San Andres Island

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CameraiPod Touch, 6th Generation

Location: San Andres Island, Colombia

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Cuisine Spotlight – Cazuela

This second post in the new ‘Cuisine Spotlight’ series will focus on another favorite dish of mine here in Colombia, which is known simply as ‘Cazuela.’ Despite the unassuming name, this popular South American dish is quite diverse in what it can offer you when it comes to mealtime. Depending upon what you’re craving, a good cazuela can be made up of seafood, beef, chicken, etc. as its main base food. ‘Cazuela’ is a Spanish word, which roughly translates into ‘Casserole’ in English.

Similar to a casserole, a cazuela dish is a mix and match of different kinds of foods with tasty results. Usually, cazuela is considered to be a soup made up of different vegetables and meats mixed together. You can’t have cazuela without some flavored cooking stock put in there to form the soup-like appearance. Depending upon which South American country you’re visiting or living in, there will be a different spin on what cazuela looks, smells, and tastes like.

In Chile, cazuela comes with a piece of meat, which can either be turkey, pork, chicken, or beef. Specifically, a leg of chicken or some beef ribs will be the meat in the cazuela dish. Underneath the meat would be a piece of pumpkin and individual pieces of potato with a base of white rice doused in the flavored cooking stock. For the vegetables, it varies depending upon the cook’s preference but there’s usually celery, carrots, green beans, cabbage, etc. that are sliced and diced up to be soaked in the cooking stock and added to the rice and meat. In the summer time, some Chileans will add some sweet corn to the vegetable mix. The Chilean version of cazuela is known as being very similar to the ‘Olla podrida’, which is a colonial dish from Spain that has gained in popularity in Chile and other South American nations.

Cazuela is also quite popular in Peru, the southern neighbor of Colombia. Cazuela is often prepared in the Amazonas region of Peru and is made in different ways depending on which area of the department you’re in. For the meat, there are often more creative choices like hen and sheep that are added to cabbage, rice, carrots, and the broth juice. Usually, this kind of cazuela is cooked over a flame in a sauce pot as its mixed together and served to a large group of people.

Beyond just being a soup or a casserole, Cazuela can also be made into a traditional kind of pie as it is in Puerto Rico. During Christmas season, the Cazuela pie is made up of sweet potato, pumpkin, and coconut milk. It’s quite a popular desert that is easy to make and is popular for its’ sweet flavor and light texture.

Multiple countries in Spain, Ecuador, and Colombia have embraced the ‘Cazuela de Mariscos’, which is made up of a number of different kinds of seafood. The Colombian version is easy to make and is known for being a thick kind of soup and also is rumored to be an ‘aphrodisiac.’ The seafood that comes in the soup includes calamari squid, prawns, clams, shrimp, and small pieces of fish.

The kind of ingredients you want to add are olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves, coconut milk, white wine, some seasoning, heavy cream and minced garlic. To top it off, you need some vegetables including carrots, celery, red pepper, tomatoes, and bouillons. You got to mix up everything together, serve it in a clay pot or bowl, and enjoy the delicious broth and food. Sometimes, you can find that there are cazuelas for shrimp or prawns separately which can come with rice and a heavy broth mixed together with the seafood.

The type of cazuela that I have become most familiar with over the past couple of months is the ‘cazuela antioquena.’ You can find it throughout the department of Antioquia and most commonly in the city of Medellin. I find it to be unique compared to other kinds of cazuelas given the emphasis on ingredients that are known well to Paisas making it a local favorite.

You start with a base of Antioquian brown beans mixed in with some white rice. On top of that is the meat, which are usually ‘chicharron’ or fried pork belly and some cooked chorizo. Instead of more common vegetables like celery and carrot, this favorite dish of Antioquia comes with pieces of avocado and some cut-up sweet plantains. To add some flavor, the Colombian creole sauce known as ‘Hogao’ is mixed among the meat, plantains, avocado, rice, and beans.

Like many other local dishes here, a small arepa is added to the mix, and placed at the top of the ‘cazuela antioquena’ to be eaten with the rice, beans, chorizo and whatever else would go along well with the arepa. Second only to the ‘Bandeja Paisa’, the ‘cazuela antioquena’ is likely to be a fulfilling dish for lunch that can satisfy your cravings for some local cuisine.

It’s likely that you’ll run into some kind of ‘cazuela’ if you’re traveling or living in South America. The various kinds of cazuela unique to a certain country or region makes it an exciting dish due to its diversity. Whether it’s meat, seafood, vegetables, rice, and beans in the cazuela, it’s important to bring a big appetite to the table because it’s likely to fill you up and leave you satisfied.

Valle del Cocora

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Valle del Cocora; Salento, Quindio, Colombia

The Coffee Farm

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Hacienda Venecia Coffee Farm; Manizales, Caldas, Colombia

View From The Top

Tired and thirsty, my friend and I had finally reached the glorious peak at ‘La Piedra’ or ‘El Peñol del Piedra’, which loosely translates in English to ‘The Stone.’ It was quite a physically taxing climb up to the top of the rock as my legs burned and my feet became sore as my friend and I ascended the 750 steps along with some steep hiking up a good-sized hill to get to the base of the ‘La Piedra’ rock.

I came to Guatepe partly after hearing from friends in Medellin on how beautiful and unique it was and after seeing various pictures of the stunning landscapes that make up this tranquil part of Antioquia. I was skeptical of the place and didn’t think that it would live up to the hype but I am happy to say that I was completely wrong. Out of all the places I’ve visited and the landscapes I’ve traversed, Guatepe is a really special place to visit. The area is made up of dozens of intertwining, clear blue lakes surrounded by the greenest forestry you could imagine with soil rich in different colors. My friend compared it to the southern United States and thought that it was similar to the state of North Carolina. To me, that’s part of the beauty of Colombia in that there are so many varied landscapes. You could sometimes wonder whether or not you’re in a different country entirely depending on if you’re in Atlantico or in Antioquia.

The landscapes were beautiful, the air was clean, the people were friendly, and the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ was unbeatable. A 360-degree vista of all of the lakes, hills, and greenery that make up Guatepe was quite breathtaking and peaceful to behold. It helped that my friend and I had great weather to enjoy where the skies were clear blue and the bright sun was shining down on us.

It was really pleasant to take pictures, to soak up the view, and to have a cold drink after the long journey to the top. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape but walking up the steep 750 steps is not for everyone and it really is quite the challenge. While it’s not insurmountable, your feet and legs feel the pain and you wonder when the full view is going to come into play. At ‘La Piedra’, they really make the tourists and the visitors to the rock work for it. There are no escalators or elevators. You have to pay for admission and if you don’t make it to the top, you don’t get your money back. Like a lot of things in life, you have to invest yourself physically and mentally in order to reap the benefits.

Similar to many other moments in life, I reflected on those 750 steps of ‘La Piedra’ as being a necessary yet temporary struggle to reach the top and enjoy the view. For me, it wouldn’t have been as worthwhile at all to check out ‘La Piedra’ if there were an escalator or an elevator to shortcut the journey. I believe that I enjoyed the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ much more given the fact that I was tired, hungry, and in need of a rest. The struggle was tough enough for me that as a result, the ultimate reward became more fulfilling. If the climb up had been much easier, it simply would have been less rewarding. Because the views from this rock were magnificent, I was willing to climb the 750 steps to get to the top. Sometimes in life, the struggle is worth the reward.

Whether it’s traveling to a new country, starting a new job, moving to a new place, or working on a blog, there’s going to be some struggles and setbacks involved. Sometimes, you’re going to have to decide whether the sacrifices you make and the challenges you have to overcome are enough to justify the rewards. Nothing in life is as easy as it seems and if it appears that way, you may be let down when the reward or success you’ve seen from it doesn’t feel as good as a result. It’s important to realize that working hard and trying new things can lead to failure but it can also lead to a success that’s more whole and fulfilling.

Putting blood, sweat, and tears, into a project, a job, or a relationship takes a lot of work but you can rest easy knowing that it was your labor, which brought it into fruition. If everything in life is simply handed to you, you may feel happy and experience pleasure from it in the short-term but it’s likely to make you miserable in the long-term. Being able to exert yourself in the world physically or mentally can give you a much more lasting feeling of success and contentment. While I would have been happy with the ‘view from the top’ had there been an elevator for tourists like me to go to the top, I felt much more relieved and excited from the view after step #750 because it was the sweat and the toil to get up there physically that filled me with contentedness and satisfaction.

Before I left Guatepe, I wanted to see more of the area so I rented a kayak in the morning and set out by myself. I untied the canoe, got ahold of the equipment and the oars, and pushed the kayak out into the open waters. The day before, I had viewed Guatepe from the top but now I was back on level ground exerting myself physically stroke by stroke on a two-seater kayak in order to enjoy the scenery, and the peaceful quiet of a Sunday morning.

For anybody who’s done kayaking by themselves before should know, it’s a struggle at first to steer the kayak and to move in sync with the tide. Like the day before, I was challenging myself physically and thus, I felt more rewarded when I was able to glide by the birds chirping, the local residents fishing, and taking in the sheer greenery of Guatepe. I have to say it was a good way to end my weekend trip to that part of Antioquia, which is a truly beautiful and well-preserved area of Colombia.

I hope to get across to my readers that it’s very likely in life that you’ll get the most satisfaction from those challenges you endured and personally overcome. Whether it’s that huge rock in Guatepe you climbed or that successful business you started on your own time and with your own money, these efforts will create sustainable happiness and noticeable self-confidence. It’s not easy to get to the top and that’s why you have to work hard and exert yourself in order to enjoy the view.

 

Guatepe and La Piedra

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Guatepe, Antioquia, Colombia

A Weekend In Santa Marta

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“Santa Marta Marina”

Santa Marta is an undiscovered gem of a city located on the northeastern tip of Atlantic coast of Colombia. I say that it’s an ‘undiscovered gem’ because it usually flies under the radar when compared to its’ coastal counterparts of Cartagena and Barranquilla. Still though, for Colombians and foreigners alike on vacation, Santa Marta has a lot to offer its’ visitors. I was drawn to Santa Marta a couple of months ago when I visited its’ neighboring town of Minca, which is also quite beautiful and full of lush scenery up in the mountains. Unfortunately, I did not get to spend much time in Santa Marta so I decided that during my 2nd time living in Colombia, I could not pass up the chance to visit this city if I had the chance.

Luckily, due to the recent religious holiday observed in Colombia which falls on a Monday, I was able to make my return to the Atlantic coast via Santa Marta for a long weekend and I had a great time overall. Even with three full days, I felt like I could have done and seen even more so if you’re planning on coming to Santa Marta, five days or so and that should be enough to cover everything. Due to the fact that I live in Medellin, which is surrounded by mountains with no sea in sight, I took full advantage of my time on the coast by hitting up the local beaches, sampling some great seafood and doing some hiking.

Santa Marta is a small and navigable city, which made it easier to visit for a long weekend. The locals I met were extremely helpful to me, and especially the taxi drivers who were patient with my handwritten directions. The historic center of Santa Marta was well preserved in my opinion and very walkable. There are a lot of bars and restaurants located around the Parque de Los Novios, which made it easy for me to choose places to eat and drink. Beyond that, you can easily go to La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, which is place where the liberator of most of South America died in 1830. The hacienda is a museum, resting place, and has a really nice art gallery as well.

My recent trip mostly focused on visiting the different beaches located in Santa Marta, Rodadero, and Parque Tayrona. Santa Marta has many public beaches, which I found to be refreshing because there are a lot of hotels and private apartments located close to the sea but families and locals can mix with tourists to enjoy the beaches as well in the city. I found that to be a great idea and a contrast to other places, which have private beaches that only guests of the hotel or apartment can use freely. The public beach in Santa Marta is clean and nice to swim in but it can become quite crowded especially on holiday weekends.

The highlight of my trip was a visit to Parque Tayrona, one of the biggest and most popular national parks in Colombia. Well-preserved, pristine beaches, and great hiking opportunities, Parque Tayrona is the reason a lot of tourists come to Santa Marta in the first place. The park offers a lot of beautiful natural scenery of mountains, trees, and small rivers, which you can hike through for a day or more. Some visitors choose to spend a night or more in the park because it’s too big and vast to spend only a day there. The beaches are especially gorgeous because they are quite unspoiled and have no trash or residue of human presence for the most part. The water is clear, blue, and enjoyable to swim in. There’s a powerful rip-toe and large waves so be careful if you are to go swimming in some of the beaches there.

The particular beach that I visited, which is called Arrecifes, was barely inhabited and I enjoyed my time swimming, sunbathing, and listening to the clear sound of the waves without a care in the world. It was a very rewarding feeling to soak myself in the waters of the Atlantic again after a long day of waiting to get into the park and hiking through the park. For a couple of hours, I had the whole beach to myself so I was able to hear the sounds of the waves uninterrupted without any outside noise or voices to disturb the flow of nature. If there is one regret I have about the park is that I did not have enough time to see other beaches and that I should have woken up earlier to get into the park without waiting in line. If you plan on coming to Tayrona, make sure to get there by 8 or 9 AM, otherwise you will be waiting for a while to get in.

Before I left Santa Marta, I made sure to check out Rodadero, which was very different from Santa Marta and felt more like Miami Beach. High-rises, hotels, and apartments make up quite the skyline for this small city, which sits between the mountains and the coast. Rodadero is a great hub for restaurants and nightlife but also has nice public beaches which locals and tourists can enjoy alike. On my last day in the area, I decided to check out Playa Blanca, which was well worth the boat trip. Having a nice, private cabana that kept me out of the sun was welcome after two previous days in the sun. If you can’t make it to Parque Tayrona, spending the day in Rodadero is a great back up plan especially if you can make it to Playa Blanca where it’s less crowded and the water is crystal blue.

In addition to swimming and sunbathing, there are a multitude of activities to take part in. The fishing village of Taganga, which is nice to check out for a day due to its’ coastal style boardwalk also offers diving classes if you’re into learning that skill. There are also numerous tour groups offering snorkeling, hiking trips in the Santa Marta area for reasonable prices. If you’re feeling more leisurely, you can go jet skiing, banana boat riding, canoeing, and paddle boarding if that suits your fancy. The multitude of activities and places to visit in the area make it clear that Santa Marta is worth at least five days or so if you want to explore each nook and cranny of what the area has to offer. You simply can’t be bored if you decide to visit.

Despite being relatively undiscovered when compared to Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, and other vacation getaways, Santa Marta is a city on the rise and its’ making a lot of progress in developing its’ tourism infrastructure. There are many cranes working on building the next hotel or apartment complex especially in Rodadero. The Santa Marta airport, which may be the smallest airport I’ve ever visited is getting a makeover and is going through a lot of construction in order to make it a hub for Colombians and tourists alike. With investments in infrastructure and education, Santa Marta will continue to grow in popularity.

I hope that tourists will continue to get along with the locals and respect the great natural beauty of the area especially in Parque Tayrona. The one thing that was difficult for me to deal with was the coastal humidity, which will cause you to sweat like no other. Be prepared to be hot but you get used to it eventually. Lastly, using AirBNB to meet some locals was really nice and I highly recommend the online service to my readers. Just make sure to do your research first and choose places to stay, which are conducive to your travel needs. A holiday weekend well spent in my opinion and I have a feeling that I will be back in Santa Marta one day soon. Parque Tayrona and Rodadero were my favorite parts of the trip and I’m sure others will enjoy those places too if they choose to visit this great area of the country.