Saint Patrick’s Day Parade

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS

LocationSouth Boston, Massachusetts

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Jardin

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Jardin, Antioquia, Colombia

Cultural Spotlight – Semana Santa

Semana Santa or ‘Holy Week’ is a very special, religious week in Latin America and specifically here in Colombia. Compared to the United States, the United Kingdom and other predominantly Christian nations, Easter in Colombia is a little bit different and a lot longer in terms of length. Schoolchildren across Colombia get off for the entire week leading up to Easter and most employees in local companies usually will get time off as well to observe the religious traditions, to travel to other parts of the country, or to celebrate with friends and family.

After the festivities of Carnival that goes throughout February comes the beginning of the Eastern season with the beginning of Lent, otherwise known as ‘Ash Wednesday’ or ‘La Quaresma’ in Spanish. Most Christian and Catholic societies around the world observe the forty days of Lent by giving up something important or useful to them. Others pray each day and even fast as a way to atone for their sins. Ash Wednesday is perhaps most known for the fact that observant Catholics go to church that day to have the sign of the cross put on their foreheads by their priests with the grey ash.

While Easter is important in Colombia, Semana Santa, the days leading up to the most holy of days, has also taken on great significance. Students, teachers, and workers from different professions usually get the whole week off if not the most important days of Semana Santa off such as Holy Thursday (Maundy) and Good Friday, which are official holidays in Colombia leading up to Easter weekend.

On these days or even throughout Semana Santa, it is unlikely that you will find many shops, restaurants, or businesses that are open for customers. Instead, most observant Catholics will be at their church during these days and partaking in mass as well. Certain observers will make a habit of visiting different churches in their town or city as well as visiting important altars that have some significance to the community.

For some Colombians, Semana Santa is a chance to have a much-needed break from work to relax with family and friends. This holy week is a spring break for many people throughout the country who choose to take meaning from Semana Santa in different ways. It’s quite clear that many families here will use it as a chance to have a vacation to different places like Santa Marta, Cartagena, Manizales, Pereira, etc. The bigger cities in Colombia are likely to empty out and achieve a rare form of quiet that the remaining locals are likely to enjoy while it lasts. Many small towns and pueblos throughout Colombia are going to have many hundreds or even thousands of new visitors. More religious people will be visiting smaller cities like Popayan, Tunca, or Mompox in Magdalena, which are some of the more famous places to go to during Semana Santa, and which have the largest observations and celebrations of the Christian holidays.

In many of these smaller cities during Holy Week, there are a number of important religious processions, many holiday sweets are given out, and there are many decorations displayed in the town square and in the town churches. While some folks may go to the smaller cities and towns in Colombia, others may decide to travel to the United States or other countries in Latin America for their vacations.

Despite the celebrations, religious observances, ceremonial processions, decorations that are a big part of what makes Semana Santa memorable in Colombia and throughout Latin America, Easter Sunday tends to be a rather quiet and personal affair. Those people who are religiously observant will attend mass and other church services but you won’t see any Easter bunnies, colored eggs, or sweets being exchanged by children. I would say that Easter and the Holy Week leading up to it is a lot less commercialized than it is in the United States, which is a good thing because it puts a lot more focus on the actual meaning of the religious holiday for those who observe it rather than focusing on gifts, sweets, and other distractions.

Holy (Maundy) Thursday and Good Friday are national holidays here in Colombia, leading them to be more significant and observed more. Most Colombians may be surprised to find out that neither the Thursday or Friday leading up to Easter Sunday in the United States are considered national or religious holidays of observance. There are many traditions surrounding Easter in Colombia that are not followed in the U.S. and vice versa.

However, even though countries such as Colombia and the United States observe Easter and other days of this holy week in Christianity differently, there is a common theme cross-culturally that many countries can relate to in that these days are also time to spend with your family, friends, and other loved ones in your life. Getting together during any holiday, religious or otherwise, is a truly universal, human occurrence that all cultures and countries can relate to despite our differences from each other.

Cusco

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Cusco, Peru

San Andres Island

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CameraiPod Touch, 6th Generation

Location: San Andres Island, Colombia

A Weekend In Santa Marta

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“Santa Marta Marina”

Santa Marta is an undiscovered gem of a city located on the northeastern tip of Atlantic coast of Colombia. I say that it’s an ‘undiscovered gem’ because it usually flies under the radar when compared to its’ coastal counterparts of Cartagena and Barranquilla. Still though, for Colombians and foreigners alike on vacation, Santa Marta has a lot to offer its’ visitors. I was drawn to Santa Marta a couple of months ago when I visited its’ neighboring town of Minca, which is also quite beautiful and full of lush scenery up in the mountains. Unfortunately, I did not get to spend much time in Santa Marta so I decided that during my 2nd time living in Colombia, I could not pass up the chance to visit this city if I had the chance.

Luckily, due to the recent religious holiday observed in Colombia which falls on a Monday, I was able to make my return to the Atlantic coast via Santa Marta for a long weekend and I had a great time overall. Even with three full days, I felt like I could have done and seen even more so if you’re planning on coming to Santa Marta, five days or so and that should be enough to cover everything. Due to the fact that I live in Medellin, which is surrounded by mountains with no sea in sight, I took full advantage of my time on the coast by hitting up the local beaches, sampling some great seafood and doing some hiking.

Santa Marta is a small and navigable city, which made it easier to visit for a long weekend. The locals I met were extremely helpful to me, and especially the taxi drivers who were patient with my handwritten directions. The historic center of Santa Marta was well preserved in my opinion and very walkable. There are a lot of bars and restaurants located around the Parque de Los Novios, which made it easy for me to choose places to eat and drink. Beyond that, you can easily go to La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, which is place where the liberator of most of South America died in 1830. The hacienda is a museum, resting place, and has a really nice art gallery as well.

My recent trip mostly focused on visiting the different beaches located in Santa Marta, Rodadero, and Parque Tayrona. Santa Marta has many public beaches, which I found to be refreshing because there are a lot of hotels and private apartments located close to the sea but families and locals can mix with tourists to enjoy the beaches as well in the city. I found that to be a great idea and a contrast to other places, which have private beaches that only guests of the hotel or apartment can use freely. The public beach in Santa Marta is clean and nice to swim in but it can become quite crowded especially on holiday weekends.

The highlight of my trip was a visit to Parque Tayrona, one of the biggest and most popular national parks in Colombia. Well-preserved, pristine beaches, and great hiking opportunities, Parque Tayrona is the reason a lot of tourists come to Santa Marta in the first place. The park offers a lot of beautiful natural scenery of mountains, trees, and small rivers, which you can hike through for a day or more. Some visitors choose to spend a night or more in the park because it’s too big and vast to spend only a day there. The beaches are especially gorgeous because they are quite unspoiled and have no trash or residue of human presence for the most part. The water is clear, blue, and enjoyable to swim in. There’s a powerful rip-toe and large waves so be careful if you are to go swimming in some of the beaches there.

The particular beach that I visited, which is called Arrecifes, was barely inhabited and I enjoyed my time swimming, sunbathing, and listening to the clear sound of the waves without a care in the world. It was a very rewarding feeling to soak myself in the waters of the Atlantic again after a long day of waiting to get into the park and hiking through the park. For a couple of hours, I had the whole beach to myself so I was able to hear the sounds of the waves uninterrupted without any outside noise or voices to disturb the flow of nature. If there is one regret I have about the park is that I did not have enough time to see other beaches and that I should have woken up earlier to get into the park without waiting in line. If you plan on coming to Tayrona, make sure to get there by 8 or 9 AM, otherwise you will be waiting for a while to get in.

Before I left Santa Marta, I made sure to check out Rodadero, which was very different from Santa Marta and felt more like Miami Beach. High-rises, hotels, and apartments make up quite the skyline for this small city, which sits between the mountains and the coast. Rodadero is a great hub for restaurants and nightlife but also has nice public beaches which locals and tourists can enjoy alike. On my last day in the area, I decided to check out Playa Blanca, which was well worth the boat trip. Having a nice, private cabana that kept me out of the sun was welcome after two previous days in the sun. If you can’t make it to Parque Tayrona, spending the day in Rodadero is a great back up plan especially if you can make it to Playa Blanca where it’s less crowded and the water is crystal blue.

In addition to swimming and sunbathing, there are a multitude of activities to take part in. The fishing village of Taganga, which is nice to check out for a day due to its’ coastal style boardwalk also offers diving classes if you’re into learning that skill. There are also numerous tour groups offering snorkeling, hiking trips in the Santa Marta area for reasonable prices. If you’re feeling more leisurely, you can go jet skiing, banana boat riding, canoeing, and paddle boarding if that suits your fancy. The multitude of activities and places to visit in the area make it clear that Santa Marta is worth at least five days or so if you want to explore each nook and cranny of what the area has to offer. You simply can’t be bored if you decide to visit.

Despite being relatively undiscovered when compared to Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, and other vacation getaways, Santa Marta is a city on the rise and its’ making a lot of progress in developing its’ tourism infrastructure. There are many cranes working on building the next hotel or apartment complex especially in Rodadero. The Santa Marta airport, which may be the smallest airport I’ve ever visited is getting a makeover and is going through a lot of construction in order to make it a hub for Colombians and tourists alike. With investments in infrastructure and education, Santa Marta will continue to grow in popularity.

I hope that tourists will continue to get along with the locals and respect the great natural beauty of the area especially in Parque Tayrona. The one thing that was difficult for me to deal with was the coastal humidity, which will cause you to sweat like no other. Be prepared to be hot but you get used to it eventually. Lastly, using AirBNB to meet some locals was really nice and I highly recommend the online service to my readers. Just make sure to do your research first and choose places to stay, which are conducive to your travel needs. A holiday weekend well spent in my opinion and I have a feeling that I will be back in Santa Marta one day soon. Parque Tayrona and Rodadero were my favorite parts of the trip and I’m sure others will enjoy those places too if they choose to visit this great area of the country.

Patriots’ Day Weekend In Boston

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS

Locations: Lexington, Massachusetts; Concord, Massachusetts; Boston, Massachusetts; Wellesley, Massachusetts