Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reflecting on the start of 2013

Cathedral de Barichara at night New Year's Eve 2013
It has been an interesting start to 2013, surrounded by hundreds of people and yet quite definitely very alone, but not lonely. Christmas and New Year's holiday in Barichara, Santander, Colombia, S.A. is usually pretty busy anyhow, but this year must have set some records. All the hotels were occupied, the streets were crowded with cars, and every day it was a challenge to navigate the sidewalks and streets with all the traffic and people.

Riding a motorcycle was really hazardous because the visitors were unaccustomed to the narrow streets and seldom looked before opening their doors to see if anyone was passing. I gave up riding altogether because I did not want to either be the cause or effect of this crowding.

Old Year is burned while rockets are launched.
There was another demonstration of this concentration of visitors in what is really quite a small area. After the fireworks on New Year's eve, apparently there was a confrontation between local young men and young men whose parents have vacation homes here. I don't know the details, so I won't say more than the issue of alcohol was clearly a contributing factor in the clash and that I sense the 'town and gown' problem is not going to go away as more and more families choose to have Barichara as their vacation get-away spot.

The over 30-minute firework display was impressive and very loud as rockets and display fireworks were set off near the Cathedral. The burning of the Old Year (in effigy) must have been watched by over 2,000 people around the square, young and old.

In previous years I have enjoyed the display from La Loma, but for various reasons that was not where I ended up. And after days of early morning explosions, late night booms and blasts, it was my fervent hope that this culmination of light and noise would bring some peace and quiet back to this Andean village.

An explosion of fireworks over the parque in Barichara.
Sadly on the same night as the fireworks, there was a fire in the Eco-forest which did a lot of damage. (The Eco-forest is a three-year old project to teach the youngsters about saving native trees and plants.) It  was not known for certain what the cause was, (at least not as of today) but with the lack of rain, the trees and bushes are tinder dry. So it was no surprise at the level of involvement and scary to think how a fire could have a devastating effect on this area if it got started and it was not controlled quickly. Since there are no local 'bomberos' (firefighters), it could definitely be a problem.

It still disturbs me that visitors think it is appropriate to damage our walls with their graffiti. I wish there was some kind of fine for this.

I am sure a lot of people really enjoyed their visit here (and were respectful of this national heritage), and the merchants most certainly benefitted from a vacation period where people were buying things, going to the restaurants and markets, using the taxis, enjoying the recreational resources and musicians were in great demand for all the nightly dances. This definitely was a happening place for the past three weeks, but it is also clear that many of the locals are burned out with the pressure to provide services, often from very early in the day until quite late at night.

Why bring this up? Because it means that the popularity of Barichara may be its undoing unless the mayor and other civic leaders address the challenges of growth. In the past year I can see lots of new houses being constructed and while this does bring employment to many, it also creates enormous dissatisfaction among those who were promised a chance to have a small casa in the proposed barrio to the south, but after two years the development seems to have stalled.

No one wants this colonial village to maintain its quaintness and specialness more than I do. And a couple of ideas I have I think will help to do that. Here they are:

1) During holiday weekends and special events like Feria, eliminate parking in the central park area  and provide small bussettas to transport people from the designated parking areas into the central part of town.
2) Establish a fine for defacing any building or walls anywhere in the village and post notices which warn people of the consequences if they are caught. Enforce those fines and after a few serious enforcements including posting a notice of the names of people who were fined in a public place, it may have the desired effect of causing people to at least think twice before gouging their messages into the walls.
3) Limit use of fireworks to specific days and times so that people can be sure of having good sleep.
4) Make the public toilets available, post information about where they are and keep them maintained.
5) Put out more trash containers and post requests for people to use them; if possible have recyclable and paper trash division.
Central parque of Barichara during Navidad 2012.
I have passed this information on to the local leadership and I hope some of these ideas will be implemented. I know progress is inevitable, I just hope it will be managed.

For me, no resolutions this year - just continuing to offer intentional support where it is needed.


  1. Like any laws anywhere, where's the money to support and enforce them? Your ideas are good enough but I would suggest a source of revenue to the local govnmt to support your concepts.
    If you can show where the economy of the town will benefit, it may have have a chance of being considered.

    1. I do not normally accept postings from Anonymous readers because it suggests the individual is unwilling to make themselves known, but this is a good point and I want to respond to it.

      I have a package to present to the local leadership which does include monetary tags to make the ideas more likely to get their attention because I am all too aware of the need to have a way to support rules, regulations, laws, etc. However, as a woman AND an outsider to this all-male leadership group, I need an 'hombre' who has some local influence to make the presentation on my behalf. That individual is still away on vacation, so I am awaiting his return. If, or when, there is any movement on this issue, I will report back.

      If I sound less than enthusiastic about any of this happening, it is because I have already been down this road before on another issue in the village and saw the outcome which was less - much less - ecologically or socially beneficial to the population, but turned out to have great financial reward for those in charge.

  2. dear sandy,

    i applaud the effort you are putting forth with concern for both the barichara community and the eco-forest, especially in light of the disappointing (maddening) outcome last time around. it takes guts to be an activist, and a citizen-of-the-planet mentality to try to do the right thing. we benefit and learn from the process, and, hopefully, set an example - even if just one other person's consciousness is raised. hopefully, your well thought out strategy and heightened awareness will be rewarded with making a difference.

    cheering you on and sending hugs of encouragement,

    karen, TC