Chiva, translated literally, means goat. Throughout latin america, chiva has a popular usage suggesting something more like a “beater.” The old car that keeps chugging along, however weathered and dilapidated it may be. Like it’s English-language equivalent, to call something a chiva implies a mix of time-worn respect with a sense of beleaguered acquiescence. One time in Bolivia, I was trying to burn a DVD back-up of our photos on a public computer. As the operation stuttered and faltered, I called over the young guy manning the service counter to ask for help. He tapped his hand on the computer, shrugged, and said, “Hey, this thing is a total chiva. Nothing I can do. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t.”
Here in Colombia, chivas hold an exalted status. They are not cars patched together, left to chug along until the next breakdown. No, the chiva in Colombia is a lovingly restored source of pride and cultural expression. In transportation terms, the chiva can be any sort of modified old car reborn to carry a mix of people and freight. The pictures you see in this post are “chivitas” or mini-chivas, that ply the roads around Guatape carrying people short distances to-and-fro. They are motorcycles with a little passenger car attached to the chasis of the vehicle. As you can see, people here dress up their chivas mighty pretty. A proper chiva is a flatbed truck with the top of an old school bus soldered on top of it. Elsewhere in the highlands of Antioquia, there are annual beauty contests where the finest hand-painted chiva wins top prize.
Guatape is known as the town of Zocalos, a style of mural found on most of the buildings in town. People paint scenes of village life or whatever suits their fancy alongside the brightly colored patterns gracing the rest of the street-facing exterior wall. Altogether, the wonderfully painted homes and wandering chivas lend Guatape quite a colourful and festive vibe.
Saturday morning, we ventured into town to purchase a few vegetables and found ourselves lingering in the plaza for most of the day, enjoying a town-wide party with a mix of locals and weekenders from Medellin. Gracing the stage in the town plaza were a series of “Ranchero” groups, playing country music Colombian-style. Lex and I sat down in the shade to enjoy the music and wound up becoming fast friends with the folks around us.
The official liquor of Colombia is, without a doubt, aguardiente. Every shop has some and no party is complete without it. Although I am generally quick to try the local hooch, no matter how gross it may be (hello back-country chicha!), I hadn’t been keen to explore the charms of aguardiente. Distilled from sugarcane, aguardiente is a somewhat strong spirit infused with the flavor of anise. If you ask me, that sounds a bit too close to the dreaded Yagermeister for my liking.
The thing is, you can’t hang at a Colombian festival without having some aguardiente. The family beside us were passing around a little sippy-cup of the sugar-sauce, side-by-side, until it reached Lex and me. A few cups in, Lex was dancing with a guy from Medellin while I was being schooled in the old ways from the old days by the man you see pictured to the left.
Saturday was great fun, with the whole town out and about, competing in various games and exhibitions. The streets were taken over with blockside feasts, offering free food to any passersby. Pictured in the gallery below is the traditional bread of Colombia, the arepa. Made with freshly milled kernels of corn, they are typically eaten for breakfast with a bit of cheese or as a side dish to nearly any other meal. Everybody has a different style and different combinations can be found around the country. Not surprisingly, the arepas here in Colombia are much better than the ones Colombian expats make back home in New York.
People here take their time preparing food, enjoying the company of family and friends. Life may be short, but the meals are long. It will be quite a shock returning to New York, where diners are ushered out the door with a purposeful, unsolicited toss of the check.
Earlier this week, Lex and I bought our tickets for New York, marking an end-date to the ANTM dot com adventure. September 13th will be the final day of our travels and although it is a little bit daunting, we are not at all sad to return home. Perhaps we have learned a thing or two from the wandering chivas of Colombia. You can always take something old and make it new again. We are looking forward to refurbishing our old lives in New York with the perspective we have gained from our travels.
So colorful, lovely. What excitement and energy. Almost felt like we were there.
Hugs and more hugs
The Colors, the Colors! From the pix Colombia seems unique in the gaiety, variety, and detail of the colorful beams, shutters, paintings, logos,,wherevery you turn, whether on houses, buses, churches,clothes everywhere. It’s amazing.