But we didn’t listen. I mean, who really follows the advice of a Colombian taxi driver?
On the way there we passed by a swamp where pelicans floated and white herons circled overhead. Cars, motorcycles, and buses lurched down the road alongside our taxi, clouds of exhaust swirling around in the dense heat.
Vendors on the sidewalk yelled out at the top of their lungs, deafening shouts that let us know there was yucca for sale. Avocados were placed in huge piles on the next table. Fresh-eyed fish laid out in rows on wood planks let us know we were close.
The taxi stopped. “We’re here,” the driver muttered gloomily.
A friend of mine from New York moved, quite wisely, to a small island in the Caribbean and sees this view from her bedroom window every day (now you know why I think she’s wise).
Thankfully, this island in the Caribbean belongs to Colombia (which is actually odd because it’s far from Colombia, about 700 km to be exact, closer to Nicaragua). But why I am thankful about this island’s nationality? Because that means flights from Bogota are cheap – just US$50 one way.
And I’m just as thankful that this friend and her husband have a spare guest room and invited me and my husband for a visit. Which we recently took them up on.
San Andres Island has a fascinating history – the British claimed it centuries ago, leaving a heritage of the English language, and others fought over it, but in time the Colombians were the ones left holding the title deed (although we’ll see for how long). It’s head-spinning to visit an island that belongs to Colombia where you hear more English than Spanish, dance to more reggae than salsa, and eat more crab patties than arepas.
But my husband, Peter (my faithful taste tester), and I were up for the cultural challenge, and decided to eat our way through the island.
In search of the essential eats on San Andres, we crunched on fried fish (my New York friend loves the crispy tails, which makes me think she’s not really from New York). We savored coconut rice and nibbled on fried breadfruit.
We downed plantain patties and carefully tried conch ball sandwiches (they are way better than they sound).
We ate peto – a warm corn dish – made with cinnamon instead of panela, and attacked fair tables, those tables that Islanders put outside their homes on weekday evenings and weekends to tempt neighbors with their best homemade treats.
We gorged on carimañolas and arepas de huevo, the best we’ve had, with enough grease to last us for the rest of the year.
Along the way we explored the island, picked up some Islander expressions, admired the people’s love of spiritual conversations, and of course, we snorkeled in the multicolored waters among fish and stingrays.
Steve Collins, a travel writer and broadcaster from Australia, has the interesting job of interviewing people from around the world that are involved in the art and business of travel.
Steve recently interviewed me for Radio Roaming to discover why Bogota is such a great destination for travelers. We discussed a little bit of everything about Bogota, from food to bicycles to pre-Columbian art.
Here are some of the topics we covered:
Do you need to know Spanish to have a good time in Bogota?
Are Colombians helpful to tourists visiting the country?
Is there a need to acclimatize to the high altitude in Bogota?
What the future holds for tourism in Colombia.
I also shared some tips on how to survive Bogota traffic.
Art and culture
How to get a taste of pre-Columbian art and history in Bogota.
How to take advantage of Bogota’s ciclovia (bike routes that stretch throughout the city).
What are the most outstanding foods to taste in Bogota?
What areas of Bogota are the best for finding exceptional restaurants?
Around the world, people love chocolate. Proof of that is seen in countries such as England, Switzerland, and Germany, where the average resident consumes an average of 11 kilos of this sweet tropical treat every year. To keep up with the demand, the world production of cocoa reached some 3.98 million tons during 2011-2012.
Although Africa produces the largest amounts of cocoa in the world, Colombia is known for producing the type of cocoa that is recognized to have the highest quality. In 2008 The International Cocoa Organization included Colombia in the group of 15 countries that export the best cocoa, called Fine Aroma Cocoa. This year 100% of the cocoa that Colombia exported was of this type.
One particular area of Colombia is getting attention in relation to cocoa crops – the department of Bolívar and the Caribbean region, where cocoa is developing into a crop with high potential.
The Colombian government has indicated that the department of Bolívar is one of five regions apt for cultivating cocoa (the other regions are the departments of César, Córdoba, Guajira, and Magdalena). Due to its long production periods and high export potential, cocoa is a promising crop.
In Bolivar, organized efforts to promote cocoa crops began in 2002. That year the Pan American Development Foundation (Funpad-Colombia) financed a project designed to substitute illicit crops in the area so that families that once depended on coca crops could have a viable and sustainable source of income.
Where cocoa is cultivated in Colombia
In Bolívar, about 70% of cocoa crops are found in the Economic and Social Development Area of Middle Magdalena, a region that has an abundance of natural resources and biodiversity.
Cocoa production in this area increased 160% between 2009 and 2013. The 1,200 producers in the region generate more than 4,000 direct jobs, and the more than 6,800 hectares produce 2,755 tons of beans yearly.
The global demand for cocoa
In the first quarter of 2013 Colombia sold US$732,390 in cocoa. The most important buyers of cocoa produced in Bolívar are the Colombian companies Compañía Nacional de Chocolates and Casa Luker, although multinationals such as Nestlé also buy Colombian cocoa.
On a smaller scale, Colombian companies that make artisan chocolate products, drinks based on cocoa and cosmetics also increase the demand for cocoa within the country. Additionally, businesses in the hotel and restaurant sector in Cartagena use cocoa products.
More than 19% of cocoa exports are destined for the United States. In the past year, cocoa products exported from Colombia to the United States were mainly in the form of powdered cocoa, cocoa butter and other preparations that contain cocoa. In the United States, high quality, organic, sustainable, Fair Trade products are especially in demand.
The future of cocoa in Colombia
What can be done to increase cocoa production in Colombia? There are many challenges on a national level, but some points relevant to Bolívar are:
Stimulate crop development and strengthen companies that produce cocoa in Colombia. The government could play a greater role in encouraging cultivation, production and processing of cocoa in the Bolívar region, and also promote illicit crop substitution.
Replace older cocoa crops with certified organic crops to satisfy the demand in countries such as the United States.
Promote innovation and diversification within the industry towards producing fine chocolates and products using organic cocoa.
In recent years they have popped up around the world, from Mexico to Tokyo, Scotland to Costa Rica, South Africa to Germany, and all over the United States. They have been used for everything imaginable: homes, computer labs, studios, cafes, farms, parks and hotels. Even Starbucks and Tommy Hilfiger have joined the band wagon and opened stores in them.
What are they? Shipping containers. Yes, those large metal containers that are used to ship things overseas. Using these structures for construction gives them a second, and more permanent, life.
Colombia is also in on the trend.
Container City opened to the public in February of 2013 in one of the finest business neighborhoods of Bogota. Twelve shipping containers, each one occupied by a gourmet restaurant, are set around an internal courtyard, with an additional external dining area on one side and at the back.
These shipping containers are not shy; sporting colors like fuchsia, lime green, baby blue, stoplight red and lollipop orange, they shout out irreverence. Add to that the chef graffiti on the outside walls and the result is casual yet classy and a break from the norm in this often conservative area.
Yes, it is a food court. But it’s got plenty of personality.
I sat down with the architect, Alejandro Barreneche, to talk about the project, some of the challenges faced, and the construction process.
The project started to be planned in 2010, the necessary permits took fourteen months to obtain, and the construction was finished in three months. Occupation was 100% right from the beginning.
The Container City concept combines materials that are recycled or can be, with some interesting design twists along the way. For instance, the floors are made from residue left over from coffee production. Yes, 100% Colombian coffee…floors.
The center of activity of the food mall is a 12 foot shipping container, a tower of corrugated iron dressed in stately brown. The interesting thing is that it is standing on one end.
Alexander pointed out that although they’ve stood a container on end in Paris, it has an external support, while this one in Container City is freestanding. The internal structure was designed by a Colombian architect specializing in bridge construction using a base that moves on springs to absorb movement and shocks. So don’t worry, it won’t come down any time soon; it’s even earthquake resistant.
The design also takes into account the year round good weather in Bogota. The courtyard combines open-air dining with a roofed area, allowing natural light to flood in and minimizing the need for artificial lighting.
Space is optimized at Container City. The 948 meter, multi-level area gives the impression that it’s bigger than it really is. Typically an area this size would hold only three restaurants, but twelve fit in here without feeling crowded. The layout allows for the easy circulation of people and plenty of open space.
Recycling is just starting to get attention in Bogota, and is not yet a popular concept in most areas. The fact that Container City is occupied mainly by gourmet fast food restaurants helps people in the community value the recycled/recyclable concept even more. And it works – this popular mall is packed even well after the lunch hour.
Container City is hip, artsy, and gets people thinking outside the box (or shipping container). It certainly is a reminder that anywhere around the world, we can all do our part to help the environment.
The sounds, sights and special moments of each place we visit immerse us in learning experiences. On the coast of Colombia, the enchanting city of Cartagena teaches its lessons, too. The hippest hot spot to get some Cuban retro, where to search for the most pristine beaches and even how to get the best out of a sunset are all lessons that Cartagena leaves with visitors.
What makes Cartagena hot? I’m not talking about the temperature, which soars all year round. I’m talking about its boutique hotels, with their rooftop pools, lounge areas and bars all surrounded by fantastic views of the historic city.
Read about four boutique hotels in the historical section of the city that are worth the trip up to the roof in Société Perrier.
Cartagena, a Caribbean city on the Colombian coast, was declared a UNESCO site due to its fascinating history and enthralls visitors with flower covered balconies, quaint museums and a thriving dining scene.
Evenings in Cartagena are a special time. Night falls and the lights twinkle on throughout the cobblestone streets, illuminating the centuries-old churches, plazas and homes, and horse and carriages become the preferred means of travel.
This is the moment to feel that Cartagena enchantment, whether it be at a secluded poolside bar to enjoy a signature cocktail or at a club to absorb some amazing Colombian energy.