El SINFIN #6: From Colorado to the Colombian Highlands; The Journey Continues…

Ahh…Welcome Back to the World

Welcome dear readers to the first ESF of 2011, brought to you from the sweet tropical heat of Taganga.  As you can tell, I have once again decided to saddle up and see what the world has to offer.  This time, I am traveling with my long time friend Jordan, who has been traveling for five months through the wilds of Central America since we said goodbye not so long ago in Tulum.

First off, I’d like to thank you all for bearing with my lack of posts the last 5 months as I pit-stopped in Colorado.  Was there anything to post about? Not really.  As this is a travel blog I’d rather not bore you with the tawdry details of my life in my hometown.   They are not even that tawdry, to be frank.  I would like to share however, the last recipe I collected before leaving Tulum, a classic roadside stand grilled chicken that’s worth its weight in well, delicious chicken goodness.

Roadside Grilled Chicken

1 chicken, butterflied the standard way (cut through the backbone) or the Mexican way (cut through the breastbone), or quartered.

1/2 cup pineapple juice

1/2 cup bitter orange ( for the vast majority that can’t get this  Yucatecan fruit, 1/4 cup each of lemon juice and orange juice will suffice)

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. Achiote powder ( a.k.a. Ground annato)

2 tsp. black pepper

1 Tb salt

Blend all ingredients and marinate chicken 1/2 hour before grilling over medium-hot grill, allow to blacken on the edges but not burn.   Serve with Salsa Verde, pickled onions and fresh tortillas or rice.

Finally Leaving (or at least it seemed that way).

Due to the monster storm seemingly enveloping the entire USA on the day I was ticketed to leave, I was forced to push my trip back a couple days.  I finally made it to a frigid although largely unobstructed New York City with a layover sufficient to call everyone I knew there and have an excellent Chinese New Year’s dinner at Nonya, a Malaysian/Indonesian spot in Chinatown.  Highlights include this salad, which included strips of dried along with candied grapefruit, jellyfish, crispy noodles, cabbage and other mysterious goodies. Also, Shrimp with Eggplant, Crab with Malaysian seasoning.  Wish we had some rabbit…(this year in the Chinese calendar is that of the rabbit, probably bad luck though).  Also- Everyone giving me their cheesiest grins and hugs  for the road, and a steamy noodle kitchen in Chinatown.

Brooklyn- Bogotá

I got into Bogotá in the afternoon after a near miss with my car service at 4:30 am and a fairly seamless travel the rest of the day.  Colombia’s capital city was overcast, though the drizzle and my combined 3 1/2 hours of sleep the two nights previous could not conspire to overshadow my enthusiasm.  The verdant Andes loom mockingly over the high rises that triumphantly mark Bogotá’s string of neighborhoods running chiefly in a North-South grid.  I was immediately taken by the orderliness and cleanliness of the capital city of 8 million, which to me seemed far more European in its architecture and wide avenues then Latin American.  After my taxi got lost and got a flat on the way to the hostal, (which by the way was right next to perhaps the city’s first and probably most famous square el Chorro de Quevedo) I finally arrived to the hostal, ringed by college kids playing music, talking and hanging out.  Bogotá has an extremely vibrant youth culture, with kids reaching a critical mass on weekend nights, and basically taking over the streets of districts  Candelaria (the colonial “old town”) and La Zona Rosa (the nightclub district), as well as numerous other neighborhoods.  Sunday the city hosts Ciclo Via, where La Septima, one of the city’s main throughfares is closed to cars and open to bikes and pedestrians.   A shot of the author enjoying a ride around the city:


Had this very delicious and typical Colombian dish at a little place near the Hotel Buenavista.  It consisted of braised oxtail, accompanied by rice, a simple salad of greens with sesame seeds and mango dressing,  fried potato and stewed lentils, served with Caldo and guava juice.

Colombian food is typically quite good and fresh, although can depend greatly according to location.  Breakfast is simple, usually an Arepa (a thick corn patty formed by hand or purchased and pan or deep fried) or bread, or Huevos Pericos (eggs with onion and tomato), which are at their best served a la Cazuela, or frittata style in an heated iron pan, accompanied by Tinto or Café con Leche (coffee black or with milk) or Chocolate, and sometimes accompanied with Caldo. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and is usually started with a Caldo, usually a chicken stock thickened with potato or Yuca (a staple of Colombian cuisine, also known as manioc or cassava) and seasoned with scallions, Guasca (an herb ubiquitous in Colombian cooking, with a flavor somewhere between cilantro and parsley), accompanied by chunks of plantain, yuca, or sweet potato.  The typical dish of Bogotá is Ajiaco, a thickened Caldo with chicken meat, sausages and at least two different potatoes, and capers.   All meals are accompanied by Ají, the Colombian version of salsa, usually consisting of tomato, chili, vinegar, sugar, and scallions.  Lunch is served at typical cafés as a “Comida Corriente” or quick lunch,with a meat or chicken main is accompanied by salad, caldo, rice, and bread or Arepas, as well as sometimes by desert.  Dinner is treated more as a glorified snack, and often consists of street foods such as Empanadas (dough made with boiled yuca, thickened with corn flour, stuffed with rice, meat, eggs or fish and fried), Papa rellenas (a mashed potato dumpling usually filled with ground meat and fried), or grilled meats on stick with roasted, salted potatoes, fried chorizos, or Patacones (plantains rolled into a sort of pancake and griddled or fried).


by the chaos of the city and not quite ready for the critical mass of youth energy in Bogotá, we decided to head for the calm of nearby Villa de Leyva, a quiet colonial town about two hours north of the capital. Some shots from Renacer (rebirth), the beautiful hostel where we stayed.

After relaxing and hiking the nearby countryside for a few days, maximizing our time in the cool climate and forested hills, we headed for San Gil, the so-called extreme sports capital of Colombia in the state of Santander, a few hours to the south.  There, we explored nearby swimming hole and waterfalls at Pozo Azul, as well as going paragliding.  This consists of a double seated harness which is attached to a parachute which is controlled by a pilot via a system of pulleys and handles.  The passenger (me) is hoisted into the air via an updraft, and the sport is done atop a very windy hill.  It is not as quite as dangerous as it sounds, because, worst case scenario, you are still strapped into a parachute.  The sensation of climbing slowly up on updrafts while taking in the birds-eye view of the canopied forests below only to spiral down at breakneck g-forces towards the ground can only be described as dreamlike.    Later I met some musicians who urged me to strum a bit in an after-hours sort of way, who then invited me to play with them the following night at a cafe nearby, which ultimately led to a late night jam at Cafe Con-Verso with this really wonderful old man who played the accordion  and was thrilled to see my guitar and hear me play the blues. Fun.

Day-tripped to the nearby colonial town of Barichara, where we had this tremendous assortment of meats, all roasted, dripping with juice and finished with butter bread crumbs.  The highlight was the Cuaro, the slow roasted neck vertebrae of the cow, which was tender and flavorful.  Another common dish in the highlands is Carne Horeada, which is thinly sliced meat which is salted and left in the sun a few hours to cure before grilling, which lends some depth to the flavor and is quite good when done correctly (sort of like crash-aged beef).  Before/After:

The official food of the state of Santander is the Hormiga Culona (or big-bootied ant.  Seriously.) , which are queen ants with the wings and legs removed, boiled until soft and then flame roasted with salt.   Some cool shots of the sunset from the cliffs atop Barichara.

All the Way to the Beach

Suddenly had an urge to shed my five-month anti-tan complexion and we made a bee-line for  the beach after a quick stay in Bucaramanga.   We have been hanging out here in the fishing town of Taganga where we are sitting pretty at a hammock hotel where we are paying about $2 a night to sling our swinging beds, and heading down to the beach for the catch of the day.  I’ll leave you with some choice shots of our romp in nearby Parque Nacional Natural de Tayrona (Tayrona National Park) where we spent a few days swimming, hiking and exploring the vast and ancient humid forests, rivers and terraced ancient cities of El Pueblito.

Thanks to Jordan for the photos and lessons

Published in: on February 26, 2011 at 10:17 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I aspire to be more like you, Mr. Neff. Take care and keep on keepin’ on.

  2. Hey Michael great to hear from you again. I’ll try the roadside chicken this weekend . Safe travels; Mark

  3. Michael: I’m Jessica’s aunt, Paula’s sister. We’ve met, albeit awhile ago and among lots of other people. I am envious of your travels and hope to receive your postings as you skip through the world.
    Happy travels.

  4. Hey, Mike! It’s Allison from New York. Just saw your blog linked on Charles’s Facebook and it looks great! Super delicious…I’ve been thinking about that grilled chicken all day! Keep up the cool stories and gorgeous pictures.

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