Recipes from the Road

A few weeks ago Katrina posted a list of some of the best food we’d had on our trip through Central and South America and in my last blog I mentioned the amazing Chicken Parmigiana we gorged on in Paraty, Brazil.

I’m not sure how this recipes has become associated with Brazil but we saw it on menus all the time, while the breaded chicken it’s formed of is pretty much the milanesas that form part of cheap set menus throughout Latin America.

Chicken Parmigiana as we had it is effectively a breaded chicken breast smothered in cheese and a tomato sauce, so a really simple first recipe for this blog.

20130215-205631.jpg

To make this recipe you will need:

Fresh chicken breasts (1 per person)
2 slices of white bread
50 grams of plain flour
1 egg
150 grams of mature cheddar cheese
1 tin of tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic
A good handful of fresh basil
1-2 fresh chillies
A splash of balsamic vinegar

How to make this recipe

Flatten the chicken breasts with a mallet or rolling pin. Beat up the egg and dip the chicken breasts in it. Make breadcrumbs by putting the bread in a food processor, season well and coat the chicken breasts.

Fry off the chicken breasts on either side until cooked through and the outsides are nice and golden, add any leftover egg and bread to the top of them. Pre heat the grill to finish them off.

To make the sauce, fry off the garlic and chillies in a pan with a little oil. Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes or so. Add the vinegar and basil towards the end of this process.

Cover the chicken breasts in the the sauce and liberally cover with the cheese. Grill until the cheese has melted and is starting to crisp on top.

Serve with chips and salad.

 
 
Advertisements

And finally….Brazil

After about 8 months of travelling we reached our final country, Brazil. This presented a problem as despite looking very similar in writing, Portuguese is spoken completely differently to Spanish!

Our main reason for visiting Brazil was the lure of Rio de Janeiro and the cheap flight back home however we took in a couple of other places along the way. First a stop in Sao Paulo before stopping in the colonial town of Paraty on the way to Rio.

Our patience for long bus journeys was wearing thin, and the thought of a 16 hour schlep from Foz do Iguacu to Sao Paulo wasn’t attractive so for the first time we booked a one way flight to Sao Paulo. The sun had not even come up as the flight took off, and having spent the night in a tent in the back garden of a hostel to save money we were already wondering if it was such a good idea.

The famed traffic jams of Brazil’s economic capital didn’t help the grogginess as the bus into the city centre crawled along the highway into the centre, I still chuckled upon seeing it was named after Ayrton Senna as we struggled to get over 15 mph at any moment. Several hours after landing we reached our bed for the night, soaked to the skin due to the torrential rain. Despite just 24 hours in the city, a nap was in order!

Fully refreshed and ready to explore we went to check out the city which although not full of sights and attractions is an interesting place to get a feel for modern Brazil. Busy, bustling and fueled by immigrant labour Sao Paulo has a very cosmopolitan feel about it. Our highlight was the Liberdade district, historically the hub of the huge Japanese population in Brazil and now home to many other Asian migrants. A huge Japanese torii or arch marks the entrance to the neighbourhood while street lamps and signs point to a world many miles from Brazil.

305949_10100583996525078_229756448_n

Missing Asia a little bit myself we sought out some amazing food, possibly the best Katsu curry I’ve ever tasted and perused the shops and supermarkets, picking up some pork steamed buns we hadn’t seen since Panama. Perfect to cook in the apartment we had booked in our next destination.

That destination was Paraty, a small colonial town by the sea of which we’d heard many good things. Upon our visit we had found it was a national holiday weekend and every hotel and hostel in the town was booked, thankfully we booked the last two available bus tickets the night before and arranged accommodation through Airbnb.

Paraty was supposed to be our relaxing coastal town where we could relax on the beach, top up our tans and chill out before heading home. Unfortunately the torrential rain that was hitting Sao Paulo was also hitting Paraty and the next 5 days were pretty much a washout.

Even so I’m glad we visited Paraty, the old town is incredibly quaint and attractive to wander around without feeling too overcrowded as most of the tourists are domestic. Despite its colonial past the nature of the town felt very different to many colonial towns we’d visited on the other side of the continent in terms of the architecture, the food, sounds and atmosphere of the place.

486d0f4a331b11e2b53822000a1f96e6_7

And then we come to the drinks where Brazil is the home of the caipirinha, a concoction of cachaça (a sugar cane spirit similar to white rum), lime and a lot of sugar. Drinking these from street stalls in the town square in the evening when the rain had calmed will bring a smile to anyone’s face.

e533beee335e11e2b46022000a1deae2_7

Despite the washout, we’d still loved Paraty and made the most of the time to chill out, read, eat (I’ll post my recipe for an incredible chicken parmigiana we had in Paraty on here later), sup cocktails and on our last day we bit the bullet and took a boat trip off the coast on another grey, wet day.

Incredibly we had an awesome trip despite the weather getting to know some Paulistas who were keen on a party whatever the weather! We must have been so out of touch with music while travelling as this was how we were introduced to the infamous Gangnam Style, and I’ll never forget it!

DSCF7800

With a touch a sadness but a lot of excitement we boarded our final bus (hooray!) and headed for Rio.

We were told the weather in Rio is usually pretty similar to Paraty and we could expect more rain so we couldn’t be more surprised to arrive in glorious sunshine! We booked a ticket on the last Corcovado train of the day for the Cristo Redentor statue that watches over the city.

83371b2e342011e29ade22000a1f9bd0_7

This left us time to explore the area around our hostel for a few hours as the queues on earlier trains died down but by the time we returned to the station the fog was rolling in. The statue as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog is amazing up close and the view from the top of the mountain is breathtaking, especially when you can see through the breaks in the cloud!

7fbc8b4433d211e2b0c912313d31f28c_7

Thankfully that wasn’t our only chance to take in the views of Rio and does give me the opportunity to bombard by blog with photos of such an amazing city. Just a couple of days later we were heading up Sugar Loaf mountain on the 100 year old cable car to check out the view from there.

8c21b466356e11e2b52d22000a9f189b_7

Sugar Loaf mountain is perhaps the most striking of the peaks surrounding Rio for its viewpoint over the beaches as it juts out over the Atlantic. From here you can check out the Botofago area and watch the planes coming in and out of the nearby domestic airport. We took a slightly different flight from the helipad halfway up the mountain.

3763477834a111e2a5bc22000a9e2899_7

Ever since seeing the Idiot Abroad episode in Rio where Karl comes to see ‘the Jesus thing’ I have wanted to go in a helicopter over the city. With some birthday money from Katrina’s parents towards the cost of the flight we took off from Sugar Loaf Mountain, along the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, over the lagoon in the middle of the city and around the Cristo Redentor or ‘Jesus Thing’. I’m lost for words to describe it, but it was incredible and put our flight over the Nazca Lines a few months previously to shame.

1e1aa1a4368a11e2930d22000a9f12ad_7

After Rio’s views from above we can get to the sights on the ground and for us that was on the beach. We couldn’t have been more keen to get some sun on our backs at the beach and after all Rio is famous for them. Walking down Copacabana one gets the idea how on days off most of the city comes here packed close together to relax, drink caipirinhas, show off their football skills on beach volleyball courts and generally just be cool. I’ve pretty much decided I have to live there at some point in my life!

a95c357637ec11e2b4ea22000a1fbdb0_7

We spent quite a few afternoons chilling out on Ipanema beach and like to think we found the right spot. Different social scenes choose different parts of the beach, many on Copacabana will consider themselves more working class while there are sectors for the cultural crowd, gay community and very pretty girls on Ipanema, I like to think we found the latter. If you love cities with a cafe culture for people watching, well Rio tops that by a long way! Even the vendors on the beach all have their own fun character selling everything from iced tea (mate) to bikinis and inflatable balls.

c6d5c23638e411e282e122000a1f9aae_7

Ipanema is also where to congregate to watch one of the great South American sunsets as beachgoers congregate on the rocky headland at the end of the strip to watch the sun go down and even applaud as the last sliver disappears on the horizon.

3d92429633e011e2b4ee22000a1fbe6d_7

On our last day on the beach the sea was incredibly rough, leaving it open to only the strongest/bravest/most stupid swimmers. While cooling off I had the awkward British moment of handing a Brazilian girl her bikini top back after she was knocked over by a wave while moments later a rescue helicopter was summoned to fish out some kids who had been caught by the current.

DSC02439

One other place in Rio I need to talk about in this blog is the Escadaria Selaron. These stairs are named after a Chilean artist who started decorating them over a period of about 20 years as a labour of love to the city of Rio. The steps constantly changed over time with new tiles sent from all over the world as the work gained popularity while much of the work was funded through sales of one his favourite paintings. Sadly in January 2013, the creator Jorge Selaron was found dead on these steps and it is not entirely clear it was from natural causes. I hope his work will be taken on by somebody else as the Escadaria Selaron really is a great place to visit in Rio.

9688fc7e362d11e281d822000a1f9682_7

So we’ve done the sights and the beaches. Next is the nightlife. We felt we were missing out while we were there despite it not being carnival time as Rio felt a bit quiet at night. To put a stop to this we headed to the Friday night street party in the Lapa District (quite close to the Escadaria Selaron). Around midnight the streets are filled with caipirinha vendors making the biggest, best, strongest and cheapest cocktails you are likely to find in any city – ours were about £1 each for something the size of a pint.

The bars, music, dancers and drink spill onto the streets and gave a great taste of what the city must be like during carnival, a real shame I’m not there as a write my blog!

Shortly after that night and another afternoon on the beach it was time to head to the airport and home with mixed feelings. Great to end to the trip on a high and take some rest from travelling (sounds crazy I know but it is true) but really sad to end what will go down as one of the best experiences of my life.

The (very long) Road to Rio: Part 2 – Argentina

Following on from my last post about the final weeks of my Latin American journey, I thought I’d quickly follow on from Chile to Argentina.

Many travellers rave about Argentina, they talk about the passion of the place and how much a backpacker can enjoy Argentina on a budget. Well right now, it isn’t. Let’s get that out the way straight away. As you may have seen in the news, Argentina is currently battling the onset of another financial crisis. Recently there have been strikers, protests, the nationalisation of a major oil company and a ban on the withdrawal of US Dollars from ATMs. Throw in some more fuss about the Falklands to try and dilute the bad news and you’re there or thereabouts.

As a backpacker, the main impact on us was the rate to withdraw pesos being artificially high and increasing the cost of everything to us. Anyone reading this before visiting Argentina might like to know that you can get more bang for your buck if you take in cash and exchange it on the black market for a 50% premium.

Like this blog, I didn’t warm immediately to Argentina either following a rather scenic final trip back over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza – the next time I do a trip like this I want a car or a motorbike to take advantage of journeys like that. Alas, upon arriving at the bus station in Mendoza I set about task number one, find cash! With some spare Chilean Pesos, the tourist information kiosk seemed a sensible option to ask about a currency exchange. The result was a grumpy look from the woman behind it, a grunt followed by her returning to staring into space. Ho hum.

Next to search for an ATM which after a very long queue decided not to work with any of my bank cards. Great. Katrina however did manage to elicit some money from it, in huge denominations, which left us wanting some smaller change for the cab journey into town. Attempting to do this by purchasing something of low value like a Coke was utterly useless, one shopkeeper slamming on the counter, shouting something I couldn’t understand and putting the item back in the cooler. By this point I just assumed I’d got out the wrong side of the bed that morning. A feeling only reinforced by almost all the hotels and hostels in town having no vacancies.

Mendoza’s major attraction to backpackers is wine. Having decided to skip a wine tour it would have been rude not to do one in Argentina, especially being a country whose wine I knew virtually nothing about.

vineyad

I probably learnt more Spanish than I did about wine on our tour, with it being taken almost exclusively by domestic tourists from Buenos Aires. Any tour was going to have a hard job living up to my last wine tasting experience in South Africa and that’s perhaps why I didn’t get into this one as much. Compared to Chilean reds I found Argentinian Malbecs less appetising, some of them even vinegary. Our final tour stop was situated next to an enormous oil refinery, now I’m not a sommelier but I think that impacts the terrior. Mmm….sulphur.

Moving on from Mendoza to Buenos Aires on board a rather plush yet ludicrously expensive bus. They seriously need to get Megabus out here when bus fares, albeit for 13 hours approach £100 each way. In the UK journeys of that length can be had from £1 up to about £50. Despite the comfy bus I still didn’t sleep thanks to a man who snored like a hippo with a cold. The relief upon reaching Buenos Aires was immeasurable.

Buenos Aires is a soulful city, something that I always talk about loving. There’s a kind of grungy, faded, hipster type scene to much of the city against a backdrop of European style architecture. It’s a port city with rougher, working class suburbs as well as wealthier areas like Palermo that have prospered from the trade. I liked it, another city to wander and take it  all in.

The spirit of Evita still lives on in BA with a large iron cladding on a skyscraper looming over the massive main boulevard through the city, as well as her tomb at the impressive cemetery in leafy Palermo. Much of the time in the city I was whistling “Don’t Cry for me Argentina”.

evita

This all completely contrasts with the areas of San Telmo and La Boca, more traditionally down to earth and working class neighbourhoods. With a cafe culture (albeit heavily tailored towards tourists), some cool antique markets and an interesting back drop makes for a really interesting place to explore. We took in some tango dancing in a square, some fairly mediocre and some incredible to watch. Despite being a bit of a cop out when it comes to dancing I kind of wanted to have a go, were it not for my ankle.

tango

Moving into La Boca, a more working class neighbourhood than San Telmo (read rougher round the edges), my first thoughts were to head for La Bombonera – home of Boca Juniors. It really has the feel of an old fashioned football ground in the heartland of its supporters and had me wanting to go to a game but I’ll get to that.

Heading further into La Boca I was taken by the colourfully painted houses and the local pride in their area, something not so common in places like that in the UK. Past that and we came to another touristy area with more cafes, shops and tango before hitting the old harbour and checking out the Transporter Bridge, a bit like the one back home in Middlesbrough.

La Boca

There is such a difference between the Palermo area of Buenos Aires compared to La Boca, and hence part of the reason for the big football rivalry. But the next day we felt like going posh again to take in one of Argentina’s most famous sports, Polo. Tally ho!

Polo

Wealthy British expats brought Polo to Buenos Aires in the late 19th Century and the game is still played today by wealthy Argentinians at the same members clubs as set up by the British. We took in a match at the Hurlingham Tournament, one of the big 3 events of the year at the club of the same name. Despite now understanding the rules, it was a fun new sport to watch with a rather different sort of person in attendance in comparison to anything else we’d see on our entire trip. High scoring, fast paced, with regular intervals it seemed something ice hockey or football fans could enjoy, albeit while rather well dressed and soaking in the gorgeous grounds of the club. Catching the commuter train back into BA afterwards did feel like a bit of a come down.

That said, Argentina does have the perfect evening pick me up. Steak. Really, really good steak! Whether it’s the quality of how the cows are raised, how the meat hung to mature or the way it’s cooked, I’m not really sure. What I do know is every time I had steak throughout Argentina it was incredible. Just a little tip for those like me who enjoy a nice bloody steak, you’ll need to emphasise ‘azul’ or ‘con sangre’ to the waiter, Argentinians often like a steak well cooked through. Sadly, I haven’t got a clue for the name of the place we liked best in BA – but it’s in San Telmo and you’ll get an huge steak with some delicious sides to compliment.

After wandering around La Boca a few days earlier and admiring La Bonbonera, the home of Boca Juniors, I wanted to catch a game. Football withdrawal symptoms were kicking in having only seen only match in months, back in Medellin.

There’s lots of stuff out there about watching a Boca Juniors game, which I read before we started our ticket mission. To cut a long story short, football violence in Argentina historically has been shocking and government efforts to curb this require clubs to control who can attend games. In the case of Boca, this has landed with their ‘football mafia’ – a collection of armed, wealthy and aggressive gangs who control ticketing, security and allegedly with threaten their own players and families should they perform poorly while receiving a cut of their salaries.

When it comes to actually purchasing the ticket for Boca, you can’t directly without a membership. This leaves two options as a tourist, pay an eyewateringly high fee of around $100 each to a tourist agency to attend in a group or purchase a ticket from a tout. So many conflicting things are said about these tickets so feeling a bit nervy we set off to the stadium early. A look around showed a few touts circling the stadium and after a little checking and negotiation picked up 2 tickets at a much lower cost than the tour. To confirm their authenticity, we even gave them to one of the mafia stewards to confirm and all seemed well.

Until we started waiting and waiting, to discover kick off to be two hours later than advertised. As the queue started to be allowed through the first security checkpoint, Katrina filtered through the shorter entrance for ladies with no issues. As I reached the front of my queue the steward took my ticket, mumbled ‘No’ and refused to acknowledge my presence no matter what I said. To the confusion of another steward who pointed out Katrina entered, the steward desired her ticket, took that too and no matter what was said I couldn’t get a word out of him. Irritated, we gave in, and can only speculate that the tickets many felt were authentic were fakes or the ‘mafia’ have a preference for tourists to be managed within authorised groups.

At this point, I just wanted to see a game and having bought an Arsenal di Sarandi shirt a few days previously back in Mendoza decided to take in their game at a nearby suburb. Arsenal in fact were the champions for the first half of the local season despite coming from relatively humble backgrounds and taking on title challengers for the second half of the season, Velez Sarsfield, also from Buenos Aires giving us a local derby.

The atmosphere couldn’t have been anymore different to Boca. The suburb of Sarandi is similarly working class but without any feeling of being on edge. Purchasing tickets here proved to be incredibly simple, seating or standing choice and girls go half price. Great idea!

After a quick choripan (sausage sandwich) we entered the stadium where fanaticos were dancing on banners hung upon the standing barriers. From the full to capacity Velez end came a mighty roar giving this a real football feeling. Arsenal fans took a more laid back approach, probably an effect of the intensive odour of marijuana filling the vicinity! That was probably for the best as during the game, despite their team playing the nicer football, suffered catastrophically in defence as they crumbled to a 5-1 home defeat. With the goalkeeping, defending, manager being sent to the stands and louder away support it was much like their more famous namesakes in London!

And that pretty much brought BA to a close for us before heading north towards Iguacu Falls with stops along the way into Uruguay and Paraguay but more on those next time.

The (very long) Road to Rio: Part 1 – Chile

Rio was never part of the plan, but I’m so glad it changed thanks to some extra time, being under budget and a very cheap flight home from there. This gave us time to take in some of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil over the space of the last 4 weeks of the trip.

Exiting Bolivia on the top of the Andes after a 3 day trip across remote salt flats and lagoons we were in need of a warm shower. As we sat in the bus down the mountains from the border into the town of San Pedro de Atacama we realised how much we were going to miss Bolivia. Driving down the Chiliean highway we could have been back in Europe, it all looked too sterile. The desire to return to Bolivia was reinforced further upon discovering the prices of basics like food and accommodation in Chile. A decent room for 2 in Bolivia would typically cost $15, in Chile a rough room approached triple that price! Our budget was in for a kicking over the following weeks.

At this point, I wasn’t too impressed with Chile – I’m northern. Now that doesn’t mean I’m cheap, I just like value for money! We decided not to spend too much time in Chile and hopped on a bus to Antofagasta the following day. After catching a movie and gorging on some fast food, there wasn’t too much more to keep us occupied in this company town and with a big gulp boarded a 21 hour bus to Valparaiso. Yes, 21 hours. I can barely do a 7 hour flight so can you imagine the moaning on a 21 hour budget bus? Feel very sorry for Kat.

Arriving in Valparaiso late the next day felt like an achievement (surprising considering all we’d done was sit on our backsides for nearly a day)! Valpa was one of those cities I’d always wanted to see and it really didn’t disappoint. Built on steep slopes overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the city grew exponentially through shipping and the attractiveness to European immigrants through the 19th Century. Were it not for the Panama Canal I’m sure Valparaiso would have continued to grow and rival places like San Francisco.

20130103-174154.jpg

20130103-174125.jpg

The buildings in Valpa reflect the European history of the place alongside a sizable British influence including a British Arch and handy funiculars to take people up the steep slopes. They’re not actually that tough to walk up but I suppose that was typically British for the time. Add to this some of the best chips I’ve ever eaten as part of local dish, chorrillana, topped with steak, sausage, onions, eggs as well as chilli and ketchup. Ideal for a carbohydrate binge! To top it off, we could also get proper, tasty, dark beer. Just the change we needed.

I’m a bit of a wanderer and can happily kill time getting aimlessly lost in a city, watching the world go by. Valparaiso was the perfect city for that. Away from the colonial architecture, Valparaiso is brightened up by vibrant street art and an edgy side that gives the seaside city a real soul.

20130103-174049.jpg

Which is more than can be said for our next and final destination in Chile, Santiago. From the soul and attitude of Valparaiso, Santiago isn’t so fun. Writing this a few weeks after being there I’m actually struggling what to say about the place but for one thing that springs to mind…..coffee.

It’s not the quality, it’s not local sources, it’s about where it’s served. The world over you will see the typical Starbucks sign where you will be served a perfectly adequate cup of coffee (or other tasty beverage) in a homogeneous setting. I say that as a fan of Starbucks. You can do this in Santiago if you like, or you can go to a ‘legs cafe’.

In a legs cafe, found all over the downtown area, your coffee will be served short, black and with a glass of water, by a lady wearing a very short skirt and a rather big smile (enough to make even the British leave a tip)! I don’t know why we don’t haves these in the City of London.

And that was a quick blast through Chile. I’d love to return one day and see more but we had to move on, to Argentina! To be continued….

The Variety of Peru

I’ve been meaning to write this for a long time but call it laziness, having too much of a good time or lack of decent internet connections has deterred me for doing so. That and part writing on an iPad and netbook leads to things getting lost in the ‘cloud’. So I’m going to make this more of a photo blog and talk a little more about a couple of specific things in Peru later.

In short, I expected little of Peru, I’m not sure why but I just couldn’t feel very excited about it compared to other countries on this trip. Wrong. In this massively diverse country I chilled at the beach in Mancora and Huanchaco, got dizzy at dazzling high altitude blue lakes in Huaraz, celebrated my birthday in Lima, saw Penguins in Paracas, sandboarded in Huacachina, rotter my teeth with Inca Cola (an excellent Irn Bru substitute), flew over mystical ancient lines in Nazca, took the lazy route to Machu Picchu and followed in Palin’s footsteps on the floating island of Lake Titicaca. More on the latter two to come later.

I’ve picked some of my favourite photos of Peru and hope they’ll encourage you to visit such an amazing country!

20121001-160224.jpg

20121001-160236.jpg

20121001-160307.jpg

20121001-160110.jpg

20121001-160124.jpg

20121001-160010.jpg

20121001-160020.jpg

20121001-160054.jpg

20121001-160001.jpg

20121001-160250.jpg

20121001-160759.jpg

20121001-155916.jpg

20121001-155945.jpg

20121001-155904.jpg

You’re going to Colombia!?

After a fantastic few months in Central America, a few people were asking if we dared go to Colombia next. Of course was the answer!

Colombia doesn’t have the best reputation in the world, thank Pablo Escobar and the cocaine trade for that! However what we found was totally different, I’ve added a new city to my all time top 5, experienced incredible scenery and extremely friendly people. Here’s a little run through of our time there.

20120829-210245.jpg

We arrived in the city of Cartagena following our eventful sailing trip through the San Blas islands of Panama. The first thing that struck us (apart from being back in civilisation) was the heat, Cartagena is a HOT city. Just a few yards of walking down the street and you’re ready for another shower!

20120829-210229.jpg

We only spent a couple of days here enjoying the old town and taking in the nearby mud volcano. Yes that’s right a mud volcano. The basic idea is a small hill that looks a little like a volcano that you can bathe in – grey, sticky mud. I managed to drop my camera in it, thankfully it’s waterproof (and it seem mud proof).

Although we were able to wash off the mud in a nearby lake, we didn’t have the opportunity for a shower before catching a night bus to Medellin. Not great.

Most people who know of Medellin associate it with Pablo Escobar, the drug kingpin of Colombia during the late 80s and early 90s. During this time Medellin was under siege by the US and Colombian governments vs. Escobar’s ‘sicarios’ who would carry out vicious murders on anyone deemed to be against him. Locals found themselves caught in the middle of this.

Since such dark times, Medellin has rejuvinated itself in terms of housing, transport and cultural buildings. I absolutely loved our time here.

After arriving we were a bit grumpy following a long bus journey and upon arriving our hostel we weren’t much happier. It’s not often a shower following a mud volcano will leave you feeling dirtier – but when the water comes out brown and you’re sharing it with a pair of giant cockroaches, it isn’t a pleasant experience. I therefore don’t recommend the Pit Stop Hostel in Medellin. For less than a couple of skanky dorm beds there we found a spotless hotel with a rooftop jacuzzi – go figure.

The perfect pick me up was however found that evening – beer – and not just the typical lager found all over Latin America. Real beer! I’d been craving a proper pint for months so when we found out about the 3 Cordilleras brewery and their weekly tasting nights we were there instantly! For about $10 you get 5 beers and a souvenir glass to take home with you. I was in heaven with their dark Porter and American Style Amber Ale – the perfect Thursday evening.

20120829-210205.jpg

The following day we took the chance to explore the city. Medellin has the feel of a working class city with a lot of soul, a bit like a Glasgow or Manchester in the UK, Nashville in the USA or Kaunas in Lithuania. Downtown there are huge sculptures by the famous artist Fernando Botero, as well as a museum exhibiting his paintings, in the same area as locals working and shopping.

20120829-210141.jpg

While cooling off with a raspado we chatted to a local guy who worked as a truck driver, learning English ‘for fun’. We also found a park for bare feet with fountains galore – one of them caught Katrina out!

20120829-210021.jpg

Medellin as a city is very narrow, hemmed in by the surrounding mountains on which neighbourhoods sprawl up. To connect these to the city more easily the government has built cable cars. That afternoon we rode up one to see the view and it was breathtaking. In a day it was great to get a flavour of an entire city, rather than of just one small and probably touristy part. To end it, and rest our tired feet, we retired to the jacuzzi on the roof of our hotel – bliss.

20120829-210325.jpg

We spent quite a while in Medellin as the city just lured us to stay longer. One day we heard of a parade through the city so went to watch, it turned out to be the end of the flower festival which is marked by the Cabalgata, a long procession of horses.

To many, 4 hours of horses passing by would be pretty dull, not in Medellin. The city has a reputation for ladies taking advantage of cheap plastic surgery, so many horses were ridden by beauties that we just couldn’t take our eyes off! Many locals couldn’t take their eyes off us and were eager to share Aguardiente (the local spirit) and ask why we weren’t back in London watching the Olympics.

20120829-210048.jpg

20120829-210056.jpg

Another highlight (literally) of Medellin was paragliding, the city has a reputation for it. We drove up one of the surrounding mountains, strapped ourselves to a pilot and ran off the edge of a cliff! It’s not as exhilarating a feeling as I expected, there’s no huge adrenaline rush that I’d experienced from skydiving or bungee jumping, it’s more pleasant.

For about half an hour we floated with the birds taking in the view of the city from even higher than the cable car. However towards the end with all the circling around we did start to feel a bit queasy, though I think that has more to do with excessive drinking with some Colombian girls the night before!

20120829-210033.jpg

I’d been missing football a little while travelling, less so as I write this following Burnley’s poor start to another season, but had to see a football match in Medellin. We took in DIM vs. Patriotas in the Colombian Premier League which DIM won 2-0. The noise from some of the home ‘fanaticos’ could teach English clubs a thing or two about noise despite the rest of the stadium being quite empty.

20120829-205956.jpg

After adding Medellin to my top 5 cities list (alongside Glasgow, Shanghai, Brussels and Hanoi in case you were wondering) we left for Cali.

Now anywhere after Medellin was going to have a hard act to follow, but I just never warmed to Cali. It could have been a few rude taxi drivers or irritating hotel workers but I just didn’t such a good feeling from the place.

Despite that we did love being big kids and taking tonnes of photos at the zoo, one of the best in Latin America I’m told.

20120829-205943.jpg

Close to Cali is the village of San Cipriano where they have quite possibly the most brilliant railway in the world. The trains here are powered by motorbikes! There is no road to the village of San Cipriano, just an old railway line, so local people have made their own transportation service by attaching some homemade wheels to a wooden bench upon which they strap a motorbike. The back wheel sits on the track and pushes the unorthodox vehicle along the track. The experience was awesome!

20120829-205931.jpg

From Cali we made for the border with Ecuador stopping on the way in the pretty little town of Popayan and the chilly border town of Ipiales. Close to the latter is the spectacular church, Santuario Las Lajas, built across a gorge.

20120829-205916.jpg

From there we headed across the border into Ecuador. We’ve had a great time in Colombia, I’d definitely return and suggest anyone with a bad idea of the place come see such different country.