While strolling the streets of Cartagena’s old town, you will come across these smiling women selling tropical fruits and sweets. The roots of these vibrantly dressed women can be traced to a small town about 50 km from Cartagena – San Basilio de Palenque, considered the first free African town in the Americas.
Even though the town was free, it had limited resources and people were looking for ways to survive. At that time the women of Palenque found a way to make a living by selling what they had in abundance – tropical fruits. They would dress in their traditional attire and take their basket of fruits and travel all the way to Cartagena. It was an exhausting journey, but their hard work paid off as they were able to make a good and steady income with their newly found job.
With time, the fruit selling tradition became quite popular and nowadays they have discovered another way to earn a living – posing for the cameras for tourists. At the first glance, they may look like ordinary street vendors, but once you learn about their fascinating story, it is difficult not to feel inspired.
“Strolling through the streets of Cartagena in Colombia, it is easy to come across one of the beautiful vendors of tropical fruits and sweets. The Palenquera woman dresses in rainbows to sell her candy stores and to give smiles to everyone who crosses her path. To speak of the Colombian woman from Palenque, it is necessary to also speak of the town of San Basilio de Palenque. Three hours away from Cartagena on a stony path, there is what is called the corner of Africa in Colombia. A township founded by slaves who fled from Spanish enslavement and humiliation. The word palenque refers to the palisades (fence) created by them to protect and hide from their pursuers. The isolation of the people for decades favored the protection and preservation of African culture, art, food and folklore.”
– Photo of fruits sellers by Alex, who travels and writes about Colombian culture.
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