Colombia

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Maracuya Tic Tacs

 

I can eat a whole box of these in about five minutes flat. Tom tells me I have to savour the flavour by sucking instead of chewing but tic tac etiquette be damned.

These tasty Passionfruit flavoured Tic Tacs can be found in both Colombia (maracuya) and Brazil (maracuja), they have a soury-sweet flavour that makes them instantly addictive and they also claim to have vitamin C so they are undoubtedly good for you.  These treats are great to have kicking around when you are on the road with nothing to eat… having more than one box helps… I buy five at a time.

 

Dear Colombia,

You are a country of amazing diversity, incredible scenery, welcoming people and your food – oh the food…  Since we arrived we have been treated to various Colombian specialties and our waistlines are now suffering the consequences of all your ridiculously delicious food.  But, as we leave the country, we are not sure how we are going to live without your:

Jugos
With your stunning array of tropical fruits, we are now unsure how we will survive without the sweet sour tang of maracuya (passionfruit), the berry deliciousness of mora (blackberry), the creamy lulo, the refreshing melon and the indescribable tomate de arbol (tree tomato). From Colombia onward I will hold maracuya dear to my heart.

Fresh juice

Fresh juices!

Almojabana
This savoury cheesy bread, best eaten straight out of the oven, has cast a spell on our hungry bellies.  We found ourselves craving this small button of tastiness nearly every morning.  And, we both agree, that Pan Pa Ya in Bogota makes the most magnificent almojabana.

A delicous and delectable cheesy treat

A delicious and delectable cheesy treat

Aijiaco
A soup created with chicken, 3 types of potatoes, corn, heavy cream and capers sounds like an odd mix but this traditional soup became a solid favourite after the first spoonful.  Comforting, filling and with a bit of a zip from the capers this Bogotan specialty will be sorely missed but hopefully recreated.

Capers, chicken and potatoes...

Capers, chicken and potatoes...

Arepa de Huevo
Originally from the coast, we first tried arepa de huevo in Bogota where Odette (yet another gracious Colombian host) gave us a crash course in how to make them.  Turns out our skills are not very good but with Odette’s help the end product tasted just fine.  Amazing that cornflour, egg and salt can taste so scrumptious.  Salsa Brava and a dollop of sour cream completed this tasty breakfast.

Deep-fried with an egg in the middle!

Deep-fried with an egg in the middle!

Pan de bono
Almojabana’s cheeky cousin, pan de bono filled our stomachs with sheer bliss when we visited Cali.  With a harder skin, reminiscent of a bagel, on the outside and soft chewy bread on the inside it was too hard to say no to just one… so we didn’t (which is why there are no photos!).

Sigh Colombia, it is with sorrow and jeans that don’t quite zip up that we bid you adieu.

Driving from the coffee district to Cali we finally figured out what the immense fields of tall reeds surrounding the highway were… a question that had been playing at the back of our minds since Guatemala. It was sugar cane, and it’s what Cali was founded on. Cali is renown also for its salsa clubs and, more contentiously, claims to have the most beautiful women in the country.

A good friend of ours has family in Cali so we were to stay with them while we were in the city. We met at a well known department store (three brothers had built up the chain from nothing, a local rags to riches story). Mariela works for the cosmetic giant Yanbal and immediately reminded us of Kelsey’s  go getter Aunt Nettie who works in a similar industry. Tacho,  Andres’ father, introduced me to the subtle art of ventando (which translates to window-ing), this requires a quiet spot, a window sill at bar height and a meditative mind. They were fantastic hosts, it was here that we tried pan de bono … yet another delicious Colombian carbohydrate along with avena, a cold, creamy oatmeal drink in a tetra pack that I detest and Kelsey has come to adore. According to her, it is a
“tasty oatmeal milkshake!”

After a good look around the Cauca valley and the surrounding area we left to spend some more family time in Popayán about six hours south. Popayán is a cool little town that was pretty much leveled by an earthquake in 1983 and now nearly completely restored. After the heat and humidity of Cali the cooler climes of Popayán were a welcome relief, but the best thing about Popayán was the people. Again we were met with amazing hospitality, our tired Spanish complimented and our intrusion into the lives and homes of our hosts seemed little more than an excuse for a party.

Aguardiente is a local fire water made from sugar cane, we first encountered it in Guatemala but every  region in Colombia boasts its own special brew. Our favourite comes from Medellin and is called Aguardiente Antioqueña, which is infused with aniseed and tastes a little like white zambucca or ouzo, but of course we had to try the local drink – our new found friends called this ‘Aguardientation’.

We left for the Ecaudorian border taking an Aunty with us – our first passenger. Marta quite liked the Aguardiente too, and together we polished off another bottle on our seven hour drive to Ipiales the Colombian border town with Ecuador.

After chilling out in Bogota we headed for Colombia’s Zona Cafetera.  Arriving late in the afternoon, after driving the terrifying La Linea, we rolled into Salento where we toured a small coffee plantation to see where the world’s favourite hot beverage comes from.

It all starts with this plant and the legend of a goat herder in Ethiopia who noticed that his herd became a bit livelier after eating the berries from a shrubby tree.  Curiousity got the best of him and he boiled up a batch of berries, had a sip and created the world’s first cup of coffee.

Coffee Plant

Coffee Plant

Tim, the owner of the plantation and the hostel we stayed at in Salento, explained that there are two types of beans: Robusta and Arabica. Arabica is considered to be more suitable for drinking and, due to this, 75% of the world’s coffee produced is Arabica. However Robusta contains more caffeine and is most often used in blends.  South American nations tend to produce Arabica while Robusta is grown mostly in Southeast Asia and Central Africa.

Seed from the Bean

Seeds from the Berry

The berries are harvested and sorted at certain times of the year depending on ripeness and colour. Inside each berry are two seeds, which we call beans.  The beans are then soaked in water to remove their natural sugars. Then they are dried in sunlight and during this time every available concrete surface is covered in beans throughout Central and South America.
The beans are then sorted and roasted for specific amounts of time depending on the desired taste.  Lighter roasts have more caffeine and less flavour while darker roasted coffee is more flavourful but contains less caffeine.  So, those hardcore coffee drinkers who order the blackest roast possible aren’t really as hardcore as they believe.

Skin that is removed from the bean

The outer skin is removed from the bean

Beans are then ground and brewed to make the tasty drink we know and love. In fact, we love it some much that from 1998 to 2000 6.7 million metric tonnes of coffee were produced. And Colombia is the second largest producer of coffee worldwide coming in at 10.5 million bags!

Coffee Love

Coffee Love

After a few long days of shuttling back and forth between the customs office in Cartagena, the port and our hotel, aptly named Casa Marlin, we managed to free our car along with his buddy Cabello from their container in Cartagena’s port.

Happy to have our little red rocket back we headed out to check out some of Colombia’s countryside.

Dreamy village of Barichara

Dreamy village of Barichara

After a long 13 hour drive (check out a map to see just how large Colombia is in comparison with all of Central America) we landed in the most charming village called Barichara. Founded in 1705, this small town is lined with cobbled streets and white-washed stone buildings.  It feels whimsical and fairytale-like, complete with running school children, the friendliest townspeople and a sense of joyful separation from the rest of the world.  Try the empanadas from the small panaderia (bread and pastry shop) on the corner of the main plaza.

Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva

Next up was playground of Bogota’s elite, Villa de Leyva, where the weather drops in temperature but the trendy restaurants and art shops increase considerably.  We happened to arrive during the week which led to room in a hospedaje (a small hotel) for much less than normal complete with hot showers! The Plaza Mayor is just that…major.  This huge square is covered in cobblestones and surrounded with white colonial buildings – it is also the perfect place to drink too many lattes, people watch and enjoy the sun.  There are a few museums to check out but we ended up wandering the streets and enjoying some downtime.

A whole town of crafts

A whole town of crafts

The following day we took Marlin to visit Raquira, a town known for its good-quality pottery, and as it turns out the entire town is dedicated to artesanias and you can buy much more than just pottery from this host of colourful buildings.  Somehow, though we don’t have a lot of  space in the car, we came away with a set of 6 typical stone-polished bowls but, for some reason, none of these:

Pre-painted cermaic pigs

Pre-painted ceramic pigs

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