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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parque simón bolivar

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The month before Seth and I left for Texas was largely uneventful. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say that; we both made a lot of headway in our personal projects—Seth with his parking graphics and I with my essay—but in exchange we had to put our city explorations on hold. So for our first weekend back we decided to keep our laptops shut and instead visit the biggest park in the city, Parque Simón Bolivar.

Including the neighboring Parque de los Novios and Biblioteca Virgilio Barco, the Parque Simón Bolivar extension spans nearly 1000 acres, making it 148 acres larger than New York’s Central Park extension. Seth and I spent the majority of our time in the Parque Central. We strolled around a manmade lake where people rented paddle boats and swung about helplessly in the water. Sitting on the shore, I felt like I was in a live-action version of Seurat’s Un dimanche après-midi à l’île de la Grande Jatte, only Colombian.

primero de mayo

Happy International Workers’ Day!

Today is Labor Day in Colombia (and in eighty other countries around the world). Rather than spend the day drawing AutoCAD lines on our office computers, Seth and I spent it sipping frothy cappuccinos, taking generous bites of leche asada*, strolling along Teusaquillo’s Park Way**, gazing at neighborhood churches (including the gorgeous Iglesia de Santa Ana, pictured), and scoping out future tourist destinations. It was lovely.

Tomorrow morning, we will wake up bright and early to submit paperwork for our Colombian identification cards. I am so happy to be finally wrapping up the immigration process—dropping off documents, waiting, picking up documents, yada yada yada. Soon, I will be eligible for national health care and a bank account. Hooray!

*   Leche asada, similar to flan or crème brûlée, is a dessert that is prepared with whole eggs, milk, and sugar.

** Park Way is a linear park in the Teusaquillo neighborhood. Dotted with apartments and cafes, it is an ideal location for an afternoon walk (or a sweet snack).

biblioteca virgilio barco

At the suggestion of my coworkers, Seth and I spent our Sunday afternoon touring La Biblioteca Virgilio Barco. Located within a large park between the Chapinero and Teusaquillo neighborhoods, the building looks more like a fortress than a library. Not only is it cylindrical in shape, but it is also surrounded by—get this—a moat! We had such a blast exploring all of the building’s different grade changes, especially on the roof. There were so many stairs to climb and landscapes to see! After we spent a couple of hours marveling at the library’s exquisite detailing and its generous views of the city, rain began to pour. (After all, ’tis the season.) We packed up my camera, opened our umbrellas, and hurried to the nearest convenience store for some shelter and a hot tinto.

If you would like to see some photos I took of the library, please click here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/aclearglimmer/sets/72157629615571363/

universidad nacional de colombia

Seth and I spent our Saturday morning selecting fresh produce, exploring the local Universidad Nacional de Colombia campus, and preparing a big pot of Sopa de Plátano (Plantain Soup).

The university campus (established in 1867) was unlike any I had ever seen. Many of the buildings were modern. Even those that predated Corbusier were painted white! The buildings’ blank canvases seemed to be an open invitation for student and teacher graffiti. Some of it was artful; some of it was disrespectful; most of it was political (specifically, Revolutionary). Personally, I thought the political dialogue combined with the artistic collaboration was interesting, even somewhat inspiring. If you would like to see some photos of the work, feel free to click here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/aclearglimmer/sets/72157629506436209/with/6950807109/

Also, while roaming around the campus grounds, we spotted a few loose sheep, goats, and horses munching on the ample grass. Perhaps this was the university’s chosen method of landscaping?