It’s November 11. Yes, Armistice Day and Veterans Day. And also, the independence day of the Colombian city of Cartagena de las Indias.
Colombia became independent as part of Gran Colombia with the help of Simón Bolívar, a final victory at the Battle of Boyaca (in 1819) and the help of a broken flower vase (which is fairly interesting story, as you might guess).
But Cartagena declared itself independent from Spain separately and before the rest of country, on November 11, 1811 (11 de noviembre). It had been one of the most important cities in the region, thanks to its bustling port but at the time of declaring independence had deteriorated and the city suffered through years of a Spanish siege.
And the first week of November (culminating on the 11th, Cartagena celebrates with pride that it was they who first declared independece–and they celebrate with lots of parades, street parties, and the Miss Colombia competition.
Besides never-ending music and dancing in the street, there are a few things you might want to look out for as you walk around. Some so you don’t miss them, and some so you do…
5 Things to watch out for if you walk the streets of Cartagena during the 11 de noviembre festivals:
- Buscapies. These tiny firecrackers explode with regularity on the streets. Their name, which means “look for feet” comes from the fact they are thrown down at your feet, but you might also want to look down at your feet afterwards to make sure nothing was amputated.
- Cartengeros in costume. Everyone either wears (1) a brightly-colored wig, (2) a costume that is their own interpretation of early 1800’s garb, or (3) as little as possible.
- Young extortionists. Boys walk around with bottles of dye or charcoal sticks and threaten to stain your clothes if you don’t pay them a few coins. Sometimes you can get away with saying no, sometimes you can’t.
- Spray bottles of foam. If you walk anywhere after about nine in the morning if are likely to be sprayed by what is essentially shaving cream, sold in festive red carnival bottle. Harmless, but you might resemble some strange tropical snowman once the day is over.
- Maicena (corn starch). Same deal as the spray bottle of foam—except it’s even harder to get off.
(You might want to wear old clothes and sturdy shoes if you’ll be walking around Cartagena the week of the festivities.)
In short, Cartagena comes alive with civic pride (and color) during the week or so of festivities. I was lucky enough to be there on the 200th anniversary of independence, so the party was even bigger than normal.
But if you’re looking for a party in South America, head to Cartagena the first weekend in November. Just make sure you are ready for all the craziness in the streets.