Thanksgiving in Manizales: Week 246

Brownie ice cream popsicle dipped in dark chocolate from Pop Shop: Manizales, Colombia

Colombia has so many holidays that people sometimes forget the reason they don’t have to go to work. Because I’m distracted by the profusion of holidays here, I often forget to celebrate, let alone remember, holidays in the US.

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that tends to slip under my radar, but it didn’t this year because one of my friends hosted a party. I really enjoyed cooking some traditional food and sharing it with people who were experiencing Thanksgiving for the first time.

In honor of the holiday, I decided to make a list of things I am thankful to have in Manizales:

– Friends: They’re awesome.

– Students: They keep my life interesting.

– Granadillas: My favorite tropical fruit.

– Arepas de choclo: The US equivalent would be a sweet cornbread in the shape of a pancake.

– Chuzos: My favorite late night grill in Cable.

– The view from my apartment: Love my volcano vista!

– Netflix: It works in Colombia and the Spanish shows are great language practice.

– Edilberto: The elderly neighborhood watchman always greets me by saying, “Mi preciosa, como amaneciste?” And then he kisses my cheek.

– Pop Shop: Last, but not least, I am thankful that a delicious ice cream shop opened up near my house in Cable. Lulu! Cocolimonada! Chocolate en chocolate! Yum!

Cocolimonada popsicle from Pop Shop: Manizales, Colombia

About: Pop Shop

About: Chuzos

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Colombian Fruit Review: Week 231

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Tomate de arbol, uchuva, curuba, papayuela, granadilla, pitahaya, maracuya, feijoa, guyaba, zapote

Colombia’s overwhelming preference for meat is the reason I was surprised to discover vegetarian and even vegan restaurants in Manizales. Barret and I tried two different places over the same weekend- Rushi and Laurel. Both had a menu of the day, which included soup, a main dish, a small dessert, and a drink.

While the lack of meat is obviously what distinguishes vegetarian restaurants from traditional Colombian restaurants, there are a few things they share in common. Even at traditional restaurants, soups are often vegetable-based and the beverages are almost always fruit juices. I kind of find it amusing that someone eating a slab of beef might also be sipping strawberry juice.

There is such a great variety of fruit in Colombia and the majority of it is offered as a juice. I feel like I should be writing more about the vegetarian restaurants, but it is the fruit that gets me so excited. So instead, here is a sample of the exotic fruit that Colombia has to offer (starting clockwise with the red tomate de árbol above).

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Tamarillo, sliced

Tomate del árbol- This fruit is sweet but also has the tang of a tomato. Most of the time this is available as a juice, but I personally enjoy eating it raw- just scoop out the center, seeds and all.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Uchuva, sliced

Uchuva – These are also known as cape gooseberries. They have a strong and slighty tart flavor and are very slippery once they’ve been washed. I’ve only ever seen them in people’s gardens, so Colombia is the first place I’ve noticed them commercially for sale. Lucky me!

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Curuba, sliced

Curuba – It is also known as the banana passion fruit because of its fuzzy, yellow exterior. Unfortunately though, it its raw state it tastes like the boring cousin of a passion fruit and the seeds are very hard. On the other hand, I have been assured that it makes for a delicious juice when blended with milk.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Papayuela, sliced

Papayuela – There’s a reason why the guy at the grocery store did not remember the name of this fruit. It is a small variety of papaya with all the seeds and hardly anything edible. It’s the jungle equivalent to eating sunflower seeds in the shell, except a lot less satisfying. Next time I’ll get a regular papaya.

Tropical fruit in Colombia, Granadilla, sliced

Granadilla – The rind of the granadilla is kind of like crème brulee. The shell is easy to crack with a fingernail while the lining inside is soft and spongy. The Granadilla’s seeds are similar to those of a passion fruit in terms of texture, however they are not tart at all. This fruit is refreshing- like flavored water.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Pitahaya, sliced

Pitahaya – The center of the fruit has the texture of a kiwi and a taste that’s just as delicate. I’m pretty sure I’ve bought the Asian variety of this fruit, but I don’t remember it tasting nearly as juicy as the pitahaya.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Maracuya, sliced

Maracuya- This one tricked me a bit because it is passion fruit, but it doesn’t look like the purple ones I am used to. It is very tart and best juiced or on top of something like plain yogurt.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Feijoa, sliced

Feijoa – These South American fruits also happen to grow very successfully in New Zealand. In Colombia they are most often found in juices, but I love them raw. The scent is what stands out most about them- they smell like a soda bottle full of Sprite.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Guyaba, sliced

Guyaba – In its raw state, the fruit is firm and the seeds are numerous and quite hard. That is the reason that guyaba is most often made into pastes or sugary cubes called bocadillo. I would have to agree that is the best use for this fruit. Bocadillo and a slice of salty campesino cheese are absolutely delicious.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Zapote, peeled

Zapote – The dark exterior is rough and kind of looks like an acorn, but the edible part is pumpkin-orange. There are five large seeds that are cushioned by a sweet flesh that has the texture of a ripe mango. The flavor was sweet and one description that came to Barret’s mind was maple syrup.

Although this feels like a good list, there is still so much more to discover at the supermarket!

How to get to Rushi: Kra 23C 62-73, Manizales

How to get to Laurel: Calle 56, near the intersection of Calle 56 and Carrera 23

Gallinazo: Week 228

A man on horseback in Gallinazo: Caldas, Colombia

Gallinazo is a vereda, a very small rural town, on the outskirts of Manizales. If it weren’t for the nearby hot springs, it probably wouldn’t be on anyone’s map.

However, given its fortuitous location, Gallinazo is a popular weekend destination for traditional Colombian food. Of the three or so streets in the entire vereda, one is almost entirely dedicated to restaurants.

At the foot of town was a dessert stand. I knew we’d come to the right place because the vendor had the teeth of someone who has enjoyed a lifetime of sugary treats.

The arequipe was soft and delicious. It’s similar to caramel, but not as sticky or as thick. Arequipe can be enjoyed on its own or on top of something traditional like cooked figs. There were also several different versions of postre de natal, which is made by boiling milk and then continually skimming off the foam. The foam is collected in another cup and when it cools it almost has the texture of a rice pudding.

After starting the day with a healthy dose of dessert, we picked a popular restaurant for an early lunch. The food was delicious, but I made the mistake of ordering Bandeja Paisa. It is a regional dish that has steak, sausages, chicharrón, red beans, rice, plantains, a fried egg, an avocado, and an arepa. It is also often preceded by a bowl of soup. The food is great- but the sheer quantity of it is staggering. Barret and I once shared a smaller version of this dish and the two of us together couldn’t finish it. I don’t know what I was thinking; I need to start asking for a different dish.

Around about the time we finished lunch, Gallinazo was beginning to fill up with day trippers. Sunday morning brunch is not a popular concept, perhaps because of church, but lunch is king. And what better way to enjoy a meal than out in the country with a train of horses clip-clopping down the street?

How to get to Gallinazo from Manizales: At the intersection of Avenida Kevin Angel & Calle 69, catch a buseta in the direction of the Termales (hot springs).

Salento & Valle de Cocora: Week 227

View of Carrera 6 in Salento: Colombia

Colombia has a lot of three-day weekends. They are called puentes, which means bridges, and when my first one came up I leapt at the opportunity to get out of town.

So early Saturday morning Barret was squished in the back of a small buseta while I sat next to a woman in a blue cardigan and torn jeans. Ten minutes into the trip she pulled out a multi-colored rosary and began crossing herself every time we passed a church, went over a bridge, or stopped at a tollbooth.

She got off at a bus station in Pereira and on the way out of the parking lot I noticed a glass display case with the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus. It made me wonder who decided that was the right pose for a bus station statue.

It was mid-afternoon when Barret and I arrived in Salento. We ate at a restaurant overlooking the most popular and photographic street in the city- Carrera 6.

Architectural detail in Salento: Colombia

Only after our stomachs were full did we start the search for accommodation. The first guesthouse we visited was on the outskirts of town. The garden was filled with toys and sunflowers and the foyer was actually a living room with an overstuffed couch. It was an odd juxtaposition of private versus public.

The place was completely booked though, and the only thing they could offer was a tent on the porch with a thick sleeping pad and some blankets. Barret and I declined, but after a disparaging walk around the city, we quickly realized that the tent was our only option. If there is anything I have learned from traveling on a puente weekend, it’s that reservations are imperative.

We spent the first half of the evening watching a very untalented caricature artist and the second half in a small cafe listening to excellent live music. We weren’t in a rush to make it back to the tent, but when we eventually did, we slept well. The only exception being the return of a group of drunk Colombian tourists. Upon seeing a row of tents on the patio, one of the guys yelled out. Look at those gringos! What are they thinking?! 

Horses outside the trail head of Valle de Cocora: Salento, Colombia

The following morning Barret and I woke up very early to begin our hike to Valle de Cocora. From the main square in Salento, we caught a jeep to the trailhead. There was an option to hire horses, but Barret and I decided to walk the whole circuitous route.

Valle de Cocora: Salento, Colombia

Valle de Cocora is famous for its sweeping views of the wax palms- Colombia’s national tree. This is in no small part thanks to the herds of grazing cattle that nibble all the vegetation around the wax palms. The trees are already slender and insanely tall, but when viewed unobstructed, they are even more impressive.

Rutted trail through the Valle de Cocora: Salento, Colombia

Bridge crossing in the Valle de Cocora: Salento, Colombia

Several hours into the hike we stopped at the Aicame Natural Reserve. It was a small hummingbird sanctuary located at the end of a seemingly never-ending ascent. There was a fee to enter the reserve, but it included a beverage. We also discovered that the reserve had a very basic but insanely cheap lodge. Beds were available for something like 10,000 pesos (USD$5) and the cost included food!

Hummingbirds at the Acaime Natural Reserve: Valle de Cocora, Colombia

We weren’t prepared to rough it another night, so after viewing all the hummingbirds we double-backed and continued walking the full circuit. An hour or so later the trail came to a head at a lookout point named Finca La Montaña.

The lookout point had a flower garden and a small building with a covered porch. An open door led from the porch into a small dark kitchen where a woman was making traditional Colombian hot chocolate over a wood-burning stove.

Woman making hot chocolate at the Finca la Montana: Valle de Cocora, Colombia

In its raw form, the chocolate comes in hard blocks that are dissolved inside a metal jug. Once prepared, the hot chocolate is served with a thick slice of queso campesino (a soft, spongy, and slightly salty cheese).

Hot chocolate and cheese at Finca la Montana: Valle de Cocora, Colombia

I was initially reluctant to drop cheese into my hot chocolate, but it actually tasted delicious. The cheese softened and the saltiness balanced well against the sweetness of the chocolate. I felt like that was a good metaphor for the weekend- the salty frustration of lugging our backpacks around town in search of a room was tempered by the charm of the city and the beauty of the valley. Having the one makes you appreciate the other so much more.

How to get to Salento: Direct buses are available from the bus stations in Armenia and Pereira.

The Neighborhood Pub Crawl: Week 216

The Rose Hotel in Chippendale: Sydney, Australia

I have often contemplated the curious color palette of The Rose Hotel on my way to work. In the nicest way possible, I would say the names of the paint chips were Victorian Christmas and baby vomit.

Although I was very familiar with the exterior of the hotel, I hadn’t been inside until the ‘fight of the century’ between Mayweather and Pacquiao. The main bar with the trompe l’oeil ceilings was full, so Barret and I found a wood bench in the spacious courtyard and ordered a round of Bloody Marys with lunch. With the exception of one loud group, the audience was cheering for Pacquiao and when he lost the hotel quickly emptied.

A laundry line outside a house in Darlington: Sydney, Australia

Barret and I followed the exodus of people back out onto the street, but the afternoon weather was so nice that we decided to take a different route home. From Chippendale we walked through a quiet residential street in Darlington before ending up in Redfern.

A faded and peeling wall in Redfern: Sydney, Australia

It wasn’t so long ago that Redfern was a rough neighborhood, but the last decade has brought about significant gentrification. Strolling down Regent Street, Barret and I popped into an antique shop and against better judgment we left with two small spoons made from cow bones. Thin black decorative lines were carved into the polished surface.

Front door of The Bearded Tit in Redfern: Sydney, Australia

A few doors down from the antique shop was an establishment called The Bearded Tit. It’s an LGBT-friendly bar named after a puffy white bird that breeds in the reedy swamps of Europe and Asia. The backyard housed a ‘caravan of love’ and the gender-less bathrooms had a large moose hanging near the sinks.

A coaster at The Bearded Tit: Sydney, Australia

The best part about The Bearded Tit was its support for art. Local and international artists can apply to have their work displayed in a number of unique ways- from a wall to a curiosity cabinet. A ‘taxidermy tableaux’ surrounded a TV that was perfect for video art and resident artists could receive free bar food and 50% off drinks.

A small bakery on the Regent Street in Redfern: Sydney, Australia

After a round of champagne, Barret and I continued our circuitous journey home. Small family-owned restaurants, bakeries, and video rental relics lined the rest of Regent Street.

A terrace house in Erskineville: Sydney, Australia

It was dinnertime when we reached Erskineville, but neither of us wanted to cook so we walked through our neighborhood and towards the southern end of Newtown.

The Union Hotel in Newtown: Sydney, Australia

The Union Hotel had a lively cover band in the front and a large self-contained restaurant in the back. We ordered food and sat down near a father and his young daughter whom were both reading books. While there are more charming hotels further up King Street, Barret and I were both drawn to the classic brick Aussie hotel circa 1946.

The reason that I like Sydney’s inner west neighborhoods so much is that they are a perfect combination of historic buildings, livability, and community culture. It’s definitely not a cheap place to live, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better area for a stroll and a neighborhood pub crawl.

How to get to The Rose Hotel: 52-54 Cleveland Street, Chippendale NSW 2008

How to get to The Bearded Tit: 183 Regent Street, Redfern NSW 2016

How to get to the Union Hotel: 576 King Street, Newtown NSW 2042

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