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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holiday shopping: part two

Back in November, I wrote an entry about the Christmas presents Seth and I bought for our family members. Now that all of the gifts have been, well, gifted, I thought I would share the rest of the loot with you.

A traditional Colombian sombrero for Seth’s cousin, Travis:

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A smaller and darker Greg Norman-style Colombian sombrero for my dad, and a gray alpaca scarf for Mary Lynn:

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A cozy alpaca poncho for Seth’s Gran:

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A painting of the colonial town Villa de Leyva for my Mom and Ken. They immediately hung the artwork next to their wine room, which of course made Seth and me very happy:

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Seth and I had tons of fun sorting through the Colombian artisan markets and choosing the crafts we thought would best suite each person’s interests. We will likely go the more traditional American route next year, unless our friends and family members place specific requests for Colombian goodies.

80 sillas

Truth be told, Seth’s actual birthday left quite a bit to be desired. His twenty-sixth fell on a workday, a Tuesday to be exact, and since we both work semi-long hours, we had planned to celebrate the following weekend. Well, I couldn’t just do nothing on the actual day, so during my lunch break I hurried to the grocery store, purchased a jar of Nutella and a few baking goods, and prepped the cookie dough for a batch (or three) of the Nutella-stuffed brown butter and sea salt chocolate chip cookies Seth had been eyeing on Pinterest. When my office clock changed from 7:59 to 8:00, I started to panic. What if I couldn’t bake the cookies before he got home? The surprise would be ruined! Everything turned out A-okay in the end due to Seth having to work until nine. Unfortunately, his timing also meant that we had little to no local options for dinner. As sad as it sounds, we ended up walking a few blocks to a street vendor and eating some questionable choriperros. (God, I really hate that piña sauce the vendors squirt atop their hotdogs.)

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Saturday rolled around and we decided we should celebrate Seth’s birthday properly. After a full day of holiday shopping, we walked by La Macarena to see if Sipán, our first-choice Peruvian restaurant of the night, did in fact exist. (I had read several rave reviews online, but I had also seen several restaurants registered to that address.) It turned out that the storefront was empty, either out of business or closed for renovations. We then decided to go with our backup plan, a Peruvian hotspot in Usaquén by the name of 80 Sillas. The restaurant translates to ’80 Chairs,’ the exact number of seats in the house.

When Seth and I arrived in Usaquén, we saw throngs of people shopping at Hacienda Santa Bárbara, strolling around the square, and looking at lights. There’s no way we’re going to get into this restaurant, we thought. Lucky for us, most of the neighborhood’s visitors were just that—visitors. They were in the area to buy nice things for their loved ones and to snag some cheap street food, namely mazorca and empanadas, for themselves. Seth and I easily secured a table at 80 Sillas, ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and began to tackle the menu of ceviches. After some debate, we settled on a bowl of ceviche de pescado (pictured) with ginger, garlic, mango biche (green mango), fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, lime, and basil and a bowl of ceviche de pulpo with crunchy bacon, onion, papas criollas (Andean potatoes), suero costeño (fermented milk, similar to sour cream), lime, and cilantro. Both were very good, but I enjoyed the textures, flavors, and color of the latter more. It was all at once gummy, crunchy, and soft; fresh, salty, and tangy; not to mention, purple! For our second course, we shared the tiraditos de salmón—basically, salmon carpaccio served with roasted skinless tomatoes and a honey and red wine reduction—and the pulpo a la brasa—grilled octopus served with salted potatoes, caramelized onion, and a roasted red pepper aioli. Even though the pulpo a la brasa listed many of the same ingredients as the ceviche de pulpo, I was interested in comparing the gustatory impact of the different methods of preparation. Each dish was indeed unique, although I must admit I preferred the novelty of the colder version. The warmer reminded me very much of our week in Barcelona, when we dined at an obscene number of tapas bars. (If only wine were as cheap in Colombia as it is in Spain!)

After dinner Seth and I headed to the main square in Usaquén, where we purchased two cups of canelazo—a hot toddy of water, panela, cinnamon, cloves, lime juice, orange juice, and, most importantly, aguardiente—and admired the festive lights. All in all, I think Seth had a very happy birthday.

[80 Sillas: Calle 118 # 6A-05, Bogotá-Colombia]

meetup at the pub

After a long, stressful week at work, I was excited to meet Seth’s boss and coworkers at an Irish pub in Usaquén. Unfortunately, I was assigned a task just as I was supposed to leave the office, so I arrived at the pub over an hour and a half late. Of course, there were other snags, too. Seth did not answer his phone when I called to see if they were in fact still drinking… I got off the bus at the wrong stop and had to power walk half a mile in the dark… Eventually, though, I made it to the right place. Seth promptly introduced me to his two bosses, Mauricio (the owner) and Andres #1, and three of his coworkers, Andres #2, Silvia, and Fernando. A nearly empty pitcher of beer sat on the table, probably the second or third of the night. Meanwhile, Mauricio nursed his second or third glass of whiskey. Tipsily, he told me: “This pub is my place. Bogotanos, when we are high class, we are like Brits; we drink whiskey. When we are middle class, we are like people from Miami; we drink rum. When we are low class, we are like,” his voice dropped to a whisper, “Mexicans.” He paused, realizing the weight of his words, and quickly began to backpedal. “But, you know, of course, I don’t believe that! It is just a saying!” To be honest, I expected a little more solidarity among the Latin American community.

Aside from the one drunken blunder, Mauricio and everyone else were very nice. (Honestly, they are much friendlier than my coworkers, who have yet to invite me out for a night.) However, it was definitely a lesson in contrast. Seth and I practiced our Spanish, while his coworkers practiced their English… We only drank one beer apiece, while Mauricio enjoyed five to six glasses of whiskey… Oh, did I mention that Mauricio threatened to drunk dial my boss? Apparently, they met awhile ago at a competition and have spoken on the phone once or twice about the intricacies of hiring foreigners. Several times throughout the evening, Mauricio whipped out his iPhone and shouted, “Oh hi, Juan Carlos! This is Mauricio! We will talk about architecture as usual!” Luckily, he did not actually go through with it (I don’t think).

By the end of the night, I was exhausted but very excited to have met some potential new friends. Fernando even invited Seth and me to go hiking with him tomorrow morning. He wants us to see an old church that is nestled in the mountains. I hope the weather cooperates!

[The Pub: Carrera 6A # 117-45, Bogotá-Colombia]

first impressions

Seth and I have not even spent a full twenty-four hours in Bogotá, and we already feel like we have seen so much. We departed on a red-eye flight from Houston, hardly slept, and arrived in a mile-high city five hours later. Our new friend Juancho, whom we met via my mom’s neighbor’s college roommate’s deceased husband (!), so kindly met us at the airport and gave us a ride into town. Since I can barely think straight, let alone write complete paragraphs after the long day we’ve had, I will try to assemble a bullet list of my initial observations.

  • The second the plane landed, I felt dizzy and thought I was going to vomit. Altitude sickness, perhaps? After all, Bogotá is 8600 meters above sea level (or, you know, 8600 meters above Houston).
  • Apparently, having a private chauffer (a la Chuck Bass) is not a privilege reserved for trust fund babies. In fact, it is actually somewhat normal for professionals to have a driver.
  • Drivers in Bogotá are the craziest and most aggressive I have ever seen. Oh and, according to Juancho, most cars do not have seat belts. (Ours sure didn’t.)
  • Pedestrians never, ever have the right of way. Also, there are virtually no crosswalks. As you might imagine, the streets and the sidewalks are very chaotic.
  • In New York City, people joke that everyone has a psychiatrist; even psychiatrists have a psychiatrist! Well, in Bogotá, everyone has a maid.
  • I am not sure whether free-standing single-family houses are a “thing” here. Juancho and his family, for example, live in a very nice area at the north end of the city. They own a property which looks very much like a house, but it is connected to several other house-like properties. All of the houses aggregate to form a giant square bounded on one side by a gate. They share luxurious courtyards and green spaces.
  • For breakfast, we were served fresh rolls, cheese, and drinking chocolate. Did I mention Juancho’s maid cooks and bakes, too?
  • Our new apartment is pretty great. We have two roommates: one Colombian girl, who works at the Canadian embassy, and one Colombian guy.
  • Looking at all of those maps of Bogotá while we were in Texas really helped. As we walked around our new neighborhood, we were able to understand where we were and which direction we were traveling in. We were even able to find my future office!
  • For a late morning snack, Seth and Juancho enjoyed fresh rolls stuffed with salty cheese and guava. I ordered my first tinto (Colombian coffee).
  • Bogotá’s bus rapid transit system, the Transmilenio, functions just like a light rail. It could not be any easier to navigate.
  • For lunch, we were served sauteed thin-cut beef, stewed red beans, steamed white rice, a small salad, and a glass of fresh-squeezed unsweetened lulo juice.
  • Bellies full and feet elevated, we had a very satisfying forty-five minute nap.
  • After some aimless wandering around the posh part of town, Juancho introduced us to the Bogotá Beer Company. We each sipped a pint and compared politics, switching between Spanish and English.
  • Colombian ATMs allow customers to withdraw only COP$400.000 (approximately US$200) at a time, with a maximum of three transactions per day.
  • It was a sunny and warm afternoon. As a result, my face is very red.
  • The sun has set. I think nature has given me permission to go to sleep.

I cannot believe I am finally here!

[photo courtesy of Paola Castaño]