Posts tagged ‘Colombia’

March 30, 2013

Smitten with Salento

birdwatching & coffee sipping at Sacha Mama, Salento

If there’s a place encompassing my idea of perfection in Latin America, it would be the town of Salento. In this little coffee town of Quindio, Colombia, everything is just right.

the lovely town of Salento

The town itself is quiet, but not sleepy. People there are super friendly, but not in your face or pushy. The colonial-style buildings are colorful but not flashy. The main street in town is lined with local artisans selling beautiful handcrafted goods (woven sweaters and ponchos, copper jewelry, pottery, sculptures, planters, etc) – not plastic keychains and cheap souvenirs. They grow the best coffee in the world, and they’re in love with it. Aside from the pure coffee that is grown, roasted, and brewed by the people who know coffee best, local shops sell coffee-infused everything – cookies, caramel (cafequipe), liquor, chocolate-coated beans, you name it.

I never expected to encounter a landscape so utterly ideal and flawless – but here it is. Any direction you look, lush green mountains roll into the distance, scattered with palms and tropical flowers and trees, dairy cows and horses. Needless to say there is ample space to hike and run and stretch your legs, which will surely be strong and toned with all the steady hills and winding dirt roads. If this were a town in the States, no doubt it would be taken over by young outdoorsy hippies like many Colorado, Oregon, and California towns these days (not to be stereotypical ;) But instead it’s populated with local artisans, coffee farmers, cowboys, and the small population of backpackers who come (often staying longer than planned) and go.

The climate is like none other I’ve encountered. There can be intense sunshine, cool fog, rain, lightning, and silver-lined, pillowy clouds all in one day. The tropical vegetation suggests it is humid and wet, but in fact the air is a perfectly comfortable not-cold, not-hot, not wet nor dry. It’s obviously the coffee plant’s ideal climate as well. The horses and dogs are hearty and well-fed. The cows here look genuinely happy – but really, how could they not be?

happy Salento cows

Valle de Cocora

Valle de Cocora, home to the world’s tallest palms

It doesn’t hurt that the hostel I stayed (and then volunteered) at – set amid a 200-acre picturesque dairy farm – feels more like a big cozy house than a hostel; like a communal living space where everyone cooks together, plays together, and lounges together. It’s safe enough to walk the 15 minutes home down a dirt road by your lonesome after dark (and that’s not just me being risky, it really is safe). I’m usually cautious about carrying valuables with me, but this is the first place in Latin America I’ve felt good about taking my ipod with me on a run (in Colombia of all places, to all you skeptics ;)

And as if I couldn’t enjoy my stay in Salento any more, there is a cafe that will deliver brownies filled with a thick layer of homemade peanut butter, right up to the door of the hostel.

Pedro's coffee, from jungle to cup

Visiting Pedro’s finca, Sacha Mama, where we harvested, processed and brewed our own coffee, from jungle to cup :)

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March 2, 2013

12 days as a chef in Colombia

Casa Loma

Casa Loma: a wooden hilltop hostel in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia, overlooking the little town of Minca, the mountains, the coastal city of Santa Marta, and the Caribbean sea all at the same time. Sounds like a paradise, yeah?

view from Casa Loma

view from la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world’s highest coastal mountain range

So when I found an opportunity to volunteer here in exchange for a tent and meals, I was in. And let me just say it’s a good thing the other volunteers and I knew anything about cooking, because we were in charge of serving breakfast and dinner to 20+ guests each day… not to mention the little town has no supermarket and neither the stove nor the oven in our 4’x5′ kitchen were adjustable.

It was a challenge, but certainly an enjoyable one  :)

Casa Loma eats

Breakfast mostly consisted of lots of local coffee, fresh juice, homemade arepas and eggs — not too hard. We rotated roles as the dinner chef each night, merely given the rules that the ingredients can be bought in town and to include a vegetarian option. Although I love cook and I do it all the time, when put on the spot about what to prepare for 20 guests (using the very limited variety of ingredients available in town)… my mind went blank!

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February 25, 2013

Even a trip to the ATM is an adventure, plus ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate’

Gato Negro Cafe

the “gato negro” in front of Gato Negro Cafe

I really should have assumed that there would only be one ATM in the little fishing village of Taganga, Colombia, and that it would probably be broken. But I didn’t, and it was.

The closest one was in Santa Marta, a nearby bustling city I did not really have intentions of visiting. But I was out of money and kind of wanted to eat again during my last two days here so…. off to the city it was.

Public transportation to Santa Marta is in the form of big clattering vans, and unfortunately being the first one in, I got to ride in circles around town while the driver honked and yelled at people until it filled up. After a while I was starting to get the feeling my driver was a little insane. Sure enough after yelling something at another driver he pulled up next to, he jumped out and proceeded to shout and bang on this poor guy’s van. While more incomprehensible yelling followed, me and the Colombian man inside noticed our van rolling forward and heading straight for a wall. We yelled for the driver, who nonchalantly hopped back in just in time to jam the emergency break on, and jumped back out to continue his yelling. It was going to be an exciting ride.

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February 11, 2013

Colombian eats: la costa caribe

fruit cart in Cartagena
The Caribbean coast of Colombia – a place where the buildings are as colorful and varied as the tropical fruits, and the comida típica (typical food) is, well… starchy and fried.

Colombians sure do love their sugary fruit and jugos naturales (fresh fruit juice blended with water or milk and sugar) and I can see why. Living in the relentless heat of the coast – Cartagena especially – I found myself craving nothing but the hydrating juice and sweet flesh of a peeled-to-order mango on the street for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But when you’re eventually craving something savory and substantial and want to stay on cheap backpacker budget, your options turn to fried street food (tasty, but not sustaining) or the comida típica. This varies by region of course, but generally means ‘el menu del día’ (whatever the day’s menu happens to be), consisting of soup and juice with a plate of rice, french fries or patacones (fried plantains), “salad” (a few pieces of lettuce, maybe a slice of tomato if you’re lucky), sometimes beans, and your choice of chicken, beef, or fish. I surely like to try the typical food everywhere I go, but not many meals go by here before I feel my body thirsting for something green and not simmered in a pot of oil.

Even so, I continue to be in love with Latin American flavors — queso fresco, avocado, plantains, fresh salsas, beans, citrusy ceviche, arepas, tamales and everything else made with corn. Remember the pan de yuca I was so excited to discover the recipe for after I travelled to Ecuador? Yep, found them made fresh every morning in the supermarket I am currently staying 2 blocks from. And these guys are macho-sized – more like croissants – but just as tasty as I remember :)

Cartagena eats

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January 23, 2013

far from my last post

parque nacional tayrona

Cozy winter stews and hot cocoa no longer – I am now hundreds of miles south where juicy fruit, fresh seafood, and all things made with cornmeal are what I crave. Estoy en el maravilloso país de Colombia!

The highlight of the week I’ve spent here so far would have to be the unexpected adventure of trekking 3 hours to (and then back from) paradise, and enjoying fresh ceviche and arepas on the beach.

I’m a firm believer in the statement “expectations reduce joy,” as taught by my ‘Art of Living’ guru in India, as the best moments (for me) seem to be the spontaneous ones, the ones with no preconceived notions that I can be disappointed by.

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