Santa Elena, an hour’s drive from Medellin, high up in the hills, is the center of the local flower industry. It is also there that the “Silletas”, are skillfully assembled at various fincas. The silletas are artistic compositions of flowers attached to a large oval piece of plywood. On its back is a kind of harness that allows it to be carried in the “Defile de los Silleteros This parade is the highlight of the “Feria des Las Flores”.
Again, only by accident did we discover that tours are offered to watch the artists in Santa Elena applying their finishing touches to the silletas before the big day. Again, the same overworked single person at the tourist information at Parque Berrio explained the way to one of the travel agencies where we could buy a ticket for a stiff 18 USD.
We were told to be at the Plaza Mayor at 06:00 pm, a huge area, but with the help of the police we found the meeting point. An army of young volunteers organized the arriving Columbians-only in little minibuses, not without a lot of running around and hectic maneuvering. A guide, Mateo, was assigned, colored bracelets were attached to our wrists, the music for the supposedly 40 minutes ride was chosen and off we went.
We pretended to understand everything that was communicated and tried to look cheerful. Our fellow travelers were super enthusiastic. A lot of applause for every syllable the guide uttered, or when the music was changed, or when the word Columbia or Medellin was mentioned. After more than an hour driving on dark, windy roads, a local guide joined us, more applause, more music, singing and clapping. Several police checkpoints later and after twice the time scheduled, we stopped abruptly in front of what looked like a make-shift shelter.
Other tourists, all Colombians, were already jammed into the tiny space under the thatched roof. Mainly because it had started raining and temperatures were getting chilly, but also a huge, single silleta was displayed in the center. A local demonstrated how the flowers are attached and, despite the chatty atmosphere, tried to add additional information.
Quickly it dawned on us that this was it, this was why we would have travelled a total of 3 hours by the end of this excursion. Since we could not understand a single word of the explanations, we did what most people had started doing, get a drink or two.
Lining up squashed in a tiny crowd, we made our first acquaintance, a young man from Medellin, a student of music. The more cups of rum we poured down together, the more we enjoyed this non-event. After an hour we were herded back in the bus. By now our Columbian bus-mates were holding on to nearly empty bottles of rum and aguadiente and spirits were high.
Another stop at the main plaza in Santa Elena to refuel on booze gave us a chance to soak up the final hour of a party that had been going there all day. Bizarre, probably sums it all up, in a nice way.
Back in the bus, the mood even heightened, by now everybody realized that there were two “Gringos” on the bus and we were made to gulp down more aguadiente, jokes were told and everybody roared in laughter. Smiling pleasantly at everybody, we repeated countless times how great Columbia was and its people, and how much we enjoyed Medellin.
Our conclusion, this trip was not meant to be at all about learning something about the silletas or the flower industry up in Santa Elena, but its whole purpose was to party.