Friday, May 18, 2012

Getting Away - Puente Nactional (Part 1)

Some members of our group in costume.

Following the 'Route of the Comuneros" our group made it's first stop in Puente Nacional, named for being the “National Bridge” where the first fight between the commoners (Comuneros) and the Spanish crown took place on May 8, 1781. In the state of Santander there were no shots fired and no blood was spilt (unless someone fell down from being drunk that day). So 231 years later, the people of Colombia dressed up in period costumes for both sides – the communeros and the aristocracy – and celebrated the success of that day and all the days that followed to bring them to where the city is today. This feat brought the people of Colombia their independence on  August 7, 1819.

Comunera & Aristocrat
Puente Nacional is also recognized as a great ecotourist stop at approximately 5300 feet in the foothills of the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes with over 680 beds and the ability to feed 2,000 people daily. While the hotel (Hotel Colombia El Dorado) we stayed at was clean and moderately comfortable, I cannot possibly imagine their restaurant being able to keep up with more than 20 people since our food was less than stellar in both timing and quality, a minor hiccup in our trip. Agriculture and growing of livestock seem to be the primary economic activities of the region, but to be honest I didn't have time to talk to anyone about this aspect of the area.

Dancers are rehearsing as we arrive in Puente Nacional.
Promoted across the country as the biggest ‘Feria’ in Colombia, a celebration of the First Comunera Victoria, (Primera Victoria Comunera) there were indeed visitors from Bogota, three hours to the south, and also from Bucaramanga, four hours to the north and plenty of other places as well judging from the license plates on the parked cars. Surely most of the 5,600 local townspeople and a good portion of the over 12,000 rural residents were also crammed into the town square to enjoy the activities. Almost everyone was wearing the Comunero costume of black skirt or pants, white blouse and a sombrero and some added the red necktie.

Meat hanging and other samples awaiting your pleasure.
We arrived on Saturday, May 5, about 9:30 a.m. after getting up at ‘screech o’clock’ to be on the bus by 6 a.m. If we had not stopped for a much-needed breakfast, we could have arrived even earlier in time to hear the Marching Band going through the streets at 4 a.m., attending the Rosary Mass at 5 a.m. and then joined in watching the students of numerous educational institutions parade past to the Lelio Olarte park where the formal ceremony began at 9 a.m. with the singing of the various hymns of Colombia – the national song, the state song and the city song. The park was named for the composer, Lelio Olarte Brown, born December 4, 1882 responsible for creating “Guabina, Guabina” well known throughout Santander, if not the rest of the world.
Technical college theatrical group in park plaza; city offices in background.
The Comuneros call for freedom from the foppish
fellow in the blue coat to the left (photo) threatening
more violent actions which never transpired - then or now.
 However, we did arrive in time to see the impressive theatrical presentation of the Comuneros and the Indigenous tribes facing off due to the conflicts caused by the Spaniard arrival along with the various religious leaders, the aristocracy and the troops wanting to control the lands and the people. The fervor of the Comuneros came across easily in today’s youth as the actors of the past.

Along with this energetic presentation, there were examples of old equipment for sugar cane production, leather making, forging metal, making coffee and brandy, pulling sisal for weaving and samples of various foods along with pottery and numerous other crafts for sale.
The Indigenous tribes wanted their lands back, but they
had to settle for not being under Spanish rule.

We left after lunch for a trip to Velez, which will be the subject of the next entry.

After our return from Velez that night, we all decided to get a snack before the Tiple (guitars with 12 strings playing a particular type of music) concert. While it was a nice concert and some lovely music, the day’s activities had worn me out and I was not alone in my desire to find a place to stretch out. Most of the group retired for the night and I didn’t have much time to read before my eyes were closing, even though the bed was only slightly softer than the floor.

NEXT: Velez – the first place in the world to give women the right to vote!

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