The Desfile de Silleteros isn’t one of those wimpy parades where the participants ride on floats and wave at the crowd. In this parade, the participants carry pallets wearing several hundred pounds on their backs and walk the whole 2.4km route. The pallets are called silletas, and the people carrying them are flower-growers from the Santa Elena region. They are called silleteros.
This was my second year going to the parade, but it was the first time I got to see the whole thing up close. Last year I went with a friend. We got there way too late to get a seat up front. In fact, we ended up standing on plastic stools that someone was selling. That sounds great, but the crowd in front of us were also standing on those plastic stools.
This time I went with Elizabeth, the other Chess & Coffee partner and we got a place up front. We arrived a couple hours before the start of the parade, but the only spots open were already near the end of the route, which meant we wouldn’t see the actual parade for another two hours. Fortunately, we brought along a chess set in order to pass the time.
We also worried that the participants would be pretty worn out by the time they got to us. What did happen was that by the time the parade reached us, a giant crowd had grown behind us as well. Though at times the press of the crowd was annoying, I am glad I was in a place to really see the relationship between the crowd and the silleteros.
It’s estimated that there were about 800,000 people in the audience along the parade route. That number seems high, but from what I saw I have no reason to doubt it. The population of Medellin is around 2.4 million. Including the surrounding area and you’re closer to 3.7 million. So if you round up, pretty much everyone was at the parade.
This has been going on since 1957. Though the Desfile is considered a big event in the Feria de las Flores, or flower festival, the parade actually pre-dates the festival by about six years. I don’t know if the connection started from the beginning, or where it comes from, but the truth is that the crowd seems mostly to admire the people in the parade.
They love the silletas, of course. Each silleta is decorated with a scene made of flowers on the top, and usually some kind of greenery on the bottom. Some carry messages, religious or civic or symbolic of national pride. Others offer vistas taken from the Colombian countryside. There are some that use very traditional arrangements and there are also sponsored silletas that showcase various corporations that have sponsored the parade.
But more than that, the crowd clearly was calling out enthusiasm and appreciation to the people carrying those huge displays. And the silleteros responded. Though they were near the end of a long parade route, all of them were happy to stop and turn and display the works. Some interacted with the crowd as well.