Wednesday, 30 December 2009
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
For some strange reason, I had never been to Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Shameful I know. Even more shameful is that I had never set foot in the old walled city of Cartagena. I’m told that you have to visit Cartagena or you’ve never been to Colombia.
So as we have decided to leave Colombia and return to Europe. I felt I had to see this wondrous city at least once. I wish I’d done it 10 years ago. What had I been missing?
So on the spur of the moment, we decided to take a trip there. But how were we going to travel there? By plane. As we only decided to go about 72 hours before hand. It would have been very unlikely that any seats would have been available. But as Colombia is hideously expensive to travel in, especially by air. We shelved that idea. So the only alternative was by bus. 12 hours it was then.
Thankfully for this long journey the buses are pretty good. Air-con, not by Malaysian standards, where without thermal underwear and artic socks, you will get a touch of frostbite. That actually happened to me once in a cinema in KL.
We were told by the two bus companies that have the best buses between Medellin and Cartagena, that the journey time was 12 or 13 hours.
We took the early morning bus from Terminal del Norte. Amazingly busy at 6am. I’m sure I haven’t woken up before 7am since we arrived to Colombia back in May. It was difficult to say the least, and I slept the first 3 hours on the bus.
Now, on all buses I have travelled on in my many travels in the world. The buses always stop somewhere enroute for us weary passengers to grab a breath of fresh air, stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat.
Amazingly this driver only decided to stop once. At 9am in the freezing heights near Yarumal. A beautiful town, set upon the slopes of a mountain.
The pit stop we stopped at was a normal place where they sell overpriced bad food. Couldn’t face anything, except a bad empanada and a papa rellena. Why people sell shit food at truck stops amazes me. Especially when it’s so expensive.
This was our only stop of the day. The driver later reckoned he told us to eat all we could, as we weren’t stopping. He finally relented at 3pm, and gave us an extra 5 minutes somewhere in La Costa to buy a few treats.
The trip through the mountains, plains and finally the Caribbean coast of Colombia took us over 15 hours. I was climbing the walls to get off it.
We passed some great towns, like Piedras (Stones), Planeta Rica (Rich Planet). The scenery was pretty spectacular as well, going from mountains to plains to coast.
Thankfully I had my Ipod with me, and was catching up on 3 weeks off podcasts. Got my fill of Premiership football.
When we finally arrived, the heat that greeted me was like a slap in the face. Damn it was hot, and this was nearing 9pm.
After a blissful week there. The return journey over night was blissfully smooth and short.
It took me a week to persuade Lina to travel by night, as she was still remembering the dark times in Colombian history, where travelling by night included the extra entertainment of being robbed by bandits.
Thankfully nowadays under the leadership of this president, those days are long gone. Hopefully never to return.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
The arepa is more or less one of the only true indigenous foods to come from South America that is still popular today. This native bread originated from the Northern Andes of either Colombia or Venezuela.
They are essentially made from ground corn or maiz flour, salt (sometimes) and water. The dough is formed and then shaped into rounds, however big you want them, and then either fried, grilled or baked.
I do not know anyone who makes arepas the old fashioned way, and I am pretty sure I have never eaten one either. Nowadays, everyone uses a pre-cooked arepa flour. In the good old days, the days of “las abuelas”, to which everyone in Medellin reminisces about. Those poor old abuelas soaked the corn kernels, peeled them, ground them in their large mortars, known as pilónes. This they then dried, boiled and then ground into an arepa dough.
As you can see, it was a time and labour intensive way. So thankfully for las abuelas of today, it’s a lot easier to make arepas. You can also buy ready made ones as well. Even made with yucca flour. I know! Only problem with these aprepas, is that they are lower in nutritive value and it’s protein is decreased by half.
Most people in cities and large towns today buy premade arepas. It’s easier, and less time consuming. As city inhabitants have no time for to spend 5 or 10 minutes mixing the flour with water and salt, and then shaping them,.
I have become less of a fan of arepas as time goes by, except for arepa de chocolo. It’s the only one I like nowadays. They are so sweet, and have some flavour.
Arepas are generally eaten at breakfast time. Grilled, then buttered and a tad of salt on it. Then as my wife likes it, with lashings of quesito smothered on it.
There are countless restaurants selling arepas with all types of toppings, and I mean all types of toppings. These range from a simple cheese topping, to the Antioqeunan. Which as you would imagine comes with beans, platano, chiccaron and slices of avocado as a garnish. Hideous. But we are in Antioquia. Don’t go to a sushi bar, you get a paisa roll. See ingredients above. Not good.
In the area we are currently in, visitors from the city come here to sample a bit of the countryside for the day or night if they have a farm nearby. There is a small outdoor place that has a giant sign saying “Ricas Arepas”. From Friday nights to Sunday afternoons it is jammed packed with those city folk getting their fill of handmade arepas, that little bit of the country life they desire so much. Thing is I’ve eaten the arepas from there. They are ok, but not rica as they claim.
There is another type of arepa,, called arepa de mote. It’s made with the ashes of a fire. They are mixed in with the flour, and it gives the arepa a greyer colour, and some added taste and texture.
There was a story going around about a small town, somewhere in Antioquia, that the entire population came down with some serious illness. After many months of doctors testing, patients getting more and more sick. Noone coming up with anything. Someone discovered that the inhabitants of this pueblo had been eating arepa de mote a few times a day for many many years.
It turned out that the ashes added to the flour, in small doses is actually quite beneficial to the digestive system. But continual doses over a long period of time have the opposite effect.
Thing is, this being Colombia, the people of this town apparently still regularly eat their favourite arepa de mote.
Will they ever learn. I doubt it.
Friday, 6 November 2009
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Saturday, 31 October 2009
I have been eating at Versalles for more than 10 years now. I first discovered it whilst I was staying at a small hotel in central Medellin. The smell of those Argentinean and Chilean empanadas made sure I was a regular visitor.
From then on, whenever we visited Medellin to see family. I always made sure we ate a meal there.
Now, as we are living here, we really have no need to goto into the center. But if we are there, then lunch has to be had at Versalles.
The food is not amazing, not out of this world, but what they do they do it well. Plus the restaurant has a charm that is rarely found in the world these days.
The service is definitely old school. All the waiters wear white jackets and look as old as the place itself. I’m sure some of them have been there since day 1. But even for their age they flit between tables, picking up empty plates, delivering food, greeting customers like old friends. Some of the regulars I am sure are.
The walls have a scattering of photos of Argentinean writers, artists and intellectuals. The restaurant was at the forefront of an intellectual scene in Medellin in the 50’s. I’m pretty sure the décor is today as it was when it opened. Just a lick of paint every 10 years or so. Sometimes I close my eyes and apart from the accents I could be in a small family place in Buenos Aires.
What they specialise in apart from the empanadas is the milanesa. Theirs is a thin piece of beef, breadcrumbed and lightly fried until golden. This is served with some papas ala francesa and a tomato, onion and lettuce salad. Oils and vinegars are awarded separately. As you would expect to find in B.A. you can also have it with a sweet tomato sauce, which is the Napolitana option.
Their menu of the day is always : soup, grilled meat, rice, chips and a salad. Well we are in Medellin, and those Paisas love their carbs. You also get a juice, which changed daily, followed by a bowl of ice cream and a coffee. It is more than you would pay elsewhere, but you do get more, and hey, with great old fashioned service like this its well worth it.
It kinda reminds me of a little of the New Piccadilly that once stood the test of time in central London, until some greedy land developers forced them to close by upping their rent. I hope this does not happen here, as every city needs a place to remind you of a gentler time. And if any city needs that, it’s Medellin.
Friday, 30 October 2009
Sunday, 25 October 2009
Saturday, 24 October 2009
We decided to have a couple of days off last week. We were in desperate need of getting away from it and resting. When you are dreaming of chutneys it’s time to escape for a bit. So we decided to head to the former colonial capital of Antioquia. A day of sitting around a swimming pool was in mind.
We’d been there before which was about 10 years ago. Then there was only one route. A three hour journey up, up, up, up, up the mountain and then down, down, down, down the other side.
The people who lived on this route, made some money every weekend selling drinks, food to the weary travellers who were passing by.
Several years ago, the Government of Antioquia decided to build a 4.6km tunnel through the mountain. This cut the journey time to down to just over an hour. This has made a big difference to everyone’s lives. Some good, some bad.
The people of Santa Fe and the pueblos around, and also the travellers who goto the zone for the weekend are benefiting from the tunnel for the obvious reasons.
The people, who have lost everything, are the people who live on the old route. Lost everything they did.
We decided to go the old route to Santa Fe. Mainly as we have a car, and we can stop anywhere. The views on this route are truly spectacular. You have undisturbed views of the valley below. This I remember looking out of the bus window in awe at the beauty of the landscape.
As we started out accent up this winding road. We noticed very early on the lack of traffic. No buses, no cars, no nothing. Not even really any people. It was a weird beginning.
As we proceeded upwards, the road got steadily worse. It is apparent that since the tunnel has been built, no one has been to repair the road. Most of the way it was kinda like being off road. God I’d wished we’d brought that 4x4. Our little Twingo was not enjoying this journey. At one point, half the road had fallen down the mountainside. Some nice chaps had put a few stones around the edge to warn us of the perilous drop. Scary.
There used to be many shops, restaurants, and bars selling lots of lovely stuff for us weekend trippers to refresh ourselves on this journey. Unfortunately, now all those places are now well and truly closed. It was like being in a horror film. We saw so many dilapidated buildings, and others in desperate state of repair. So glad the car never broke down, as I could imagine mad, desperate locals would jump out from the bushes and strip the car bare and leave us with a mad desperate rush to reach civilisation before sunset. Thankfully it never happened.
The lack of people was also evident. It’s as if a lot of people just got up and left. Don’t blame them really. Maybe everyone just moved to the tunnel area. As I imagine a healthy supply of food establishments were there.
When we reached the top and hit the toll. Amazing that there is one there. We asked them how many cars they had had this day so far. We were the 2nd car to pass through. Noone comes this way anymore. They must spend more in wages than they actually make in toll fees. The three staff looked desperately bored.
The route down was just as depressing as the road up. Thankfully the landscape was still amazing. We stopped a few times to marvel at the countryside. So beautiful. It amazes me that places that have had civil conflict have some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. Kashmir springs to mind.
Finally we started to hit civilisation and things went back to normality a little. A few stalls selling fruits, which the zone is known for. Then we joined the road from the tunnel, and hotels sprang up everywhere. All with pools. A hotel in this region without a pool is a dead deal.
We were pretty hungry and thirsty by now, but as we were nearly in Santa Fe we decided to get a bite in the town itself.
We saw a lot of “For Sale” signs on the route. I wonder how many people have deserted their fincas on the old route, or whether they still go there.
If you are looking for a small house in the style of the area, and are desiring serious peace and quiet, then this area is for you.
Friday, 23 October 2009
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Sunday, 27 September 2009
I have grown herbs and some veggies before, but nothing quite on this scale. The last finca we were staying in, I planted a few rows of veggies and salad leaves but not a lot. Plus there were a lot of plants already there. God I miss the mora…. They all got wiped out in a freak hailstorm the day before we left the place.
So when we rented this place, we made sure we could dig up a little bit of land and plant a few things. We were even given permission to have some chickens. This we haven’t taken up yet.
After some backbreaking digging, we now have two small plots to which we have planted a random mixture of veggies and salad leaves.
The 1st plot we dug is downhill from the house. It’s situated quite close to a pine tree, which gives it some needed shade from the intense midday sun.
Originally it contained broccoli, poblano chilli’s, some picante chilli’s, celery, parsley, beetroot, parsley, runner beans and peas. Most of these we brought one day in a garden centre in la zona. Each plant cost 60 centavos. Quite easy to go mad in there. Lina did.
We had to extend that plot, so we could plant all the little plants that we started off in the seed trays.
These included more peas and runner beans, cayenne peppers, borlotti beans, radishes, caverlo nero, rocket, carrots, spring onions, spinach……
I also ordered a lot more seeds from a Franchini supplier in the USA, but none have turned up. I’m going to try and see if I can get more sent to Orlando and have someone bring them for me. Shame as I really wanted those buggers.
My two sisters and my mum, sending packets of seeds from Blighty, supplied the salad garden. Gracias.
These we started in seed trays and have now more or less transplanted all of them to a small patch next to the house.
After a night having a little hissy fit, they all seemed to have settled in nicely. We even brought some black netting to ward off the midday sun. Remember we are very close to the Equator here.
Also next to the house, we planted a few herbs to keep us going along. Rosemary, thyme, mint, fennel seeds, coriander and cidron, which produces the most aromatic lemony leaves. Great in teas and iced drinks. My bay tree, which I brought at least two years ago, is nestled in our piece of land. It doesn’t seem happy there, so we may have to go and dig it up and bring it here.
I’ve thought about fruit trees and the like, but we may not be here past February, so no point really.
I dug a small hole and have been filling it nearly on a daily basis with organic waste from my kitchen. It is now quite a site. Not ready to spread on my plots, but getting there.
The owner of the farm we are staying in pays a guy to come once an week and cut the grass and do odd jobs on the land. He continually dumps the grass cuttings and the leafs he sweeps up in one big pile. After digging this over last week, I discovered that the bottom has more or less rotted down to become perfect compost. Excellent.
So, now is a waiting game. I hope I have the patience for this. I am looking forward to picking the veg a lot.