My girl Heather and her fiancee Eric are off to Columbia for their holiday trip this year.
Since many folks here enjoy her descriptions of her trips, here is the e-mail that I received today:
First of all, pardon any typos. This was all typed on my phone, much of it on moving, bouncing buses.
I apologize for not writing sooner. We've been having such a great time here. Bogota was a bit of a blur of fun, thanks mainly to Eric's friend Natalia, a Colombian force of nature. She picked us up at the airport last Sunday afternoon, took us to our hostel, the Cranky Croc, and then to the Museum of Gold. After going through that until it closed, we walked around downtown Bogota, and she showed us some of her favorite spots. We stopped at a little place for one of her favorite drinks too - a cane sugar drink served hot with different types of bread and some cheese, which she dropped into the drink to melt. Delicious! We had that and some hot chocolate and a wonderful tamale with chicken inside.
After walking, we went to her parents' apartment to pick up her mother and head out to the Cathedral of Salt up in the mountains just outside of Bogota. That's actually salt mines, the emptied parts of which have been made into works of art and religion. Different artists have carved crosses out of the stone in giant rooms, each symbolizing one of the 14 stations of the cross. We were there during special evening hours for Christmas, and each cavern was brilliantly lit with changing red, green, or purple lights. It was gorgeous! Beyond those, we reached a cathedral area, which was also lit up. Wow! It was amazing to wander through these gorgeous caverns for a couple of hours. I don't think many people knew about these evening hours, so we had the area nearly to ourselves, which I understand is extremely unusual. I'm so glad that we went when we did!
Once we returned to Bogota, we stopped around the corner from our hostel at Natalia's favorite arepas stand from her university days. I had one with carne (pork), and Eric had one with chorizo (sausage), both fresh off the grill. We took those back to our hostel to enjoy with a couple of beers before getting to bed.
Tuesday, Christmas Eve, Eric and I slept in a bit and went around the corner for more arepas for breakfast, which we ate while walking to interesting sites. Unfortunately, the Botero Museum was closed, but we were able to see some churches and the National Museum. In one church, we stopped to sit in the pews, rest a bit, and enjoy the Christmas decorations, while a band outside played Christmas music. It was a terrific feeling just to be there and let the smell of sandalwood and incense, the sound of the live music from the street, and the sights of the lovely church wash over us.
Colombia is known for its emeralds, so we stopped by an area filled with jewelry stores, and Eric bought a beautiful silver pendant for me. It's a butterfly with traditionally (Tayrone Colombians, I think) filigreed wings and a large emerald in the center.
After walking around, we caught a cab to the Zona Rosa area to go eat at Andres Carne de Res, a well-known restaurant with fantastic decorations and entertainment and a menu that could pass for a book. We had steak and a pork that had been coated in salt and slow cooked, each served with a tomato filled with mashed potatoes and a plain arepa along with a couple of local beers. For dessert, we had more of that cane sugar drink served with cheese curd. Yum!
We stopped by a cute wine store to pick up a couple of bottles for Natalia and her family. She picked us up from our hostel and took us to her place for a traditional Christmas Eve meal of ajiavo, a soup with chicken, three types of potatoes, and corn cob. It was served with a plate of rice and avocado. For dessert, we had brebas, a type of local fruit, with homemade araquipe, which is like a dulce de leche. Natalia had made two kinds, one traditional in Bogota and the other from Cali, her father's original home. We all had a great time talking and telling stories, some in English and some in Spanish while drinking cabernet and eating this amazing meal.
Eric and I were tired, so Natalia took us home and returned to continue the celebrations with her parents and her cousin.
The next morning, she picked us up at 7am to first stop at the bus station and let us make arrangements to leave Bogota the next day. It took us awhile to get there. Since Christmas Eve is the party night and so many people drink, the police shut down many of the streets the next morning, making it difficult to find your way anywhere. We made it though and returned to Natalia's.
Then, we met up with the rest of her family, cousins, uncles, etc. for a brunch at a restaurant just outside of the city. We all shared various types of bread, pan de yuca and pan de almojabana, as well as empanadas with lime, scrambled eggs with tomato and onions, hot chocolate, and something like a cake. Finally, we had bunuelo, a Christmas treat that's like a fried ball of cake, and some ice cream. Yum! Conversation was interesting. Not many there spoke English, so stories were told in Spanish with Natalia translating some and Eric and I piecing together others. (I REALLY need to work on my Spanish.) Her uncle is an attorney with some interesting stories.
We then went to the country house (finka) of one of her cousins. That was gorgeous, very modern with one wall almost all window and looking down into a valley with a lake. We talked and played ball there, enjoying the view.
Natalia and her father and uncle took us to a cute small village by a lake called Guatavita. We wandered around a bit, and Eric and I visited a tiny museum of religious artifacts rescued from a church that is now underwater since the lake level rose. Just across the plaza was another museum we visited with ceramics from an earlier civilization.
We dropped off Natalia's uncle and headed out to the lake that is the origin of the Dorado legend. Natives of the region would make artifacts of gold to drop into the lake as part of rituals. We saw some of the artifacts recovered from the lake at the Museo de Oro in Bogota. Natalia, Eric, and I were able to take a two hour hike up to the lake and around and back down.
We were exhausted after that, and Eric and I both napped a bit in the back of the car on the way back to Bogota. That trip took awhile because of traffic. Many people were out to see the Christmas lights up in parks or to see the city from a lookout beside the road.
We once again stopped at the arepa stand around the corner from our hostel, and after eating those, Eric and I stopped for beers at the Bogota Beer Company and then got to bed.
The next morning, we packed up, and Natalia picked us up at 6am to catch our 7am bus to Villa de Leyva. We were able to get there quickly, grab some meat and potato empanadas and some coffee for Eric, and catch our 4.5 hour bus.
Villa de Leyva was lovely and so easy to explore. We quickly checked into Hotel San Carlos on Carrera 9 and walked to the plaza, one of the largest town plazas I've seen. Near there, we found a cute Mexican restaurant, La Bonita, and sat in the courtyard to eat wonderful conchita tacos and a salmon with a fruit and teriyaki sauce that was outstanding. This city is known for being great for foodies! We enjoyed margaritas and a couple of appetizers too, including a wonderful mushroom dish.
Then, we went wandering around town, checking out museums and churches. One museum, Museo del Carmen, attached to a church, had lovely art and artifacts associated with a particular religious order. We very much enjoyed that. The other, Casa Museo de Luis Alberto Acuna, had many of his paintings and sculptures as well as various antiques.
The village itself is incredibly peaceful and beautiful. All houses are whitewashed and topped with Spanish tiles, apparently by law. There are bars and restaurants and little shops everywhere. There are also plenty of dogs, all of whom seem well-behaved and well fed. We saw a couple of cats too. As in Bogota, it seems that pets are popular and well-treated.
We stopped and bought some besitos de la novia (bride's kisses), little cakes that the area is known for. Legend goes that lovers who share a cake, each taking a bite of one end, will have an everlasting love. Eric and I couldn't pass that up!
Back at our hotel, we used the good wifi to make further plans and to Skype with my dad and my sister Hillary, both of whom were online. Wifi here is good. There even seems to be a town wifi freely available at the bus station.
We wanted to try a restaurant highly recommended in our Lonely Planet book, Mercado Municipal. We sat out in their courtyard enjoying the warm weather and one of the best meals ever. Wow! We had lulo mojitos, an outstanding whole duck and their specialty, barbacoa slow cooked underground. Wow! We also had a mushroom appetizer, though this one was different than the one at lunch and served hot with cheese. Again, amazing.
Next, we stopped by a restaurant called Antique for a drink called canelaza, a hot drink with anise- flavored liquor, whole cane sugar, and cinnamon water. That was delicious, and we very much enjoyed the live music there too.
We slept in a bit the next morning and after quickly checking out a church in the main plaza, took a long breakfast at Restaurante Estar de la Villa. We had eggs, Eric's scrambled with chorizo and corn and mine fried, along with different types of bread, cheese, orange juice, and tea or coffee.
We arranged for horseback riding at 1:30pm, and since we had a bit of time, we chilled out at or hotel for a bit before meeting up with our guide. We rode our horses out to Pozos Azules, five beautiful blue lakes given their bright color by minerals in the water. Eric and I hiked around those a bit and then returned to our horses to go to El Fosil, a small museum with an en situ fossil of a 120 million year old baby kronosaurus among other things. It's interesting to know that half of Colombia was once under the ocean, so where we were was a beach. There are so many fossils in Villa de Leyva that many are used as cobblestones.
Our final stop on horseback was the Estacion Astronomica Muisca, a Stonehenge-like site with erected phallic stones used nearly 2000 years ago to determine the dates for planting seasons. There was also a tomb there that we could enter.
Our horseback ride was fun and easy, though there were a couple of moments that I worried that our horses would do something to each other. They seemed to compete a bit, Eric's nipping at mine a couple of times when mine tried to pass. Mine later led and once kicked at Eric's horse when he got too close. Otherwise, the trip was great fun. We passed by lovely views of the valley, reminding us a bit of our horseback ride three years ago through the Andes in Ecuador. This trip was shorter though, with stops along the way, and more urban. We passed some absolutely beautiful homes.
After a quick shower, we returned to Mercado Municipal for another outstanding dinner, this time with slow-cooked pork as well as barbacoa. Wow. We started with the best carpaccio we've ever had, served with slivers of parmesan cheese and arugula, with chips and lime. We also tried their squid, which was served whole with small potatoes and with herbs and a bit of garlic. We split a bottle of an Argentinian Malbec (perfect with lots of meat!) and had a wonderful dinner, after which we were ready to sleep.
We got up very early on Friday and headed to the bus station to catch a 6am 45 minute bus to Tunja, where we had meat empanadas at the station and caught another bus to San Gil. Both trips through the mountains were fairly comfortable, and the views were great. On the long trip to San Gil, we had a nice long stop to take a break and eat some yummy chicken and rice empanadas. Someone had the cutest little puppy there, so we enjoyed watching him explore a bit.
We got into San Gil around 1pm and arranged for our long bus ride to Cartagena for the next day. Then we caught a 45 minute bus to Barichara, another picturesque little town.
We checked into our hotel, Hotel Corata, and we're ready to go try the local specialty, fat bottomed ants, preferably in a sauce on a nice steak. We'll have to let you know how that goes. ;-)
This story will soon be continued. We'll enjoy Barichara, and tomorrow night, we'll take a 16 hour bus ride to Cartagena.
I hope that you enjoy reading this!
My apologies if this is way too long!
I won't be offended if you have to delete it!
I love reading about your daughters travels! She sounds like she has an interesting life.
Hey Marla, would this be perferct for blogging ('course, I don't know what a blog is...)? It is nice to read about folks' adventures.
"There but for the grace of God, go I."
"... His mercy endureth for ever."
As you can see, your posts have not been deleted..lol I truly enjoyed reading it. Thank you so much for sharing and as always, I love reading all of her travels and experiences
Peace and Blessings
Look For The Good and Praise It!
Update - Dec. 31
Cartagena is lovely! We slept fairly well on our overnight bus here, and we had yesterday afternoon to pop into churches and museums before a delicious dinner of ceviche and a local paella with coconut juice. Yum! The old town, as Eric says is a "Caribbean New Orleans". There are tourists and the accompanying shows and vendors everywhere, along with horse drawn carriages, colonial buildings with balconies dripping with flowers, and great food.
I'll have to give all the details later, since we want to go explore again today before the giant street party that will be New Years Eve in Cartagena. Right now we're enjoying a wonderful breakfast of fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, beads, scrabbled eggs, orange juice, hot chocolate, and coffee, all included at our fancy hotel and served outside by waiters in uniform. Our hotel is only a block away from a popular beach too! Life is wonderful.
Love to you all!
Today's update - Jan. 5
I know I need to type up plenty of details, but briefly, we've been having a great time. We LOVED the ceviche in Cartagena and relaxing on the beach on New Years Day. We left for Medellin the next day, which was quite different, nestled in the mountains. We very much enjoyed seeing the city and checking out the museum there with all of the Boteros. Today, we returned to Bogota, since I fly out late tomorrow night. We have a terrific two bedroom apartment here, and we're heading out tonight to what's considered by many one of the best restaurants in South America and in a party bus with included rum and vodka, no less. Tomorrow, we'll finally see the Botero Museum here and relax until I need to head to the airport. It's been such a wonderful trip! I'm really sorry to leave Colombia. This has to be one of my favorite places to visit.
I'm glad that you are all enjoying Heather's trip updates.
She's on her way back to NY now.
We'll be seeing Heather and Eric at Cal Tech on Jan 27, when they get married - finally!