by members of the Colombian Navy. Dan and I got together with our local friends Richard and José to enjoy the event.
We boarded our boat at the harbormaster’s office near the gates to the old city. The music was already playing loudly, not just from our boat but from each of the hundred or so boats that were around us. Many were paid party boats like ours, but some were private pleasure yachts. The harbor was chaos, with boats circling one another endlessly waiting for the queens of Colombia to arrive. The sexuality in the air was palpable.
Now almost any event with more than three people in Colombia is fueled by aguardiente, which literally means ‘fiery water’. The photo on wikipedia says it all. It goes down with a palpable burn that fades away somewhere between 5 to 10 shots. Or maybe it’s just your memory of the pain that goes away. (Like a colonoscopy.) In either case, beware. (Oh, and everyone got a free bottle of aguardiente with the purchase of their ticket. Beware!)
Eventually the reinas begin parading by, waving enthusiastically to the crowd, their vaseline’d teeth shining in the mid-day sun. They are, of course, wearing bikinis. As the first few boats pass, the crowd cheers them enthusiastically.
After the fourth boat, everything starts to dissolve into chaos. The boats were jockeying for spots along the parade route, but now they are drifting away from the deperately-waving beauty queens, the music being cranked up louder, and the bartender cannot keep up with requests for cans of beer and bottles of aguardiente.
This seems to be happening more or less simultaneously with every yacht. “Yes”, they seem to be saying, “we’ve honored the queens, but now let’s party!” And on cue, a pirate ship comes sailing across the bay, it’s sails advertising aguardiente, and three giant bottles on deck. The drunken pirates have arrived! Let the festival begin!
There are a lot of canoes amongst the million-dollar yachts. Many of them appear to be handmade. One canoe, for whatever reason, is being paddled in reverse of the direction one would normally paddle a canoe, the flat ‘stern’ pressing into the waves, the pointy bow trailing behind. (I blame aquardiente.)
Some of these canoes ride low, and there is often a crewman in the canoe dedicated to bailing, often with a cup that alternates as a aguardiente serving vessel. If a huge yacht plows by it can easily swamp these boats. We caught one that was almost entirely underwater, its two crew desperately trying to bail while the police made a halfhearted attempt to save them.
Watch what happens:
On the top deck of our boat, an M.C./D.J. keeps the tunes running, and he keeps screaming “Espuma!” He’s referring to the cans of foam that are available in Cartagena and on the boat (for 5,000 pesos!) Imagine a can of shaving cream, make it 1-3′ tall, and fill it with some sort of inert foam that is safe enough to spray directly into a child’s face. That’s espuma. And yes, it is as fun as it sounds. Why don’t we have it in the States?
The music plays, we dance, we drink cervezas & shots of aguardiente. The espuma flies and tiny battles occur. The floor is thick with espuma.
Eventually the sun begins to set and the boats turn towards shore, where the party will continue in the streets of Cartagena. Where after sunset there is always a party after sunset.
Oh, this has been a very long post, so to reward you for reading this far, here is a photo of a hot guy from the boat: