Sun and Sand on the Oaxacan Coast

As published in The Oaxaca Times 2/10/13

Blue sea, white sand and electric pink sunsets. Although the colorful city of Oaxaca can often be hard to leave, the Oaxacan coast is a must-see destination for any tourist, and for a resident, it is a compulsory weekend getaway.

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There are plenty of microbus and van operators that service routes from Oaxaca to the coast, although the 6-7 hour bus ride, which hairpin curves itself through the mountains, is a test for even the strongest stomach. Arm yourself with nausea medication, an Ipod (reading is out of the question) and a neck pillow or eye mask to help you doze off in relative comfort. For those with weak stomachs and more patience or funds, opt for an ADO bus that routes through Acapulco, or a quick flight on Aerotucán.

To reach Puerto Escondido, one of the most popular destinations, Servicio Express (Arista 116; 516-40-59) has nine departures daily between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. for about M$200.

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Puerto Escondido is a laid-back fishing town, which has become a worldwide surfing desination due to the famous wave, the so-called “Mexican Pipeline,” that breaks on Playa Zicatela. Considered one the best surfing waves in the world, it has long drawn surfers, and with them, the surf culture that is now characteristic of Puerto Escondido. While the surf is superb (and calmer during the dry season Nov.-April), swimming here can be a bit treacherous which makes sunbathing on the perfect white sand beach an ideal activity for the non-surfer.

Surfers, fisherman casting lures by hand, and diving pelicans compete for space on La Punta, or the southernmost point of the bay. With recent additions La Punta now has several comfortable and affordable accommodations fronted with palapa restaurants and is a good alternative if you are looking for something more laid-back than the happening, developed downtown of Playa Zicatela.

The Tower Bridge Backpackers Hostel (Oceano Antartico 1; 954-582-0823), although located a bit off the beaten path near Playa Carrizalillo, is very popular among younger backpackers looking for a social ambience to meet other travelers.

For nightlife, Playa Zicatela is the place to be, with restaurants and bars that line the main drag of Calle del Morro. Start your night at Casa Babylon, a kitschy and lovable bar that has a great collection of Mexican Masks and English-language books lining the walls, and serves up world-class mojitos and live music many nights of the week. Continue on to one of the beach bars if you want to drink over-priced cocktails on daybeds with your toes in the sand, and then end your night at Barfly, a spacious rooftop bar located above the La Hostería restaurant, where DJs spin a mix of latin-electro-pop and a lively crowd dances into the night.

If the surf and party vibe isn’t what you’re looking for head south to Mazunte by catching a public bus in front of the Super Che Supermarket, asking the driver to drop you off at Las Cruces de San Antonio and then catching a collectivo (shared taxi) that usually looks like a pickup truck with a tarp on the back, into town. The trip should take about an hour and the pristine cove of Mazunte is worth it. With a great swimming beach, a chilled-out hippie vibe, and unbeatable sunsets, Mazunte has long attracted the laid-back traveller, many of whom seem to never leave.

If you’d prefer to head directly to Mazunte or Zipolite (Mazunte’s neighbor) straight from Oaxaca City, Eclipse 70 (Bustamente 70; 951-516-1068) has departures from Oaxaca every hour between 3:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m., arriving to Pochutla, which is just a 20 minute taxi ride away from those coastal towns.

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The main road in town, Paseo del Mazunte, which runs parallel and slightly inland of the beach, is where you can find cheaper eats and budget accommodation. On the eastern end of the beach you will find somewhat dingy but passable rooms with shared bathrooms for reasonable beachfront prices (about M$50-150) located behind sandy-floored restaurants.

Playa Rinconcito, as the western end of the beach is called, is home to some higher-end accommodation and restaurants. With a stellar location on a hill by the beach, Posada el Arquitecto has dorms (M$70) and private cabañas (M$400-750). For more bang for your buck, head uphill from the most western street, Andador Rinconcito, towards Punta Cometa for unbeatable views of Mazunte. At Cabañas Miramar, you can stay in a clean, comfortable cabaña with a private bathroom and balcony (M$350 for single bed, M$600 for a double), and then follow a short, steep path downhill to reach the beach.

Punta Cometa, a rocky point that juts south out in the sea, provides incredible views to both to the east and west, making it a uniquely perfect place to view both the sunrise and the sunset. On the western side of Punta Cometa is a small, stunning beach with intense waves called Playa Mermejita, which is a great location for nighttime bonfires.

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For activities, Mazunte offers a turtle refuge center, Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga, as well as lanchas, or small boats, which leave from the beach at 8 a.m. (M$180) guided by local fishermen to view turtles, as well as dolphins and whales. While there are several options for yoga, Agama Yoga Center, which you reach by heading west on the main road, is popular for its drop-in classes (M$100) as well as retreats and delicious vegetarian fare.

For breakfast, don’t miss La Baguette bakery’s pan relleno, a freshly-baked bun filled with half-melted chocolate and bananas, accompanied by a licuado, or a fresh fruit juice or smoothie, from the shop next door. For dinner, Siddartha, has a good selection of international fare, including vegetarian options and an unbeatable view of the sea.

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Heading east on the main road out of Mazunte (just 20 minutes on foot), you will reach the charmingly small bay of San Augustinillo, where the calm surf provides great swimming, body boarding and mediocre snorkeling.

Continue 2.5 miles east (ten minutes in collectivo) to reach Zipolite, an expansive stretch of white sand with a rough surf and free spirit. A best bet for the budget traveler, camping is a great option here. Try Luna Azul if you have your own tent (M$100 per week) or ask around at the plethora of accommodations that stretch along the beachfront.

Zipolite is known for its nude beach, happening nightlife and relaxed pace. However, beware the dangerous rip tides, which only experienced surfers should attempt, as well as some incidents of theft and assault. For a longer stay for less, miles of perfect coastline and an ‘anything-goes’ attitude, Zipolite is the destination.

Whether you are called to the beach for surfing, sunbathing, snorkeling, seafood, nightlife, yoga or any other beach-bound activity, the Oaxacan coast will not disappoint.

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A Taste of Oaxaca – Origen

As published in the Oaxaca Times 2/5/2013

Photos by Laura Harrison

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Located just blocks from the Zócalo, Origen’s inner courtyard is a blissful step away from the busy city streets. The ambience of the recently renovated building is a lovely mix of antique and modern, a sentiment that is echoed in the food.

Rodolfo Castellanos, chef, owner, and native Oaxacan, opened Origen in October 2011. His culinary education began as a child, learning from his mother, before he was classically trained at the “Culinary Institute of Mexico,” and then gained experience and inspiration working in San Francisco and France.

Origen “is a reflection of my personality. Made up of Oaxaca but influenced by everywhere else I’ve been,” he explains.

This idea is evident in that about 90% of the ingredients are Oaxacan (mostly hand selected by Castellanos himself) to create dishes that express the culinary traditions of the different regions of Oaxaca as well as France, Italy and Peru.  Origen uses artisanal everything; from the chocolate to goat cheese, whenever possible it is sourced from small batch local producers.

The menu is eclectic, offering delectable choices for meat-eaters, seafood lovers and vegetarians alike and it changes each month to celebrate what foods are in season.

To drink, there is a strong focus on the local beverages of choice: mezcal, made from the maguey agave cactus. The Spirituosa brand of mezcal has a smoky smooth variety called “Madrecuishe,” which will go well with basically anything. For a refreshing locally brewed beer try the Tuelfel brand’s “77,” a golden brown ale sweetened just slightly with agave.

A notable highlight from the current menu includes the paper-thin beef Carpaccio, which is an obvious nod to Italy, but is topped by a purely Oaxacan selection of flavors such as a vinaigrette made from lime and tortilla ash, water chilies and bean flowers.

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A must-devour dish for vegetarians is the perfectly al dente risotto mixed with thick kernel corn with a well-balanced flavor palate of honeyed pumpkin seeds, poblano peppers and grapes with goat cheese foam.

Of the main dishes (which range from M$160 – 250), the roasted quail was succulent and tasty (although a bit tricky to eat) and was complemented perfectly by the farro grain with mushrooms, pumpkin puree and grilled grapes.

Even if you don’t select anything suggested here, be sure to leave room for the desserts, which are unique interpretations of traditional sweets.

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Torched merengue over grilled pineapple, sweet coconut and classic Oaxacan burnt milk sorbet is a complex flavor combination not to missed.

Although I had heard before dining at Origen that the service was subpar for a restaurant of this caliber, my own experience was flawless, with quietly attentive and knowledgeable servers.

If you are looking for a traditional Oaxacan meal, there are other restaurants that better fit the bill, however, if you are looking for contemporary Oaxacan cuisine with an international twist, Origen will not disappoint.

Origen is located at Avenida Hidalgo 820 and is open for dinner seven days a week.

La Vida Oaxaqueña

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Once again I have found myself settled in a sunny locale for the winter and I am loving exploring my new home. Oaxaca is like the south-of-the-border equivalent to Portland, with a rich art and music scene, close proximity to nature, and a huge emphasis on food.

With a manageable population of 260,000, Oaxaca’s size and appealing cobblestone streets (along with perpetually sunny days) make it very walk and bike friendly. The colonial architecture, which dates back hundreds of years creates a charming city center, with open parks and plazas, impressive churches and state buildings, as well as hidden shady patios begging to be discovered behind large wooden doors and colorfully painted walls.

I live up on the hill, a bit above the city center in a big house occupied by eight extranjeros whom have all made Oaxaca their home. Including Laura and myself, four of us happen to be from Portland, and due to the influx of visitors from the city I call home[base], it seems a great southern migration is occurring. The crowning glory of the home is the spacious rooftop terrace which is perfect for yoga, dinner parties and star-gazing.

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I’ve been working with En Via, this amazing local NGO that has a unique model of combining micro-finance with sustainable tourism to help [mostly indigenous] women lift themselves out of poverty. Micro-finance is based on the idea that individuals living in poverty have the skills, work ethic, ideas and motivation they could put to use, but lack access to basic financial and business services like credit, insurance and savings. We operate under the assumption that if given access to those things they can help get themselves out of poverty. En Via provides tours where participants get to meet the women and witness the power of micro-lending, as well as learn about their trades; and we utilize all the tour fees to provide the loans. It’s a pretty great formula and I’ve been enjoying the work, traveling to the small towns around Oaxaca, and connecting with these amazing women.

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Oaxaca is located in the cradle of the pre-Colombus Zapotec civilization although over 16 ethno-linguistic groups exist in the state of Oaxaca. Monte Albán is the most extensive archeological site in the area occupied by both the Zapotec and Mixtec people. An entire mountain top dotted with pyramids, tombs and other buildings containing impressive stone carvings.

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Mitla is another Zapotec archeological site containing an intricate mosaic fretwork and sweet geometric designs that the Zapotec still use in their weaving today.

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The Zapotec culture is still very predominant in the towns I work in outside of Oaxaca City, although mixed with a hefty slice of Catholicism. About 3/4 of people living in the state of Oaxaca follow indigenous law, which means they operate separately from the federal government, much like the indigenous people of the US. They speak Zapotec, as well as Spanish, practice their traditional crafts and farming, and believe in spirits and manifestation along with the Holy Trinity.

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There is an abundance of artistic expression and inspiration to be found in Oaxaca. One part of that is the traditional indigenous crafts, such as the tapetes, or wool rugs, which are hand woven using sheep’s wool that has been carefully spun and dyed using naturals ingredients such as plants and bugs.

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The streets of Oaxaca are pulsing with artisans who come from the surrounding pueblos to sell the beautiful shiny black ceramicscolorfully painted wooden animal statues called alebrije and hand-embroidered blouses and dresses.

Then there are an array of museums and art galleries housing all sorts of classic and modern art, as well as installation pieces. Walking around Oaxaca, however, is its own art tour as arte urbano makes itself prevalent through murals, stencils and graffiti pieces all over the city, which enliven my daily commute.

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And no post discussing Oaxaca would be complete without mentioning the food. Oaxacan cuisine is drop dead delicious, based around the Mexican staples of corn, beans, and salsa.

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But it doesn’t get boring. From traditional squash blossom quesadillas, to the array of mole sauces, cinnamon hot chocolate, chili rellenos doused in mezcal, and the favored snack of the region – chapulines, or dried, spiced, grasshoppers – all lend to an ever-inspiring culinary experience.

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And mezcal, the only drink to drink in Oaxaca. The artisanal, small-batch, smoky flavored  sipper (not shooter!) lil cousin of tequila is what washes down dinner, fuels the dancing and makes Oaxaqueñ@s congratulate each other on knowing how to live the good life.

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Hasta pronto x

Invisible Pyramid

Through a series of fortunate searches I stumbled upon the work of photographer and director Neil Krug. His images have a grainy, vintage feel with a strong Americana influence, like a beat up Playboy cover from the ’70’s or an old Western flick on psychedelics. He used Polaroid film to capture the sensual shapes of geology and the human form and plays with geometry and stylized settings to achieve the rugged and utterly appealing images.

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Krug’s video credits include music videos for Ladytron, Boards of Canada, White Flight, Devendra Banhart and My Chemical Romance, which delve into the surreal landscape of Krug’s aesthetic matched to music. Check out a couple of his most recent creations:

He even has a feature-length film in post production entitled Invisible Pyramid. Keep an eye out for that and more from this astounding visual artist.

Check out Neil Krug’s website

XX

Autumn Inspiration: Dia de los Muertos


The Day of the Dead, as celebrated in Mexico and some parts of the US and Central America, comes from the Aztec tradition. The Aztecs believed that life as we know it is merely a dream, and one does not truly awaken until death. They celebrated a month in late summer when they believed those who had moved on could return to visit their family members. When the Spaniards arrived on the scene they attempted to quash the practice, but failed. Instead, they predictable tied the celebration to a Catholic holiday, All Saints Day on November 1st.


The holiday is celebrated (key work celebrated, not mourned or commemorated) by remembering and honoring the beloved deceased by decorating grave sites, creating opulent altars in their honor, and like any self-respecting holiday, by preparing and devouring special foods.

Altars can take many forms, indoors or out, ornate or simple, although most have photos, mementos, religious idolatry, and ofertas such as clothing, sweets, food, alcohol or cigarettes and marigolds, whose scent is believed to attract the souls and draw them back.

Decorated sugar skulls are devoured to symbolize an acceptance of death as are pan de muerto – a slightly sweet bread baked into the shapes of bones.

The main symbol of the celebration is the skull and the skeleton, which is baked, bought, made, and embodied as men and women don costumes and pain their faces and dance and sing into the night. They are joyful, not frightening, and the holiday is one that embraces life and death through music, food, and objects intended to enhance the connection to the spirit world.

This year I intent to celebrate Die de los Muertos alongside my Halloween revelers. The following art are bits pf costume inspirations I wanted to share if anyone else wants to get on board :) Let’s celebrate life and death by eating sugared skulls, by creating altars for our beloved deceased and getting gussied up in one killer costume. No pun intended.

 

 

 

To live it to sleep, to die is to wake.


Old world weaving, new world threads

Guatemala as been popping up all over my thought threads lately, not least of which is because I’m enthralled with super sweet textiles that come from the area.

Women in Guatemala and Mexico have been using brocade loom and hand embroidery techniques to create their incredibly intricate huipils – traditional squarish tops – in basically the same way their ancient Mayan ancestors did years ago. Much of the weaving is died using the ikat technique, a complex process which breeds beautiful results.

Mayans used the design and color of  huipil to distinguish themselves from other tribes or people, the same way that fashion functions today to assert individuality (or an alliance with a “tribe” of people, as the case may be).

I’ve been inspired lately by combining traditional Guatemalan textiles with more modern styles.

My favorite new find is Osborn Design shoes; their oxfords, loafers and flats are made using cloth from regions all over Guatemala and each shoe is as unique as the cloth it’s cut from. Osborn supports 30+ Guatemalan artisans who hand-make the one-of-a-kind shoes in humane conditions.

This dress by Mara Hoffman is a perfect example of the best of both worlds. The tailored cut is super flattering and balances the eye-catching design of the cloth perfectly.

Proenza Schouler’s Pre-Fall Collection borrowed the bold colors and stripes from Guatemalan textiles in the creation of slouchy sweaters, high-colored blouses and wide-legged shorts for the Pre-Fall 2011 collection.

And Gwen Stefani used Guatemalan-inspired embellishments in her L.A.M.B. 2011 collection.

Loving how old-world cloth meets new-world clothing, especially when the look is achieved by supporting Guatemalan artisans. Looking forward to visit to the country in question in the near future for more reasons than fashion.

Amon Tobin @ Decibel Festival

I just had the pleasure of witnessing the spectacle that is Amon Tobin’s album ISAM performed live at Seattle’s [gorgeous] Paramount Theater. I say ‘witnessing’ because unlike other electronic acts where the show emphasizes dance to the point that the attendee becomes an active participant in the show, this performance was all about the visual experience, brought to life by the ethereal music of Tobin’s newest album.

The Brazilian-born artist didn’t just take it up a notch, he took it to next level. For ISAM live he worked with artists and engineers to construct a massive (24’x14’x8′) multi-dimensional installation of cubes surrounding Tobin. With the DJ being hidden from view, the spectator can absorb the onslaught of imagery projected upon the structure, in-time with the ambient sounds of the ISAM album in its entirety. The creation of crystals, blue flames, clock gears, robots and outer space were all abstracted onto the blocks in an awe-inspiring audio and visual experience.

Get a glimpse of what he has created by checking out this video:

Well done Decibel – Seattle’s successful electronic music – festival for hosting Tobin for his US debut of ISAM live.  Definitely make it a point to see this guy if he comes anywhere near you, and keep an eye out for what he has coming next. Cuz the only way to go is up, uP, UP. There’s no going back to a projector screen. Other DJ’s please take note.

Movin’ on up

Welcome to the new, improved Bananafish Tails. Sorry for the hiatus from blogging but I’ve been busy creating a new website (and traipsing around in the jungle). Unfortunately, my previous posts which were transferred from the old Blogger site didn’t format very well so the pictures are smaller and some posts are a bit out of whack. Please excuse the old mess and check back soon for updates!

XoXo Hannah Bananafish

>Colombia does Carnaval [really well]

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Carnaval is quickly shaping up to be my favorite holiday. Four days of music, dance, parades, costumes and street parties in some foreign local? YES, thank you! While I’ve never experienced the states’ version of the celebration of excess in New Orleans, I’ve had the pleasure of donning a colorful outfit or two and taking to the streets in Spain, Brazil and now Colombia to celebrate the festival of debauchery.

Carnaval is celebrated in most predominantly Catholic countries for four days (or over a week) before the start Lent, the 40 days of abstinence leading up to Easter.

In 2009, I enjoyed my first Carnaval a la Española in Cadiz. The Spanish are really good at dressing up in group-themed costumes. They fully play the part of their outfits, whether it’s a herd of cows of a fleet of cop cars; they push shopping carts around full of booze and sing and play kazoos.

In 2010 I upped the anti a little heading to Rio’s world famous Carnaval. Worthy of its mantle as the biggest party in the world, there’s nothing quite like the hoards of revelers who come to play in Rio’s spectacular setting. However, with the high price of tickets to see the impressive parades in the Sambadromo and the sheer magnitude of the party, it could be a little inaccessible at times.

Last week’s Carnaval in Barranquilla – Colombia’s biggest party and second in size only to Rio – did not disappoint.

I wrote this bit on Barranquilla’s Carnaval for Colombia Reports. previous to heading out.

However, when we arrived to Barranquilla we were in for bit of a shock to find that the apartment that eight of us had rented out, complete with three large bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, a pool etc., simply did not exist. We were majorly scammed, as we had each put down about $80 USD as downpayment… and then we were eight gringos in a city during Carnaval with no hotel rooms available.

Plan B in full effect, a friend of a friend’s parent had an office in Barranquilla. They bent over backwards to fix us up in their office, scrapping together fixings for eight beds to squeeze into the conference room. One room with AC, a kitchen and a bathroom, and we were back in business. Without any further hijinks the celebrating commenced.

Miss Molly, who had been working behind the bar of the Dreamer Hostel in Santa Marta (which is just an hour or so away from Barranquilla) was able to come and play before returning to the States. So good to play with an old friend in such a different time and space!

Barranquilla’s parades were fabulous, a really impressive mix of the European, African and indigenous dances and traditions distinct to Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

I got a press pass to attend the Bomba Estereo concert and wrote this article for a Medellin-based magazine La Arepa.

The thing that was so superbly special about Barranquilla’s Carnaval (and this is what makes Colombia stand out from other countries as well) is the people. Barranquilleros, and Colombians in general are friendly, open and helpful. And despite the local or the decorations, its the people that make the party.

Where to next year?

>Bogota b Bangin

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OK, so I have to admit I’m a little obsessed with Colombia’s capitol after last weekend’s wonderful albeit wet getaway. The mission was LCD Soundsystem and objective was accomplished on all accounts.

LCD does NOT disapoint live. Super-charged with energy, the whole concert was riveting from Dance yrself Clean to New York I Love You…
The Royal Center was as legit of an indoor concert venue as they come, not hindered by the fact that we got in the primo section via free press passes. Spent the majority down front left if yaddidimean and the last bit up in the balcony taking in the whole scene and feeling like Colombia is on the up and up and Bogota is kind of leading that cultural catalyst train.

We kept the momentum moving by hitting up this underground after hours club RadioBerlin after the show. Two floors, great DJ, chill spaces, friendly people and rum… pretty much the makings of an after party. That is, until the cops broke it up because it’s illegal for anywhere to stay open after 3 a.m. in Bogota. (!?!?)
Here’s one thing Medellin does have on Bogota: the weather. Bogota felt like Portland pretty much, flashbacks of how it feels to have perma-damp clothing and use a broken umbrella. It’s not the first time I’ve used plastic bags for socks and it probably won’t be the last.
Other highlights of the weekend include some sweet cultural schtuff… tons of free museums: art, gold and my favorite, a photography exhibit showing Colombia throughout the ages. I know I can jabber on but WoW sometimes a photo really does say 1000 words or however many words they say a photo says without saying a word.
I got my hair did at this hip lil place that where I went when I was last in Bogota about a year ago. “La Peluqueria” is this totally inspiring hair salon/cafe/bar/vintage boutique/art gallery and venue. It is owned and run by all women and there’s only one mirror in the whole joint so getting your hair cut there is kinda like driving blind, except you’re letting someone else who actually knows how to drive take the wheel. The whole hair-cutting experience is transformed into an all sensory enjoyment kinda deal, which is right up my ally. I also happen to know a gaggle of hip women in Portland that just might know a thing a two about hair, art, music venues, bars, clothes etc. etc.
Wheels turning…

Ajiaco is maybe my favorite typical Colombian dish, and this awesome restaurant in Bogota’s lovely/funky Candelaria neighborhood serves it up RIGHT. It’s a thick potato based soup served with half an ear of choclo (big-kerneled corn), a generous helping of shredded chicken, cream, half an avocado, capers, and spicy goodness. One big bowl of hot loving goodness? Yes, thank you.
What else? A flea market which produced this awesome leather backpack that set me back about $5 USD. A gondola ride to a mountaintop cathedral overlooking Bogota. Hackey sack in the park. Beating up and old computer keyboard and taking the ‘power’ key home with me. A hookah bar and yummy rummy coffee drinks to escape the rain. Wandering around graffiti-covered neighborhood like buildings tattooed with art and words.
Thanks Bogota, hope to see you soon!