things i learned: medellín edition

Behold a top ten list of my most valuable discoveries:

  1. Unlike Bogotanos, Paisas love to see foreigners roaming their city. Pablo informed us that Paisas see gringos as symbols of safety and security. Meanwhile, I think that Bogotanos see gringos as symbols of paternalism and gentrification. The result: Paisas are welcoming, while Bogotanos are hostile.
  2. Momentum = optimism. Paisas feel continually optimistic about where Medellín is going, so Medellín continually moves forward and progresses… so Paisas feel continually optimistic about where Medellín is going, and so on.
  3. Whether it is picking up trash or helping others navigate a train station, everyone does their part to contribute to their city’s maintenance and development. In return, no job is thankless, and no effort goes unnoticed. Because citizens feel like an important piece in Medellín’s puzzle, they are more invested in making it a better place to live. Praise and encouragement (positive reinforcement), not shame or guilt (negative reinforcement), motivate them to be responsible.
  4. I covered this a bit in my last entry, but it was so startling that I have to repeat it: Medellín’s Metro stations and trains are spotless. Seriously, they are by far the cleanest I had ever seen.
  5. Paisas are a cooperative people. They pay attention to others’ spatial needs.
  6. Locals maintain a purposeful, energetic walking pace. Meanwhile, Bogotanos walk so impossibly slowly, as if every step is yet another burden on their already traumatic lives.
  7. Contrary to what I heard before visiting, Paisa women dress more modestly and professionally than do their Bogotana counterparts.
  8. Medellín is a very layered, integrated city. At times pedestrians, bikes, cars, and trains occupy the same footprint but on different vertical planes.
  9. Architects in Medellín seem more invested in city building than do architects in Bogotá. They seem more willing to help themselves, whereas Bogotanos wait to be “saved” by foreign planners.
  10. If I had chosen to live in Medellín, would I have been working on more interesting projects? Would I have been contributing to drastic change? Would I have had the true Latin American experience? While I might have lived more comfortably in Medelín, I might have had a skewed perception of the Colombian struggle.


An hour after our bright red plane left Cartagena, Seth and I found ourselves in Medellín, the City of the Eternal Spring. Rather than take a cab from the MDE airport into the city, which would have cost us a whopping COP$60,000, we took a bus for $16,000. We then hailed a cab ($COP$8,000) to shuttle us to our hostel. Once there we dropped off our things, booked a walking tour for the following morning, and fled in search of food.

After an unremarkable sandwich, we boarded the A train to the Botanical Garden (estación Universidad). The architecturally divine Orchidiarium was closed for a banquet of sorts, but we were at least able to see it from outside the gates. We walked around the neighborhood, exploring the Planetario de Medellín, the Casa de la Música, and the Parque de los Deseos.

The 18 year-old Medellín Metro ran impeccably. Seth and I chose to load a few trips onto a single card, but we could have also purchased individual tickets, as you would with a carnet in Paris. The signs in the stations were easy to follow, and the trains were the cleanest I had ever seen; not a single person ate, drank, littered, smoked, or blasted music. Everyone was very courteous, making sure to give up their seats for mothers, children, and the elderly. After my hectic experiences with public transit in Bogotá, I was simply stunned.

Feeling tired due to a combination of travel, cloudy weather, and lots of walking, we headed back to our hostel early for beer and R&R.

The next morning we awoke at sunrise for our walk with Real City Tours. Pablo, the twenty-six year-old owner and operator of the service, picked us up from our hostel, and we met up with other travelers at the train station. Once we arrived downtown, he began the tour with an hourlong talk in which he discussed the stigmas surrounding Colombia—the cocaine, the corruption, the violence, etcetera. He mentioned several times that “Colombians are two things: good liars and good businessmen” and related the all-too-familiar story of the papaya. (“No dar papaya” is a common proverb in Colombia which, very literally, means “Do not give the papaya” because if you do, someone will surely take the fruit right from your hands. Figuratively it means, do not give someone the opportunity to take advantage of you because if you do, someone will.) Of course, because our tour guide was Colombian and shared his name with Pablo Escobar, the most famous criminal in the country’s history, he could not not talk about him. From his point of view, Pablo Escobar, while indeed a criminal who did very bad things, was only living “No dar papaya” to the fullest but from the other side; he took advantage of any opportunity that presented itself.

Pablo—the guide, not the criminal—led us to several of the city’s most famous landmarks, including the Plaza de Cisneros. Once the most dangerous space in Medellín, it now boasts a series of poles which light up at night as a symbol of hope and resilience.


Pablo also led us to several spots in Medellín that Seth and I surely would not have discovered on our own. He introduced us to a church that was originally designed by a Belgian architect but due to creative differences was reinterpreted by Colombian builders. Needless to say, the latter half of the building was a complete disaster. If you stand at just the right place in the plaza, it looks like the Botero sculpture is laughing in disbelief at the Colombian builders’ addition.

As we walked Pablo discussed several of Medellín’s many contradictions, particularly the widespread reconciliation of Catholicism and prostitution. He explained that many of the men who participate in such depraved activities use their religion and its unconditional forgiveness to justify their behavior. It was refreshing to have a tour guide so honest, as I feel like many contemporary guides and bloggers speak about the positive aspects of Colombia as if there are no negatives. His point of view elaborated that it is important for Colombians to recognize their country’s sordid history so that they may truly learn from it and move past it.

After the tour Pablo suggested that we all eat together at one of his favorite corrientazos. Seth and I had the displeasure of sitting next to a brand new, holier-than-thou “vegetarian” who proceeded to order bola beans and insist that they did not have meat in them. The conversation was lackluster from the start, so Seth and I ate quickly and returned to the train station.

From the Metro de Medellín we were able to transfer to the integrated Metrocable and spend an hour or two riding around the Aburrá Valley. On the first line we saw Giancarlo Mazzanti’s Parque Biblioteca España and hundreds of thousands of “slums” on the hill. (“Slums” is in quotations because while the houses did not meet a middle-class standard of living, they did still have running water.) On the second line we encountered actual slums and heard a not-so-distant gunshot. (At first I thought I had heard the sound of a car backfiring, but as the woman next to me gasped and crossed herself, I knew I had indeed heard a gunshot.)

After a while it started pouring outside, so Seth and I boarded the train back to our hostel. We grabbed a couple of beers and sat on the porch, where we met a sixty-something 9/11 conspiracy theorist who told us about his plans to sail the Amazon on a homemade raft. Fun.

The next morning we stopped for iced coffee at the delightful Pergamino Café. Unlike coffee shops in Bogotá which incorporate obnoxious planters to separate their patio from the sidewalk, Pergamino boasted a generous open plaza perfect for people-watching. We took our time sipping and reading until it was time for us to pack and walk to the train station. (Fun fact: Seth and I were able to take the Metro straight to the bus terminal and pass on an integrated sidewalk—free of cars!—right to our gate.)

things i learned: cartagena edition

Behold a top ten list of my most valuable discoveries:

  1. By American standards, sunscreen is ridiculously expensive, like, US$15-per-bottle expensive.
  2. Cartageneros embrace their hot and humid environment. Despite the sky-high temperatures and sticky air, many people forego air conditioning in favor of ice-cold limeade.
  3. Locals are not judgmental, and race is not a taboo subject. I saw people of all shades, and I was never called a mona or a gringa.
  4. Cartageneros are proud first to be Caribbean and second to be Colombian. They brag about their local environment, handicrafts, clothing, and customs.
  5. Chiquita Bananas are real, but fair warning: the fruit they carry atop their heads commands an absurd price.
  6. Locals are more adept to city living. They move aside when someone tries to pass. They maintain a reasonable walking pace.
  7. Bocagrande is basically a rich man’s ghetto. When not completely absent, the sidewalks are poorly maintained; even the condominiums, which were laughably constructed in the first place, are in desperate need of repair. A vast majority of the license plates read “Bogotá,” so I have to infer that Bogotanos are those leading the surge against walkable communities. As a result, Bocagrande is void of all sense of place, all character and charm—a stark contrast to the nearby walled city of Cartagena.
  8. Cartageneros have embraced the art of mixed juices and smoothies, and the result is so, so delicious.
  9. Whereas many of the tourists Seth and I encountered in the Eje Cafetero were Irish, in Cartagena we met mostly Germans.
  10. Despite the lack of abundant private security, Cartagena feels safer than Bogotá (Bocagrande not included).



Nearly two months have passed since Seth and I fled Bogotá for a weeklong vacation in Cartagena. Due to our hectic post-vacation schedule, which included a whirlwind trip to Medellín, a move out of our Bogotá apartment, and days well-spent with our friends and families in Texas, I have not had much time to write. However, while experiencing the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of both the Caribbean Coast and the Aburrá Valley, I was able to keep a brief account of my experiences in a small notebook. Of course, much of the detail has been lost due to the lapse in time, but I will elaborate everything I can. Brace yourselves, dear readers.

DAY 1: Centro & San Diego
Our path to Cartagena was a bit of a disaster, to put it delicately. What should have been an effortless cab ride and a breezy hourlong flight not-so-miraculously turned into five Transmilenio tickets (for two trips, mind you) and one nearly missed plane. You see, Seth insisted that we force our luggage through the narrow turnstiles of Bogotá’s bus rapid transit system, which resulted in two station transfers, three denied passages, and forty-five minutes’ waste. We arrived to the airport breathless and teary-eyed, sprinted through security, and boarded our plane with mere minutes to spare.


As soon as the plane took off with us actually present, I felt instant relief. I enjoyed a small cup of Juan Valdez coffee, homemade potato chips, and a small candy as I stared out the window. Two hours, one airport iguana, and one COP$12,000 cab ride later, Seth and I found ourselves in historic Cartagena. On our ten-minute ride into town we noticed a myriad of hotels, a series of unoccupied beaches, a surprising number of people wearing pants, and too many butt implants to count. The most interesting thing that we saw, though, was the level of diversity; we even passed a large mural that read, “Chao racismo!” (“Goodbye racism!”). Upon arriving we checked into the Makako Chill House Hostel, swapped our Bogotá-appropriate jeans and boots for Cartagena-approved shorts and sandals, and walked downstairs to La Mulata for a satisfying lunch of ceviche de camarones con mango y habanero (shrimp ceviche with mango and spicy peppers) and a refreshing round of limonadas de coco (coconut limeades, also known as the best drink ever).


After lunch we spent the latter part of the afternoon touring the colonial walled city. We saw color after color and balcony after balcony; we saw street vendor after street vendor and craft after craft. By cocktail hour my hair had absorbed so much salt from the air that it was thick with waves; Seth said that the lingering smell of sulfur reminded him of the Texas Gulf Coast. We walked along the wall until we encountered a substantial bar, where we grabbed a table and sipped cocktails as the sun set.

DAY 2: Bocagrande & Getsemaní
On our first morning in Cartagena we awoke to the questionable smells of instant coffee wafting throughout the hostel. We clearly were not in the Eje Cafetero anymore.

We spent the early hours of the day booking a tour to Isla del Encanto, one of the twenty-seven Rosario Islands. The hawkers were the most aggressive that we had ever encountered, and we really had to pull our aggressive pants on in order to book the desired tour. Fun fact: Many Colombians actually prefer to take the COP$40,000 general tour, which consists of a boat ride to Isla Grande, a buffet lunch, a visit to the “aquarium” for an extra fee, a stop in Barú, and a return ride to Cartagena. Meanwhile, many American and British travelers, wanting to avoid this sort of touristy nickel-and-dime gimmick, try and fail to book a more expensive boat ride to one of the neighboring islands. Pardon me; I will come back to this topic later.


After successfully securing two of the desired tickets, Seth and I walked to Bocagrande, a godawful coastline of poorly constructed, deteriorating condominiums and brand new, luxury motor vehicles. When we heard rumblings in our tumblings, we did not hesitate to return to the walled city for lunch at La Cocina de Carmela, a shabby and inexpensive restaurant just around the corner from our hostel. Seth and I then relocated our belongings to hostel number two, the Chill House Hostel, where we paid the same price per night but gained a private bathroom. We spent the afternoon reading and sipping juices at Café Ceiba in the supposedly “hip” neighborhood of Getsemaní. (Why is “hip” in quotes, you ask? Well, many locals brag about how popular this once-gritty neighborhood has become with the rich these days. All it really means is that the sidewalks have become minuscule to make way for an extra lane of shiny new cars. Super cool, right?)

Hours past sunset and still full from lunch, we scored an unclaimed table in an open plaza and opted for a dinner replacement of Club Colombia. As we ordered our beer, we noticed that the cashier did not greet us with the labels monos or gringos. As we people-watched, we observed interracial couples walking hand-in-hand without stares or a care. Why was Cartagena so accepting, while Bogotá was so judgmental?

DAY 3: Isla del Encanto

Seth and I spent our third day of vacation on the Isla del Encanto. The journey was easy enough; we arrived at the docks at 8:30 in the morning, departed at 9:30 (9:00 + Colombian time), and disembarked at 10. The resort staff cheerfully greeted us with ice-cold corozo juice and enumerated the island’s amenities; the chairs, hammocks, and beach beds were all for complimentary use, while cocktails, massages, and local crafts were subject to additional fees. Seth and I hurried to the beach, ordered a limonada de coco, and absorbed the sun’s rays.


For lunch Seth and I ate fried fish, penne with a creamy seafood sauce, coconut rice, and tamarind juice. We enjoyed several dips in the ocean and a lengthy swim in the resort’s outdoor pool before climbing into the boat at 3:30. Due to rough waves, the ride back to Cartagena was one of the scariest experiences of my life, but we safely docked in the city just in time for sunset. Before settling down for a cocktail, we poked our heads in a few of the local shops, and Seth bought me a beautiful beach bag made of native Colombian grass. We then found an unassuming bar-slash-restaurant owned and operated by a German expat, where we enjoyed a couple of generously poured martinis.

DAY 4: Centro, San Diego, & Bocagrande
Seth and I awoke on the fourth day ready for some quality caffeine and local gastronomy. We began the morning with a couple of iced lattes and some literature at an adorable bookstore cafe. We then migrated to one of the walled city’s meticulously planned squares, where we watched a delightful group of elderly folks sit on a nearby bench and talk about their days. It was public space at its finest; people gathered, tourists passed, and trees flourished.



After our morning full of reading and people-watching, Seth and I strolled to La Cevichería, one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite Cartagena hangouts. We ordered two ceviches, one with octopus and another with snapper. Both were delicious and beyond filling, and it was a good thing, too; La Cevichería’s prices have skyrocketed since Sir Anthony’s visit.

Quite stuffed, we chose to swim off our calories—or, more truthfully, sleep off our food coma—with another trip to Bocagrande. We grabbed a couple of limonadas de coco and attempted to swat away the vendors while guarding our belongings. Several Chiquita Banana lookalikes attempted to coat my skin with baby oil “so that I would look just like them,” but I was having none of it. We enjoyed a quick nap and some intermittent swims before deciding to call it quits.

For dinner we ate at a seafood restaurant called Kriollos. The decor was “Rainforest Cafe meets fine dining,” which in the context of a coastal town was actually quite pleasant. While sipping on a couple glasses of white wine, we ordered a round of crab gratin with sweet corn. For our mains, Seth opted for the langosta (Caribbean lobster) with butter, thyme, and garlic, while I chose the cazuela de mariscos (seafood stew). The cazuela was nothing like the stews I had grown accustomed to eating in Bogotá; this cazuela had an herby green broth instead of a creamy orange one. I was disappointed. Seth’s dish was superb, though, and I was happy that he shared several generous bites with me.

Craving a little something sweet, Seth and I stopped for gelato at Paradiso, an adorable shop with local flavors. We sampled the flor de jamaica (hibiscus) and the mamey sapote. Both were sinfully smooth and decant.

DAY 5: Barú
The next day was by far my favorite in Cartagena. Seth and I returned to the aforementioned dock of hawkers in order to buy tickets to Barú, a peninsula near Cartagena that is easier to access by boat than by bus or car. Since we had exhaustively researched the various tour options, we knew going into our negotiation that the dreaded COP$40,000 general tour already included a built-in stop. However, we had absolutely no interest in visiting Isla Grande’s “aquarium” of nonsense. Three times—once when we purchased our tickets, once when we boarded the boat, and once when we were on the boat in the middle of the water—we had to forcefully order the captain to drop us off at Barú and only at Barú. When the boat approached the shore sans dock, Seth and I were the sole couple to disembark; all others continued toward the aquarium. We could not believe it! But then we were reminded of the thousands upon thousands of Colombians who traveled up and down those long and windy roads to the mystical coffee region only to bypass Mother Nature in favor of the godforsaken Parque de Café. (Sigh. Colombian tourists really are the absolute worst.)

On the way to the peninsula, our boat—perhaps the most informal of tourist vehicles I had ever boarded—stopped at a cluster of waterside shanties to retrieve the snorkeling masks for the general tour. At least ten ebony-skinned boys leaped into the ocean like fishes, splashed around, and climbed up the side of the boat, which caused some tourists to panic and others to laugh. It was a rather strange dichotomy; we were en route to a luxurious beach, while the kids were receiving their only source of entertainment for the day: a bunch of rich vacationers ooh-ing and ahh-ing at their antics.


Anyway, when we “docked” at the beach, Seth and I followed the advice of a few very helpful TripAdvisor travelers; we hooked an immediate left and walked along the shore for about thirty minutes. After passing vendor after vendor, we were eventually rewarded with a private beach, free shade in the form of a petite tree, and the whitest sands and bluest waters I had ever seen in real life. (They don’t call it Playa Blanca for nothin’!) I was SO incredibly happy. Seth and I spent the entire day lounging on the beach and flopping around in the ocean. We bought a fruit salad from the only vendor who dared to cross our path, and around lunch we visited a miniature hut for cervezas bien frías and fried fish. The cook who took our order was high out of his mind and disappeared for at least an hour, but Seth and I were A-ok digging our toes into the soft sand and eavesdropping on a pair of Dutch foreigners as we waited. The payoff was exponentially richer than I ever could have imagined—fish likely caught and fried while we were waiting, the most flavorful plantains I had ever tasted, and generous palm trees blocking our faces from the intense rays of the sun. All in all, it was one of the best days of my entire life, and if I could relive it over and over again I would. My only regret is not planning ahead to stay the night, where we would have surely witnessed phytoplankton light up the crystal clear water.


Sometime around mid-afternoon, our boat stopped by the island to drop off the other tourists. They had a mere forty-five minutes to enjoy the peninsula as a group, while Seth and I had the entire day to ourselves! We laughed at their lack of foresight and took one last swim before embarking on another bumpy boat ride to Cartagena. We were drunk with happiness.

Unfortunately, our captain and his mates were total douchenozzles. Not only did they resist dropping us off in Barú like we wanted, but they also refused to allow us to sit together on the way back to the city. As we ignored their strict instructions concerning “proper weight distribution,” our much heavier neighbors insisted in Spanish, “The gringos do not speak the language, so they will not move.” Seth went apeshit and demanded, in Spanish of course, that the staff allow us to sit side by side. We eventually got our way but not without stern hesitation.

Tired from all the sun, we ended our day with a glass of wine at our favorite bookstore cafe, an uneventful dinner at a corrientazo, and an early slumber.

DAY 6: Centro & San Diego

Most of Cartagena was closed on Sunday morning, but we managed to find a touristy restaurant in the main plaza that served coffee to casual patrons on their porch. We sipped a couple of iced lattes and watched the city gradually come alive; around 12:30 it had amassed a substantial buzz. We returned to La Cevichería for lunch, this time for cooked fish in lieu of ceviche. Seth and I shared the octopus, which was served atop a mound of coconut rice, avocado, red pepper, and chopped peanuts. Afterward we embarked on a shopping spree, where I bought my second mochila, a mini bag about a quarter the size of my first. We also purchased a few crafts for friends and family back home, including a few bracelets. Seth was especially tempted to walk away with a handwoven hammock, but at COP$800,000 (US$400) and 50 pounds a piece, it was not in the cards for us at the time.

After hours of meandering through the narrow streets of the walled city, Seth and I settled down for pizza and wine at a restaurant just below our hostel. It was a low-key end to an already relaxing day.

We decided to spend our last day in Cartagena redoing all of our favorite activities one last time. We sipped coffee in the main plaza and juices at a shabby bar, and afterward we browsed the artisan markets. (Side note: Days before traveling to Cartagena, I asked my coworkers if I would uncover any unusual fruits or handmade goods that I had not yet found in Bogotá. They simply replied, “No.” Well, it turned out that my coworkers were totally and completely wrong! I sampled at least five new fruits while on the coast and spotted an astounding number of new handicrafts.) We also took one last trip to the beach; this time we found a quiet little alcove free of vendors and hawkers.

The end of our day was quite a bit more hectic than the start. We caught a ride back to the walled city in a Bogotá-style buseta driven by a Bogotá-style maniac. Other passengers were tearfully begging him to steer slowly and carefully, insisting that the speed was not worth them losing their lives. A little frazzled, Seth and I hopped off the bus early and returned to a previously-visited plaza for ice-cold Club Colombias. As we sipped, we inadvertently witnessed a threesome between street dogs gone awry; midway through the act, two of the three dogs got stuck together! Hundreds of cell phone pictures and thirty minutes later, the dogs finally straightened themselves out. The whole debacle was… disturbing, to say the least.


Before leaving hot and humid Cartagena for eternally springy Medellín, Seth and I enjoyed some Juan Valdez coffee on the balcony of our hostel. We met a nice girl from Boston who had just arrived from the city to which we were flying, so we were able to give each another helpful travel tips. A COP$10,000 cab ride and smooth airport screening later, Seth and I were climbing the stairs of our bright red Avianca plane. It was so romantically vintage, the most picturesque farewell to an already sublime tropical vacation.


Despite having dined at Masa four times since the beginning of May, I have somehow avoided writing about it until now. I first learned about the Zona G bakery-slash-restaurant via my former coworker Kata. Although she was a self-professed fanatic of their lunch offerings, she was even more enthusiastic about their brunch. “It is the absolute best in the city,” she insisted. I filed her suggestion away for later.


The first time I visited, I ate their foraged mushroom sandwich on rustic Italian bread with ooey-gooey fontina. On my second trip, I ordered the exact same thing. (Shameful, I know, but it was just too decadent to pass up.) The third time I visited, I gained the courage to try something new: their lime chicken sandwich on country sour bread with sauteed red peppers, arugula, and pesto. Topped off with a slice of carrot cake and an espresso, it was the perfect lunch.


All summer I kept Kata’s suggestion at the back of my mind, and last weekend I finally dragged Seth to a proper brunch. At ten a.m. the line was six parties out the door, but I knew it would not be long before we were seated. (Colombians dine at an alarmingly rapid pace.) Sure enough, fifteen minutes later we placed our order. We first received two lattes and a basket of freshly baked goods of our choosing—two butter croissants, a mini baguette, an agráz danish with homemade sprinkles, and a cinnamon roll. The croissants were the best Seth and I had tried outside of Paris, while the baguette was simply delightful. The other two pastries we had to take home for later, along with a pair of pan au chocolat. For our main course, Seth ordered the Masa breakfast sandwich—a fancified Egg McMuffin with fluffy eggs, queso holandés, and crunchy bacon—while I ordered a spinach frittata. The sandwich was satisfyingly savory, while the frittata was ridiculously rich. One bite in, I instantly regretted not trying it sooner.

Moreso than their lunch, Masa’s brunch is surprisingly affordable. A frittata, croissant, and latte combo will only set you back about USD$6.75 (COP$7000 + COP$2000 + COP$3800 = COP$12800).

Masa might be one of Bogotá’s only brunch options (save for the neighborhood fruterías), but it is also hands-down the best. Spanish for “dough,” the bakery offers world-class breads and pastries. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, do not be intimidated by the wait; Masa vale la pena.

[Masa: Calle 70 # 4-83, Bogotá-Colombia]

les amis bizcochería


Les Amis Bizcochería is a sugar lover’s paradise near Parque Virrey. Seth and I initially tried to visit on October 5, but the bakery was closed for renovations. The owner was sitting outside passing out pastries to disappointed customers as an incentive for our eventual return. After devouring a mini quiche lorraine, a mini quiche florentine, and a petite carrot cake, Seth and I vowed to return the following Saturday.

On our second trip, we selected a wide variety of goodies: a mini mazorca and ahuyama quiche, a mini mushroom quiche, a sweet onion tart, a beef empanada, a pan au chocolat, a guayaba cake, a feijoa cake, and a chocolate cone filled with arequipe.

My recommendation: on a sunny afternoon, grab a couple of sweet and savory pastries—perhaps a mini mazorca and ahuyama quiche, a beef empanada, and a petite carrot cake—and head for Parque Virrey. Along the way, stop for an iced latte at the Juan Valdez at Carrera 15 and Calle 87. Take your box of treats and your cup of caffeine to the park, watch the puppies frolic, and enjoy the day.

[Les Amis Bizcochería: Carrera 14 # 86A – 12, Bogotá-Colombia]

bubble tea in bogotá


That’s right. Just as Seth and I found a bubble tea shop in Paris, we found one in Bogotá.

A few months ago our friend Jeremy recommended that we visit the Bubble Tea Bar in Container City, a refurbished shipping container alcove near Parque 93. We put it off and put it off until two weeks ago when a foiled plan to visit nearby bakery Les Amis forced us to find another place to satisfy our sweet teeth. I remembered Jeremy’s suggestion, and we decided to give it a shot.


Surrounded by Italian, Japanese, and Mediterranean restaurants and coffee, frozen yogurt, and tea shops, the Bubble Tea Bar is a bright niche in the corner of Container City’s interior courtyard. We located it easily and scanned the menu. Despite the array of options—black tea, green tea, or fruit; gel, pudding, or tapioca; light, regular, or extra sugar; light, regular, or extra ice; etc.—we opted for a round of no-nonsense milk tea with tapioca.

Our verdict: the drink was too light on the tea and too heavy on the cream. All things considered, though, the Bubble Tea Bar (and Container City in general) was an enjoyable experience. The Bubble Tea Bar’s product may not be the best, but it will certainly do in a pinch.

[Container City: Calle 93 # 12 – 11, Bogotá-Colombia]

coming soon…


In three weeks Seth and I will quit our jobs and fly to Cartagena, a beautiful and historic city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. We will spend our time lying on the beach, touring the nearby islands, and of course, sampling the local fare.


After a week in paradise, we will travel to Medellín—Colombia’s second largest city and the City of the Eternal Spring.

Let the planning begin!

[Cartagena photo courtesy of; Medellín photo courtesy of]

caryn arrives



At the end of August Seth and I were overjoyed to welcome our first visitor to Bogotá. Caryn, one of our closest classmates from architecture school, stepped off her plane a little after midnight on Thursday night. The three of us promptly shuffled into a taxi, took a celebratory shot of Aguardiente, and went to sleep in preparation for busy days ahead.


For her first day in the city, Seth and I wanted to show Caryn some of the major touristy sites. We were a bit worried that because of the ongoing paros (strikes) we would not be able to forge our way into the city center. However, on Friday morning President Santos deployed some 50,000 troops across the country “to assure normality,” thus making our stroll to the Plaza Simón Bolivar a cakewalk. We started our morning with a chocolate completo at La Puerta Falsa, followed by a quick visit to the Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez. Around one in the afternoon our friend Jeremy met us in the Plaza, and we proceeded to hike up Avenida Jiménez to the Monserrate cable car station. The weather was chilly and rainy, but lucky for us it cleared up just long enough to snap a few photos at the top. When it got cold again, we stopped at a food stall for some fried cow organs, potatoes, and plantains.

Feeling cold, wet, and tired, we took the cable car back down to the city and ducked into an artisan alcove in La Candelaria for a round of coffee. We browsed the goods for mochilas and other souvenirs for Caryn’s friends and family but to no avail. Jeremy then headed home while Caryn, Seth, and I wandered around La Macarena and admired Rogelio Salmona’s brick architecture. For dinner we enjoyed small bites and pan con tomate at Tapas Macarena, one of my favorite restaurants in all of Boogtá. The highlights of the evening included a peppery Tempranillo, jamón serrano gran reserva (18-month cured serrano ham), champiñones queso azul (mushrooms in a blue cheese sauce), pinchos de pollo Ketjap (chicken skewers in an Indonesian soy and peanut sauce), and langostinos cajun (cajun shrimp).


Saturday, of course, was the first day of college football season. While Seth watched the Rice vs. A&M game, Caryn and I ate lunch at my beloved neighborhood corrientazo and drank beer in La Zona T. She had read about the Bogotá Beer Company in one of her travel guides, so we stopped in for a pint of Monserrate Roja (her) and Cajica Miel (me). After some much-needed girl talk, we returned home for a low-key evening of wine, cheese, and a movie.


Sunday was probably my favorite day of the entire visit. Caryn, Seth, and I started the morning at home with a strong cup of coffee and decadent Nutella toast before walking fifty blocks along the Ciclovía route to Usaquén. There we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Abasto, which consisted of sparkling Chilean wine, fresh-baked focaccia, grilled octopus in a summer vegetable ratatouille, and shrimp in an achiote-coconut sauce with plantain puree and starfruit. In order to recover from our food comas, we grabbed a round of espresso and explored the neighborhood shops. Caryn bought a painting, two tins of Colombian coffee, and I think eight jars of tropical fruit jams. Meanwhile, Seth and I finally found the perfect autumn-colored mochila for his mother. Exhausted from spending the entire day out and about, we opted for another relaxing night in.


On Monday the three of us skipped breakfast in favor of a colossal lunch at Fulanitos, a vallecaucano restaurant. I insisted that Caryn order the bandeja, as it is one of the most traditional and iconic dishes in the country. Seth followed suit. All of those meats and starches, plus a serving of lulada, had everyone stuffed. Somehow, though, we were able to walk the fifty blocks along Calle 63 to the Biblioteca Virgilio Barco. After admiring more of Salmona’s architecture, we continued over to the Parque Simón Bolivar and then to the Jardín Botánico. We were a little cold, wet, and grumpy due to the rain, but we managed to flag down a buseta and warm up in the comfort of our apartment. Since it was Caryn’s last full night in the city, we decided that it was only right to celebrate with pizza, wine, and grappa at one of our favorite spots, Julia in Zona G.


Caryn’s last day included a series of snacks. We first stopped into a frutería for avena (a milk and oatmeal drink), jugo (juice), and buñuelos (fried doughy balls). We then walked to 7 de agosto—first, to have a look at the various tropical fruits in stock and second, to sample an ensalada de frutas (fruit salad), jugo de feijoa (pineapple guava juice), and jugo de maracuyá (passionfruit juice). For our next stop, we braved the violent hail for Restaurante Las Margaritas‘s famous empanaditas. We finished off our day of local flavor with a visit to Café Devotion (La Botica de Café) for a gourmet coffee tasting. Caryn, Seth, and I returned to our apartment with enough time for our visitor to pack and for us to say our goodbyes. Quite appropriately, on the way to the airport we just so happened to hire the most erratic and unstable of drivers, thus catapulting Caryn back to the United States in true Colombian fashion.


bogotá barbecue


Feeling exhausted from our job hunt and nostalgic for Texas summers, Seth and I went in search of some good ol’-fashioned barbecue. If you recall correctly, the only positive experience we’d had of smoked meats in Colombia was during our trip to Chía—nine months ago. I had recently read about La Fama, a restaurant in our neighborhood owned by a Colombian with devout respect for North American barbecue. (He reportedly flew Tom Mylan and Brent Young of Brooklyn’s The Meat Hook into Bogotá to serve as consultants!) Needless to say, we were looking for any opportunity to sample the fare.


The place was a bit difficult to find, mostly due to my error in writing down the address. As soon as we stepped into the covered porch, though, we felt our stomachs grumble in response to the heavenly aroma of wood chips, smoked meat, and tangy sauce. Our host led us to one of the only non-reserved tables available (Reservations at a barbecue establishment? What?!), and we immediately ordered two iced teas. Sweet but not Wanda Neuvar sweet, the sugary drink hit the spot just right. We then followed up with an order of jalapeño and pepper jack cheese sausages. As we enjoyed the sausages’ surprising amount of spice and flavor, our eyes wandered around the space. The exposed brick walls, coupled with the picnic tables and barbecue pit, really made the restaurant feel legitimately rustic. Seth watched group after group order a round of draft beer, and before he knew it he was summoning our waiter for a Club Colombia of his very own.


Soon came the real star of any barbecue restaurant: the barbecue! The menu suggests each person spend about COP$40,000 (US$20), so for our bandeja we ordered three meats—morillo (hump, or moist brisket), pecho (lean brisket), and cerdo desmechado (pulled pork)—with two sides—mac and cheese and papas criollas  con suero ahumado y chimichurri (bite-sized Colombian potatoes with smoked sour cream and chimichurri). Because the barbecue sauce predictably leaned on the sweet and tangy side à la North Carolina, it paired best with the oh-so-tender pulled pork. Both cuts of brisket were perfectly delicious, but we were especially impressed by the sides; the mac and cheese was smoky and rich, while the papas criollas introduced a pleasant Colombian spin on the Texan staple of potato salad. With no room left for dessert, we waddled out of the restaurant sa-tis-fied.

La Fama is good barbecue, period. New York or North Carolina, Texas or Colombia, this establishment holds its own.

[first photo courtesy of Carlos Beltrán and La Fama]

[La Fama: Calle 65 BIS # 4-85, Bogotá-Colombia]