Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Explore Columbia – March, 2019
We left Cartagena by bus and arrived in Tayrona Park where we stayed in little bungalows with mosquito nets and little porches outside.  Lunch on the open air outside patio was steamed whole grouper with rice and mashed plantains.  Afterwards, some opted to go to the lagoon to swim but I decided to walk down to the beach which was really lovely.

I did some reading and researching on the patio and then we had chicken/pepper/tomato “stew” with mashed potatoes and crème caramel for dinner. 

After a nice hearty breakfast with a lot of fruit we took a bus to the entrance of the pork and then walked through rocks, over planks, up and down hills to reach the first of three beaches.  We stopped where kids were cutting open coconuts for the juice and meat.  Lovely.  We also stopped at a little house where they were making delicious chocolate and cheese breads, hot from the oven.  Stopped at the last beach where you could swim if desired.  There was also a little restaurant there where you could order lunch but the cheese bread was enough for me. 

Tayrona is a magical slice of Columbia’s Caribbean coast and a large protected area covering the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta with stunning stretches of golden sandy beach backed by coconut palms and thick forest.

I swam a bit and relaxed by the water until it was time to go and we headed back the same way, stopping for more cheese bread, this one had tomatoes as well!!

Back at our bungalows, we showered off all the sand and sat outside on the patio talking with the other travelers.  Fish and vegetables for dinner.

Up early and flew to Bogota.  One of the travelers had a lounge pass and invited me in.  What a treat.  We had a delicious lunch, i.e. pasta salad with quinoa, mushrooms, cheese, etc. and a nice selection of cookies with coffee.  It was lovely.

Flew on to Cundinamarca where we picked up a bus and drove over the canyons to Barichara, stopping for the best cheese arepas ever in a little village along the way.  It was here that I had a room to myself for three nights – heaven!!!

We all walked through this charming village, up past the Cathedral to Igua Nauno for dinner.  Very cute little restaurant where we all enjoyed our food.  I had a warm vegetable salad with mushrooms, caramelized onions, etc.  Most everyone had margaritas which were awesome!!!

Delicious arepas and cheese, fruit and very nice coffee for breakfast and then a nice long walk to Guana, a little town nearby, very small and quaint.  Visited the Archeological Museo with its 700 year old mummy, went into some churches and wandered a bit before a few of us took the bus back to Barichara for lunch. 

Walked up to Restaurant Shanti and had a vegetable salad with tomatoes, quinoa, cucumber and lettuce.  Nice but a bit bland.  Will have the ceviche tomorrow as it really looked good.  Walked up the hill to the Santa Barbara Church and then up and down the little hills to look into the shops.  Had the same delicious salad at Igua Nauno that evening with one of the travelers.  Excellent.

Had a free morning so I walked around this very unique and cute little town.  Delicious ceviche at Shanti, i.e. shrimp, mango and corn nuts.  Met at the home of our guide to Guana yesterday and had an “ant” class!!!  She had harvested some very large ants in early spring and had frozen them.  First we pulled off the heat wings and tail and then soaked them in water.  Drained and dried we sautéed them in a dry skillet with salt until they become crunchy and they were actually quite nice.

Wandered over to Las Cruces, a cooking school, and sat in the garden and read a bit, eating a brownie and drinking coffee.  A few of us met there later for dinner prepared by the students.  It was nice to sit outside and the grilled trout with plantains was delicious.

Long bus ride back to Bogota, stopping for a quick bite at a very busy restaurant along the way.  Arrived about 7 p.m. and had dinner nearby at Rafael, a very elegant restaurant with nicely presented dishes.  I had octopus grilled and served with white beans and gold Yukon puree and a chocolate fantasy dessert, i.e. chocolate cake, churros and chocolate and chocolate ice cream.  It was very peaceful inside.

In the morning we took the funicular up to Cerro de Montserrate, a hill dominating the city and considered sacred in pre-Columbian times with a gorgeous view of the city.  Many people walk up to the church on top where there is a shrine devoted to El Senor Caido.  Behind the church were lots of food stalls and cafes selling tamales in plantain leaves, kebabs and all sorts of desserts.  The church is beautiful inside. 

Walked over to the peace monument titled “fragmentos” for which Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo used metal melted down from the weapons handed over by FARC guerilla fighters to make the floor.  It marks the end of Colombia’s half century-old war.  To help make and pound out the floor tiles, Salcedo recruited women who had been sexually assaulted by guerillas and soldiers.  It was very moving…Stopped for delicious potato corn soup nice and thick at a little café and then we stopped by the botero museum again.  It was more meaningful this time with our guide explaining some of the nuances of the paintings.  Walked over to the national museum, one of the oldest on the American continent and enjoyed its extensive collections from the realms of art, archaeology, history and ethnography.  The building was a prison at one time which made it even more interesting.

Took the tram back to the hotel and later walked to Cantina y Punto for dinner.  Really love the food there.  Had grilled octopus with plantain chips and a chocolate cake with mole – great atmosphere and delicious food.

Had the morning the wander around the area a bit more.  Stopped for a chocolate croissant and coffee at Maison Kayser, a French bakery.  Had an early lunch at Cantina y Punto, i.e. pork confit tacos and the chocolate cake with mole and then took a taxi to the airport.  Flew to Lima and had planned to arrive in Santiago, Chile in the early morning but with many missed and delayed flights I didn’t arrive until 4:30 p.m.  Was sad to leave Columbia as I really enjoyed the country so much but am looking forward to a couple weeks on my own in Chile where the wine is supposed to be excellent!!!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Café Columbia – March 2019
I have travelled to most of the South American countries except Venezuela and Columbia.  Now I was heading to Columbia!!  Travelled SNA to DFW and finally got to Bogota about 2 A.M.  Taxi had a hard time finding my airbnb but fortunately the host answered our call for help and directed us to a lovely loft on the 29th floor of a very nice building.  After a quick shower and rest I headed to the hip Candeleria area of Bogota, stopping first for coffee and cake at Oma Café, a chain of coffee cafes.

Walked down Calle 7 to Museo Botero to see many of his paintings and sculptures as well as works by Renoir, Picasso, etc.  Stopped for a delicious lunch at Prudencia, a delightful restaurant filled with people.  My three course lunch was tofu smoked with fenugreek and date sauce/wood fired butternut squash, red onions, broccoli, almonds and whipped feta/zucchini Caesar salad and chocolate mousse with orange marmalade.  Took some of the wood fired bread and some local honey which they gifted and it was delicious for breakfast the following day.

Walked to the Plaza de Boliver surrounded by historical buildings and into the cathedral primada, Bogota’s largest and on to Museo Santa Clara,  a richly decorated church and Bogota’s oldest, built between 1629 and 1674.  The walls are entirely covered by 148 paintings and sculptures of saints – pretty amazing.  Stopped by Iglesia de San Francisco to see its gilded main altarpiece and finally back down Calle 7 and up the hill to find where Azave Azul, a fun little restaurant I was planning to go to the following evening, was located.

After my delicious wood fired bread and honey the following morning I walked to the Museo del oro where I spent about 3 hours.  It contains more than 55,000 pieces of gold and other materials from the pre-hispanic cultures in Columbia.  I also watched a video which showed how figures were formed in bee’s wax, cast in plaster, filled with gold after the wax melted out and then took a guided tour. 

Needed a break so walked to nearby Quinua y Amaranto, a vegetarian restaurant run by two ladies in an open kitchen.  Sat at a little table with a Columbia gal and we had a very fresh and delicious lunch, i.e. pumpkin soup, rice, red beans and salad with avocado salsa and a couple very tiny candied oranges.  Wandered around the mural covered streets and shops and returned to the gold museum to learn more about the legends, shamans, etc.

Later that evening I walked up to Agave Azul and rang the bell on the door with no sign.  My name was checked off the list and I was admitted into the very cute little home with about 8 tables.  I had a lovely meal which Chef Tatiana Navarro prepared. The tasting menu was:  fried cheese/sesame dumplings with tomatillo salsa/ceviche with passion fruit syrup/basket of homemade tortillas and guacamole/fried fish taco with avocado sauce/crisp pork taco with cabbage on top/spicy lamb taco and a  moist and very yummy slice of chocolate cake.  A delightful evening.  One of the waiters walked me partway down the hill until it was lit and I knew my way back after that.

Walked to Azimos café which I had seen yesterday on my way up to Agave Azul.  A very ecletic café with great coffee and delicious croissants au chocolat.  Packed my bags, took the tram to Calle 63 and checked into Hotel Villar in the Chapinera Alta district of Bogota where our Intrepid group would meet that evening.

Stopped for lunch at nearby Cantina y Punto owned by Michelin star Mexican chef Roberto Ruiz and had two delicious beef bricket tacos.  Took the bus to the Jardin botanico filled with palm trees, large ferns and tropical plants and then met two young Columbia gals who walked to the nearby park and around the lake with me for a couple hours.  Wish I could have understood a bit more of what they were saying but we had a lot of fun. 

Met our group of 12 that evening composed of Australians, Swiss, Americans and British.  Our guide is a very enthusiastic Columbian and will be with us the whole three weeks.  Decided not to dine with everyone and instead walked around the corner to D Café Bar Universal recommended by Chef Tatiana and it was a bustling, very busy restaurant with great vibes.  I had a very delicious tuna ceviche with shiitake mushrooms following by a warm chocolate tart.

Took a walk around this new area in the morning after breakfast and then we took a quick flight to Armenia and on to the beautiful village of Salento.  Had some free time to stroll through the quaint streets and admire the unique colored buildings.  All met for dinner at a cute little restaurant and everyone had the grilled trout and crispy plantain “bread” which was excellent.

Early morning breakfast and then travelled by jeep into the Cocora valley, home of the towering wax palm.  Walked about 5 hours hiking up to Acaime Reserve where the hummingbirds feed.  We rented “wellingtons” as it was pretty muddy.  We Crossed some swinging bridges, climbed some very steep hills and stopped for our box lunch and some local cheese.  Returned to our jeeps and drove to the nearby coffee estancia where dinner awaited us, i.e. pumpkin soup, chicken with rice and vegetables and homemade carrot cake.  All particularly tasty after such a long day…

Very nice breakfast of boiled eggs, toast and lots of fruit.  Took a beautiful walk up into the hills and then we all met for a tour of the coffee plantation.  Thanks to its tropical altitude and fertile volcanic soil, Colombia is one of the world’s largest coffee producers.  We learned so much about how the beans are grown, harvested, processed, dried, roasted and ground and even had a lesson on preparing different types of coffee.  Once home I discarded my electric coffee maker and now grind my own beans and use a French press!!  Another delicious dinner awaited us upon our return, i.e. pork with mashed potatoes and rice pudding.

After breakfast we took a very long bus ride to Medellin, stopping for a quick cheese pastry for lunch.  Arrived in town about 5:30 p.m. and had an orientation walk in this very beautiful city.  At one time it was considered one of the world’s most dangerous cities (thanks to Pablo Escobar’s infamous drug cartel) but has turned itself around to become one of the most exciting cities in South America.  Had a lovely rice dish with octopus, shrimp and plantains served in a coconut shell at Restaurant Alambique followed by a little chocolate dessert.

Took the bus in the morning to the Minorista market where we visited the fruit section and bought some exotic local fruits, i.e. feijoa, araza, guanabana, maracuya and lulo which we tried fresh and also in drinks.  Some were quite nice!!!  Took a cable car ride up to San Javier, sailing up the mountain over brick houses and corrugated metal roofs and met a hip hop guide who showed us around Comuna 13 which was at one time a very dangerous neighborhood.  It has undergone an impressive transformation especially the area around the escaleras electricas.  There are beautiful murals and graffiti surrounding the six sets of escaleras and guys doing break dancing, singing hip hop, etc. everywhere.  Stopped at one of the little cafes for banana cake and coffee while our guide sang hip hop for us!!  It was great fun.

In the evening several of us walked nearby to El Cielo where we had an exquisite dinner, i.e. 9 courses plus 6 flights of wine.  We started with crisp pastries with cheese and mushrooms, plantain rolls, salmon with crisp blue rice crackers, chicken in a rich sauce, pork with cheese and flowers on top, crisp thin meringues with ice cream and fruit with custard and cookies.  One of the most interesting courses was warm chocolate which they poured over our hands (over a bowl), sprinkled them with sugar and asked us to rub them together and lick off the chocolate.  Fabulous!!

In the morning we drove to a flower farm in Santa Elena where we met a local “silletero” (chair maker).  The silletero makes the flower displays that compete every year in the “fiesta de las flores”.  We learned the history and evolution of the “silleta” culture, where the flowers grow and saw how a small chair of flowers was made. 

Back in town I had a wonderful lunch at Carmen, i.e. grilled octopus in peanut sauce with cauliflower and a pecan nut tart.  Took the metro to berrio park to see the Botero statues and then visited the Museo de Antioquia to see more of his paintings and sculptures.  Wandered around the area to see a couple churches and the Bank of Murals depicting antioquia’s history and development created by Pedro Nel Gomez in 1956.  Took the metro back to town, stopping at a little café for coffee and cake.

Met a couple travelers from our group later in the evening and we took a taxi to the Medellin Teatro Metropolitano where we heard a some hip hoppers sing and break dance to the music of the Orquesta Filamonica de Medellin which was very interesting.

Early breakfast and to the airport for a flight to Cartagena.  Our hotel is outside the walled city so we took a walking tour inside to get familiar with all the little streets.  The town, founded in 1533 by Spaniard Don Pedro de Heredia, was a major center of early Spanish settlement in the Americas and its walled fort was built to protect both shipping and the slave trade.  Stopped for ceviches at El Boliche with a few others and shared three excellent seafood ceviches and then wandered around a bit.  Stopped at Iglesia de Pedro Claver, a Spanish monk who helped the black slaves.  There was a wedding in the church next door but very few people were there.  Our guide later told us that the church was cursed and most of the people who married there divorced!!!

Dinner later at Interno, a 60-seat restaurant in a prison that is the last stop for women before they are released.  It has helped inmates learn skills designed to aid reintegration into society and some were trained under Michelin starred chef Koldo Miranda.    It was an interesting experience but the food was mediocre at best…

After breakfast I walked to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas which dominates an entire section of Cartagena’s city scape today.    Construction began in 1762 and it was truly impregnable and never taken.  Walked around the walls of the city and then got in line for lunch at Cevicherie, a very popular café.  Had delicious ceviche with fish and shellfish in a citrus marinade.

Later that evening I walked back into town to visit the Modern Art Museum which was quite small but interesting.  Dinner at La Perla was delicious, i.e. grilled octopus with mashed yucca and banana cake with ice cream and candied fruit.  I will be sad to leave this very interesting city…

Walked to the clock tower in the morning before taking a bus to Tayrona Park where the second part of the Colombia trip would begin…