Curacao: Week 253

Polaroid of a pink building in Otrobanda: Willemstad, Curacao

Curacao is the largest member of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao). It has a much more European feel than Aruba, which could partially be attributed to the beautifully preserved UNESCO area of Willemstad.

If you were to imagine a horseshoe pointing downwards, historic Willemstad would be the two ends. Both ends make for an impressive entrance to Schottegat Bay and are connected to each other by the retractable Queen Emma Bridge. Cruise ships, Venezuelan fishing boats, and oil refinery traffic pass through the bay daily.

Vintage postcard of Punda: Willemstad, Curacao

We spent the morning walking through the Otrobanda side of the harbor before crossing the pedestrian bridge to Punda. The waterfront colonial buildings in Punda are probably the most common postcard image of Curacao.While they looked beautiful, the businesses housed a few too many tourist traps for our liking.

For something a little more interesting, we walked one neighborhood over to Nieuwestraat in Pietermaai. It was less touristy and filled with lots of delicious restaurants like Mundo Bizarro. Their vanilla lemon sorbet was incredible.

Curacao is also famous for the failed Valencia oranges that the Spaniards brought over during the early days of colonization. The island turned out to be far too arid and dry, so the trees were left to their own devices. It was only much later that someone discovered the wonderful aroma of the dried peels.

We were on our way to the Curacao Liqueur Distillery, famous for using the offspring of the original oranges, when we accidentally ended up outside the Zuikertuin Mall. I was trying to figure out where we went wrong when we noticed a large, open-air cafe.

There was freshly baked bread on the first floor and a cool breeze on the second. The backyard was filled with tall trees, peacocks and roosters. After some coffee and beer we did eventually find our way to the distillery, but it wasn’t as nice as our accidental find.

Blue iguana at Christoffel National Park: Curacao

Christoffel National Park is on the north end of the island. It was an hour’s drive via a quiet road peppered with iguana sightings. Of the two trails available, we picked the coastal loop. Because of the early afternoon heat, walking the loop was prohibited. We had to drive to the sites, but that didn’t prevent us from seeing massive ice-blue iguanas under bushes and in trees.

Coin purse from Jaanchie's: West Punt, Curacao

Rounding out the north end of the island is a small town called West Punt, where Jaanchie’s was located. The first thing we noticed when we walked in was the birds. A hundred little yellow bodies darted in and out of the porch feeders. The volume of the birdsong was incredible and their rapid, jittery movement was mesmerizing.

We quickly discovered that Jaanchie’s is the kind of place you don’t want to rush. The beer is very cold and the only menu can be found in the owner’s head. When Jaachie’s ready to list the options, he’ll pull up a chair.

“Who are the couples?” Jaanchi asked before walking two fingers up Jen’s arm. “Iguana is supposed to be very good for couples.”

We each ordered a different dish and decided to share a plate of iguana, which ended up tasting like really good chicken wings. The meals were served in metal trays.

My goat stew was flanked by salad on the right and beans and rice on the left. The only seasoning on the table were three little bowls of diced onions, tartar sauce and mayo. Jaanchie’s has been on the tourist trail for decades, so its prices reflect that, but the food is definitely worth it.

The blue waters of Grote Knip cove beach: Curacao

Playa Abou (AKA Grote Knip) is a popular beach cove close to West Punt. The cliffs overlooking the crystal clear water are covered in cacti while trees and thatched pergolas shade the beach. The mustard yellow hue of the rocks reminded me of Australia.

That’s how I knew we’d found a little bit of heaven in the ABC Islands.

Dinner and sunset on the beach at Pirate's Bay: Curacao

About: Curacao

How to get to Mundo Bizarro: Nieuwestraat 12, Willemstad

How to get to the Curacao Liqueur Distillery: Elias R A Moreno Blvd, Saliña Ariba, Willemstad

About: Christoffel National Park

How to get to Jaanchie’s: Westpunt 15, Westpunt Curacao

About: Grote Knip

Sunset over the ocean at Pirate's Bay: Curacao

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Two Kinds of Andrés: Week 244

Rural road outside of VIlla Maria: Manizales, Colombia

We were walking through a rural town when a boy named Andrés stopped us. It was a Wednesday afternoon and he and his friends were on their way home from school.

While his friends giggled, Andrés invited us to inspect the nest he had found and the two listless birds inside. He questioned us for a few minutes, before deciding that the nest was suddenly a burden and thrust it into my hands. “Could you put it back?”

Andres holding the bird nest he found: Manizales, Colombia

I lifted up my sunglasses to get a better look at my new responsibility. Just then, Andrés saw the color of my eyes and shouted ¡Oh! ¡Tus ojos! He sounded like a chef who had just stuck his hand in something and wasn’t quite sure if he should lick his fingers.

My friends with the bird nest we were given: Manizales, Colombia

My friends and I agreed to stick the nest somewhere and said goodbye. A few minutes later we heard the pitter patter of someone running down the street. It was Andrés. He had suddenly needed to visit his godfather who happened to live in the same direction we were walking. Whatever the excuse, I was happy to talk.

Andrés’ informed us that his godfather had a 3,000 strong pig farm. Despite such an important connection to the pork industry, Andrés was adamant that he preferred chicken. He then began telling another story a little bit too quickly for me to follow.

When he finished my friend Favi turned to me with cocked eyebrow. “Did you get that?”

“No,” I replied. “What did he say?”

“He said that if the pigs get too aggressive they push them into a wall so they’ll have a heart attack because they’re so fat.”

“Oh.”

Dog on a quiet dirt road outside Villa Maria: Manizales, Colombia

Eventually we came to a fork in the road and we went right and Andrés left. We waved him goodbye and thanked him for his company. At the end of the bumpy dirt road was a B&B named the Secret Garden where our lunch was waiting for us. We ate on the patio and soaked in the peaceful rolling countryside.

Patio of the Secret Garden Hostel outside Villa Maria: Manizales, Colombia

About an hour outside of Bogotá, in Chía, is a famous restaurant-night club called Andrés Carne de Res. It’s the kind of place that’s in all the guidebooks and rounds off every Bogotá bucket list.

There is a second location in the heart of the Zona Rosa, but it’s not the original, so it’s not the most recommended. The problem was that I didn’t realize Chía was an hour away from our hostel, which had already been a nine-hour journey from Manizales. On top of that, the trip was punctuated with car sickness. The proper word for this situation is bolso!

Lucha Libre on the dance floor of Andres Carne de Res Chia: Bogota, Colombia

When the four of us eventually arrived at Andrés Carne de Res, we were feeling a bit low-key. The restaurant, on the other hand, was a massive rabbit warren of hyperactivity. Not only were the decorations a lot to take in, but the scale of the venue and the whole customer experience was not something we were quite prepared for.

Ticket for Andres Carnes de Res Chia: Bogota, Colombia

Because it was after 7pm on a Saturday, we each had to pay a $15,000 peso entry fee. This was in addition to the cost of the food, which by Colombian standards was pricey. After we were led to a table, we were handed a 80 page menu. It had its own index!

Once we ordered, we finally had some time to digest our surroundings. I’m not sure what the restaurant looked like when it opened in 1982, but the feeling I got when I arrived was that it was the lovechild of Etsy and Instagram. Everything just felt so curated.

Bottle of still water at Andres Carne de Res Chia: Bogota, Colombia

There were employees that performed little skits throughout the dining area. A lucha libre match was being televised from another part of the restaurant. The tap water arrived in specially made bottles with decorative string around the neck. The ice chests had murals painted on them and the cups were branded. And I haven’t even begun to describe the decor surrounding our table and the ceiling.

Ceiling decorations at Andres Carne de Res Chia: Bogota, Colombia

It took awhile for the food to come out, but when it did it was delicious. I had been a little worried because a big menu usually means there’s just a lot of average food, but thankfully this wasn’t the case. Barret’s lomo, which was beef tenderloin encrusted with black pepper, was absolutely stunning and the salad we shared was a good companion.

When we paid our bill, a mariachi quartet stopped by our table to shower us in confetti, hang sashes around our necks, and pass out little bags of candy. The whole venue was building up to a crescendo, but we were ready to wind down for the night. Andrés Carne de Res was an interesting experience, but it’s definitely somewhere you need to be ready to commit the whole night and a lot of energy.

Mural at Andres Carne de Res Chia: Bogota, Colombia

How to get to Andrés Carne de Res in Chía: From Chapinero, Bogotá the taxi costs $80,000 pesos.

How to get to The Secret Garden: Take the cable car to Villa Maria. From the park outside the terminal, catch a chiva (an old, brightly painted silver bus) and get off when the road changes from paved to gravel.

Cable car station at Villa Maria: Manizales, Colombia

El Día de Amor y Amistad: Week 236

Entrance to the restaurant Masala for el Dia de Amor y Amistad: Manizales, Colombia

For the last few weeks I’d been noticing an accumulation of heart-shaped chocolate boxes in the supermarket. I hadn’t known the reason until Barret and I were invited to a special dinner for el Día de Amor y Amistad.

El Día de Amor y Amistad (Love and Friendship Day) took place on a Friday and the main thoroughfare of Santander was packed. Since the holiday is also a celebration of friendship, there were tons of couples and groups of friends.

Every restaurant along Santander had some sort of decoration, even the little arepa shops. Barret and I caught a taxi from the main street and headed to Milan. Although it’s a much quieter neighborhood than Cable, it is known for its number of restaurants.

Masala is my favorite restaurant in Milan and it is also the only Nepali/Thai restaurant in all of Manizales. It’s delicious on an ordinary evening, but it’s even better during special events. The reason being is that Samata, the owner and chef, creates special menus that are only feasible for large numbers of customers.

While Barret and I nibbled on watermelon and mint salad, a musician in a red suit strolled between the tables with a saxophone. Celine Dion was on heavy rotation.

I also came to realize that el Día de Amor y Amistad was not just for lovers and friends, but for entrepreneurs. DSLR digital cameras are not a common sight in Colombia, so special events are perfect for photographers who want to earn some money. There were two different couples that came into Masala to take photos of the ambiance and of anyone who tipped a few bucks and wrote down their email address.

After our delicious candlelit dinner, Barret and I slipped out and met a friend for a coffee. Celebrating love and friendship- what a good start to the weekend.

How to get to Masala: Calle 77 #19A-18, Milan

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

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