San Juan de Pasto [13] lies at the base of the active volcán Galeras in a valley surrounded by a patchwork of green hills in the south of Colombia.  We came for the annual Carnival of Blacks and Whites, which originally was an ancient Indian ritual to ask their gods for protection for their crops.  Later the Spanish declared January 5 a day off for black slaves who celebrated enthusiastically.  It has evolved into a weeklong party.


The celebrations had already begun when we arrived on New Year´s Eve.  The streets were filled with people, many carrying effigies (called Años Viejos) of all shapes and sizes.  They are made from old clothes and filled with rags, paper or sawdust (it used to be gunpowder!) to represent the old year.  People carry them, strap them to their cars or prop them up outside their shops and houses.  At midnight they are all burnt to wipe out the past year to be able to begin again afresh.  The beer was flowing freely.


The children´s parade got the Carnaval off to a fine start.  Everyone was spraying each other with foam. Things were starting to get messy!  That afternoon the rain didn´t dampen the spirits of the performers or spectators of the groups paying homage to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth), each with about 100 dancers and musicians.


On the 5th things hot up – wear your lest favourite outfit.  This is the day of the Blacks.  If you haven´t painted your face black, someone will do it for you.  The black paint “acts to homogenise the different races and social classes”.  The city and everyone in it is now covered in white dust, thrown by the handful.  There are bands playing.  It´s great fun – for the first hour or so.  The 6th is the day of the Whites and the main parade with floats, music and dancing, and people in costumes.  Get there early if you want a good position.


South of Pasto the road winds around emerald green hills, following a spectacular canyon to reach Ipiales [14], a few kilometres from the Colombia/Ecuador border.  We joined hundreds of the faithful at the nearby Santuario de Nuestra Señora de las Lajas, a neo-Gothic basilica built on a bridge spanning a deep ravine.


Tiled mural depicting the patchwork hillsides around Pasto

Steeples of the Pasto Cathedral

Centre of Pasto

The man on stilts with his effigy

These effigies are burnt on New Year´s Eve ...

... to erase the bad things of the past year

Celebration for the Virgin de las Mercedes

No one is exempt from being sprayed with foam at the Carnaval

The children´s parade

Parade paying homage to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth)

Little boy armed with his can of spray foam is ready for action

The over 60s group marching

Everyone paints their face black on January 5

Little boy covered with foam

Beware of kids with spray cans!

On the 6th white powder throwing gets serious

Final parade has some strange creatures

In Pasto we stayed at the Koala Inn Hostal. The breakfast pancakes were great.

Smoky roadside kitchen at a bus stop on the way to Ipiales

Guinea pigs (local delicacy) roasting

Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Las Lajas