Staying cool in the heat
Clothing should be practical and aesthetically pleasing. In Cartagena, the available options meet that criteria and more. Here, clothing flows and the textures and patterns make it fun to wear.
White gauzy, breathable fabrics are a pragmatic choice in this tropical locale. Other color choices are available with lighter shades preferred, especially on days where the heat index exceeds 100 F degrees. Dresses, blouses, skirts and pants are not constricting yet flattering.
For men, as in other parts of Latin America, the classic guayabara reigns supreme.
Protection from too much sun has a practical tradition that predates sunscreen. The name “Sombrero Vueltiao” means “turned hat” and is a national symbol of Colombia. The hats originated from the indigenous Zenú or Sinú farmers. Hats are woven from Gynerium sagittatum, or caña flecha, a locally grown cane. Quality is determined by the hats’ bending flexibility. The more pairs of fibers braided together, the higher the hat quality.
The time involved in braiding a Sombrero Vueltiao ranges from less than one week to more than a month. Now for a very abbreviated explanation of the manufacturing process. First, the caña flecha leaves are harvested. After the leaves are dried and veins removed, they are cut into strips and sun-dried. As they dry, the strips turn from green to beige or white. Beige strips are soaked in pure black mud. Several days later they are washed in cold water, then boiled in bija, a plant that may be related to the achiote tree. The strips are again sun-dried in the mud and bija until a uniform black color is achieved. After the dying process is complete, the strips are braided.
Inexpensive (less than $25 US) Sombreros Vueltiaos that take a few days to make are called Quincianos, and are composed of loosely woven with 15 braids or pairs of caña flecha strips. Diecinueves contain 19 softer and finer braids and can take about a week to produce. Veintiunos (21 braids) and Veintitres (23) take more time to make and are more expensive. Veintisietes (27) can be folded into pocket-size and will not lose their shape. The denser weave and softer feel of the Veintisietes can take up to a month to make. Recent web prices for Veintisietes were less than $250 US. Additional braid counts with commensurate pricing are also available.
Purses, knapsacks and other accessories woven from caña flecha are available from stores and street vendors all over Cartagena. They come in many color and patterns. Seeing the offerings is a feast for the eyes!
No post about clothing in Cartagena is complete without palanqueras. The town of San Basilio de Palenque is about an hour from Cartagena. By Spanish Crown decree, it became the first free town in South America in 1691. Collectives of women from Palenque are called palanqueras. Dressed primarily in bright yellow, blue or red like the Colombian flag, these women are seen around town carrying fruit baskets on their heads.
Some set up tables near the main plazas. They cut up the delicious fresh fruit and sell the wedges in plastic cups. Friendly faces, vibrant colors and the smell of ripe and refreshing fruit make this a true Cartagena experience!