Jan 192011

una gran escuela

We’ve made it through our first “temporada” (high season) and, what have I learned?

Wow, so much…but let me start in the kitchen, where I’ve been spending most of my time.

I’ve learned that it isn’t so hard to make many of the “processed items” that one gets at the grocery store.  Bread, tofu, marmalade and yogurt making were great mysteries before we got here two months ago, and now, I’d say they are reasonable endeavors for even the weak of heart in the kitchen.  Surprising, no?  We’re thinking of offering classes on how to make these things.  Are you interested?

I’ve learned that sometimes, you have to sacrifice a batch before you get a good one.  For me, the making of a good marmalade came with this sad fact.  My first batch of mandarine marmalade was bitter…i mean puckered up-painful-without cure-BITTER.  It hurts me to even write the following words…it had to go to the compost!  I asked for help and, when I did, Angela, my kitchen angel, gave me a large batch of the best tasting mandarines I’d had to date and a second chance.  The second batch turned out to be well worth the effort.  Come on down and I’ll let you try some…if you like it, I’ll even sell you some!

I’ve reaffirmed that all natural is the best way to go.  Physically, I feel healthier than ever.  To this end, we’ve been planting our organic gardens.  We’ve got so many hopefuls here at the house:  parsley, cilantro, oregano, basil, bok choi, kale, romesco cauliflower,  padron peppers, mystery peppers, red cherry tomatoes, yellow pear tomatoes and garlic.  We also planted at our friend, Osvaldo’s, farm – okra, green squash, yellow squash, radishes, onions, leeks, corn, basil…my mind runs wild at all the possibilities of what we are going to eat and best of all it will all be fresh and organic, whatever choses to flourish here in beautiful Barichara.

Out of the kitchen, most importantly, I’ve learned that generosity is rewarded.  And that we have some neighbors that really like to party.  Thankfully, they keep it mostly to temporadas.

Jul 212010


Buenas noches!  Mary and I are running a hostel in the town of San Gil in Santader, Colombia.  It isn’t exactly the way we had it down on the business plan or even the way we drew it out when plotting out our stops on this research trip, but it works.  If you are in the area, please stop by Casa Monkora (www.hosteltrail.com/casamonkora) and stay with us.  But how did this all happen so fast?  Here goes…

IMG_7734We arrived in San Gil on the 12th of July after a quick stop in the nearby village of El Socorro convinced us that we needed to keep on rolling up the road.  San Gil is the burgeoning adventure tourism capital of Colombia.  It is here where you can do the best river rafting in the country, spelunking, paragliding, repelling from waterfalls, mountain biking, the list goes on and on.  It is also a conveniently placed hub between some of the prettiest and most well preserved colonial towns in the country with highlights such as Barichara and the nearby Curiti.

IMG_4169After  three days taking in the sites, we left for a quick stay in Bucaramanga/Giron knowing full well we needed to return to this awesome town.  The hostel we stayed in, Casa Mankora, is run by our new friend, Johana, out of an old colonial house just a few blocks from the main plaza.  As it turns out, her lease on this building runs out at the end of the month and she is moving the hostel to a town 20 km up the road.  At the same time, a friend of hers who runs a local coffee shop left suddenly to visit her sick daughter in Germany and has left Johana in charge of the aforementioned establishment; Cafe con Verso.  Why am I telling you all this?  Well, since Johana is a single mom in charge of a hostel and a coffee shop until the end of July, she is obviously in need of some extra hands on deck.  In steps the Greengoes crew, conveniently in need of some real time Colombian hostelling experience and eager to trade free room and board for making sure that Monkora’s travelers stay happy!

So until the end of July we will be doing the tourist thing by day and moonlighting as hostel owners by night.  Conveniently, the weather patterns are working in our favor with warm sunny days giving way to afternoon thunderstorms almost daily.  Happily marooned in the hostel, shaping our vision and loving every minute of it!


Jul 102010

The great state of Boyaca lies on the Cordillera Oriental, the easternmost of Colombia’s mountain ranges which enter the country at its southern border as one massive chain known as the Andes, and after splitting into three separate ranges, gradually climb down to meet the sea down by the beach.  After leaving Villa de Leyva, we have headed roughly northeast to visit the area surrounding the town of Duitama.

IMG_7667In Duitama we are staying with our friend Oscar and his girlfriend Laura.  Oscar is an encyclopedia of Colombian history, geography and folklore.  He knows practically every road, city and point of interest that lies between Cabo de la Vela and Ipiales; and from Bahia Solano to Leticia.  In short, Oscar is just the sort of person we have been wanting to hang out with on this journey.  His travel anecdotes are worthy of their own blog; a big popular blog.

IMG_7598We started the day by visiting the town of Paipa known through Colombia for its natural hot springs.  The town itself is not much to look at, the reason thousands of Colombians visit this town every year is to soak in boiling water that smells like rotten eggs.  Mary insists that it is therapeutic, but at 74 degrees celsius, I’d rather sit back and take pictures of the mud-covered tourists lying about.  Paipa has a lot of places to spend the night, most of which have water pumped in from the hot springs to attract those in need of a hot, smelly pampering.

IMG_3971Across windy mountain roads we sped from Paipa to Tibasosa, a cute little town just east of Duitama.  Tibasosa is remarkable because of its cleanliness and well preserved colonial center.  The church at the main square is very pretty and the benches in the park out front are perfect for a long day reading a good book.  Oscar claims that the reason this town is so well maintained is that for most of the last 40 years its mayors ave been of the female persuasion.  Read: more apt to keep a clean house and less likely to “misplace” the town’s funds.  Tibasosa is good for a stroll or a meal any day of the week, but if quiet little towns are not your thing, check it out on Sunday afternoon when the Bogotanos or “Rolos” as they are known locally, take over every open table in town for the ubiquitous, multi-coursed family lunch.

Tibasosa lies on the road to Sogamoso, a large town that takes its name from the Muisca sun-deiy its first Spanish settlers worked tirelessly to replace with the more widely known, Jesus [Hey-Sues].  Nowadays Sogamoso is the gateway to the more charming small towns that surround it like, Iza and Firavitoba.  Otherwise, “famoso” Sogamoso is a perfect place to practice the national pass time of tossing back a few “Aguilas” with the boys.

IMG_7653The most beautiful place we visited today was the Laguna de Tota, a cool mountain lake that can be smelled before it is seen as a result of the vast onion fields that crowd its shores.   The fragrance is almost as delicious as the view.  Dark green stems surrounded by the black earth, surrounding the lake which in turn is surrounded by vast green mountains.  An utterly surrounding experience!The specialty is fresh locally caught trout with caramelized onions cooked slowly over wood.   Drool people!  The onion capital of Colombia sends out a hundred fully loaded trucks from its lakeside fields each day to Bogota, Cali and even Cartagena.  This beautiful area even offers a white sand beach for sun-deprived Scandinavians brave enough to test its chilly waters.  It is just a 40-minute bus ride from Sogamoso up a newly paved road.

IMG_7692It was dark by the time we headed back to Duitama.  The onion and cattle trucks sped unsafely down the two lane highway passing horse-drawn carts and cyclists by swinging into oncoming traffic around blind turns: yes, driving in Colombia is C.R.A.Z.Y.  Stop signs are routinely ignored, vehicles will turn from any lane in any direction and the general understanding is that when it comes to car crashes, dead men don’t sue.  It is no wonder then that truck and bus drivers, the “Transporteros”, take divine protection very seriously in this region.  The whole month of July is dedicated to religious festivals in honor of the Virgen del Carmen, protector of all truck and bus drivers in Colombia.  Boyaca is alive with the sound of fireworks, church bells and religious processions.  Every weekend one or more towns in Boyaca is converted into a truck and bus parking lot by hundreds of drivers wishing to have their rigs (and themselves) blessed by the local priest; this divine protection is believed to be more effective than seat-belts, speed-limits and low blood alcohol levels combined.  Last weekend the truckers took over Duitama, and tomorrow they will congregate in Paipa for an afternoon of blessings, fireworks and binge-drinking in honor of their beloved Virgin.

And now, I must get to bed because soon the rockets will be bursting in air in time with the tolling bells that announce first mass and last call.  Buenas noches!

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