Photo Essay: Chiva Buses Get Festive for the Flower Festival in Medellin, Colombia

Festive buses, called chivas, are a staple in Medellin, Colombia and in the entire Antioquia region. They were introduced in the early 1900s when a bus chasis was imported from the US and modified to carry agricultural products as well as people. The first basic models were quickly livened up with bright colors and even given nicknames from their drivers. Today, chivas are an artistic point of pride used as everyday transportation and available for hire as chauffeured party buses.

As if the chivas that roam the streets of Medellin, Colombia aren’t festive enough, during the annual Feria de las Flores Flower Festival, held in the city every August, owners kick it up a notch by adding flowers galore. Here’s what it looked like as drivers put the finishing touches on their chivas before they are paraded through the streets of Medellin in 2014.

Chiva Chivas and flowers Medellin Colombia Decorating a chiva Medellin Flower Fair Chivas y Flores Chivas y Flores Medellin Colombia Colombia Chivas flower fair Chivas y Flores parade Medellin flower fair Chivas y Flores parade Chivas in Medellin Chiva Colombian bus Desfile de Chivas y Flores Medellin Desfile de Chivas y Flores  la Feria de las Flores Medellin

Flower Festival Medellin travel tips

Every year the Flower Festival in Medellin brings in thousands of tourists and hotels fill up fast. During last year’s Flower Festival we managed to get a room at 61 Prado Guesthouse and we highly recommend it to any traveler who likes spotlessly clean and comfortable rooms at reasonable rates (US$35 for a private double room with bathroom) in a homey environment just a few blocks from Medellin’s famous metro system. Here’s a great primer for the 2014 Flower Festival including parade routes and more in English.

 

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The Amazing Artisans Behind the Flower Festival – Medellin, Colombia

More than 600,000 flowers are used to create the spectacle that is the Flower Parade, a highlight of the annual Feria de las Flores Flower Festival in Medellin, Colombia. And that’s just for one parade! The total number of flowers used to craft elaborate displays, public art works and more during this beloved annual event is probably closer to 1.5 million, and those flowers don’t drop from the sky and arrange themselves. Nope. A small army of growers and artisans are responsible for the blooming beauty and we visited a few of them in the hectic and exciting lead up to the Flower Festival.

Carriel igantes de las flores - feria de las flores medellin

More than 600,000 flowers are used to make elaborate arrangements carried in the annual Flower Parade in Medellin, Colombia and many thousands more are used to make displays, like this enormous traditional carriel bag, which pop up around the city.

Flowers rule in Colombia

Colombia ranks second behind Holland in global flower exports and the sprawling, sparsely populated mountain town of Santa Elena is part of that industry. Though technically within the sprawling city limits of Medellin, Santa Elena is worlds away with its provincial vibe, agricultural core and country atmosphere.

Fruits and vegetables are also grown in this fertile environment, but flowers rule. We were told that the arrangements that are carried by paraders, called silleteros, in the Flower Parade must contain a minimum of 15 different varieties of flowers. This helps explain the diversity you can see being grown in Santa Elena.

The silleta arrangements themselves are also created in Santa Elena. There are three main categories of arrangements: Traditional arrangements resemble super-sized flower arrangements, Monumental arrangements are created by covering enormous circles with flowers and Emblematic arrangements are like portable US style parade floats portraying three-dimensional scenes, sometimes with moving parts.

The fourth category pays the bills and many artisans in Santa Elena make arrangements which depict corporate logos. We watched a man put the finishing touches on an arrangement for Antioqueno Aguardiente, the region’s beloved fermented sugar cane booze.

Making silletas in Santa Elena - Silleta Emblematico Aguardiente Antioqueno

We watched an artisan in Santa Elena put the finishing touches on a corporate arrangement portraying the logo of Antioqueno Aguardiente, the region’s beloved fermented sugar cane booze…

Medellin Flower festival Silleta Emblematico Aguardiente Antioqueno

…then we saw a silletero carry the finished product in the Flower Parade.

Growing and arranging flowers for local sale and for the annual Flower Festival is such an important part of Santa Elena’s existence that the town square has a huge statue commemorating floral work.

Silletero statue Santa Elena Medellin

This statue in the petite main plaza of Santa Elena honors flower growers, arrangers and silleteros.

Jesus the silletero Santa Elena church

During the annual Flower Festival, even Jesus becomes a silletero in Santa Elena.

Meeting the most charismatic flower farmer in Colombia

Directions to Don Aristedes’ Finca Chagualo (named for a common type of tree in the Santa Elena region) go like this: “Turn right at the second phone booth then turn left at the big cedar tree.” The two-wheel-drive vehicle we were in (not our truck) couldn’t get up the steep and rocky final driveway to the finca so we walked the last bit past a large mora  (blackberry) field (we stole a few). This turned out to be the best way to approach the finca because we rose slowly up the steep hill with ample time to take in the expanding view and quickening breeze.

And then there was Don Aristedes, regal in his traditional silletero garb: black pants, white shirt, Panama hat, cloth shoes like espadrilles and the gorgeous carriel bag made from black patent leather, cowhide and colored thread.

Don Aristides Finca Chagualo Santa Elena

Don Aristedes in front of his finca (and the Colombia tourism poster with his face on it) in Santa Elena in full silletero garb.

Don Aristides carriel

The traditional carriel bag is as essential to a silletero as the flower arrangement he’s carrying.

Don Aristedes’ rustically stylish and meticulously kept home is modest as is his flower farm but his personal pride, however, was palpable as he showed us around.

He has participated in 47 Flower Parades, once with a broken leg injured when a large milk jug fell on it. He’s never won an award and he says that’s not his goal. He does it for the tradition and his main job is to grow flowers year round in plastic-covered greenhouses on his property.

Don Aristides flowers Santa Elena

Don Aristedes in one of the greenhouses on his property where he grows flowers year round, not just for the annual Flower Festival.

One small room in Don Aristedes’ home has been turned into a museum of Flower Festival history and traditions. His greatest pride and joy is a decades old artesenal silleta made from fine wood that’s been hand rubbed and rounded into a piece of art. It’s not at all like the silletas which are mass produced today out of cheap plywood and pine, which Don Aristedes called garbage which a sniff.

Silletero Don Aristides silleta

Tradition is paramount to Don Aristedes and here he carries his beloved silleta, a rare example of true crafstmanship and top materials in a world where they are now mostly cobbled together using flimsy, cheap wood.

Don Aristedes says silleteros have a responsibility to represent the proud face of the Antioquia region (of which Medellin is the capital) to the world. He is so good at it that his photograph appears on a Colombian tourism campaign poster and he has traveled around the world representing Colombia.

Don-Aristides-flower-finca

Seven families work for Don Aristedes on his flower farm. Here, a worker sorts fresh flowers for sale.

If you want to visit Santa Elena and meet Don Aristedes for yourself, contact Medellin City Services and book their half day (US$100) or full day (US$175) tour to the region. Both tours include a visit to Don Aristdes’ finca, a souvenir key chain, a regional beverage, a bilingual guide and pickup and return to Medellin in a comfortable vehicle. The full day tour also includes a traditional lunch in Santa Elena and a visit to the town’s silletero museum.

Frog Rana Gigantes de las flores Feria de las flores medellin

This enormous flower-covered frog appeared in Medellin during the 2014 Flower Festival.

Jaguar Gigantes de las flores Feria de las flores medellin

A technicolor leopard, decorated entirely in flowers, was part of the city displays during the 2014 Flower Festival in Medellin.

Drogonfly Gigantes de las flores Feria de las flores medellin

This flower-covered dragonfly dwarfed the people who came to see it in Medellin during the annual Flower Festival.

Flower Festival Medellin travel tips

Every year the Flower Festival in Medellin brings in thousands of tourists and hotels fill up fast. During last year’s Flower Festival we managed to get a room at 61 Prado Guesthouse and we highly recommend it to any traveler who likes spotlessly clean and comfortable rooms at reasonable rates (US$35 for a private double room with bathroom) in a homey environment just a few blocks from Medellin’s famous metro system. Here’s a great primer for the 2014 Flower Festival including parade routes and more in English.

 

Read more about travel in Colombia

 

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Flower Festival Classic Car Parade – Medellin, Colombia

Yeah, yeah the Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival) in Medellin, Colombia was started in 1957 to recognize and encourage the area’s agricultural pursuits. But times change and today one of the highlights of the annual 10 day Flower Festival is the Desfile de Autos Clasicos y Antiguos Classic Car Parade. It’s no Concours d’Elegance, but you will see beloved makes and models from Ford to Porsche to Datsun, you’ll hear horns that play La Cucaracha (which we totally want for our truck) and you’ll see some pretty good Elvis impersonators, like the one below cavorting with Marilyn and some escapees from Laugh In.

Medellin Classic Car Parade - Elvis

Elvis cavorts with Marilyn and some escapees from Laugh In during the Flower Festival Classic Car Parade in Medellin, Colombia.

Flower Festival Classic Car Parade

The first stages of the Flower Festival Classic Car Parade are dominated by vehicles plastered in logos and ads for the sponsoring companies and military vehicles. Yawn. After about an hour of that, vehicles that could generously be called classic and a handful that would qualify as truly antique started rolling by.

Vehicles came from all over Colombia (mostly from Bogotá) and all over South America. Costumed participants generally fell into four categories which often had nothing to do with the birth date of the vehicle they were in: The ’60s/’70s, Great Gatsby or Elvis.

Here are some of our favorite scenes from the Flower Festival Classic Car Parade in Medellin.

Flower Festival Classic Car Parade: Best of the 1950s roadsters

Medellin car parade - 1950s sports cars Medellin car parade - 1950s sports cars

Flower Festival Classic Car Parade: Best of the 1960s

Medellin car parade - 1962 Corvette 60s-composite

Flower Festival Classic Car Parade: Best of the mini cars

Medellin Desfile de Autos Clasicos y Antiguos - 1953 Morris Minor Medellin Desfile de Autos Clasicos y Antiguos - mini cars

 Flower Festival Classic Car Parade: Best of the 1950s

Medellin Desfile de Autos Clasicos y Antiguos - 1953 Opel Medellin Classic Car Parade

 Flower Festival Classic Car Parade: Best of the Chevy Bel Airs

Medellin Classic Car Parade - Chevy Bel Air Medellin Desfile de Autos Clasicos y Antiguos - Chevy Bel Air

Flower Festival Classic Car Parade: Best of the true antiques

Medellin Classic Car Parade - oldies

Flower Festival Classic Car Parade: Best of the 1970s

Medellin Desfile de Autos Clasicos y Antiguos - 1970 Citroen 2CV Medellin Classic Car Parade - 19702 cars

Flower Festival Classic Car Parade: Best of the original SUVs

Medellin Classic Car Parade - 1954 Willys CJ3B Jeep

Medellin Classic Car Parade - Jeeps

Flower Festival Classic Car Parade: Best of the trucks

Medellin Classic Car Parade - 1969 VW Pickup Medellin Classic Car Parade -= Pickup Trucks

By the way, whose bright idea was it to slap a big, square parade sticker on everyone’s door? When the Classic Car Parade was over we watched one poor owner trying to get the damn thing off, damaging his vehicle in the process.

priest on a scooter - Medellin Desfile de Autos Clasicos y Antiguos

It was neither classic nor a car but the “Pope” on a scooter was a big hit in the Flower Festival Classic Car Parade in Medellin.

Flower Festival Medellin travel tips

Every year the Flower Festival in Medellin brings in thousands of tourists and hotels fill up fast. During last year’s Flower Festival we managed to get a room at 61 Prado Guesthouse and we highly recommend it to any traveler who likes spotlessly clean and comfortable rooms at reasonable rates (US$35 for a private double room with bathroom) in a homey environment just a few blocks from Medellin’s famous metro system. Here’s a great primer for the 2014 Flower Festival including parade routes and more in English.

Want to see a 7,000 horse power parade? Check out our post, photos and video from the Flower Festival Cabalgata Horse Parade which included 7,000 horses and riders.

 

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