Colombia, with its extensive coastlines on two oceans, might seem like a country where beaches would be the quintessential water leisure destination. For Colombians, the more intimate and everyday relationship is established with rivers. One of the most beloved traditions in the country is the “Paseo de Olla,” (Cooking ot Outing) a celebration that goes beyond swimming or sunbathing, involving walks, fishing, cooking, games, and, in many cases, the possibility of finding first love.
Colombia’s hydrography is one of the richest and most complex in the world, with over thirty major rivers, countless tributaries, and lakes, in addition to extensive coastlines along the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. While the country faces environmental challenges, such as the fight against mercury pollution, rivers and their banks play a fundamental role in the lives of Colombians.
Choosing Rivers Over Beaches
Even people living on the coastal shores often prefer rivers and their tributaries for water recreation. The reason? Riverbanks offer a range of unique advantages compared to beaches. These advantages include the presence of trees for shade, facilities for fishing and swimming, stones that serve as natural barbecues, shaded spots for napping or reading, places to hide and play, and a sense of intimacy and exclusivity that is hard to find on a crowded beach.
The “Paseo de Olla” in Action
The “Paseo de Olla” is a tradition celebrated on Sundays and holidays in Colombia. This family and social custom is cherished from childhood and encompasses activities like walking, swimming, fishing, playing, dancing, cooking, eating, and resting. Furthermore, it’s a place where friendships can be forged, and as we grow up, it can become the backdrop for the blossoming of first loves.
The central element of the “Paseo de Olla” is the “sancocho,” a typical Latin American dish in the Caribbean region. This dish represents the fusion of ingredients from the three cultures that influenced Latin American cuisine: Indigenous-origin corn and cassava, European-introduced squash and meats, and African-origin plantains. The preparation of “sancocho” takes place in the largest cooking pot in the house, which gives this celebration its name.
The “Paseo de Olla” is celebrated in various ways. Families enjoy it together, while groups of friends, bonded by common interests, also organize their own outings. Teenagers sometimes skip school and venture to the river to display the physical changes typical of their age.
Despite modern temptations like shopping malls, the “Paseo de Olla” remains an invaluable tradition in the lives of Colombians. It represents a deep connection with nature and a celebration of life in community. This custom has endured across generations and continues to be a way to celebrate the beauty of rivers and the lasting friendships that flourish along their banks. The “Paseo de Olla” is unquestionably one of Colombia’s cultural treasures that continues to draw both young and old to its cherished river waters.