Tag Archives: South America

Time to rethink Colombia

Standard

Quick! What pops into your head when I say “Colombia”?

Valley Col

Okay, now try to think of something else about Colombia besides coffee and, you know, drug cartels…. Stumped? So was I until I visited Colombia, and holy moly, if that isn’t the most misrepresented country in South America!

For starters, Colombia has some scenery that will knock your poncho off: pale green pineapple fields, rows of banana trees propped up with bamboo poles, towering cacti, and rivers meandering through lush valleys. Add to that some killer empanadas and local people who never hesitate with a smile, and you have yourself a surprisingly great place for a holiday.

Evening sun

Pineapple fields

Bananas

We traveled with friends, one of whom is Colombian, and that no doubt helped us get the very best first impression of the country. During our two week stay, we spent one week in the coffee zone – a 9.5 hour (ahem!) drive west from Bogota. (Around 5.5 hours, the alternative of air travel starts to look real good.)

Banana trees

But, get this, it is worth the journey! The route took us up and over mountains, through eucalyptus forests, past tiny homes clinging to the steep hillsides, and under palm leaves the size of surfboards. We stopped often to stretch little legs (and big legs!) and, more importantly, to drink coffee, fresh juices, and nibble on hot empanadas sprinkled with a squeeze of lime. Roadside vendors often looked like little more than a shack with a couple of plastic chairs in the dust out front, but they cranked out some awesome food. You just can’t over think it.

Ponchos

Ponchos hanging from the rafters of a cafe.

Juices Col

We ate lunch at one of these dubious looking establishments where the “chef” was tending to various cuts of meat over a roaring fire, stopping occasionally to wield an axe and chop more firewood. Fresh lemonade blissfully quenched our thirst as we sat sweating next to the fire, waiting for our meal. When it came, we tucked into tender pieces of salty meat with floury yucca (a starchy tuber also known as cassava) and creamy crescents of avocado on the side. Much better than any boxed sandwich I would normally grab from a petrol station on the highway.

Roadside meat

We stayed at a farm up on a hill in one of the valleys. At the bottom of the hill was a wide, shallow river and groves of tall bamboo. Peacocks wandered around the farm’s property, rattling their tail feathers at each other (and being startlingly loud at inconvenient hours, truth be told).

River valley

Farm face

Ants

Hardworking leaf cutter ants.

Col cafe

Our days started with coffee and arepas which are addictively delicious corn pancakes. They are fried until golden and eaten with butter, salt, and chili sauce. You can add an egg, avocado, cheese, or even crispy fried plantain on top, but I liked mine simple and spicy.

We explored the local area during the days with trips to coffee plantations, petting zoos, and even a coffee theme park. It was fascinating, but the times that secured Colombia a place in our hearts were the evenings at the farm with a barbecue, bottles of wine, sleepy children, three languages around the table, and frogs starting their nighttime chorus.

Sunset2

Sunset1

 

“It’s ludicrous this place exists

and everybody doesn’t want to live here.” 

Anthony Bourdain on Colombia

 

Time flies when you’re…wrong

Standard

Where: Iguazú Falls, Argentina

Iguazu

Plate of food: The breakfast buffet at our hotel was a huge affair including tropical fruit, smoked salmon, caramel crepes, and even a diet section which as far as I could tell consisted of apples, turkey, and non-fat yoghurt. The way I felt when I looked at that section of the buffet is strangely the same way I feel about diets in general: nauseated and cranky.

I discovered a traditional section of the buffet full of earthen ware pots with the most delicious smells wafting out of them.

One item was puchero which is a rustic meat stew with as many variations as there are people in Argentina. This one contained tender pieces of beef in a thick gravy with peppers and onions. It was served with a homemade pasta/dumpling dish (very similar to “knepfle“, if that helps at all!). Never have I had a heartier start to my day, or tastier for that matter.

Hotel view

Plus, it went surprisingly well with a Mimosa.

If you can pour yourself a glass of orange juice at a buffet without topping it up with the bubbly conveniently sitting on ice, then you are a better person than I am. I, however, am completely content being lesser than because, guess what, I get a Mimosa out of this deal.

The Best: Those gosh-darn waterfalls. Criminy, they will take your breath away.

Falls

Iguazú Falls are shared by Brazil and Argentina. They span 3km and are split into many drops – the most dramatic being The Devil’s Throat (there could be no better name, could there?).

Devil's Throat

There was something so powerful and exhilirating about walking through dense jungle with butterflies and birds flitting around, hearing the rush of water get louder, until finally you are standing on the edge of a thundering waterfall with spray on your face and your heart in your throat.

It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever laid eyes on. Truly magical.

Thundering

Story that needs to be told: I feel as though this trip highlighted a few reasons why I should not be dispensing travel tips…

Firstly, we functioned in our own time zone for the majority of our trip. I don’t mean that we ditched our watches and consciously decided it’s “holiday time”, I mean that 4 adults all remained totally unaware of the fact that we had crossed into another time zone.

This had a number of repercussions: we were confounded as to why the dining room was never open on time, we marveled at how quiet the breakfast buffet was, and we cursed the tardiness of the jungle train with its complete disregard for the schedule.

It was on our final day that the time warp was corrected, and days of mysteries were suddenly solved: “Oh! So, that’s why….”

Webs

Secondly, we naively had no Argentinian pesos on us when we arrived at the national park gates…in our hideous rental van…in the middle of the night.  The guards helpfully directed us to a cash machine at the main gates. But when they said ‘cash machine’ they meant a small windowless hut on the edge of a dense, looming jungle. Not surprisingly it was not working because, well, that whole JUNGLE thing.

We were then led to the “commercial hub” of the park where there are small shops and restaurants, and supposedly access to another cash machine.

I will tell you this: there are fewer things more butt-clenchingly fearsome than your husband and your father-in-law walking off into the darkness of a deserted national park with two armed guards.

Fact.

They were gone a long time. Long enough for me to listen to the entire nocturnal repetoire of the jungle creatures. Long enough that the kidlets started softly snoring. Long enough that I decided pesos were the LEAST of our worries.

IMG_7765

And, then, out of a darkness so deep it looked tangible, came our men and the guards. Breathe a sigh of relief with me.

You know, come to think of it, maybe they weren’t gone so long after all….we cannot be relied upon for proper time keeping.

“Adventure is worthwhile.” – Aristotle