Pijao (Colombia) - What’s the hurry?
"People are born and married, and live and die in the midst of an uproar so frantic that you would think they would go mad of it," said the American writer William Dean Howells in 1907. Maybe that way of interpreting the world then was a prelude of how frenetic life would be 100 years later, motivating the creation of a series of movements that invite us to live our days with less of a rush.
Citta means city in Italian and it was combined with the English slow in 1999 in Italy to create a vibe aimed at generating a consciousness in relation to what surrounds people, such as the environment, music, food, art, sex, and to create a formula to do things at an appropriate speed. Currently, the movement has spread from Italy to Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom and Norway. And from the Old World it has arrived to Pijao, Quindío, Colombia.
A communications specialist born in Pijao, Mónica Flórez, left her small town twenty years ago but returned ten years later to visit her family. She found a disappointing place. "If you had come here when I returned, you would have seen a total abandonment of the architecture, the parks, the streets," says Monica.
That can be explained because the population experienced three phenomena that brought the town a loss of faith: The failure of The Coffee Pact in 1989, the earthquake of '99 and a guerilla invasion in 2001. "That finished off our image, our faith, our strength, no one would come, everyone would say it was dangerous, the town was absolutely stigmatized, even people from here used to advise visitors to go away," she recalls.
It was not difficult to spook the tourists and even the locals from the department of Quindío. In order to reach Pijao one has to cross the Central Range of the Andes through a narrow and fearful road that in fact a decade ago was not safe due to guerrilla presence. The trip takes an hour from Armenia, the capital city of the department of Quindío. But times have changed for the better for Pijao, because now it is possible to make the trip in safe conditions.
The town was founded in 1902 and it has 7,200 inhabitants, 4,000 of them in the rural zones. The climate is delicious in spite of being located in a mountain hollow where one might think that no breeze would pass by. Indeed, it is blessed with fresh and clean air while also adorned with year-round colors like those of a painter's palette.
And Cittaslow Appears
The disasters and the apathy of her own people motivated Mónica to think about what she could do for her town. And that is how she came to live there again and to create the Pijao Cittaslow Foundation nine years ago. "I began working with the culture, public awareness, architectural heritage; the people just didn't recognize it all. We involved the children, we improved education, we started to recuperate our building facades and to understand our own environmental richness," explains the communications specialist. Little by little many started to understand that doing things slowly and with good conscience was going to bring benefits for everyone.
In the book In Praise of Slowness the Canadian journalist Carl Honoré explains it this way: "The great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquility to make meaningful connections--with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own bodies and minds. Some call that living better. Others would describe it as spiritual."
Nevertheless, in spite of a big percentage of Pijao inhabitants enthusiastically embracing the theory of Cittaslow, it has been difficult for some others to "break" with certain traditions. And that is no surprise. If, for example, for decades they were used to playing loud music in establishments and even competing for who had the loudest music, having taverns in the middle of residential housing and seeing all this as normal, why would they feel attracted to a European movement that speaks to them of auditory pollution and that proposes a change in their way of living?
The mayor of Pijao, Alberto Peña, points out that "what has been done with the owners of public establishments is to create commitment pacts and education, teaching them what Cittaslow is all about and telling them
that it does not want to end their traditions but rather manage them for the well-being of all." Peña adds that they have done treaties with an organization of responsible tourism that trained 1,500 people in the ideals of the movement. According to his accounts, "at this moment there probably is a 60 percent approval rating in the community."
What do the locals from Pijao say?
In her backyard Sofía Peña has a garden that she started to cultivate thanks to what she learned from Cittaslow. She and others who wanted to do the same got training at Sena (a vo-tech), and now they have their own tomatoes, avocados, onions, lettuce, mandarin oranges, zucchini, tobacco and aromatic plants such as rosemary, calendula and basil.
"Before, we used to eat with a lot of chemicals and now we make our own repellents. We don't want anything from Monsanto, we don't want transgenic seeds because we are capable of doing things our own way," assures Sofía. And she adds that health has changed: "My husband used to be constantly sick in the stomach from gastritis, and now he is very well."
Near the town's central park is Archi Handicrafts, an establishment where a pair of young brothers inherited a wood business from their father. 34 year-old Daniel Trujillo, one of the brothers, happy and vigorous, comments that before knowing about Cittaslow he used to have a very hectic life: "What we do now is reactivate what is natural. What we like is to have returned to some traditions that are healthy and noble and we are no longer interested in being connected to WhatsApp and Facebook."
A project that was achieved for the good of the community with the guidance of the Cittaslow Foundation is "Happy Hen." Its administrator is 27 year-old Jorge Cañas, and he is perhaps the most enthusiastic of all the Pijao natives interviewed: "The idea was born when we saw that many women have eight or ten backyard chickens at their homes and we thought that it was feasible to improve the process so they could have additional income."
But, what do some hens have to do with Cittaslow? Jorge explains that it is related because it aims towards a local consumption. "We have the capacity of producing different types of foods without the need to become industrialized; we contribute what we know and we give benefits to the community. All the women that have their hens in this project are happy because they receive income."
Jorge Cañas mentions something fundamental in the effective implementation of Cittaslow: the involvement of the Pijao youth. "Initially one would talk with them and they would say: 'The fields do not produce money, there is nothing to do in Pijao.' And I have told them, no, look at all the land we have and anything can be grown, we can fill it with animals and we can produce. Sure, we can't have a very expansive exploitation, but with little we can be efficient."
And they can be efficient with agriculture as well as with responsible tourism. Colegurre Tours does not have touristic guides, but rather "cultural interpreters," a term well defined by its manager, Giovanni Sarria. Guided by Cittaslow, three special emphases have been developed: architecture, antique photography and hiking.
What they want to do for Pijao is a non-massive tourism that can give job opportunities to women and youth. "We don't want business people that build big resorts and that our inhabitants become employees of foreigners. We are proposing family hotels; we want to have 100 beds with a local certification, and hiking for small groups led by local people" explains Mónica Flórez.
Pilot Plan for Latin America
The Pijao Cittaslow Foundation put the town in the local, regional and world scene, and that is no small achievement. Pijao managed to be included in the international network thanks to its landscape, its clean air, architecture, single origin local coffee and its people. Nevertheless, Pijao lacks certification, and to obtain it the residents of Pijao have to continue working on two specific issues: basic sanitation and quality education. Since its founding, the struggle to get certification is noteworthy, but in reality a lot depends on the public government and especially on the mayor and his council that will be elected in October. In the midst of the current electoral campaign, Cittaslow is not yet a priority.
"The topic of basic sanitation is the main issue because we don't have potable water-affirms Mónica Flórez-. We are weak in the management of residual waters and solid residues." Blanca Rocío Zuleta is the State Department Director of Water, and, contrary to what Mónica has stated, Blanca assures that all of the municipalities of Quindío have potable water and that just a few rural zones lack this service. She admits that she is still trying to create the construction of a plant to manage residues.
What is a fact is that Pijao was chosen as a model Cittaslow for Latin America and that many world visitors will keep coming, hopefully to learn to live with less hurry and to keep proving what is sung in its anthem:
"With its soul fused in its fields
And in its summit a happy Pijao
Quindío builds its history
With a valiant and intense people."
Assistant Director of "La Luciérnaga" of Caracol Radio @ClaraMorales M
Little by little many understood that doing things slower brought benefits
Parque Pacea: This educational theme park displays coffee production, entertainment and natural attractions. Commitment to coffee culture is its principal objective. There one can enjoy agro-tourism, landscaping and specimens of its 61 bird species.
El paraje de las garzas (heron refuge): This area is known as the place where herons congregate, adding to the natural beauty of the landscape to be enjoyed at sunset.
Photo by César David Martínez
The initiative seeks to boost a non-massive tourism that can give job opportunities to women and youth.
Alberto Peña Valencia, mayor of Pijao.
Circle: 1999 is the year in which the term Cittaslow is used for the first time to name a European movement of calm cities concerned with their surroundings.
Mónica Flórez, the heart and soul of the Pijao Cittaslow movement.
Through commitment pacts and education, the owners of public establishments have understood that Cittaslow is seeking the well-being of all.
Document translated by Nora and Steven Skattebo for Mónica Flórez and Cittaslow International
Taken from original Spanish "Semana Quindío" Article written by Claudia Morales