Yopal, Casanare is at the "foot of the mountain," the piedmont, a zone of transition between the mountains and the vast plains. After a tough 6-hour bus trip from Arauca, we rested Tuesday night at a small hotel named "Ay Si Si." The name refers to a familiar song that says "yes, yes!"
On Wednesday morning we visited Laura, the young director of Fundacion Cunaguaro, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable culture and environment. She sent us to the very lively Centro Cultural, the cultural center of Yopal, where classes were being offered in harp, cuatro, and bandola, and also dancing. The state of Casanare is very progressive in cultural preservation. Among the students were many children as well as young and older folks. My little harp immediately became a focus of attention, harpists Blas Antonio Saenz and Hugo Gonzales gave it a real workout.
Like many harpists here, Blas Antonio Saenz has a nickname, "Juan Bimba." He showed me some tricks and I made some recordings. I went back the next morning for a more serious lesson with him, it has been a big help.
Arrangements are all being made by Adolfo. He had planned a visit with a harpmaker, which did not materialize, so on Wednesday afternoon we just rested. It was a good thing we got some rest, because after about 6:30 PM that we set out on a parranda, a wild adventure that lasted till 2 in the morning.
I had no idea when we started out that it would take more than an hour to get to La Fortuna, a farm with some modest tourism facilities on the river Cravo Sur. A big attraction is a boat ride from the higher ground to a sand beach where visitors can enjoy live traditional music and refreshments. Of course there are no permanent facilities on the beach because it is is under water in the rainy season.
We arrived at 8 PM just in time to catch a live and multi-media program sponsored by Fundacion Cunaguaroand local ambientalistas (environmentalists). The power-point program depicted the traditional work cycle of cattle ranching, with live singers offering brief samples of the songs associated with the practice of milking. There were perhaps 3 or 4 dozen folks in the audience.
The milking songs are gentle and very lyrical. They facilitate the process of communication among humans and animals. Cows are brought in one by one and tied to a pole for milking. Each cow is named, and its features are well known. A given cow does not let down her milk unless stimulated by the presence of her own calf. As the ordiñador (the milker) sings to and about each cow, the song tells the becerrero (the helper) which calf to bring in from an adjacent pen. Gentle singing presumably helps to get the best production.
Here are a couple of Youtube links that give an idea of this cultural environment.
After the short boat-ride, we settled on the beach with a bonfire and refreshments, with local live musicians. They sang and played very familiar songs, mostly much livelier than the milking songs. The lead instrument was the bandola, not harp, but the songs were the same. Folks in the audience sang along. Later in the evening, two or three visitors stood up to perform as soloists. Of course, Adolfo Cardozo was one who stood up, and made a huge hit. This was his first meeting with a lot of these folks, and they all bonded very conspicuously.
On Thursday, we started a bit later in the morning but then again the day got very busy. We went back to the Centro Cultural where I took an hour of harp instruction with Juan Bimba. Then, after lunch we checked out of the hotel and took a local bus ride to Morichal, where we settled for the evening at the town residence of Julieta and Wilber. The two of them have a live interest in environment and sustainability. Their house is very modest. They have a motorcycle and a rough-looking jeep. Their patio illustrates traditional plant and animal diversity. We did not visit their cattle operation. In recent months Wilbur has been developing a small ferreteria, a farm hardware and feed store on the main road.
Julieta had asked Adolfo to bring a cuatro (small guitar) for her four-year-old daughter Sara Maria. Little Sara was slow at first, but Adolfo has a great charming way with children. Soon Sara was happily strumming.
I had offered to sponsor a harpist for the evening. Around 7 PM Asdrubal Barrios showed up and began to play. In the next couple of hours, about a dozen friends showed up for the party. There was beer and other refreshment. Wilbur set up a barbecue and served beef which was surprisingly tender in comparison with what I have come to expect in many circumstances. Wilbur cut the meat into bite-sized chunks, and put them on a plate. Sara and a couple of other little girls went about offering the plate. Folks picked the bites with their fingers.
The music went on till 10 PM, with a lot of singing the same, familiar songs. I spoke briefly to the harpist, Asdrubal. He told me that his harp teacher was Juan Bimba, my teacher from the Yopal Cultural Center.
We settled for the night, then in on Friday morning took leave and returned by bus to Yopal. From there we caught the 12 noon bus back to Arauca, arriving there after 6 PM.
That was Friday. It is now Monday as I write. Saturday and Sunday were mostly rest. I'll have more to say later. Mostly I feel I am making great strides in my harp technique, the next few days I'm focused on that mission.