Today, tonight, my dear niece Lauren arrives in Bogota. She is probably just getting on the plane in Houston as I write. I’m so excited! Fully chuffed! Still have NO plans on where to take her, and my sister Kyna who arrives Friday night. But I will!

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Medelli­n is still in the running! What a great city. The flowers are from last week’s Flower Festival, specifically an Orchid show. I spent last week in Medellin training a team of surveyors. As you can imagine, survey work is episodic. In a bustling, growing, successful city like Medellín, sometimes it’s hard to find good folks who don’t already have full-time jobs. Survey work is also hard as sin. Can you imagine traipsing around rural Colombia with a clipboard, a tablet computer, and an hour-long survey you had to administer? The whole team was great. They’ll soon be “out where the coffee grows” – or we hope it’s coffee and not coca. 160 data collectors in total, bringing in three per day, gets us to 20,300 by… sometime in late October, early November. Lots of data!

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This shot is from the hillside overlooking Medellin. Apparently Pablo Escobar had a neighborhood here under his complete control – he provided schools, health centers, everything the state didn’t, and in turn, they didn’t turn him in. It was a bloody period in Medellin’s history, perhaps the bloodiest. But Medellin today, especially contrasted with Bogota, is just so lovely. The streets are pothole free, the traffic is city-like but not horrible, the people are just adorably nice, and the weather is gorgeous.

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Apart from the Orchids, the flower fair was not overwhelming. I think I did everything backwards and the wrong day, and I missed when everything is super spruced-up. The gray skies this one day didn’t help. But all the stuff below is made of flowers.

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The Flower Festival comes from the day when the people who live in the mountains around Medellin strapped on these big wooden-framed packs full of flowers and fruits, to bring down to the valley to market. (You probably already know, Colombia is like second or third in the world for flower production and export. After the Dutch, but tied with Ecuador.) The people who carried them were called SIlleteros, and there’s a monument to them in a town up in the mountains:

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The silletas, which is what they call the thing they carry, looks like this from the side. Nowadays they are decorative, not full of fruit and flowers, so very light. I carried one for a minute – totally doable. Until I realized that mine was a version for children to carry.

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So what one does, is one boards a Chiva in the city (see photo below) and one rides up to the mountains to the sites where they are putting together the silletas, the day before the big parade. It is just one ranch after another of people partying and hot-glueing flowers left and right.

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Then in the parade, hundreds of modern-day silleteros dress in traditional clothes and walk those silletas back down to Medellin, for a giant parade. Most of them are older folks – it is considered a family honor to be part of the parade.desfilesilleteros2014 29_MG_1124DE7C5292