Tuesday, June 26, 2012


When I first arrived in Cali five years ago I had no expectations and many misconceptions.  I knew I was going to a place regarded by the US State Department as having "improved in recent years...but violence by narco-terrorist groups continues to affect some rural areas and large cities" and that coffee, cocaine, and Shakira were considered major exports.  And end list of Colombian "knowledge."

Five years later, I leave with a new language, three places I called home, and hundreds of faces attached to thousands of memories.  The reality of attempting to wrap this experience up into one closing post is a challenge I am not willing to dissect, digest, and disseminate.  That being said, I would like to acknowledge some of the bests (and worsts) after half a decade in this passionate and often misunderstood corner of the world.

Without further anticipation, I present to you my Five Colombian Top 5's (I struggle with overkill):

LIST #1: Top Five Most Unique Places

1. Valle de Cocora  This park is what Dr. Suess must have dreamt of when he created The Lorax.  Settled in a lush green valley reminiscent of the Swiss Alps in the middle of the "coffee axel" and just outside of the pueblito of Salento, in the department of Quindío, this National Park is home to the towering palma de cera or wax palm, the national tree of Colombia.  Whether exploring the valley on foot or horseback, as the clouds roll in and the tops of these enormous trees disappear, its impossible to not feel as if you've been transported inside the pages of a children's book. 

2. El infiernito  Located just outside of the village of Villa de Leyva north of Bogotá, this bizarre archeological site originally served as a ceremonial grounds for the Muisca indians to monitor the solstices and celebrate the fertility of the land...by erecting giant stone penises all over the hillside.  (I realize I used the world "erecting" and I am not apologizing for it.)  The Spanish conquerers were so appalled by this land that after their attempts at destroying and knocking over the statues failed, they resorted to renaming it "the little Hell" in an effort to dissuade the natives to go there in the first place.   

3. Santuario de las Lajas  Just outside of Ipiales near the Ecuadorian border in the department of Nariño is an impressive church that spans a river valley.  Why would someone build a church - or anything - in such a precarious location, you might ask?  Well, when a peasant woman and her daughter see the image of the Virgin Mary on a rock, in the middle of nowhere, sometimes things just get built.  The museum beneath the church in the catacombs, though bizarre, is also worth a visit as well.

4. Ciudad Perdida  High atop the mountains outside of Santa Marta along the caribbean coast sits the "lost city" of the Tairona people.  Likened to Peru's Machu Picchu but older, this indigenous city was never discovered by the conquistadores as they pillaged the coast, most likely due to the fact that the Taironas fled deeper into the jungle, integrating with other indigenous groups until they themselves ethnically ceased to exist.  Rediscovered in the 1970's by guaqueros, or grave robbers, a hike to the site today is a challenging but rewarding four to six days in and out.

5. San Cipriano  This tiny one road, no car town in the middle of the jungle - off the highway between Cali and the port of Buenaventura - isn't so much the draw, its the way you get there.  Since it sits in the middle of a protected area, the construction of roads is forbidden.  There is, however, a rail system.  The inventive people here have set up a system of rail carts called brujitas ("little witches") consisting of a wooden platform base, a bench, and a motorcycle with the front wheel bolted to the base and the back making contact with the rail.  Also, there is only one rail so as you go speeding through the jungle you just hope you don't encounter another brujita coming the opposite direction.

HONORABLE MENTION: Parque Santander in Leticia (Amazonas) at dusk when the parrots arrive, Cabo de la Vela (La Guajira), the "salt cathedral" of Zipaquira outside Bogotá, the caves and cliffs along the Pacific coast near Juanchaco, the main plaza of Villa de Leyva during Sunday market, the plaza outside of Medellín's Museo de Antioquia filled with Fernando Botero's statues, "el aquario" on Isla San Andrés, the San Juan hot springs in Puracé National Park (Cauca/Huila) and the ocean-filtered aquarium in the Islas Rosarios off the coast of Cartagena.

LIST #2: Top Five Favorite New Foods

1. Chontaduro or palm fruit.  There is nothing like this orange golfball-sized fruit found on many a street-vendor's cart in Cali and the southwestern part of Colombia.  With a texture like overripe squash and a taste I can't find a comparison to, it is often served soaked in honey and sprinkled with salt.

2. Guanábana or "soursop."  Rarely eaten whole, this watermelon-sized green fruit with menacing but harmless pinecone-like spines is usually made into a juice with milk.  I don't think I have ever passed this one up if it was a juice option.

3. Buñuelo.   The Colombian doughnut hole.  The recipe for breakfast bliss is cornmeal and campesino cheese deep fried to tennis ball-sized golden perfection.

4. Ajiaco. This delicious soup, endemic to the area around Bogotá, contains shredded chicken, cilantro, potatoes, yucca, a chunk of cobbed corn, capers, and sour cream served with a side of avocado and rice to add in later.  

5. Patacón.  Plantains deep fried, smashed flat, and deep fried again, then sprinkled with salt.  These are served as sides - sometimes as the "plate" itself when ordering fish dishes - and can be broken into smaller pieces like chips for dipping if thin enough.

HONORABLE MENTION: bandeja paisa, sancocho, arroz con coco y pasas, tamales, pandebono, almojabana, lulo juice, maracuyá juice, arequipe, and agua panela

LIST #3: Top Five Favorite Travel Moments

1. In a canoe, floating peacefully in the middle of the Yavari River after dark listening to our guide, Jhimmy, regale us with the indigenous legend of pink dolphin. (Technically this was in the Brazilian backwaters, but I got there by departing from Leticia, Colombia, so it counts.)  Between my then limited Spanish and our guide's non-English, it took awhile to decipher the tale, but in the end, it was a magical moment.

2. Drinking a pitcher of sangria atop the colonial wall surrounding the city of Cartagena, as dusk became dark, listening to the ocean and music of the caribbean with two good friends could not have been a better way to escape the heat of the day and reflect upon the adventures of this place, trapped in time gone by.

3. Hiking barefoot and occasionally swimming through a pitch-black cave located within the Reserva Rio Claro, located a short walk into the forest off the highway between Medellín and Bogotá, while some sort of large bird screamed and squawked in the echoey darkness.  Beginning with a swim across a river (losing my shoes in the process), a hike through the woods, then running downhill along a narrow path to avoid the biting ants, only to arrive at the aforementioned cave, which dumped us out into the river we originally crossed (see photo).

4. Running my first full marathon around Lago Calima (beginning and ending in the town of Darién) and subsequent other races in Pereira and Restrepo.  The Calima race was special as it was my first and, although small, I will always remember the excitement and support from my fellow racers and the beautiful rise and fall of the course as it circled and came back around Lake Calima.

5. Driving through the desert of La Guajira, stopping occasionally to chase cows or have an impromptu photo-shoot in a cactus grove, culminating with a stop at the beautiful Cabo de la Vela.  A desert might not seem like an enchanting place, but when it abuts to the magnificent blues of the Caribbean it becomes so much more than endless arid terrain. 

HONORABLE MENTION: riding horseback in the Valle de Cocora outside of Salento, kayaking the Pacific near Juanchaco, the Bogotá Beer Company tour, field trips to Isla Gorgona, being taken to our guide's home in San Agustín and being solicited to buy ancient indigenous artifacts that he and his cousin had grave robbed, struggling through cold and altitude sickness while climbing the Puracé Volcano.


The section describing Cali in the "Lonely Planet: South America" guide book appropriately states that the city is "Colombia in your face: the attitude, heat, traffic, beautiful women, music, and food all join together in a delightful and dizzying way."  Appealing, yes, but the author goes on to accurately warn that "Cali needs you less than you need it."  The last two lists are dedicated to my newest adopted home, who I grew to like - and, on occasion, love.

LIST #4: Top Five Favorite Restuarants/Cafés 

1. Platillos Voladores - A fusion-style restaurant mixing local flavors with international cuisines, everything here is unique, giving your flavor pallet the kick it deserves from a good meal.  This restaurant lives up to its name, "flying saucers," as the food is definitely out of this world!
Recommended: Chontaduro Rolls, Lettuce Spring Rolls, Coffee Chicken, Guava Chicken, Pad Thai, and Tofu Encocado...but you really can't go wrong!

2. Crepes & Waffles - This Colombia-based chain restaurant would make a killing in the US.  Turning freshly made crepes and waffles into more than just a breakfast item, along with delicious salads and ice cream, this was a monthly staple during my time here. Also, the company's mission is to only hire single mothers as employees.  
Recommended: the Poblano, Mexicano, Serrano, Caprino, Ensalada Portofino, Ensalada Marroquí, (and for dessert) the Baby Doll and Cleopatra.

3. El Escudo del Quijote - I'm sad I didn't discover this until just this past year.  Located in barrio El Peñon a few blocks from the park, it has a moody and intimate atmosphere, very attentive service, and a relatively small Spanish-inspried menu that will not not disappoint, although it is admittedly challenging if you are a vegetarian.  
Recommended: Chontaduro Ravioli, Lomo pimienta, Smoked Salmon, and definitely order the "postre sopresa."  

4. Macondo Postres y Café - Located in the historic San Antonio neighborhood, this small corner establishment serves sandwiches, salads, and drinks in a cozy atmosphere perfect for chatting with a friend or reading a book.  There are also tons of weekly special events taking place, especially in the evenings, such as movie nights, poetry readings, and jazz sessions.  
Recommended: Enalada de la huerta, tuna sandwich, hamburguesa de la casa, coffee lemonade (seriously).

5. Juan Valdez Café - I had to include this on the Top 5 since I was essentially a "regular."  While I didn't sample a lot from the menu - café grande con leche and the hot chai were my only drink orders, really - the Unicentro and Granada locations often served as my weekend "office" for grading.  

HONORABLE MENTION - Il Forno, Obelisco, Tortelli's, Welcome, Monchis, Café del Sol, El Faro, Clown's Deli, Anttonina's, Route 66, Frijoles Verdes, El Arca, Bourbon Street, Pizza al Paso, Sansai Wok, Zahavi, Teatro Mágico del Sabor, and Primos

LIST #5: Top Five Things To Do In Cali (Other Than Eat)

1. Dance Salsa at Tin Tin Deo, Zaparoco, Tienda Vieja, or La Fuente.  Tin Tin Deo (San Fernando on the 5ta) is great if you want a learning curve and good air circulation.  Zaparoco (Centenario) if you want live music and don't mind sweating the minute you walk in the door. Tienda Vieja (Los Cambulos) usually has a live band, good picadas, and is large so you'll have plenty of space to dance, however you may not be in the same room as the band.  La Fuente (Granada) if don't mind small spaces and occasionally creepy dance partners (and sometimes dancing on the sidewalk).

2. Hike Tres Cruces on a Sunday morning (because there are lots of police then).  On one of the peaks surrounding Cali are a trio of crosses overlooking the city.  Begin near the statue El Gato along the Rio Cali in barrio Normandia, walk uphill into the condo-ed neighborhood, until pavement turns to gravel, which will turn to dirt.  At the top, along with a grand view of the city, you will be rewarded with vendors selling fresh fruit juices, cholados, and water; a make-shit gymnasium with concrete weighted barbells; and a church service under a tent (on Sundays).

3. A visit the Zoológico de Cali (Santa Rita) is one of nicest ways to pass an afternoon.  It is well-organized, easy to walk, has a diversity of regional and international wildlife, and situated on the edge of the city at the base of the farallones with one of Cali's seven rivers running through the middle of it.  For me, the giant anteater, capybaras, and little titi monkeys are worth the price of admission all by themselves!

4. Also on Sunday mornings, run, walk, or bike the "Ciclovida." While Medellín and Bogotá have a slightly better infrastructure for pedestrian/bike friendly activities, Cali gives it a try every week by closing down large stretches of road - usually a good chunk of the Autopista, but sometimes the Novena too - to get people out and about, promoting the city and good health.  There are controlled intersections, vendors, bike rentals (recent new feature), and the occasional free rumba, aerobics, and spin-classes set up under tents in the medians.  

5. In December, visit the alumbrado navideño along the Rio Cali.  As part of the Christmas season Feria de Cali, the river in the north of the city is decorated with millions of lights, all following a single theme, such as "the history of dance in Colombia" or "fairy tales and legends."  In the dark with the river serving as a constant soundtrack, the banks of the river turn into a magical place. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Picnic in Parque San Antonio, attend the Festival Petronio Álvarez in August and listen to the best Pacific music bands battle it out on stage over four days, swim in the Rio Pance above La Voragine, visit the Museo Tertulia, and watch a soccer game at the newly remodeled Estadio Olímpico Pascual Guerrero.

Top Five Things I Will Not Miss About Colombia
  1. Missing toilet seats - I understand that some roadside rest stop or corner tienda's bathroom facilities may leave a little to be desired.  But I find it hard to accept that some upscale malls and very nice restaurants can't afford to supply toilet seats to their commodes.  Are toilet seats overly expensive in Colombia?  Are they more fragile here; epidemic of hard sitters, if you will?  If they're being stolen, I have three questions: (1) How?  (2) Is there a plethora of them in some of the poorer barrios? And (3) where exactly could I find this black market for toilet seats???  I have never received a convincing answer to this strange and annoying problem.
  2. Taxi drivers who can't find things - The address system in all major Colombia cities is one of the most accurate in the world.  Calles run west to east increasing in number as they go; Carreras do the same north south. After the street number there is another set of numbers: the next cross street to the west/north followed by the number of meters said cross street is away.  My address was Carrera 65 #10-207, meaning my building was located on the 65th Carrera 207 meters from the 10th Calle.  Its like playing Battleship since your address is like a coordinate system.  Also, if you're a taxi driver it is your job to understand this.  I should not be explaining to you where a place is that I have never been to before; this is a problem for me.
  3. Lines and the hypocrisy of line behavior - I found the amount and frequency with which I had to stand in lines in Colombia exhausting at times, but I assimilated to it.  It wasn't one of my favorite things, however, Colombians are generally patient and non-confrontational people who wait in lines well.  Except when they think it is completely acceptable to budge in front on the logic that they only have  "una poquita preguntica" (a little tiny question).  To top it off, nobody says anything to this person despite the fact that no one thinks this is okay.
  4. Mio stations at rush hour - I have gone into this ad nauseum before, but goodbye and good riddance to blocked entryways, to crawling over stubborn aisle sitters, and to people who abruptly stop at the threshold of the bus.
  5. "Cheese" - Chedder.  Swiss.  Parmesan.  Colby.  These are cheeses.  Campesino is not cheese.  I may have had an unfair bias coming from a dairy-rich part of the U.S. but after five years, I am only slightly more tolerant of this queso.
HONORABLE MENTION: My (physical) classroom and my land lady. 

*All photos were taken by me (or with my camera) except the one of "el infiernito" which I found online with no credit to it.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Places You Will Be From

Back when I was in high school, a little band from Minneapolis, Semisonic, had a bit of radio success with a little tune called "Closing Time," a meandering and nostalgic alt-rock song about a bar at the end of the night.  During the chorus they sing
"every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end"
As excited as I am about the amazing opportunities coming in my move to Campinas, Brazil, in a few short weeks, it doesn't make the ending of my amazing experience in Colombia any easier.  Five years in one place is a long time.  Living in Cali now ties living in Eau Claire in longevity for places I've called home in my adult life; if leaving "EC" was a difficult transition, this has been downright heart-wrenching.

I've made a life and home here in Cali and this city, this country, my school, and all the people along the way will be a special part of my life.  As they say, "Colombia es pasión" and I've been feeling a lot of it lately...

First up, graduation of my second group here.
It was a very bittersweet day; I may have cried six a few times this day.
Congratulations, Class of 2012!!!

I am definitely going to miss a lot of these guys.

Science Department "despedida" (farewell) party.
I've been fortunate to work with so many talented and intelligent
colleagues over the years.  

One of the best 11th grade Pre-AP Biology classes I have ever had.
On the last day of classes they threw a little surprise goodbye party.
(The placement of the tree in this picture may have been a
mistake in hindsight...)

Two of my favorite ladies at work; it makes me
physically ill to think about not seeing Juliana
and Moraima every day and to work on another
show together. 

And of course I can't forget my ninth graders this year...
...they're just so...
...special.  (Which is why I love them, obviously!)

The pictures projected at the Ceremonia de reconocimiento
(Recognition Ceremony) for my five-year anniversary.
My five-year pin.
I took a picture so when it inevitably gets lost I will remember that I had it. 
Parting gift: A personalized ceramic chiva bus. 
Chiva-bus picture with the man who hired me over five years ago on a
frigid February day in Waterloo, Iowa.

Oh, and there was that time my former students
threw a "despedida" for me...at a bar.
Reason # I-don't-know thousand why I will miss this place...

Also, in the same song, Semisonic sings "time for you to out to the places you will be from."  This means two things to me: Brazil is waiting and, although I am not Colombian, you can bet if they make it to the World Cup in 2014 in Brazil, I'll be cheering proudly!

Hasta luego, Colombia...te extrañaré.
Siempre estás en mi corazón.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

When In Rome

As five years in Colombia comes to a bittersweet close and I reflect back on all I have seen, experienced, learned, and accomplished here, I can't deny how I have also changed.  I know I've become more flexible, but at the same time less of a push-over.  I've allowed myself to relax and think less while speaking Spanish and dealing with time issues, while becoming more self-aware and analytical of things around me.  

The other day a Colombian colleague said I had been in the country long enough to become platanizado - literally "made into a plantain" - or localized, for lack of a better word.  Definitely a compliment coming from a native Caleño!  And while I know I still stick out like the glowing pink gringo that I am, I clearly have taken in and adjusted to some of the day-to-day nuances that makes living in Colombia special.

So, for those who will come after me and those who are new to this spectacular corner of the world, I present to you...

How To Be Less Gringo and More Colombian 
(or at least Caleño) in 14 Easy Steps

1)  Always answer your phone.  In public, in the bathroom stall, at the movies, in a work meeting: answer it!  This may mean ducking your head under the table, but still the call must not be ignored.  Also, never whisper.  Colombians don't know how to do this into their phones.  Whisper and you might as well wave your US Passport over your head like a flag on Independence Day.

2)  Learn to flap your hand and point with your lips.  Embarrassed?  Shocked?  Excited?  (Really, do you have any emotion at all?)  Then flap your hand back and forth really fast.  If you can make a hissing noise by sucking in air through gritted teeth, people may suspect you're gringo even less.  Now ask someone to pass you that glass over there with your lips; just raise your chin a bit and blow that bottle a long extended kiss.  Yes, no one suspects a thing!

3) & 4) Don't read books in public.  This is the quickest way to pick out a gringo.  Gringos read in public for fun.  Colombians are social.  Even with complete strangers.  If there is, for some strange reason, no one to strike up a conversation with, resort to flagrant staring.  Without sunglasses.

5) Think small.  Learn how to make everything diminutive when you speak.  Segundo doesn't exist for you: instead say segunditoratico, or minutico.  See that fat chick over there?  Make yourself feel better and call her gordita instead of gorda.  Is the piece of paper you need smaller than 8 1/2 x 11?  Forget it. The paper could be the size of a Mack truck: call it a papelito and move on.

6) Just dance.  Preferably salsa but that doesn't even matter.  Grab a partner and attempt to copy them and/or those around you.  You get points for effort here.  Everyone dances.  If you stay in your chair and watch, tattoo "foreigner" to your forehead now.

7) Order 'guaro without asking and just start pouring shots.*  Never say "Would anyone like aguardiente?"  Just tell the server to get a bottle; no self-respecting Colombian asks people if they want it.  No self-respecting Colombia declines a shot either; start pouring and sticking those tiny plastic shots under people's unsuspecting noses until they toss it back.
*There is the obvious prerequisite of man-up-and-learn-to-drink-firewater-like-a-champ thing that we'll just blow on past.

8) Stand in front of the doors to the MIO bus and don't move.  Ignore all the space behind you where you could be waiting patiently.  It doesn't matter that the electronic sign says the bus for your route won't be pulling up for another seven minutes; stay put.
Bonus "local points" for giving dirty looks to the people who's bus did just pull up and who had to frantically push by you before the doors slid shut.  How rude of them, right?!?  Clearly you were standing there.

9) Once on the bus, sit in the aisle seat and make people crawl over you.  Look, you got there first.  You might be getting off before this complete stranger you know nothing about.  Heaven forbid you scoot over.  Never mind that this person is huge, pregnant, carrying fifteen bags of groceries, is 105 years old with an oxygen tank, if they want a seat they have to work for it and squeeze between your awkwardly turned body and the seat in front of you.  You do this, you are instantly "local."

10) In a crowded restroom, line up directly behind someone at a urinal or in front of a stall door.  If you decide that standing at the restroom door is a better option you might as well, (a) tie a flashing neon sign above your head saying "not from here" and (b) never get to do your business as everyone will simple walk past you to assume their chosen position.

11) Repeat after me: "There is no such thing as a nasty arepa." A true Colombian loves every and all type of arepa.  Even those disgusting little dry white hockey pucks that come obligatorily on the side of everything.  Bonus points for being able to recommend a place that "has the best arepas in Cali" and offer to take the disgusted person there sometime.

12) & 13) Learn that certain places don't have lines that you need to wait in.  Like the corner bakery.  Or the pharmacy.  Even the airport if you're real ballsy.  Also, as long as you preface your cutting-in with a "peguntica" disclaimer (little tiny question...see #4), that makes it okay.

14) Always know where someplace is.  If some one - foreign or domestic - asks for directions to a place you've never heard of, pretend it is literally right around the corner and send them that way.  Repeatedly use words like "cerquita" and hope they just keep walking and don't come back.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pacific Paradise

The Pacific coast of Colombia will never be a major tourist mecca.  This has nothing to do with the fact that it is mostly rural, jungle, severely under-developed, and a victim of much poverty.  Its the fact that it rains.  It rains a lot.  The Colombian coast on the Pacific ocean is one of the rainiest places on the planet.  However, last weekend the sun made a visit and decided to stick around.

Almost a year ago I took a trip to go sea kayaking with Julio Pérez and Bicivan Tours.  Despite sore shoulders and a bit a sea-sickness, I knew I needed to repeat the adventure once more before my time in Colombia came to a close.  Some new friends had visitors coming for the long weekend, so a group of us formed and set out for the coast.  The sun included.

I knew the excursion would be memorable and a perfect reprieve from the bustle, noise, and grime of Cali, but everything turned out amazingly.  Not only was there the aforementioned sun, but both boat rides from and to the port city of Buenaventura and Juanchaco were amongst the smoothest and shortest I've had the pleasure of taking.  The company was fantastic, the food delicious, and to top it all off, I didn't get more than a small sun burn on my wrist!  A winning weekend all around!

¡Bienvenidos a Juanchaco!
Julio orientating us to the area with a sand-map on the beach.
The kayaks in a secluded cove on one the islands.
Amanda and me surviving our sea cave exploration.
A beautiful day to kayak the Pacific!
*All photos are courtesy of Cassie Supilowski and Julio Pérez (the last one) since I shockingly forgot my camera. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Capital Trip

Colombians are generally not fans of the way Hollywood portrays them in movies.  Type-cast a drug dealer, lately?  Residents of Bogotá, in particular like to cite the 2005 Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie blockbuster Mr. & Mrs. Smith at the top of their grievances.  In the movie, the titular couple are in the capital city where jungle vines encroach on Spanish colonial-style buildings and rain is seen as a refreshing reprieve from the heat of the day. In reality, Bogotá sits at 2,625 meters above sea level (about 8,600 ft) and the residents have wardrobes containing more jackets and scarves than bikinis and bermuda shorts.  To quote the author of the blog Intercultured, "I’d say I spend approximately two-thirds of my life in Bogotá underwater."

Tragically, despite the fact that I've passed through Bogotá many times en route to other locations, either by bus or airplane, I've only spent about 24 hours here as a tourist, and that was one brief day over four years in transit to the Amazon.  This seemed to be a similar theme for five other of my colleagues, so about a month ago we decided to pick a weekend and go. 

One of the first things on our to-do list was visit "La cervecería pequeña más grande de Bogotá" (The largest small brewery in Bogotá), otherwise known as the Bogotá Beer Company.  Their slogan could be adapted to include all of Colombia, as there are few micro-breweries in the country, but until the BBC expands to other cities, they aren't necessarily incorrect.  One company, Bavaria, brews pretty much all the other brands of Colombian beer.  With this kind of monopoly it is not surprising that an artesian start-up could find a niche market.

Sam and Mandi in the BBC lab
BBC Tour stop number one!
The group at the Usaquén location.
The tour started with a pick-up in a company van in front of our hostel, a tour of their small factory, then stops at three restaurant/bars of our choosing throughout the city including a complimentary pint at each stop as well as one appetizer per every two people all for the amazing price of about $30 USD each.  Fascinating tour, informative tasting session, great food, VIP service at every establishment, and a free ride around town made for a pretty great first night out!

The next day we explored the Zona Rosa neighborhood we were staying in then headed to a small city north of Bogotá called Zipaquira.  The main draw of this town in the Salt Cathedral, an actual Catholic church carved deep inside an active salt mine.  I was the lone one to have visited this unique site before, however, I though it would be interesting to see again.  In the last four years there has been some serious work done on the tourist infrastructure, and while not anywhere near amusement park, it is a far cry from the more rustic look the area had on my first visit.

The main "room" inside the catedral de sal from the choir loft.
One of the stations of the Cross.
Later that evening we headed to an iconic Bogotá destination, the restaurant Andrés Carne de Res, located in the municipality of Chía.  If TGIFriday's in the US is considered "kitch" in decor, this is "super-kitch on steroids."  Serving an enormously diverse and international menu, the maze-like restaurant is giant party; emphasis on the word giant.  This is where people go to see and be seen but in the most unpretentious of ways.  Loud but not deafening and bright without being blinding, the entire place is an overload to all the senses.

We kicked off the last day of the weekend with a breakfast at Crepes & Waffles - despite this being available in Cali - and then headed to the Usaquén neighborhood to stroll their weekly Sunday flea and craft market.  Though the weekend was perfectly chill, both in attitude and climate, visiting the bustling and cosmopolitan mountain-top capital city was a perfect and needed break from the "big small town" feel and heat of Cali.

Strolling the streets of barrio Usaquén
Checking out some baked goods
Hipster street musicians outside an Irish Pub?  Why not!
Kelsi takes a break in style, per usual
Two of my favorite things: photography and street art.  ¡Gracias, Bogotá!