Saturday, July 28, 2007

La Comida Tipica de Colombia

Fruits and Juices

Colombian cuisine is perhaps best known for its spectacular variety of fruits--many of which make delicious juices, and some of which can´t be found anywhere else.

Here are two shot I was able to take at the grocery store before I was politely informed that taking pictures of the food is not permitted (didn´t really get an explanation of why, but wasn´t going to push my luck).

In this picture, going clockwise from the top left, we have maracuya (yellow, aka passion fruit), granadilla (orange), something I can´t read from my notes, papyuala, lulo (orange), and higo.

Clockwise from the top left in this picture, we have tomate de arbol (red), guayaba (green), curambola (green) on the right and more tomate de arbol (orange) on the left, feijoa, curuba, and more guayaba.

Here is some beautiful papaya:

This is juice from lulo, served to me by the Aristizabals.

This is the curuba fruit, found only in Colombia. I was using it to make juice at the EcoVillage.

Regional Specialties

This is ajiaco, the specialty soup of the Bogota region. It is made with chicken, corn, and potatoes and served with capers and cream. The Aristizabal family provided this treat for me, which was absolutely delicious.

This is bandeja paisa, the typical dish of the Medellin region. It is made with rice, beans, fried pork, a fried egg, and served with fried plantain. I actually didn´t like this too much.


This is a typical breakfast of the Medellin region, called paisa calentado. As you can see, it´s plenty to fill you up ion the morning--eggs, rice, beans, sausage, cheese, and two types of bread.

This is called huevos pericos, and it´s a scrambled egg breakfast served by the Aristizabal family.

This is a breakfast tamale served to us on the train on the way to the Catedral de Sal.

These rolls are called almohabana, and they are extremely buttery and delicious when eaten hot.

Street Food/Fast Food

I was riding on a bus in Bogota when I saw this out of the window. It looked so enticing, I had to backtrack and find the store.

Here´s what the actual food looked like. I was a bit disappointed because there was lots of rice and not as much freshly cut pork as I´d hoped. But, what the hell, it still came from inside a whole pig.

OK, this is probably the most truly ¨typical¨ food around. Throughout most of Latin America, roasted chicken on a spit (what we´d call ¨rotisserie¨) is wildly popular. You can get it almost anywhere. Fried chicken is a close second in popularity.

I don´t know how typical these things are, but they were awesome. They´re called torta choclo con queso, or basically a fried corn cake with cheese in the middle. I got one of these for breakfast in Medellin and it was incredibly tasty and filled me up for hours (for something like 50 cents).


Seafood is very popular throughout Colombia, especially the coastal region. Throughout my stay I enjoyed extremely tasty fried fish (often talapia, but various kinds).

This fish is called sierra and it came as part of a typical lunch, which I enjoyed with Marcela´s parents in the town of Chia outside of Bogota. The lunch started with ajiaco and came, as you can see, with rice and salad on the side. Interestingly, many Colombians do not drink anything with their food. They will eat their entire meal and then sip a drink afterwards.

This was one of my favorite meals in Colombia. It is a shrimp ceviche--cooked shrimp mixed with mayonaise, ketchup, onion relish, and served with crackers. This cup cost $3 right outside the walled city in Cartagena, and was enough to fill me up.

Finally, here´s a shot of a simple fried fish meal that I enjoyed often during my stay. This one was from my adventure with Carlos outside of Medellin, and I´m pretty sure it was talapia. The best fried fish meal I had actually came on Playa Blanca, but I neglected to take a picture of that one. Sorry for letting down my demanding fans.

At the EcoVillage

While spending time with my friend at Aldeafeliz, the EcoVillage outide of Bogota, I enjoyed many meals and snacks with the residents.

This is a typical ¨calentao de frijoles con patacones y ensalada.¨

And, here are a couple of snacks. On top are chicharones, or friend chicken skin. Below is jalea de guayaba con queso (guava jelly with cheese).

Fancy Dinner at Andres Carne de Res

Avid readers will remember the culmination of my last, charmed, day in Bogota at Andres Carne de Res--where a drunk man bought my friend Mafe and I dinner. Well, here´s what we ate.

I had--what else at a place called carne de res--steak. It came undercooked in the midde but on a sizzling pan so I could sear it to my taste (slightly less undercooked). Perfect.

Mafe is a vegetarian, so she this nice italian fried cheese dish. I can´t remember what it´s called, but it was delicous.


Finally, it´s always important to leave room for dessert. I didn´t do that much searching for typical desserts, but Marcela´s parents introduced me to some when they took me out to lunch. After dining in Chia, we stopped at a dessert place in their hometown of Cota.

Clockwise from the top we have tiramisu de cafe, leche asada, and torta de tres leches (with a dulce de leche-type sauce). My favorite was the leche asada, which basically means grilled milk.

Blonde, Eh?

So, astute observers of my Medellin post (including mother, brother and Caryn), and not-especially astute observers of more recent posts, have noticed/will notice that I´ve gone blonde.

What could explain such a strange phenomenon?

Well, I´d been thinking about it for a while and realized that this was my last chance to do something crazy like this before going home and back to work.

I went blonde once in college as part of my costume for a party I hosted called ¨Insanity,¨ for which guests were invited to ¨dress insane.¨ Interestingly, this party was only a few weeks before graduation (well, fake graduation for me--but I walked), so I was speckled in all my graduation photos.

I kind of liked it and so did some others, so I always thought perhaps one day I´d do it again. I´d thought about it in law school, but I was always working part time so never had a large stretch where I could be sure I wouldn´t be called to a meeting in DC, etc. So, here was my chance, and on a whim one day in Medellin I took it.

So, how do you feel about your decision, Adam?

To be honest, I have mixed feelings. I like the change of pace and still think it looks decent (for once in a blue moon).

But, it´s a lot different than the first time around.

First of all, when I did this at Duke, I was surrounded by people who knew me well. They knew that it was kind of a joke, or at least a whimsical change of pace. Now, I´m constantly meeting new people--and they don´t have the context to know this. So, it´s kind of strange meeting new people as someone other than your usual self. I sometimes wonder how people might react differently to me if they just met me as regular Adam.

But, more importantly, I´ve realized that by going blonde I´ve put more distance between myself and the local folks I meet, and made myself stand out that much more. This can be cool and fun, but it also has its downsides. To the extent I´m trying to blend in and absorb the culture, it´s not helpful to stick out like an even sorer thumb. And, when I complain about having a big G or target sign on my back for locals trying to make a buck off gringos, to a certain extent I have only myself to blame.

So, bottom line is I enjoy being blonde for the time being, but I wish I had done it earlier in my trip. It would have put less distance between me and locals, and made me less of a target, to be bleached in Argentina than in Colombia or Central America.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Parque Tayrona, Colombia

On Thursday afternoon, I took a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta, which borders Parque Tayrona, famous for its combination of jungle and beach. The bus company guy told me it was 3.5 hours direct. It took more than six hours and I had to change buses.

I´m getting sick of being straight up lied to. Sometimes it doesn´t matter how many precise questions you ask--they´ll just tell you what they think you want to hear (I imagine this applies double to gringos).

But, I arrived in Santa Marta in time to get a hostel, meet some folks, and head out for a fun night at the popular bar La Puerta. The experience simply reinforced the importance of my only hard and fast rule for traveling in Latin America: Thou shalt not be in a hurry. As long as you´re not trying to get to a particular place at a particular time, all is well. If you are, you´ll often find yourself fighting the tide and swimming hopelessly upstream.

The next day I stopped in for breakfast at the restaurant across the street. Over a ham, egg, and cheese sandwhich and a huge fresh juice blend ($1 for the juice), I met Jesus and David, the owner`s sons. Jesus is 12, very smart, and learning English and Hebrew from the toursists that patronize the restaurant. He grabbed my copy of From Beirut to Jerusalem (not exactly a beginner text), began reading, and wrote down every word he didn´t know in his notebook along with my explanation. After breakfast, the kids led me to the supermarket to shop for my Tayrona excursion. Here are Jesus and David:

An hour busride later, I was at the entrance to the park:

From there, you pay you entrance fee and hitch a $1 ride on a truck up into the park. The truck lets you off at a parking lot and you begin hiking through the jungle. It´s about 45 minutes to the first beach, where you can sleep but not swim because the current is too strong. So, I kept hiking along the beach to the final campground. Here´s a pic during the hike:

Cabo, where I spent my days and nights, is a small area filled with tents people have brought and hammocks you can rent for $6/night, along with a restaurant and kiosk. I was glad I learned from my Playa Blanca experience and brought food and whisky this time--saved me a lot of cash.

I met a cool group of Colombian students and ended up bunking up with them. The rest of the place was filled with Israelis, who are often cool but tend to stick together. Here´s our hammoc area:

Here´s some of the crew at the hammocks:

They also had this cool spot up on a hill where you could sleep mosquito free. I didn´t sleep there because I was warned it actually gets cold and windy at night and I hadn´t brought any blankets or warm clothes. Here´s what it looks like:

Some nice beach shots:

And, finally, the whole crew in a last photo before I left:

Tayrona was beautiful and a lot of fun. I really appreciated this group of Colombian students from Bogota (plus one guy from the U.S. visiting and one guy from Israel who had stayed on after his friends left) adopting me for the weekend. I got to practice a lot of Spanish (although most of them spoke great English) and have a fun, relaxed time. Entonces, muchas gracias a Samir, Jose, Geronimo, Lina, Laura, Maria, Henry, Gidi, Diana, and Lisa.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cartagena, Colombia

A Bit of Bad Luck

On my last day in Medellin, I faced a strategic question--fly or take a 13 hour bus to Cartagena? The plane would cost sigificantly more, but would allow me to get in with time to go out Saturday night--and I was supposed to meet up with some women I had met in Bogota. It would also allow me to avoid getting up super early or being on a bus at night, which in Colombia can present safety issues.

I ended up opting for the plane, figuring that at this point in my trip time was more precious than money. It was a mistake. I arrived in Cartagena on Saturday afternoon to discover that the whole town was shut down (no alcohol sold) because there were elections the next day for mayor. Ironically, I think this law makes sense and it´s much better that they have elections on Sundays than on Tuesdays like us--it just happened to suck for me right then.

The Walled City

Nevertheless, I met some cool folks at the hostel and set out to explore the city. Cartagena derives is particular charm from its colonial architecture and the barricades that surround the old city. In the 1500s, Cartagena was a frequent target for attacks by the British and pirates--that´s right real live pirates; one once held the entire city under seige for 100 days before leaving with a hefty ransom. The Spanish responded by building big, thick walls with cannons. They are surprisingly beautiful when lit up at night.

Here are Sebastian and Aurora, my exploring partners, in front of the main clocktower.

Here´s the same clocktower at night:

Here´s the Plaza de las Coches (where you can rent a carriage for a romantic evening stroll) by day and by night:

And here are some more day and night city shots.

Hanging out on the walls at night with Carlos and a bottle of Aguardiente, the national Colombian liquor, which tastes like licorice or Sambuca. As I´ve mentioned before, you can legally drink anywhere in Colombia, which is great for hanging out in parks and the street.

Here´s a shot of a great dance performance I caught on the street. I have some video of this that I´ll put up eventually:

This fortress is not inside the walled city, but it is especially beautiful when lit up at night:

The Surrounding Beach--Playa Blanca

On Monday morning, Aurora and I took a boat to Playa Blanca, an island about 45 minutes off the coast. Through some combination of misunderstanding and prevarication (it´s never quite clear), it took us all morning to get there as we were shuttled to various islands where we were given the opportunity to pay for all kinds of stuff.

The beach was beautiful and the only civilization was a string of places offering fried fish and/or a hammock for the night. I wish I had brought some supplies because food and drink were a bit pricey. I didn´t even have enough pesos to get me through the two nights I planned to stay (and there was no electricity let alone ATM on the beach--although there are three towns inland). Luckily I found a French hostel owner who accepted dollars (at a crappy exchange rate) and I started a tab with him.

The only problem was an endless stream of vendors on the beach peddling cheap trinkets and massages. A local woman told me that tourism is down significantly in the past few years because Colombians are sick of the constant harassment on the beach. Overall, I found this a minor annoyance.

Here´s a shot of my ¨room¨(a thin matress on the sand with a mosquito net) at Mamo Ruth´s on the beach:

The views out my front door:

And, a sunset over the Caribbean Sea:

There wasn´t much to do on the island except chill out--and read a lot. The first night, there was some singing and dancing around a campfire with about 20 people.

Cartagena II

After heading off to Playa Blanca and Parque Tayrona (next post), I returned to Cartagena for two nights. The first night I hung out on the walls with a few Colombians. Here I am getting a free fake tatoo from Alejandro (in exhange for taking pictures to post on his website):

On my last night, I signed up for a party busride. They take you through some of the sights and give you unlimited rum while playing traditional music. I ended up with a group of urban planners from all over Latin America who were attending a conference, but it was pretty fun. Latin American 40 year olds are much more fun than their contemporaries from the U.S.

After the party bus I met up with a group of folks to head to the clubs. Unfortunately it was Wednesday night and there wasn´t much partying going on. Nonetheless, I ended up staying up to see the sun rise on the beach in the Boca Grande section of town (the other major part of Cartagena outside the walled city), with more Aguadiente.

A Note on Where to Stay

There were plenty of affordable places to stay in the Getsemani neighborhood just outside the Walled City. This neighborhood is reputed to be dangerous and walking around alone at night is not a great idea, but I never felt threatened. Casa Viena is the central gringo hostel, but it was filled up every time I tried to stay there (three separate times). On the same street, Hotel Familiar and another one right across the street offer private rooms for around $7.50.

Overall Impressions

Cartagena was by far my least favorite place in Colombia. For a variety of reasons, it just wasn´t ¨tranquilo.¨

First of all, there were cops and military everywhere--which was nice from a a safety point of view, but definitely didn´t contribute to a chill vibe. Plus, I´d heard stories of cops planting coke on gringos in order to extort bribes--the general consensus in Colombia is that you can never be sure the police are on your side.

Second, I always felt like I had a big scarlet G (for gringo) on my back whenever I walked around. Everyone was trying to make a buck off of me--selling me this useless trinket, or getting me to come to their club so they could push drugs and prostitutes on me, etc., etc. I even felt as though some of the folks I was hanging out with were more interested in getting me to pay for the next round of drinks than in me as a person.

The reality is that I do have more money than folks who live here, and I understand the need to make a buck off of tourists. But, I really didn´t appreciate the style of a lot of folks here. One guy named Joseph (watch out for him if you come to town) even had the nerve to tell me how we were friends and I was letting him down by not buying expensive drinks and cocaine in his bar--I mean give me a fucking break.

Finally, I definitely didn´t have the best of luck. As I mentioned at the top, the town was closed down when I arrived. My last night in town I was all ready for a big night and met up with some folks after the drinking bus, but it was a Wed and all the clubs were empty (at least those that were reasonably priced enough for our group).

So, I know a lot of people love Cartagena, and I´m sure I could have had a completely different experience on a different trip. But, it didn´t work out that well for me.