April 4, 2007

Semana Santa in Bolívar
Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela

Semana Santa (Easter Week) in Ciudad Bolívar is a time of fiestas and festivities, much like the rest of Latin America, but it's here in this Venezuelan city that I've witnessed a particularly memorable event.

The 13th running of El Cristo del Orinoco (Jesus of the Orinco River) kicked off last night on a sandy riverbank of the Orinco, just a few blocks from my posada. I ran into it by chance, on the way to buy a ticket to Caracas at the bus terminal for the next day. I never made it to the terminal.

An Impressive Production

It was the costumed characters, standing frozen like statues on pedestals next to street that caught my attention. The sun was starting to set as I snapped photos of both actor and landscape.

Finishing touches of construction were underway along the riverside avenue, as well as on the sandy bank, a dozen meters below. A stage, hoards of costumed actors, towers of lights and speakers, decorated boats, paper bags illuminated by candle, and a trio of crosses were found by the water's edge—that, and several hundred locals, with more pouring in by the minute.

After running around with my camera for a bit the light had grown too low to continue taking photos (my camera hasn't had an operational flash since Central America), and ended up taking a seat on the rise of sand with the other Venezuelans.

I'd never seen anything like it before. It was a full multi-hour theatre production integrated into the natural landscape of the riverbank. Recounting the biblical tale of the ladder part of Christ's life (ending with the crucifixion), I was absolutely stunned by the professionalism and production values of the show.

The cast was at least two hundred. The main actors all wore wireless microphones and knew their lines and positions without any apparent imperfection. The music that flowed out of the speakers during most every minute of the event was rich and powerful, reminding me of the exact same type of score that was used during for the opening credits of the movie Casino (when De Niro is engulfed by an explosion of fire in his car).

There were horses, well designed costumes (the color red the soldiers worn during that time period was indeed striking and menacing, especially against the color of sand), and a finale with fireworks.

Almost as entertaining as the production were the Venezuelans around me. I was happy to sit and chat with those that wanted, and was amazed at how outgoing the teenagers are in this city. By the end of the show I was surrounded by a circle of them, with those that had cell phones asking me key in my e-mail address (although I gave out the URL to this Web site instead).

There are lots of Easter related events going on in this city, and this production will run each night for the rest of the week, until Sunday. Most impressive, and a very positive memory of Venezuela to leave the country with.

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