cartagenian cocktail

A recipe recommended for all who enjoy travel, culture, and ocean breezes.  Drink up!

Strolling the narrow streets of Cartagena's colonial walled city is a wonderful way to spend the day.

Strolling the narrow streets of Cartagena’s colonial walled city is a wonderful way to spend the day.

Muddle a variety of incredible food (any combination of fresh ceviche and fruit, street food, excellent mojitos, artisan ice cream, and world class coffee works well) in a shaker.

The selection of delicious ice creams, sorbets, and yogurts at La Paletteria commands more than one visit.

The selection of delicious ice creams, sorbets, and yogurts at La Paletteria commands more than one visit.

Pour in 2 oz. history (picture a walled fortress, quaint narrow streets, hidden courtyards, rehabilitated and dilapidated buildings…what stories, triumphant, festive and horrific these streets could tell).

At the end of his work day, a street vendor walks his empty cart for storage.

At the end of his work day, a street vendor walks his empty cart back for overnight storage.

Add 1 oz. art: equal parts historic, contemporary, and street varieties.

Santoya Cardales has washed Botero's Figura Reclinada 92 every morning since it was installed at the Plaza Santo Domingo in April of 2000.

Santoya Cardales has washed Botero’s Figura Reclinada 92 every morning since it was installed in the Plaza Santo Domingo in April 2000.

Street art, like this installation at a construction site near Plaza Bolivar provides an interesting backdrop for passersby.

Street art, like this installation at a construction site near Plaza Bolivar, provides  interesting backdrops for passersby on many of Cartagena’s streets and walkways.

When in season, add a splash of intellectual inspiration with a local festival, such as last weekend’s Hay Festival.

Paul Bogard discusses his book The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in the Age of Artificial Light at the 2015 Hay Festival.

Paul Bogard discusses his book The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in the Age of Artificial Light at the 2015 Hay Festival.

Turn on some salsa music and shake well to blend the eclectic flavors.

Salsa bands rotate throughout the night at Cafe Havana in the Getsemani neighborhood.

Rotating salsa bands perform throughout the night at Cafe Havana in the Getsemaní neighborhood.

Prepare a glass by rimming it with dancing well into the night.  Add a few cubes of ice (you’ll want them in this steamy Caribbean climate).

Live music can be heard on many blocks in Cartagena.  Dancing in the street is one way to avoid the crowded dance floors.

Live music abounds in Cartagena and can be enjoyed just about anywhere. Dancing in the street is one way to avoid the small and crowded dance floors inside.

Strain the mixture into the glass and garnish with the unexpected, which is sure to greet you at any given moment.

Keep your eyes open for unexpected happenings when in Cartagena.  You never know what might be coming down the street.

Keep your eyes open for unexpected happenings when in Cartagena. You never know what might be coming down the street.

Unplug, find an outdoor street-side table, and sip slowly to enjoy this enchanting concoction to it’s fullest.

The cozy setting outside Patagonia Asados del Sur encourages enjoying your company and the outdoors.  Wi-fi is certainly not missed.

The cozy setting outside Patagonia Asados del Sur encourages enjoying your company and the outdoors. Wi-fi is certainly not missed.

¡Salud!

Advertisements

drinking my way through coffee country

Coffee-Salento-JDavidson

Arabica coffee beans, which are red when ripe (Colombian beans are yellow), make up ~80% of the coffee grown at Finca Don Elias near Salento.

When people think of Colombia, one of the first things that comes to mind is probably coffee.  Okay, for some, it may be conflict and drugs, but let’s stay positive here. While my time in Colombia did not, thankfully, bring experience with the latter, I was able to sample coffee from various parts of the country and to visit Eje Cafetero, the coffee zone.  I assure you that I enjoyed every minute…and sip of it.

TintoVendor_Cartagena_JDavidson

In Cartagena, small cups of tinto and tea are sold on the streets by vendors carrying (left) or pushing carts (right) with color coded thermoses.

Regardless of what town I visited in Colombia, but particularly on the coast, it was not uncommon to hear “Tinto” being yelled from men on the streets.  When I first arrived, I wondered what everyone was drinking out of shot-sized Solo cups.  It was black coffee, or tinto.  Soon I became accustomed to the vendors in different cities, selling tasty coffee and tea from thermoses that they either carried in small boxes or pushed along in carts.

JDavidsonBlog131229-01

Café Jesús Martin in Salento serves a rich and pretty cappuccino.

I like my coffee with milk and a touch of sweet (usually honey) when I have a choice.  But in Colombia I learned to appreciate it black as well. Yes, I still had my cappuccinos and cafes con leche, but there were days when I chose to take in the full flavors of the dark drink before me.  Now I’m more apt to have my coffee with milk but leave the sugar out. It is still far from being a purist, but one step closer anyway.

Coffee-BarDanubio-JDavidson

Jairo Loaiza prepares cafe con leche for a table of customers using a 110-year-old coffee machine at Bar Danubio in Salento

Salento is a sweet little town in Eje Cafetero.  It’s situated in the midst of some incredibly beautiful landscapes (more on that to come in another post) and is a bustling town that thrives on tourism and coffee.  There are numerous cafes in town that have large coffee machines with multiple valves and pipes used to prepare the perfect cup of coffee.  Some are newer and fancier models, but the machine in the Bar Danubio, however, is the real deal.  Jairo Loaiza, the bar’s proprietor proudly pointed to a portrait of his father on the wall when I asked him about the machine and the bar that serves up coffee, beer, and billiards.  His father opened the bar and brought in this machine to Salento 110 years ago.  Half of the room is filled with tables of people drinking coffee.  The other half has half a dozen billiard tables with where local men play throughout the day.  These men are dressed as you see them in Juan Valdez commercials, with the straw hats and striped ponchos draped over their shoulders.  It’s how they’ve dressed in this area for generations, and while much of the younger generation dons sneakers and t-shirts, there are still a lot of men who carry on this fashionable tradition.

CoffeePreparation_Salento_JDavidson

Coffee beans at Finca Don Elias are dried for 8-25 days in a greenhouse (left). The pale colored beans are transformed to deep brown color after they have been roasted over a fire for an hour (right).

A few miles outside of Salento is Finca Don Elias, a family run organic coffee farm (or finca).  Don Elias bought the farm twenty years ago and has hopes that his grandchildren will carry on with the business once he is gone.  All that is here, he planted.  Since it is an organic operation, the coffee plants are among other plants that provide shade, water reserves, and pest control, such as banana, plantain, avocado, yucca, pineapple, and various herbaceous species. It’s a small operation and while some is roasted off-site for export, the coffee that is served and sold at the finca never leaves the property before it is served to visitors.  Seeds are removed from their pods, fermented, rinsed, and dried for eight days to a month in a greenhouse before they are dehusked and roasted over a wood fire for an hour.  It was a treat to see people connected to their land and to the process of delivering a high quality product to their family and visitors of the farm.

CoffeeFincaDonElias-Salento-JDavidson

Don Elias (left) drinks six cups of coffee a day. He says he can sleep well as long as his last cup is before 6pm. His grandson Karloss (right) works on the finca and may some day take over production of the farm.

At one point I thought it would be nice to have an extra bag just to carry home coffee from different fincas in the region.  For better or worse, that was not realistic for this trip.  So while I will be savoring only a small batch of the flavors of Colombian brew once I return home, the rich aromas of this place will continue dance in my memories with those of green hillsides and the people that I encountered along the way.

Coffee fincas line the hillsides outside the village of Salento.

Coffee fincas line the hillsides outside the village of Salento.

santa marta and cartagena: history and culture on the caribbean coast

Santa Marta and Cartagena - History and Culture on the Caribbean Coast

The walls of Cartagena, at the edge Caribbean Sea, served as protection for the city.

Cartagena is a city that well known, even to those who have not yet visited Colombia.  It is definitely a must-see destination, with its historic walled city, beautiful architecture, and vibrant nightlife.  Nearby, Santa Marta is impressive as well.  It boasts better beaches and fewer tourists.  It was a great place to spend Christmas among the people who live there.

Santa Marta and Cartagena - History and Culture on the Caribbean Coast

A man walks through a pedestrian street where records are being sold in Santa Marta.

After a visit with my family via Skype (which along with TripAdvisor is one of the technological gifts in the last decade for a traveler in my opinion), I had lunch on Christmas Day at a place recommended by my hostel that’s only distinguishing feature from the street was a doormat that said, “Welcome.”  Once inside I was greeted with numerous murals on the walls and ceiling, a fresh seafood dinner, and a friendly fellow patron.  Our conversation was intermittent, because he, like all the locals that entered, were engrossed with the TV.  The funeral of Diomedes Diaz, one of Colombia’s most popular musicians, was being broadcast.  While watching it I was reminded of eyes glued to TVs in the US during Princess Di’s procession. For some in the coastal areas, Diaz’s funeral overshadowed the celebration of Christ’s birth celebrated on the same day.  Later in the afternoon, I did what many locals do on Christmas Day…I went to the beach!

Santa Marta and Cartagena - History and Culture on the Caribbean Coast

Locals watch the funeral of Diomedes Diaz in a colorful restaurant (left). A young girl enjoys the beach on Christmas Day in Santa Marta (right).

Santa Marta and Cartagena - History and Culture on the Caribbean Coast

Boys jump into the Caribbean Sea on Christmas Day in Santa Marta.

The culture and history of Cartagena is evident on every street of the its historical center.  Pirate raids, the Spanish Inquisition, international trade of precious metals and slaves: these are just some of the stories that this walled city holds in its past.  Today the fortress walls also serve as a great place to watch the sunset over the Caribbean Sea. Within the historic center, the city’s architecture retains its colonial character with rich colors, flower covered balconies, and arched walkways.  Food vendors, horse-pulled carriages, and tourists meander through the streets, adding the the beauty of experiencing this special place.

Santa Marta and Cartagena - History and Culture on the Caribbean Coast

A horse-pulled carriage pauses near the Clock Gate in Cartagena.

Santa Marta and Cartagena - History and Culture on the Caribbean Coast

A couple watches the sunset from Cartagena’s wall as a soccer game is played below. The modern neighborhood of Bocagrande stands in the distance.

Santa Marta and Cartagena - History and Culture on the Caribbean Coast

The colonial architecture of Cartagena adds to the beauty of the historic city.

In the Getsemaní neighborhood, brightly colored murals cover walls between hostels, cafes, tiendas, and salsa bars.  Artist studios and small local businesses make their home in many of the historic buildings there.

Santa Marta and Cartagena - History and Culture on the Caribbean Coast

Cartagena’s Getsemaní neighborhood is home to some of the city’s workforce and artists. A tailor makes uniforms for hotel employees (left). Guillermo is a painter whose studio is housed in this neighborhood (right).

Walking through the streets here, I never knew what waited around the next corner.  The streets of Cartagena are perfect for wandering, and the romantic beauty of the place makes it easy to lose track of time.

Santa Marta and Cartagena - History and Culture on the Caribbean Coast

A quiet evening in Cartagena’s historic center.

taking in the sights…and the flavors of colombia

Fruit and fish, plantains and potatoes, corn and coconut…these are some of the treasures of Colombian cuisine.  I thoroughly enjoyed eating my way through the country and seeing different takes on staple foods in each region I visited.

JDavidson-Colombia-food131222-02

A food vendor serves grilled meats at the beach in Santa Marta.

It is clear that people here are connected to and through their food.  Street vendors selling fruit, ice cream, meats and arepas were ubiquitous in every town I visited.  In the evenings, as the people congregated in plazas and parques, the air was filled with the melding of aromas from the various vendors.  During the day, fruit vendors sold multiple types of mangoes as well as other fruits, an array of juices, and coconuts.  There’s no excuse to go hungry here….fresh food is at every turn.

Away from the cities, it was not uncommon to see people working the land and livestock to provide food for those in town.  During a hike, I crossed paths with a man bringing milk into town in large stainless steel containers mounted on donkeys.  This was the first of many similar scenes I saw, particularly in the Cafetera area, where many of the coffee farms and dairies are located.  While visiting a small cafe near Villa de Leyva, some friends and I encountered a woman skinning a pig.  It was such a beautiful scene, as light filtered into the room and she methodically processed this animal that would provide nourishment for many.

JDavidson-Colombia-food131229-08

A man makes the journey from his finca with milk to sale in town, near Salento.

food

A woman processes a pig near Villa de Leyva (left). Mangoes for sale are a common sight on the streets of Cartagena (right).

Fresh fish was plentiful in the coastal towns of Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Cabo de la Vela.  In Cartagena, La Cevicheria served some incredible ceviche with shrimp, fish, conch, and octopus. Even though it was one of the higher priced meals during my time in Colombia, I could not help but return to eat there again my last night in town.  Fried fish served with arroz con coco (coconut rice) and patacones (fried plantains) is a typical meal in coastal areas.  In the Guajira area, we had several of these meals, where the only thing that varied was the type of fish. It was all incredibly tasty.

fish

Fried fish with arroz con coco near Cabo del la Vela is a meal typical of the area (left). Mixed ceviche in Cartagena was a special treat at La Cevicheria (right).

Arepas and patacones are two foods present throughout the country.  Patacones are fried thinly flattened plantain patties.  While in the coast they are small and served as an accompaniment to a meal, in La Cafetera, they are the size of a large plate and served as vehicles for any number of combinations of meats, cheeses and salsas.  Corn based arepas vary greatly between regions.  In La Cafetera, they resemble thick grilled corn tortillas, covered with meats, cheese, vegetables, or just butter.  On the coast and in the regions around Bogotá, instead of piling food on top of the arepas, they are stuffed with meats, cheeses, eggs, or sweet creamy cheese.  Many of these are grilled as well, but others are deep-fried.  I made it my personal mission to try as many combinations as I could…within reason, of course!

arepas

Arepas near Manizales in La Cafetera are served with butter alongside eggs for breakfast (left). In Santa Marta, a street food vender sells grilled arepas filled with chicken or eggs to hungry beach goers (right).

JDavidson-Colombia-food131229-09

Patacones with chicken, cheese, and salsa serves as a filling dinner at the cafe-lined plaza in Salento.

a colorful life

Like much of Latin America, Colombia is a place bursting with color.  From the vibrant green hillsides, to the crystal blue waters, to the multicolored murals, the colors of Colombia are a feast for the eyes.

JDavidson-Colombia-Color131228-01The green landscape of the coffee region from my plane window as it descends into Armenia.

JDavidson-Colombia-Color131221-01Buildings in Ráquira are accented with murals depicting the culture and history of the area.

JDavidson-Colombia-Color131227-07A woman walks by a colorful mural in Cartagena’s historic Getsemani neighborhood.

JDavidson-Colombia-Color131221-08A shopkeeper in Ráquira sweeps the street before she opens for business.

JDavidson-Colombia-Color131223-02Daily life in the quiet but vibrant village of Manaure, in La Guajira.

JDavidson-Colombia-Color131220-03The country is not all bright pinks and blues.  The colonial village of Villa de Leyva, with its cobblestone streets and whitewashed walls, takes one to another time.

JDavidson-Colombia-Color131224-04A statue of the Virgin Mary looks over the Caribbean Sea, near Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira.

a colorful colombian christmas

The Christmas light displays in Colombia are a sight to behold.  While I did not make it to Medellin during this trip, which is considered to have the most extravagant displays in the country, the festive lights I did see where very impressive.  Each place I visited during the holiday season expressed the character of the town through their unique displays.  Everyday I felt a childlike excitement well up in me as the sun went down, the lights turned on, and the people came out to congregate in the public areas adorned with sparkles of color and light.

JDavidsonBlog131217-01The trees of Bogotá’s Independence Park are dripping with lights as locals and vendors stroll underneath.

JDavidsonBlog131217-02A giant Christmas tree towers over other larger than life displays along one of Bogotá’s busy streets.

The elegance of Cartagena’s historic center shines through the white lights covering the clock tower at the city’s entrance.

JDavidsonBlog131222-06
A long promenade alongside the Caribbean Sea in Santa Marta contains a multitude of festive sea creatures and palm trees, with exuberant children interspersed among the marine themed lightscape.

Ice cream vendors stay very busy in this seaside park where many families come to enjoy the displays and the warm Caribbean nights.

A young man stands quietly reminding those visiting the park in Santa Marta to be respectful of the city’s holiday display.

Two Young Girls Villa de Leyva ColombiaIn the small village of Villa de Leyva, novenas took place in different parts of the town each night.  Here two young friends who sang at the evening’s service, pause in front of a street-side nativity.

Police officers in Villa de Leyva ColombiaLocal police officers join in the holiday spirit during the novenas in Villa de Leyva.

Plaza in Villa de Leyva at Christmastime
Beauty through simplicity characterizes the light-outlined plaza in Villa de Leyva. This display compliments the town’s all-white architecture perfectly.