Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pacific Paradise

The Pacific coast of Colombia will never be a major tourist mecca.  This has nothing to do with the fact that it is mostly rural, jungle, severely under-developed, and a victim of much poverty.  Its the fact that it rains.  It rains a lot.  The Colombian coast on the Pacific ocean is one of the rainiest places on the planet.  However, last weekend the sun made a visit and decided to stick around.

Almost a year ago I took a trip to go sea kayaking with Julio Pérez and Bicivan Tours.  Despite sore shoulders and a bit a sea-sickness, I knew I needed to repeat the adventure once more before my time in Colombia came to a close.  Some new friends had visitors coming for the long weekend, so a group of us formed and set out for the coast.  The sun included.

I knew the excursion would be memorable and a perfect reprieve from the bustle, noise, and grime of Cali, but everything turned out amazingly.  Not only was there the aforementioned sun, but both boat rides from and to the port city of Buenaventura and Juanchaco were amongst the smoothest and shortest I've had the pleasure of taking.  The company was fantastic, the food delicious, and to top it all off, I didn't get more than a small sun burn on my wrist!  A winning weekend all around!

¡Bienvenidos a Juanchaco!
Julio orientating us to the area with a sand-map on the beach.
The kayaks in a secluded cove on one the islands.
Amanda and me surviving our sea cave exploration.
A beautiful day to kayak the Pacific!
*All photos are courtesy of Cassie Supilowski and Julio Pérez (the last one) since I shockingly forgot my camera. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Capital Trip

Colombians are generally not fans of the way Hollywood portrays them in movies.  Type-cast a drug dealer, lately?  Residents of Bogotá, in particular like to cite the 2005 Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie blockbuster Mr. & Mrs. Smith at the top of their grievances.  In the movie, the titular couple are in the capital city where jungle vines encroach on Spanish colonial-style buildings and rain is seen as a refreshing reprieve from the heat of the day. In reality, Bogotá sits at 2,625 meters above sea level (about 8,600 ft) and the residents have wardrobes containing more jackets and scarves than bikinis and bermuda shorts.  To quote the author of the blog Intercultured, "I’d say I spend approximately two-thirds of my life in Bogotá underwater."

Tragically, despite the fact that I've passed through Bogotá many times en route to other locations, either by bus or airplane, I've only spent about 24 hours here as a tourist, and that was one brief day over four years in transit to the Amazon.  This seemed to be a similar theme for five other of my colleagues, so about a month ago we decided to pick a weekend and go. 

One of the first things on our to-do list was visit "La cervecería pequeña más grande de Bogotá" (The largest small brewery in Bogotá), otherwise known as the Bogotá Beer Company.  Their slogan could be adapted to include all of Colombia, as there are few micro-breweries in the country, but until the BBC expands to other cities, they aren't necessarily incorrect.  One company, Bavaria, brews pretty much all the other brands of Colombian beer.  With this kind of monopoly it is not surprising that an artesian start-up could find a niche market.

Sam and Mandi in the BBC lab
BBC Tour stop number one!
The group at the Usaquén location.
The tour started with a pick-up in a company van in front of our hostel, a tour of their small factory, then stops at three restaurant/bars of our choosing throughout the city including a complimentary pint at each stop as well as one appetizer per every two people all for the amazing price of about $30 USD each.  Fascinating tour, informative tasting session, great food, VIP service at every establishment, and a free ride around town made for a pretty great first night out!

The next day we explored the Zona Rosa neighborhood we were staying in then headed to a small city north of Bogotá called Zipaquira.  The main draw of this town in the Salt Cathedral, an actual Catholic church carved deep inside an active salt mine.  I was the lone one to have visited this unique site before, however, I though it would be interesting to see again.  In the last four years there has been some serious work done on the tourist infrastructure, and while not anywhere near amusement park, it is a far cry from the more rustic look the area had on my first visit.

The main "room" inside the catedral de sal from the choir loft.
One of the stations of the Cross.
Later that evening we headed to an iconic Bogotá destination, the restaurant Andrés Carne de Res, located in the municipality of Chía.  If TGIFriday's in the US is considered "kitch" in decor, this is "super-kitch on steroids."  Serving an enormously diverse and international menu, the maze-like restaurant is giant party; emphasis on the word giant.  This is where people go to see and be seen but in the most unpretentious of ways.  Loud but not deafening and bright without being blinding, the entire place is an overload to all the senses.

We kicked off the last day of the weekend with a breakfast at Crepes & Waffles - despite this being available in Cali - and then headed to the Usaquén neighborhood to stroll their weekly Sunday flea and craft market.  Though the weekend was perfectly chill, both in attitude and climate, visiting the bustling and cosmopolitan mountain-top capital city was a perfect and needed break from the "big small town" feel and heat of Cali.

Strolling the streets of barrio Usaquén
Checking out some baked goods
Hipster street musicians outside an Irish Pub?  Why not!
Kelsi takes a break in style, per usual
Two of my favorite things: photography and street art.  ¡Gracias, Bogotá!