La Noche de Silletera (The Night of the Silletera):
The night (and day) before the parade of the Silleteras (Flower Festival/Medellin), people gather in the town of Santa Elena in order to enjoy various festivals and parties that surround the creation of these truly unique and spectacular displays called “silletas”. There is folk music that is played and alcoholic beverages served are typical to Colombia including beer, rum (ron) and of course aguardiente. The food is quite a treat and includes items such as chuzo, sancocho, lechona, fried items and lots of different kinds of deserts.
WHERE: Medellin to Santa Elena
WHEN: August 2010 / Day trip and 1 night in cabin
MODE: Private car
PLACES VISITED: Santa Elena the night before the parade of the “Silleteros”
GETTING TO SANTA ELENA:
If you do not have access to a car, there are several tour operators and private busses that can be arranged to take you to Santa Elena which is located up the hill just outside of Medellin to the east. The trip takes about 40 minutes to reach Santa Elena. We took Avenida Bolivariana and took a few turns until we reached Avenida Ayacucho (Calle 49), which crosses through the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, Miraflores, Los Cerros and Barrios de Jesus among others.
As you leave Medellin and travel higher into the green mountainside, the views back onto the city are spectacular. There are some geological faults that affect the road as you ascend higher, especially at kilometer 10. It is recommended to drive carefully and follow the traffic signs. The public service minibuses to Santa Elena can be accessed on Ayacucho (Calle 49) by Carrera 42, one block north of the new headquarters of the Universidad de Belles Artes. The bus ticket price is approximately $1700 COP (less than $1 USD).
An alternative route for this ascent to Santa Elena is via Las Palmas. This route which also takes you to the international airport in Rio Negro can be accessed from San Diego (El Poblado) and Sancho Paisa roundabouts in the municipality of Envigado.
Thanks to favorable topography, this district has good road connectivity, and also has shuttle service between villages, which is divided into routes that connect several to the main park and to the urban city of Medellin. Santa Elena is a link between Medellin, the eastern parts of Antioquia and Jose Maria Cordoba Airport. There exists a network of old style and some pre-Colombian roads like La Ruta del Sal y El Oro.
Travel by Gondola to Santa Elena:
Alternative public access to Santa can be accessed via the Cable Arvi line K which connects at station Santa Domingo and travels to station El Tambo and lasts about 15 minutes. From El Tambo you can walk to the main park and catch a minibus to Santa Elena. The ride in the gondola is nothing short of spectacular as you catch views of the Aburra Valley as well as forest and mountainside down below.
Where to Stay in Santa Elena, Colombia:
We arrived in town around noon and decided to rent a cabin in Santa Elena as the night brings lots of party goers, busses and cars into the Santa Elena area which makes it difficult to leave town after nightfall. Many of the access roads are restricted as well. We chose a small cabin at Mirador Cerro Verde which as its name implies has an amazing view of the valley that Jose Maria Cordoba International Airport resides as well as the airport itself. The cost was $60,000 COP for two people and the accommodations were quite basic. However, the area is perfect and provides a good base camp area to enjoy all the days/nights festivities. They serve really good food at this tourist location as well and we took advantage of breakfast, lunch and a dinner while staying here.
- The access roads into this sector were actually restricted to car traffic unless you had prior access rights. We lucked out and were able to bring our car inside the area because we had secured a room. As such, we were only one of a few privileged tourists to the area that got to drive vs. walk (some of the time). We actually walked a total of 3-4 kilometers in total which does not sound like a lot until you take into account the hill factor.
- TIP: BE PREPARED TO DO A LOT OF WALKING. BRING EXCELLENT WALKING SHOES AND RAINGEAR. THIS AREA TENDS TO GET CHILLY AT NIGHT, SO BRING WARM CLOTHING AS WELL. Gloves and a toboggan cap are recommended. Some nights get cold.
PHOTOS of Mirador Cerro Verde:
Click images for larger view.
The Day Begins
The day started out with partly cloudy conditions and was nothing less than perfect. The walk down to the neighborhood of XXXXX takes about 10-15 minutes. It is not long before you begin to encounter the quaint fincas (farm houses) that dot the landscape. Many locals call Santa Elena home full time. Others have second homes in this area where they spend the weekends and holidays away from the busy city below.
Carrielles Silletera & Boutique Hotel:
We made our way to the Carrielles Silleta build spot where we met Juan Camillo Carrielles who is from Medellin originally, but worked in Miami for 10+ years where he owned a construction company. Juan has been building his boutique countryside hotel in Santa Elena for 6 months now. He says the construction is slow because of the amount of rainfall the area receives. By the time most of you read this, his hotel will be open and available for service to those we seek accommodation in this wet, tropical, sometimes sunny paradise.
PHOTOS of Boutique Hotel & Silletas:
Click thumbnail for larger view.
Parque Santa Elena
After touring Juan’s place and walking the neighborhood, we decided to drive through out of this area back to the main square in Santa Elena. It was 2:30 when we arrived and the crowds were still pretty light as a few buses had made it town, but the majority of the crowds were yet to come.
This is an ideal gathering spot and is used for multiple events throughout the year. Also located here is the Church of Santa Elena, the municipal government offices, a library, health center, San Ignacio Cemetery, soccer field and a variety of restaurants and cafes. Some of the events that take place here include the Trueke Market, Corasante, Silleta Festival, Campesina Festival as well as local religious festivals. There are three small parks that make up this space amongst the other city and commercial buildings.
PHOTOS of Parque Santa Elena:
Click images for a larger view.
Londono Silleta & Finca
The Londono family has been involved with the Feria de Las Flores since its inception in 1957. Oscar Londono , is still a farmer in Santa Elena and remembers marching 50 plus consecutive years in the annual event. Mr. Londono has now given the silleta contract to one of his sons to continue the long family history. Their family farm (finca) is one of the most popular silleta building houses every year and as such, we decided to visit.
There was a band playing and a full kitchen cooking lunch for everyone that bought a ticket. Mr. Londono gave a speech about the history of the event and his family’s long tradition as silleteros. The family was busy working on two different silletas at the finca and we were proud to witness the making of these beautiful flower laden displays of pride and culture. We also visited another adjacent finca that was just around the corner from the Londono finca where they were making another magnificent yellow and purple designed silleta.
PHOTOS of Londono Silleta & Finca
Click image below for larger view.
Nightfall in Santa Elena, Colombia
The skies turn gray and the temperature begins to drop in Santa Elena at nightfall. However, we are lucky this year and there was no rain. This is a big plus because the rain can really make the air cold. This year I did not have to wear gloves or a toboggan. By 9:00 p.m. at night, Santa Elena is alive with song, drink and food. The main square in Santa Elena is now brimming with people and the Trova competition is in full swing. We decide to bounce down to the park and listen to some music and then hit the fincas for one last look at the silletas before the sillateros finish up their designs.
At 4:00 a.m. in the morning, all the silleteros meet up in the main square to begin coordinating logistics and silletas for the trip down to Medellin in the valley below. We did not make it until 4:00 a.m. to see this part of the event. However, this would really be something to see and we will try to fit it into our itinerary for next year’s event. I hope you enjoyed this report and do not forget to visit us at www.discovercolombia.com for more information about Santa Elena & La Feria de Las Flores.
The followup to this report can be found by clicking here – Feria de Las Flores 2010 / Parade of Silleteros
PHOTOS of Santa Elena, Colombia at Night:
Click image below for larger view.