Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dad Visits Colombia!!! (Part 2)

This is part two of my dad's visit to Colombia. To read part one, click here.

After the cows were milked and, perhaps, a quick nap, the five of us (me, my dad, Diana, and her folks) went into Chiquinquira town. It was mostly a quick trip around a couple of pedestrian-only streets, a couple of churches, and a few shops. My dad had wanted to check out a local supermarket while he was in Colombia to see what they were like. We went to a small supermarket that's in one of the plazas and he bought some local drinking chocolate to take back to the United States.

While we were walking, an extremely well-behaved dog started following my dad, including waiting like 20 minutes for us while we were in the supermarket. We couldn't believe it. Before going back home, we stopped at a bakery and got some bread and snacks including a treat for my dad's new dog (no, he didn't take it home with him but I'm sure it'll wait for him until my dad returns one day).

The next morning Diana's parents needed to go back into town to take care of some farm business. My dad went with us and while they were in their meeting, we checked out the central market. He might be a little hard to spot because of his camouflaged outfit but that's my dad towards the right side of the photo in the yellow shirt blending in with the Colombian bananas and other fruit:

To celebrate Diana's birthday, we drove "down the hill" towards Villa de Leyva to have lunch in Sutamarchan. Sutamarchan is basically a tiny village at an intersection of two roads where an industry of small piqueteadero restaurants have popped up. Piqueteada means chopped and they all serve some combination of (chopped-up) local sausages called longaniza, blood sausages, chicharone (fried pig skin), yucca, mazorca (a type of corn), plantains (a non-sweet banana), and some other items on big-ole' platters. It's probably not the healthiest of foods - there's certainly no RDA guidelines - but it's damn good.

Me and dad in front of the La Fogata piquetadero in Sutamarchan:

After lunch, we made the trip back to Bogota and all slept like babies that night. Sunday was, sadly, dad's last full-day in Colombia. Before he arrived, there was only one thing he wanted to see (besides a supermarket) while here - Tequendama Falls. Diana and I were just there a couple of weeks ago with her best friend from growing up but we were happy to go back.

We saved Tequendama for our last day because we would have to drive across the entire city of Bogota to get there and we figured that Sunday would have the least amount of traffic. Well, we were partly right. It took us just under two hours  :-o  to make the trip that, distance-wise, would take about 40 minutes or less if there was a freeway/autobahn and/or no traffic.

We lucked out because it had been raining (quite heavily) in the days before so the waterfall was flowing heavily. The weather was partly cooperative in that it wasn't raining but it was a bit cloudy. What was extra cool was there was mist rising from the falls:

Oh, and the corn-on-the-cob Diana's eating? She's addicted to it. When we pulled up, the first word out of her mouth was mazorca (roasted corn on the cob) because a woman right next to where we were parked was selling it. Diana's never met a mazorca she'd didn't like!

Family self-portrait at El Salto Tequendama, Bogota, Colombia:

After visiting the falls, we continued driving down the hill for about 30 minutes so my dad I could check out the tropical scenery. We stopped at this road-side stand to buy some fruit and snacks to take back to Bogota. I love how rich this photo is with all the fruit and colors, but wait, is that a motorcycle and dog on the roof???

Why, yes it is! I walked across the street to get a better perspective of the fruit stand, the second floor, the and mountain behind it. It was more like an illusion as there's a small dirt road off to the left leading up to the "second level", which is a bit farther back than the first level. Still, a lovely scene - I could so live in place like this. Oh, and those damn tropical mini (finger) bananas are addictive!

We got back to Bogota just in time for dinner with the extended family and to celebrate Diana's birthday with a "ponque" (punk-kay), which, I believe, is a Spanglish for "pound cake". Feliz cumpleaños morenita!

It was great to have my dad come visit. I enjoyed it immensely and I think he did too. Actually, I think that he was surprised at how much he did. I'm hoping that he'll come back with us one day soon. After all, Diana's family seems to approve of him - their Go/No-Go criteria is how their dog Rises feels about you. I think we all can guess the answer:


Our hero's journey wasn't without its bumps. When we got to the Bogota airport for my dad's flight home, after about an hour in the check-in line(!!!), we found out that it had been delayed by 50 minutes. Since his connection was just over an hour, it looked likely that he might not make it (since he had to pass through immigration and customs first) but the airline sent him on to Florida anyway. My dad was a bit frustrated but what can you do? He ended up making it to his connecting gate in Florida before the doors were closed but the flight had been oversold so he would spend the night.

The airline really took care of him. He spent the night at a ("very nice") local Holiday Inn and had a ("delicious") free dinner where he ate with some other stranded passengers. Their war stories were far worse than what my dad was experiencing so his mood picked up. In the morning, he took a $130 (free-to-him) taxi ride to an airport in another city for his flight home, which was uneventful.

I feared calling my dad that day because I was afraid the delays might have ruined the whole trip for him. Quite the contrary when I finally did talk with him. He was so incredibly positive about the entire experience and how he learned and enjoyed so much. The trip to Colombia was great. The family was super nice. Where we stayed and what we did were great. The people were friendly. Even the more-than-24-hour journey home ended up being a great experience in the end. Odysseus had indeed made it home. I think he even said something about his next international trip! The question is where do we go next???

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dad Visits Colombia!!! (Part 1)

Wonders never cease!

I would have never in a million years thought that my dad would come to Colombia. It never even occurred to ask like I did probably 20-or-so times while we were in Germany. See, my dad's not a big traveler and never has been. He prefers his trips to be on the order of maybe four or five days (like to Wildwood, for example), which rules out the majority of international travel. He ends up traveling, for the most part, "only" to come visit me (where ever I am in the world). He and my mom visited me once when I lived in Ensenada, Mexico, (a big wow at the time) and he came to Barcelona twice, once for vacation and a second time with my family for the wedding. So he does get around a bit just not too often.

So imagine my surprise when my dad asked me innocently back in late December how long we'd be in Bogota. I told him that I didn't know. After the conversation, I turned to Diana and said that I think my dad wants to come to Colombia. Knowing my dad, she almost fell out of her chair but we immediately set into motion the planning just in case he decided to come down from Philadelphia.

Well, this past week, my dad arrived into Bogota's El Dorado airport! Woo-hoo! I'm not sure but I think that Diana's family was even more excited for his visit than I was. Of course, our first order of business was a big welcome lunch of Bandeja Paisa at a local Colombian-specialty restaurant with Diana's mom and dad:

Since Diana's parents couldn't make it to the wedding, it was the first time that our parents had a chance to meet. To make sure that he properly set expectations, my dad immediately let everyone know that he's a fun guy (or fungi as he says) and likes to play games:

His first night in town was spent hanging out at the family house for a few hours before we headed over to Diana's brother's apartment, which we'd be using as our home base while he was in Bogota. (A big thanks to Diana's brother, niece, and nephew for uprooting themselves and allowing us to use their place! Muchas gracias!!!)

We decided that it'd be best to spend the first full day exploring downtown Bogota including Plaza Bolivar and the cathedral (if you look closely, just to the left of the cathedral is la Casa del Florero, where Colombia's independence movement began):

as well as nearby Montserrate. Note the La Moreneta statue in the background. The church where Diana and I were married has almost the exact same statue. Oh, and the Catalan flag (on the right) is a nice touch too!

My dad and Diana checking out the view of downtown Bogota (elevation ~8500 feet) from the top of Montserrate (elevation ~10,000 feet):

Our day in the city center was cut a little short due to some rain and it being Bogota's annual day without cars. We were afraid that the Transmillenio buses would be super Trans-millena! Millena means full. :-)  So it was back to the apartment for a Diana home-cooked meal and an early night.

The second full day was spent going out to Chiquinquira to visit the farm and possibly milk some cows. On the way, we stopped just outside Bogota in Zippaquira at the Cathedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral). You can read my old story but, basically, it's a church that's been built in the previously-mined spaces of an active salt mine. The sense of scale and being under ground make it an unusual but well-worthwhile stop. That cross in the background is like 50 feet tall!

If you know my dad, you'll know that he loves to use bathrooms everywhere he goes. I think he's marking his territory or something. So, here's my dad in the Baño de Sal (salt bathroom):

We had a quick lunch in the main plaza of the small town of Ubate (oo-bah-TAY). There are maybe ten small restaurants there where you can get a bunch of different meals and our normal M.O. is to stop there for breakfast. Most opted for the Mute (moo-tay), which is a local stew. What this photo doesn't show is the "rustic-ness" of the restaurant including pots, which look like they were stolen from the local prison, on its wood-fired stove.

We arrived at the farm just in time for the afternoon milking and lucked out that the rain held off. Dad checking out the action:

Looking back on my dad's visit, I think he enjoyed Chiquinquira most. It's a bit "rustic" but I'm guessing the relaxed setting, beautiful scenery, and charming town won him over. Diana, Diana's mom, and my dad outstanding in their field:

A couple of hours later, we headed into town to walk around. It was Friday night and the place was jumping. My dad even made a friend while there! Check out Part 2 (coming soon) to read about the rest of my dad's visit.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday Morning On The Farm

We've been up at the farm in Chiquinquira for the last few days helping out Diana's parents by doing a major spring cleaning. I spent three full days painting the central patio and it's turned out quite nice. But, by the end of the third day, my knees, back, and wrists were killing me. I'm happy with the results but even happier to have finished the job. Diana's been systematically moving every single item in the house and cleaning it and the space around it. It's another big job and she's been sneezing the whole time even while wearing a dust mask. Being a farm, there can be quite a bit of dust at times. We're hoping to finish later today.

Stopping for lunch and enjoying checking out the locals:

Apart from the cleaning, I've been acting as the family donkey, which if you know me, you know that it's not a tough job... Anyway, Pepe, the family burro has an infection in one of his front hooves and can't walk very well so he's out of commission for a few days. So, I've been waking up at 4:30am and loading the milk cans and other milking equipment/supplies into the car and moving them over to where the cows are milked. About an hour-and-a-half later, I move the milk back to the house. The process gets repeated at around 2:30pm. The reality is it's not as much work as actually milking the cows, which I'm still not very good at but do enjoy:

What's been nice about waking up so early is watching the world and the farms in the area come to life. I've never been much of a morning person (actually, not at all) but, already today, I got to see some cut-it-with-a-knife fog while it was still dark out and then, as the sun came up over the hills, the fog burn off. After a bunch of coffee that Diana's mom made for me and some scrambled eggs that came from some chickens that walk through the farm everyday (talk about free-range!!!), I got to learn how to trim the hooves of a donkey. Like a dog or even you and me, their "nails" need to be trimmed too. After that, it was off to the center of town so that Diana and her mom could go to mass and I could drink some coffee and write this story at a cafe next to the cathedral.

It's been nice to be at the farm for so many days in a row as most of our visit to Colombia this time's been a combination of work and doctors' appointments. I'm glad that we've finally been able to "relax" a bit!