caryn arrives

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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my new baby

For a man, his “baby” is usually a vintage car, a showy electronic, or maybe, maybe, a big dog. For a young woman, though, hers is usually a sparkly dress, a special purse, or maybe, maybe, a fluffy puppy. I have many a sparkly dress and many a special purse, but until yesterday my wardrobe had seen nothing like this beauty:

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I call her Sofia. She is a mochila Wayúu, and she took at least one month for one woman to weave.

As Seth and I shopped for mochilas Arhuacas for him and his brother Eliot, I kept my eyes open for mochilas Wayúu. I liked the more subtle, earth-toned Arhuacan bags, sure, but the Wayúu were more colorful, more fun, more my style. On one particular day in November, I spotted a beautiful mochila Wayúu with a teal background and red, pink, mint green, and navy details. I didn’t buy it, and I spent the next two months wondering if I messed up. Was it the bag that got away? I convinced Seth that we should return to the artisan craft stalls this weekend to search for it, you know, just in case. Sure enough, the vendor I had initially spotted with “the bag that got away” somehow still had the bag in question on display. But when I saw it, I was no longer feeling it; I wanted something different. I politely asked the vendor to bring out more mochilas with teal, red, and pink threads. The vendor did as I requested, but none of the mochilas spoke to me. Not a single one. After a few more rounds, the woman finally brought me Sofia. The bag possessed some of the exact colors I was trying to avoid—for example, I hate, hate, hate orange—but when I saw it, I somehow changed my mind. Something just… clicked. I simply loved it, and I knew no other bag would ever compare. I imagined taking Sophia to the Eje Cafetero, even back to the States. Wouldn’t she look amazing with cowboy boots? I thought to myself. It would be a perfect union of my two most recent worlds: Colombia and Texas. They say, “When you know, you know.” Well, I knew.

holiday shopping: part one

Seth and I spent most of this weekend shopping for holiday gifts for our friends and family members. We scoured the covered markets across from the Gold Museum in La Candelaria and the open air markets on top of the hill in Usaquén in search of authentic artisan souvenirs. I realize I am taking a slight risk by publishing this entry, but I am almost positive that the recipients of the following gifts do not subscribe to my blog. (Just to be safe, though, I will make this entry private shortly after hitting the “Publish” button.)

Seth had his heart set on buying two Colombian mochilas—one for himself and another for his brother Eliot. Arhuaco mochilas (pictured above) are natural, bucket-shaped bags hand made ​​by the Arhuaco people of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Conversely, Wayuu mochilas are hand made by the Wayuu people of La Guajira Peninsula. Whereas the neutral-colored, sheeps’ wool mochilas of Arhuaco seem to be most often worn by men in Bogotá, the brightly-colored, cotton-based bags of Wayuu seem to be most frequently fashioned by women. Each of the latter type retails for about COP$80,000-100,000 (US$40-50) and is made by one woman over the span of about twenty days.

Besides the two mochilas, Seth and I also purchased a variety of jams, including five jars of maracuya (passionfruit), nueces (nuts), and brandy; four jars of arazá, cupuaçu, and cocona; and one jar of frutos y pétalos rojos (red forest fruits and flowers). The other gifts I cannot mention.

To end our busy and fruitful weekend of touching beautiful things and making difficult decisions, we sat down for a couple of macchiatos at LaTerra Café in Usaquén. Delicious! Our shopping hiatus continues over the next week as we plan and prepare our Thanksgiving feast.

monserrate

On Sunday afternoon, Seth and I—okay, just Seth—decided to climb the Monserrate, a mountain that dominates the city center of Bogotá. (I tried but failed to climb it last week. Seth was disappointed in my less-than-stellar hiking skills, so I let him climb alone this time. Meanwhile, I rode the Funicular.) At 3152 meters above sea level—and 527 meters above Bogotá—the mountain top is home to a seventeenth century church and shrine. Pilgrims often choose to scale the mountain with pebbles or uncooked frijoles in their shoes, while tourists ride the train or cable car to the summit. Besides the church, the mountaintop offers generous views of the city on one side and of the forest on the other. There are also two upscale restaurants, where couples can spend a romantic afternoon gazing at their city, and a small marketplace, where climbers can grab a bite and refuel.

After snapping a few photos and catching up with Seth, we stopped at a market stall to sample their salchicha, papas criollas, y plátano (pork sausage, potatoes, and plantains). Our waiter, who was possibly the most efficient fourteen year-old hustler I have ever seen, even supplied us with a sample of chunchullo (fried pig intestines) and, to wash it all down, a Colombiana (the national apple-flavored soda). I wish I could say we stopped there, but we actually ended up cruising by another stall for a small dessert: a chunk of fresh, curd-like cheese with arequipe (also known as dulce de leche, a sauce very similar to caramel) and mora (a blackberry-esque berry) sauce. Rico!

I hope to one day return to the mountain so I can prove to myself that I can successfully climb it. (I am still thoroughly embarrassed at my previous attempt. Seth completed the climb in a mere forty-five minutes!) I would also love to eat at one of the restaurants, which, according to my coworkers, are both very delicious and very expensive. Maybe Seth and I will go for our anniversary, or for one of our birthdays, or for no reason at all…

la manzana cultural + la puerta falsa

On Saturday afternoon, Seth and I visited La Manzana Cultural (The Cultural Block) of Bogotá. Located between Carerras 5 & 6 and Calles 10 & 11, the square is home to El Museo Botero (the Art Museum) and La Casa de Moneda (the Mint). We enjoyed perusing hundreds of works of art and admiring the serenity of the architecture and the views of the surrounding mountains.

After immersing ourselves in Colombian culture for a few hours, we walked to La Puerta Falsa, an historic, traditional restaurant in the heart of the city. Known for their chocolate completo and their tamales, the nearly two-hundred year-old restaurant offers a few cozy tables and friendly service. Their chocolate completo consists not only of chocolate caliente but also of buttered bread, an almojábana, and a generous slice of queso fresco. Meanwhile, their tamales, unlike their Mexican counterparts, are wrapped in a banana leaf and filled with chicken. (Oh, and they are about half the size of a football.) The atmosphere was just what we were looking for after a day of exploring—calm and comforting.

[La Puerta Falsa: Calle 11 # 6-50, Bogotá-Colombia]

museo del oro + colombian snacks

After hearing rave reviews from my coworkers, Seth and I finally decided to spend a Saturday visiting Bogotá’s Museo del Oro (the Gold Museum). Located in the city’s historic center at the intersection of Carrera 5 and Calle 16, the museum displays the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic gold work. It contains close to 34,000 gold pieces, plus 20,000 bone, stone, ceramic, and textile articles belonging to 13 Pre-Hispanic societies: Tumaco, Nariño, Cauca, Calima, San Agustín, Tierradentro, Tolima, Quimbaya, Muisca, Urabá and Chocó, Malagana, Zenú, and Tairona. It was a unique experience to visit a museum that houses a permanent indigenous exhibition. It certainly embodies the sense of pride Colombians have in their country’s history.

Unlike some cities in the United States, Bogotá seems to think of museums more as educational institutions than as tourist destinations. Most are free on Saturdays, Sundays, or both, which makes it possible for families to spend at least an entire day together enjoying their city. (Meanwhile, Seattle’s Art Museum offers free admission one day a month—on a Thursday, when most people are working—and I think Philadelphia’s Art Museum is free to the public only one day a year—on International Museum Day.) I appreciate the investment, as I believe it contributes to a more knowledgeable and civic-minded population. It also promotes a collective ownership of culture and memory, one that its citizens feel obligated to protect and preserve.

After our tour of the museum, we walked along Avenida Jimenez and grabbed a quick bite to eat: chicharrón and jugo de mandarina (fried pork rinds and mandarine juice). Served in a paper bag with chunks of ground corn dough and fried plantains, the greasy, salty snack paired perfectly with the fresh, sweet juice.

la candelaria

After Fernando cancelled our hiking plans, Seth and I decided to spend yesterday afternoon in Bogotá’s historic center, La Candelaria. This time, I was brave enough to take my camera with me. If you would like to see some of my photos from the day, simply click here:

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That evening, Juancho and his girlfriend invited us out to the mountains for mazorca (Colombian corn). Dipped in butter and charred to a crisp, Colombian corn is much sturdier and starchier than American corn. We munched on our touristy treat while gazing at the city below. The view made me realize just how vast my new home really is.