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Colombia: Santa Marta Trip to Bahia Concha

Day at Bahia Concha

Day at Bahia Concha

The first bay of Tayrona Park, located in the northern part of Colombia is Bahia Concha, which is rimed by the beautiful Caribbean ocean with the mountains of the Sierra Nevada visible and a bio-diverse forest.

It is not just picturesque, but on a busy holiday a feast for the eyes of Colombian culture.

As we sat under our cabana, we watched locals frolic in the ocean, children and their parents building sand castles and a potpourri of vendors, selling everything from sunglasses, to drinks, to ceviche, to fruit and of course fresh fish roasted a la plancha with coconut rice, plantains and salad, all delivered right to where you are sitting.

There is no doubt I am falling in love with this area, which is why I think I will be spending the week in this area instead of a few days.

Colombia: Santa Marta Flea Bites

Checking out the coffee beans drying

Checking out the coffee beans drying

 

If I am being tested, did I pass? I am finally getting over having my mobile pickpocketed when I discover flea bites all over my legs.

Yesterday I arrived in Santa Marta after a 12 ½ hour bus ride, checked into the Dreamer, washed up and went out on a day trip to Minca, to go to a coffee plantation and waterfall.

This was my first coffee finca and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I now have a much better idea on how a small finca, La Victoria, picks, process and dries the beans. After the delightful tour off we went to the waterfalls, Pozo Azul.

Pozo Azul

Pozo Azul

While wading through the icy water in the oxygen rich forest, I congratulated myself on the brilliance of choosing such a tour after the night bus. I was energized, not exhausted.

The flea infested cab!

The flea infested cab!

Since there were four of us, I sat in the front of the cab. After the waterfalls I started to notice some bumps on my legs, which I dismissed as mosquito bites. I thought it strange because I had worn insect repellent. As the night worn on they festered a bit and more came out.

Needless to say by the morning I started to figure out they were flea bites, most likely from a cab whose front seat has a flea infestation.

Lucky me! I went to the pharmacy and they gave me some medicine to put on the bumps and I am happy to say they appear to clearing.

San Gil, Colombia: Starting Off 2014

The Garden at Macondo

The Garden at Macondo

This is my third year starting the New Year in another country, I guess that makes it a tradition? Last year I was in Oaxaca, Mexico, the year before I was in Panama City, Panama.

The vibe in San Gil is much more laid back than the other two places. I am thankful because after Bogotá, I needed a chill place. While I enjoyed the museums there, I don’t really want to spend any more time than necessary in that city. It just gave me the creeps and being pickpocketed sealed its fate with me.

Macondo is one of the most laid back hostels I have been to in a long time but it doesn’t mean it is not pretty. I am enjoying writing right now while sitting next to a fragrant garden, where I have seen lots of birds flying around.

New Year's Eve at Macondo Hostel

New Year’s Eve at Macondo Hostel

Last night, New Year’s Eve’s affair felt more like a family party than a bunch of travelers randomly thrown together. It was a pot luck dinner and there was lots of good food and sharing of stories with random fireworks shooting off into the air above the open courtyard.

Just before midnight we gathered outside and much to my surprise there was an effigy of a man, stuffed with fireworks ready to be burned at midnight.  We only learned about the stuffing later on.

The owner of the hostel, an Australian, named Shaun, shot off some random fireworks before the big one. At midnight he put the guy on fire and it was a pretty spectacular and a little bit frightening sight to see. Afterwards we had one more spectacular fireworks show of our own and people returned into the hostel to eat more and practice some of their other New Year’s rituals.

Just to clue you in some of Colombian New Year’s rituals include:

  • Walking around your house or block with a suitcase to ensure lots of travel in the coming year
  • Putting lentils in people’s pocket for prosperity
  • Eating 12 grapes at midnight telling each one your wish for the New Year
  • Wearing yellow underwear for good luck
  • Slamming a door to chase away evil spirits

Bogotá, Colombia: Pickpocketed!

In a blink of an eye I was pickpocketed. I could kick myself as I am always overly cautious.  I was taking a bus to visit another part of town. After the first bus, I left the bus platform thinking that is how I would change buses. I took out my phone to translate a question. After I found out I had to return to the platform I had left, I put the phone back in my pocket instead of the backpack.

To get back to the bus platform, I passed through a busy flea market and someone squirted me with water. Two women stopped after this happened, one started to “kindly” dry me off and other “kindly” opened my pocket and grabbed the phone. I realized seconds later, but they and the phone were gone.

I was tricked by a professional, but none the less I should have known better and that makes me feel angry, frustrated and stupid. On the positive side, I didn’t lose my passport, any credit cards or money and I am alright.

I immediately returned to the hostel, which I am quite surprised I found my way back by public transportation in the state I was in, but I did.  I called T-Mobile on the computer and reported the phone stolen and shut down the account. Then I changed all my computer passwords.

After that flurry of activity, I realized I hadn’t eaten but I was exhausted. So I tried to lie down, but couldn’t. It seems it was a better idea to start walking to the center of town. I picked up a Bogotá Beer Company: Chapinero Porter and an arepa stuffed with meat and cheese and came back to the hostel.

Things were looking up as the beer was really good and the arepa quite decent.  But back to the story.

While I was eating and drinking,  I started telling a few of my roommates who were in the kitchen about what happened, one of them, David offered me a burner phone of his that didn’t work as a phone, but  if I just needed a clock and alarm it was fine. But I wanted my own working burner phone, so I could make and receive calls and texts.  I asked David if he would go out with me to buy a phone and he said no problem.

Off we went to the store, only to discover since it was Saturday, that Claro, a local cell phone provider, closed at 4:30 pm and we arrived just after that. I was teetering on keeping it together, but I was.

Setting up my new mobile phone

Setting up my new mobile phone

I felt naked without a phone of some sort. David reassured me that he would loan me a phone tonight and we could go out looking for a cheap phone tomorrow.  But as luck would have it, we passed a Claro kiosk and I found a cheap burner phone, Avvio 292 that also had a camera, video recorder, an FM radio, Bluetooth and a flashlight for Pesos $54,500 about $28 with a Pesos $10,000 credit. It is 2G technology but that’s fine.

There is no way that this going to ruin my visit, although I have a bad taste in mouth about Bogotá, I am not going to judge everything by this one incident.  Plus when I needed help it was there.

Postscript:  I just shared  this story with the  woman who owes the hostel. She told me her teacher in India teaches that when someone steals from you they also steal some of your bad karma.  I leave you with that as well.

Bogotá, Colombia: Buying a Bus Ticket to San Gil

My Bogotá Bus Station Adventure

My Bogotá Bus Station Adventure

I arrived in Bogotá the day after Christmas, a Thursday, my guidebook said that places would be full because the locals also travel at this time. But I acted a bit lackadaisical about getting a bus ticket right away to San Gil because I had four days and thought I could just get one that day.

But as I returned today, Friday,  from the Museo del Oro, I ran into a couple who told me they were stuck here an extra night here because they couldn’t get a ticket to San Gil tomorrow,  but luckily they got one of the last two on Sunday.  Since I am traveling on Monday, because I wanted to get there the day before New Year’s Eve, the reality of the scarcity of tickets made me slightly alarmed.

Therefore today, three days before I planned to leave seemed like the right day to buy a ticket.  You think?

At the hostel’s reception desk they told me I could use a ticket broker. But before I headed out there I called. Sure enough they, like many other businesses around here, were closed. This meant going to the bus station, which is far away, to buy the ticket.

Now getting to the bus station is not a trivial task, especially with my beginner’s Spanish and the ladies at reception told me it would be too difficult for me to get there by a colectivo, which is a type of bus. I opted to take a taxi, deciding I would figure out how to get back via a colectivo.

Trying to make the best of this, as I really didn’t want to pay for a taxi just to buy a ticket, I looked around me during the ride to the bus station and was treated to some interesting and colorful graffiti, beyond that the cityscape was boring.

I couldn’t really chat with the driver but I offered him a piece a candy and he smiled. Sometimes that all it takes to make a new friend. Of course the traffic was terrible and the driver explained it was because of the holiday weekend.  The cab ride cost me Pesos $20,000 or about $10.  To give you a perspective, today’s three course lunch, including a glass of juice was less than $4.50.

Once I got to the bus station the fun really began. The place was mobbed and there were multiple bus companies with no directory or information place to help me figure out where to purchase the ticket. I finally found a tourist office and went to the first bus company that the young lady told me to go to.

After waiting in line for a while, I discovered they didn’t sell tickets to San Gil and they sent me to another place. Mind you everyone is only speaking Spanish to me and I haven’t a clue beyond some basic words what they are telling me.

I got smarter at the second place, as I asked before I got in line if they sold bus tickets to San Gil. But after waiting in line they told me they had no tickets for Monday and no idea where I could find one.  Now getting to San Gil was starting to seem like an outside shot.

Columbia: How the Next Stop Gets Planned, San Gil “La Tierra de Adventura”

I am headed to San Gil  ”La Tierra de Adventura” after Bogotá.

Why?

  • My friend Ido, a fellow I met in Panama two years ago who lives in Israel,  suggested it (which is a good reason for me)
  • Lonely Planet agrees with him, bonus points for Ido
  • Rafting, caving and hiking seems like a good plan during a week when I don’t have any conference calls scheduled

Take a look at the  San Gil Wikipedia page for some info.

Next step was choosing a hostel, besides being recommended, Macondo gets the highest ratings.  I choose the four-bed dorm over the 10-bed one. It was a couple bucks more or $23,500 pesos versus $19,000 pesos a night, but I am a big spender.  Looks like my New Years’ plans are really shaping up.

Colombia: Now Where to Go

I don’t like the planning part of a holiday. Especially if I am going someplace I am unfamiliar. Instead I like to choose the first place I am visiting, start my research and then decide where I will go when. This trip is no different and with only a week to plan, there wasn’t much planning involved.

Of course I need to have some idea or I can’t pack. Despite being partially on the equator, Colombia is a bit problematic for those of us who like to pack light. I am going in the dry season but the temperature changes with the altitude and my first stop, Bogotá, appears damp and cold in the evenings (with no heat.) There is Cali, known as the Salsa Capital of Colombia, trips to the coasts and the Amazon jungle, all possibilities. So I have packed as lightly as I permitted myself but diversely, from layers of long sleeve shirts, a sweeter and windbreaker, to a summer dress/skirt, bathing suit and a dressy dress, two pairs of pants and few mix and match tops, pjs and underwear. I had to pack a pair of ballet flat type shows, because they had leather bottoms for dancing, a pair of day-hikers, sandals, Toms (do I really need these?) and flip flops.  (Too many shoes, but if I go to the jungle I really need the day hikers, don’t I? On the other hand I can wear my Chacos with socks? I may just remove them and be nerdy.)

My first hostel is Anandamayi Hostel & Hotel, which I choose after reading numerous reviews on Hostelworld and Hostelbrookers. In the end I booked directly with them, and they sent me directions in Spanish to give the cab driver and signed their email with a lovely salutation:

Peace and joy.
With love,

Once I saw that, I felt I had made a good choice.

 

 

 

Colombia: Deciding to Go

I had vowed to start exploring South American more earnestly soon because I had only been to Peru (and had gone there twice) and wanted to learn more about the diversity of the continent.  Since I am talking about the southern hemisphere, a winter visit is preferable. But I had sworn to myself I was staying put this winter.

That didn’t keep me from looking at airfares. A week ago an unbelievable airfare popped up on Google Flights,  on a Tuesday, only eight days out! For less than $600 I could fly to Bogotá on Christmas day and stay for a month.

Since I can work remotely most of the time and I had no reason to be working on-site during the month of January that would work out.  I went to the US Embassy’s site on Colombia to check about travel warnings. The warning was not atypical of many countries I have visited, that is to stay out of remote areas.  For my sister, who I know cares, and others who have concerns:

“Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Colombia each year for tourism, business, university studies, and volunteer work. Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations such as Bogota and Cartagena, but violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural areas and parts of large cities. This Travel Warning has been reviewed and remains unchanged from the one released on April 11, 2013”

Rest assured if I am planning to visit a place to do drugs, I am headed to Colorado where one can apply for a license and legally purchase marijuana.

After a day of hemming and hawing about whether to go or not. I booked my flight.

Seafood Cocktail the Mexican Way

Before moving to Houston, I always dressed my shrimp or cold seafood in a cocktail sauce made of ketchup, chili sauce (both the Heinz kind), horseradish and lemon. A few weeks ago, I saw that my father was shocked when he spoke to a friend of mine about the necessity of having ketchup and chili sauce as a staple to make cocktail sauce.

It was at that moment, that I realized that I had left a childhood favorite behind and had  become used to the way Mexicans make their cocktail sauce with fresh tomatoes, jalapeños, limes and onions. You take this sauce,  add seafood and avocado and you get a refreshing dish called “Vuelve a la Vida”.

If you haven’t tried it yet, here is a link to a recipe I found in the New York Times.

Vuelve a la Vida at the market in Oaxaca, Mexico

Vuelve a la Vida at the market in Oaxaca, Mexico

 

 

Lobster Roll Mania Growing in Houston

I grew up eating Maine lobsters. For most of my youth, scallops, calms and shrimp were the only shellfish I would eat. Over the years my love of shellfish has broadened considerably but lobster is still one of my favorite treats. Based on responses to my Facebook postings, there is growing interest in lobster rolls in Houston.

Still, I don’t like my lobster fussy – just simply steamed with some lemon and butter. When it comes to the convenience of lobster rolls, I look for the same simple profile, a touch of mayonnaise to hold it together, some lemon and a little spice on a toasted roll.

Now in Houston, we have two options that I am aware of:  Maine Ly Sandwiches and Bernie’s  Burger Bus.

IMG_2264

Bernie’s Burger Bus Lobster Roll Special

 

IMG_4226

Main-ly Large Lobster Roll

Quick Comparison:

  • Both are pretty authentic,  using a small bit of mayonnaise, some spices and lemon juice on a toasted bun, except Bernie’s adds a bit of a gourmet touch with fried shallots on top (a positive addition in my book plus they include freshly made potato chips)
  • Maine-Ly offers sandwiches seven days a week at their I-45 location close to Beltway 8 in a non-descript strip mall and Bernie’s Burger Bus offers it as an occasional special on Fridays in a parking lot with limited outdoor seating nearby
  • Maine-Ly is a sit down restaurant with other food offerings and drinks

Bernie’s edges out Maine-Ly based on my taste preferences, Maine-Ly tromps Bernie’s on availability, you can be the judge and try them both.  But in the end, both of them are delicious.

News is that Maine-Ly is eyeing an inside the loop location. I suspect with the growing popularity of lobster rolls we will see more of these on other menus as well.

 

Maine-ly Sandwiches

10745 North Fwy
Houston, TX 77037
(281) 820-8920

 http://www.mainelysandwiches.com

 

Bernie’s Burger Bus

Various locations but I have only seen the lobster roll  special at their stop at Inversion Café on occasional Fridays

http://www.berniesburgerbus.com/

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