Wednesday, February 13, 2013


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I say a good sound effect is worth even more. No sound effect captures the experience of living Carnaval in Barranquilla better than a good “ufff!!!”*

Over the past months, this great expression has crept into my vocabulary, to the point where it’s become one of my favorites. As in any culture, costeños** have tons of great, funny, and ridiculous ways to get their point across. So to put “ufff” into context, I wanted to lead off this post by sharing a few of my other favorite costeño communicationisms.

1. The Lip Point***
Next time someone asks you where something is, don’t waste your energy on any grand hand gestures or complicated verbal instructions. Just thrust your lips in the general direction you want to indicate, and your buddy will know exactly how to get where they’re going—"over there." If you’re having trouble picturing what this looks like, just give it a shot while you’re sitting at your desk in the office. It’s almost like you’re trying to kiss someone sitting next to you without rotating your body or face at all. Got it?

2. Miercoles!
You always have to be ready to censor yourself, especially when you work around little kids all day. My aunt Carmen back home in Oakland has a whole arsenal of almost-vulgar, but completely harmless exclamations. For example, “GOT-tobemorecareful”... or “SHUT THE front door.” In Colombia, with just a few extra letters, you can turn any poopy situation into everyone’s fourth-favorite day of the week! So next you get a parking ticket, just yell it out... “MIER-coles!”

3. The Triple Confirmation / C.F.U.
The costeño spanish accent is notoriously difficult to understand. I often joke that costeñol is just like normal spanish, except without any consonants. To get a better sense of what it sounds like, knock half your teeth out, spread peanut butter all over your tongue, then read a sentence out loud without closing your mouth... and read it REALLY fast. Perhaps because of this phenomenon, costeños tend to work a lot a confirmations into their everyday conversations. My classroom teacher friends would call this classic technique the “Check For Understanding” or C.F.U. This is what a simple story in costenol might sound like.

“Ayer, yo fui al centro porque quería comprar un pollo—me entiendes? Entonces, fui al Carrefour, porque no se vende pollo en la tienda en mi barrio—te explico? Pero, no compré nada cuando llegué porque cobran mucho en Carrefour, si o no?”

“Yesterday, I went downtown because I wanted to buy a chicken—you understand me? So, I went to the Carrefour because they don’t sell chicken at the store in my neighborhood—do I make myself clear? But, when I got there I didn’t buy any chicken because they charge so much at Carrefour—right or wrong?

I could go on all day, but like I said, I really want to share my feelings about "ufff” and everything that’s it’s meant to me over the past week and a half. If you’re still having trouble with this one, imagine the sound a cartoon character might make when getting sucker punched in the gut. That’s the gist of it. So, when someone calls you on Sunday morning after a late night to ask how you’re feeling, the proper response is “ufff!” Or, "Did you see Mike Tyson knock out Trevor Berbick? Ufff!!!" Now, don’t get me wrong—this sound effect doesn’t necessarily have a bad connotation. In the context of Carnaval, I use it to communicate the extreme levels of healthy fun that was had by all. Everybody enjoys it in their own way. The few (crazy) people that don’t like Carnaval vacate the city to make way for the thousands of people that converge on Barranquilla from across Colombia and the world every February.

Personally, I take a more nocturnal approach to the extravaganza—getting most of my “work” done between the hours of 6pm and 6am. Some people might call me blasphemous for skipping out on some of the daytime parades. Others will call me soft—or something worse—for sleeping at all during the week. All I can say is do you, because I damn sure am gonna do me.

So, here’s a few pictures and highlights from week:

Friday (Feb 1) - La Guacherna
My Carnaval officially kicked off at La Guacherna, the night-time parade that functions as a sort of warm-up for the daytime desfilas that follow.

Saturday - La Nalgoteca
An electrocumbia extravaganza, featuring a guest appearance from Colombia’s own Systema Solar.

Wednesday - Cumple de Chavela
My host-mom—officially the coolest woman in Colombia—turned 35 last week (wink wink). As her daughter pointed out, she's been turning 35 for many years now, but that's cool. We celebrated in style at the house, not for the last time that week.

Thursday - Noche Del Rio
This was a excellent outdoor cultural concert, featuring beautiful music from the Coast. Cumbia, Tamboras, and more. It was held at the Parque Cultural del Caribe, one of my favorite venues and museums in town. Not a bad seat in the house, and as always, I was in the company of great peoples. The finale of the night was a performance by Barranquilla's own Colectro.

Friday - Tascas Club Colombia
The 12,000 ($6.67) pesos entrance fee to this outdoor party came with a bucket of five Club Colombias on ice for each person. That may sound reasonable, but consider that I was with four girls—two of whom were driving—which means I really had to carry the weight.

Saturday - Cancha Nueva Granada
This was the official go-hard-or-go-home night of Carnaval for me. Unlike a lot of American transplants, I don’t just tolerate vallenato music—I love it. But if I have to choose, I’ll pick salsa music any day of the week. Fortunately, I didn’t have to pick on Saturday. The “Los Mejores” concert was held at a massive sand soccer pitch, featuring just what it advertised—the best. Diomedes Diaz and Silvestre Dangond were in the “building,” with the later taking the stage to headline the concert at about 5am. After performing a song or two, Silvestre took a minute to give a shout out to everyone outside the concert that greeted him on the way in. Immediately, the barrio errupted in screams of love from what must have been a thousand people enjoying the music from outside the walls of the concert. That was powerful. Without a doubt though, the highlight of the show was hearing two legendary salsa groups: Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz, and Hansel & Raul. “Sonido Bestial” has recently edged out “Pedro Navaja” as my favorite salsa song.


Sunday - House Party
After a short recovery from la cancha***, we kept it moving en my barrio. From late afternoon into the night, la desorden**** reigned—maizena, kola****, salsa, vallenato, champeta, costeños, gringos, etc. The second phase of the night was an adventure to Berbetronik, the Red Bull Music Academy concert featuring electronic music, Reggaeton and Champeta. It was a relatively early night, which saw me home by 4am.

Monday - Tienda, Block Party, Block Party, Ice Cream
On monday I was treated to a new barrio experience, in a part of town where I’d never really hung out before. Really, it felt a lot like my barrio at times—lots of plastic chairs (where do they all come from), really loud and great music, and tons of great people taking care of us. From the neighborhood block party, we moved on to catch the end of another block party, then capped the night/day off by hunting down the first open tienda. The final highlight of my Carnaval was sitting on the sidewalk, eating ice cream at 8am. 

Tuesday - Ufff!
In the bay we used to call it “luffin’.” Here, it’s “hacer locha,” “flojear, or "jugar rasquebol.”******* Either way, I spent all day Tuesday doing absolutely nothing, which is exactly what I needed.

Wednesday - Back on the Grind

Pura Vida,


* pronounced "ooof"
** people from the Caribbean Coastal Region of Colombia
*** When writing this post, I came across the blog of a volunteer who served in Nicaragua. Apparently, the lip point is common there too, and she had already written about it. Photo credit to Nicaraguan Lauren, thanks!!!
**** sirope de kola (red syrup) is one of many random substances that costeños cover each other with during Carnaval season. Other favorites include corn starch and spray foam.
***** soccer pitch
****** see my last post for an explanation of the term desorden.
******* rascar = to scratch. Thus, if sitting around scratching your ass was a sport, it would be called "rasquebol."


  1. I want to try that lip thing, but I'm afraid people would just think I'm weird.