Food Friday: Coffee, Ambrosia of the Gods (in Tiny Styrofoam Cups)

Forget the fruit: I’m really a terrible Colombia blogger because of the coffee. Or rather, the failure to discuss coffee at least four times already. After cocaine and Sofia Vergara, coffee is probably the only thing most people around the world associate with Colombia, and yet here I am, twiddling my thumbs and talking all about (admittedly delicious and worthy of mention) buttered corn on the cob and pastries instead. Oddly enough, Colombia actually exports the vast majority of its coffee, so the stuff we drink here isn’t as high-quality as the beans you can buy in some fancy shop in New York, for example. Still, it’s pretty hard to find a genuinely bad cup of coffee around here, so I’ve got no complaints.

except they don't give you lids. WHY.

This was my very first cappuccino in Colombia, at a cozy Oma in Candelaria. An auspicious and tasty beginning to the year, for sure.

But I digress. To the coffee! For the record, I am slightly biased on this subject, as I’m essentially incapable of human speech, in either Spanish or English, before I’ve had my coffee in the morning. One of the first things I did upon arriving here was to warn my co-workers about this, and luckily, because Colombia is nothing if not a coffee culture, they’re pleasantly understanding about it. My students have yet to grasp why I just blink at them if they speak to me before about 8 a.m., but they’ll understand someday.

Coffee culture here doesn’t meant the same thing, though, that it does in Rome, or Istanbul, or Seattle. There are several near-ubiquitous chain coffee shops (I’ll get to those in a minute), but one can also find tiny, double-shot cups of strong black coffee (tinto) sold from carts or backpacks on nearly every street corner, from morning until well past dark. People don’t linger over frappuccinos in comfy chairs here — rather, they stand around the carts, chatting and taking small sips of steaming black liquid. Drinking coffee, like so many other actions here, is more of a social occasion than it is at home — you’re almost obligated to speak to someone else at some point, which is nice on the one hand, but, as I’ve mentioned, tends to be a bit of a challenge for me. My school alone has at least two different places to get coffee, and I haven’t ruled out the possibility of more that I haven’t discovered yet. Naturally, I frequent both of them at least once a day — more often, if I have class with seventh-graders in the morning.

I often consider ordering more coffee just to get more cookies

Oh, did I mention that they give you tiny cute cookies with your coffee? Because sometimes they give you tiny cute cookies with your coffee.

Of course, since Colombia is a modern country and all, carts, cafeterias and random dudes aren’t the only place to satisfy a caffeine craving. Pretty much any restaurant, bakery or bar worth its potable tap water offers a small variety of coffee drinks, though obviously the quality varies. There are two major national coffee chains: the Greek-sounding Oma and the somewhat more renowned Juan Valdez. For reasons I cannot fathom, both companies chose practically the same dark red shade as their main brand color, which makes them rather hard to distinguish from a distance. Luckily, this isn’t much of a problem, since there’s at least one of each roughly every two blocks in most busy neighborhoods. Both places offer your Starbucks-style range of drinks, from basic Americanos to fancy blended frozen arequipe-flavored concoctions (which I will never try, given my ironclad opposition to cold coffee beverages. But they look nice!), and some tasty pastries. The one thing they don’t give out freely are lids for the coffee cups — you have to ask them for a lid when you pick up your drink, or you’ll be spending the whole walk trying not to spill steamed milk all over your shirt. As a clumsy person, I am still not used to this. Juan Valdez are also rockstars at branding, and sell everything from coffee presses to T-shirts at their stores. Oddly enough, their clothes and bags are are actually fairly popular here — can you imagine people walking around downtown Philly in Peet’s t-shirts? I guess Colombians just love their Juan so much they have to wear it on their sleeves.

(Sorry. That was a really terrible joke. I’ve obviously been speaking Spanish so much lately that I’m forgetting how to be funny in English.)

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Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love: #9. Wearing Heels Everywhere, All The Time

Despite the fact that, yes, I own at least 20 pairs of them, I firmly believe that heels are some sort of sadistic device invented by men back in the day when they were brainstorming ways to prevent ladies from fleeing their manors, carriages and other dignified, claustrophobic locales (for the record, the same goes for hoop skirts, corsets and foot-binding. Except that only one of these things is still popular). I accept wearing heels in exactly three situations: 1. For job interviews/other important looking-like-an-adult moments; 2. For fancy parties and/or theater events; and 3. That one time every month or so that I feel like getting way too dressed up, going out dancing and getting drunk enough that I don’t notice how much my feet hurt.

This is just one of the myriad reasons why I would be a terrible Colombian. Women here wear heels everywhere. To work, to commute, to the hair salon, to the fucking grocery store — if a place exists in Colombia, I guarantee you that there is at least one woman there wearing heels. I seriously can’t explain this phenomenon, since I can personally think of few better ways to torture oneself than insisting on wearing heels everywhere. However, many people in Bogotá do tend to dress more formally than what I’m used to, and they definitely pull out the stops when they dress up to go out, especially in the nicer parts of town. Still, it doesn’t explain the woman I saw this morning, wearing heels to walk her dog.

The upside of this seemingly masochistic custom is that Bogotá is like paradise for anyone with a shoe shopping problem habit. Since everyone wears heels constantly, and the weather is here is so destructive toward footwear that it almost seems deliberate, I can only assume the women of Bogotá constantly need to replace their shoes. And luckily for them (and for future me, when I someday get over my fear of falling out of high heels), there are shoes sold all over the place, from tiny neighborhood shops to bright neon-lit mall stores. There are whole neighborhoods known for having good shoe shopping, and they even have Payless! Score!

Some of my friends here have told me they primarily wear heels to be taller, which I guess is the best explanation I’ve heard so far, since Colombian women generally tend to be fairly short. As an exactly average-height American woman, statistically speaking, being “tall” is not a normal experience for me, but I’m told at least once a week here that I’m tall (to which I usually respond that no, I’m normal, it’s just that everyone else is short. Which is so considerate. Ten assimilation points for me!). Although this is still weird for me, it does mean I can get away with not wearing heels most of the time, since the corollary to most Colombian women being shorter than American women is that many Colombian men are also shorter than American women. Heels would only exacerbate the situation, so I use that as my excuse.

I will say I’m definitely a bit of a weirdo at school for wearing my boots every day — because I am a logical person who refuses to wear heels when I have a twenty-minute walk each way back and forth to school. Besides, who am I trying to impress? My ninth-graders? Pretty sure I stopped trying to impress ninth-graders when I was halfway through ninth grade. Still, it’s amazing how much social pressure, or not even pressure so much as overwhelming social norms, can influence a person. At least twice in the last week, I’ve actually considered wearing heels to work, for no other reason than the fact that everyone else does it. Luckily, both times I’ve come to my senses and remembered that the only thing worse than walking home in rain every afternoon is walking home in rain in shoes that might betray me at any moment.

But check back in with me in a few months. It’s possible this place will work its magic on me and convert me into some strange being capable of walking in heels without falling on my ass. The Catholics do believe in miracles, after all.

 

Other Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love:

#10. ’80s Rock/Hair Metal Bands

Food Friday: Get Me to a Juicery

I think at this point I’ve waxed poetic enough about the fruit of Colombia that y’all have a pretty good idea of the plethora of vitamin-packed options just hanging off the trees (or whatever else they grow on) here. But the great thing about fruit, you know, is that it’s versatile. You can just snack on it, which is usually my preferred method, but you can also squeeze it, shake it, mix it with other liquids, and turn it into glorious, drinkable juice.

it's called the aloha smoothie, because of course it is

Our group's circle of glorious breakfast smoothies in Santa Marta. Mine was something like papaya-pineapple-mango, and I could happily drink it every day for the rest of my life.

Now, if you’d asked me about six months ago, I would’ve told you that I’m not really a juice person. However, my time here has convinced me that I’m just not an American juice person. What passes for juice in most supermarkets or restaurants at home is some sort of terrible joke, Technicolor liquids made from a 9:1 ratio of concentrate to actual fruit juice, packed with fructose, food coloring, and basically everything else except the fruit itself. Well, to let all of you guys back at home in on a little secret: that shit is not juice, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for letting kids drink it without telling them what they’re missing.

oh bob, you never let me down

The biggest glass of mora juice in Bogotá. Juice courtesy of Bob's Pizza (you laugh, but it's damn good pizza); photo courtesy of the lovely Tasha Miley.

Because what they’re missing is this: the amazing range of fresh fruit juices available in almost every restaurant here, in flavors from mora (blackberry) to mango to guanabana (try to say that three times fast). My personal favorites are piña (pineapple) and durazno (peach) — I mean, where the hell can you even buy fresh peach juice in the US, besides maybe Georgia? Juice can be mixed either en leche (in milk) or en agua (in water), depending on your personal preference. I find that some flavors tend to taste better with one versus the other, but I’ve yet to buy any truly bad juice here. And they don’t cheat you on quantity, either — since the basic fruit juice is mixed with another liquid, it tends to arrive in a massive glass usually reserved for bar crawl quantities of beer. A pint glass of pineapple juice for about $2? You won’t hear any complaints from over here!

can I bring this home with me, please?

Step right up! Get your fresh-squeezed guanabana! (Note: I have no idea if squeezing is the correct way to juice a guanabana)

And restaurants aren’t the only place to find tasty juice, although they’re better if you’re looking for more exotic flavors. If all you need is a shot of Vitamin C, though, the street vendors have you covered. Every few blocks in most busy neighborhoods, you’ll come across a juice cart, selling fresh-squeezed naranja or mandarina (different variations of orange/citrus) juice for about the equivalent of a dollar a pop. The vendor will squeeze the juice right there in front of you while you wait, which can be a pain when you’re in a hurry, but is a really satisfying reminder of exactly how fresh that juice is. At some markets, especially on weekends, it’s also possible to find stands with several kinds of fresh juice, like guanabana (a soft white fruit which yields a juice that looks deceptively like coconut) and papaya (I’m still working on warming up to it. Give me some time).

yeah, so I play with my ice cubes. what of it?

Ice-cold pineapple juice: the perfect way to cool down on a hot coastal afternoon.

Even the supermarket juice kicks our ass. Every market, even tiny corner tiendas that are basically like three 7-11 shelves packed into the space of one, stock bottles and boxes of different flavors of juice. Did I mention that it’s also socially acceptable here for adults to drink juice boxes? I can’t wait til that trend catches on back at home. Listen up, health advocates: I’m telling you right now, the trick to getting people to drink more fruit juice is juice boxes. Everyone loves juice boxes! My personal favorite supermarket juice, a brand called Ades, does, in fact, come in a large box, decorated with a tasty-looking colorful picture of whatever fruit it contains — because it’s actually made with real fruit. It’s also made with soymilk and various other tasty, good-for-you ingredients and generally just kicks the ass of any packaged juice I’ve ever had in the U.S. (with the possible exception of Newman’s Lemonade, but they don’t sell lemonade here, so that’s an unfair competition).

Like lollipops, arepas and diet soda, juice is something my body has learned to develop cravings for since coming to Colombia — but unlike those other things, juice is actually good for me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear a peach juice box calling my name, and who am I to deny its siren song?

Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love: #10. ’80s Rock/Hair Metal Bands

To be fair, this isn’t exclusive to Colombia. I noticed it when I was in Argentina, too, but I’m here now, and it’s amusing and widespread enough to merit a mention.

People here just love bad (and some good) ’80s music. Don’t get me wrong — I am a huge proponent of a large portion of ’80s music. I’ve watched the Breakfast Club more times than anyone without a recurring case of mono should, I have been known to dance around my room singing The Cure, and last week when my co-workers peer pressured me into doing karaoke with them, what did I sing? That’s right: “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” I have no doubt that I would’ve been awesome at the ’80s, and I have a healthy amount of respect slightly embarrassing love for synth-based pop tunes. However. I draw the line at hair metal.

this axl looks better than the real-life one

Welcome to the (Colombian) jungle.

My students — my sixteen-year-old students — listen to Bon Jovi, AC/DC and Iron Maiden. People wear these band t-shirts, unironically (heaven forbid!). The favorite band of my best friend at school is Guns N’ Roses. This is admittedly part of what makes her so awesome, but let’s be serious here: I don’t even know if Guns N’ Roses (whatever the current iteration may be) like themselves anymore. My bus driver the other day sure likes them, though — he had a GNR logo painted on the roof of the driver’s section of the bus.

Personally, I think it’s kind of great, since the ’80s are a chronically-underappreciated era in gloriously terrible music, but I can’t help laughing when one of my 8th-graders tells me how much he loves “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Just wait ’til you finally catch up with the ’90s, I want to tell him. There’s no way you’re ready for what EMF can throw at you.

(seriously, though, it’s worth your 4:00 to watch that video. It is rather, dare I say, unbelievable?)

Link

For those of you who still don’t believe my account of the bizarre mood swings of Bogotá weather, Vicki over at the excellent Banana Skin Flip Flops has a post that pretty much perfectly sums it up. I may or may not have also refused to buy an umbrella for like a solid month, on the principle that eventually I would win and Bogotá would realize it needed to stop raining so much. Obviously, I lost.

Also, you should probably just check out her blog anyways, if you have any interest in Latin America/cool photos/a healthy bit of sass with your travel stories. It’s definitely a worthwhile read.

What Do You Mean, ‘You People’?

A major part of the experience of living in (or even visiting) another country is the opportunity to see how other people live: what they eat, how they travel to work, how they form and maintain friendships, how they feel about PDAs, and so on. This has, overall, a hugely positive effect for the majority of people. It challenges us to step outside our own habits and expectations, encourages us to examine the norms and practices we may take for granted as “normal” and forces us to define our own values and the truths we choose to hold constant, no matter where in the world we may be.

in case you desperately need it while welding a roof?

No, this is totally the best possible place to leave your hat.

It can also be really, really hilarious.

Let me preface this by saying yes, I’m well aware of the idea of cultural relativism, being conscious about not making value judgments about the practices of others, etc. I know. I know. But just because I observe things and try not be too judgmental about them doesn’t mean I can’t find them incredibly amusing. Because let’s be serious, there are some things they do in other countries that are just weird to us Americans. I have no doubt that there are plenty of things Americans do or like that people in other countries find utterly baffling, too (The NFL? Standing outside stores for like 48 hours to buy limited-edition pairs of sneakers? Putting ranch dressing on everything?), but as an American, I’m rather unable to speak to that side of things.

maybe it's just a really short project?

"Under construction"/"End of work." This would be slightly more logical if the signs were not within about ten feet of each other. Which one am I supposed to believe?

However, as an American in Bogotá, I am in an expert position to observe the things that rolos (the term for denizens of Bogotá) seem to love that are totally mystifying to a foreigner, and I think some of them are worth sharing, even just for the humor. So over the next few weeks I’m going to work my way through some kind of list of my Top 10 Things Colombians Rather Inexplicably Love. The last thing I want, though, is for this to seem in any way mean-spirited or critical. Let me state for the record that I love Bogotá, I love Colombia and I love the people I’ve met here so far. This isn’t meant to make fun of anyone, except perhaps myself for being so weirded out by some things, or humanity in general for its habit of following bizarre trends. Still, just to keep things fair and balanced, I’ve decided to follow this list up with another one, of the Top 10 Totally Awesome Things Colombians Love (And Which We Could Do With More Of In the U.S., If We’re Being Honest). So keep an eye out for these as they come!

Food Friday: And Micheladas, As Much As Anything Else, Led to My Drinking Problem

Before….

So I’ve spent enough time and digital space this week singing the praises of micheladas that I feel you’re all due a more detailed explanation. The short version is: They are the best way to drink beer when it’s hot out, and I don’t understand why I have not experienced them before in my life (this guy over at the NYT apparently feels my pain). I plan on keeping a supply of lime juice near me at all times from now on, for emergencies. And/or thirst.

Here’s the long version, for you detail-oriented folks: As with many tasty treats, the cerveza michelada originally hails from Mexico (which makes sense, considering they have that whole lime-and-Corona thing going on, too). According to the all-knowing information lords over at Wikipedia, there’s a bit of a debateabout how it originally gained its name, so we’re not going to dwell on that. The important thing is that, regardless of heritage, it’s created a strong foothold here in Colombia — one could order a michelada at pretty much every restaurant we visited on the coast, even if it wasn’t on the drink menu. I haven’t seen them here in Bogotá, which I suspect has a lot to do with the less favorable weather, but my impression is that you can probably get them in many places around here, too.

…and after!

To create instant beer-based happiness, here’s what you need:

  • a lighter beer like Aguila or Club Colombia. You don’t want anything too strong or heavy, since you’re not really going to be tasting the beer anyways
  • lime juice, preferably from an actual lime
  • salt, the coarser the better
  • some kind of sauce. Apparently there are versions of micheladas using all kinds of sauce, from Worcestershire to Tabasco, or even mixes of several sauces. However, being the hot sauce zealot I am, I refuse to acknowledge the possibility of using anything else — ideally the Amazon hot sauce with the macaw on the label. So hot sauce it is.

If you’re at a restaurant, your michelada will arrive at the table like a fun little multi-part puzzle, self-assembly required. You will have a glass with salt around the rim (salt distribution varies, so choose servers wisely) and a shot of lime juice at the bottom. Sometimes they even give you a lime slice, for that extra limey flavor! You will also, of course, have your beer, which must be poured into the glass with minimal salt disturbance so as not to ruin how pretty it looks.

If you have a savvy server, he or she has hopefully brought the hot sauce out with the drinks (or if you’re at the good kind of restaurant, it’s already on the table). If not, you should absolutely request it, since it’s an important part of the whole experience. Once you’ve acquired the hot sauce, add as much as you like, although be warned that just a few drops of the really spicy macaw concoction should suffice (I may or may not have learned this the hard, painful way). Be sure to stir it before drinking, because hot sauce, beer and lime juice shockingly don’t mix well naturally, and an uneven distribution will really throw off your enjoyment of the whole experience.

Then drink it! And then consider ordering another one, because that first one was so tasty!

Homebrew, complete with Amazonian spices.

And if you’re at home, then just do it yourself, you lazy bum. Speaking from experience, it’s pretty fun to play with limes and salt and generally make a bit of a mess in the interest of drinking. Plus, in the privacy of your own kitchen, you can add as many weird condiment combinations as your heart desires, without risking judgment from any of your fellow diners. After all, there’s nothing that pairs worse with a tasty cold beer than the piercing hot glances of opinionated people. Save the burn for the hot sauce, folks.

Oh, and if you’re struggling with the reference in the title, please go watch all of this movie immediately, and report back when you can tell me how you like your coffee. You’ll surely laugh.

Costeño Photo Safari, Part One

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This gallery contains 30 photos.

Three things I learned during my visit to the Colombian coast: 1. It can be so humid that your camera lens steams up and makes it look like you took all your photos while standing in a sauna. Which actually … Continue reading

Coastal Adventures in Cartagena & Santa Marta; or, Why I Want a Hammock for My Birthday

Happy post-vacation Tuesday, y’all! Yeah, I know most of you had to work last week, but that’s just another of the perks of living in these southern regions.

On the other hand, I spent basically all day yesterday sitting in the teachers’ room at school, doing nothing — not because I’m a huge slacker, but because upon my return to Bogotá this weekend, my body immediately decided to express its displeasure with the departure from warmer, sunnier climes by becoming quite indignantly sick (at least it seems indignant to me. And it’s my body, so who is anyone to tell me otherwise?). It’s not anything severely terrible, just a rather emphatic cold, but between the constant sniffles and the fact that my voice is operating at about zero decibels with the occasional squeak to provide contrast, I’m afraid I won’t be much use at all as a teacher this week.

walls and lamps

Cartagena: Exhibit A in "how to create successful mood lighting."

The immune system devastation was absolutely worth it, though, for last week’s festivities. Here in Colombia, as in most Latin American countries, the week before Easter is Holy Week, or Semana Santa. For most working people, only the Thursday and Friday of that week are holidays, but lucky us in the school system — we get a whole week off! It is one of the biggest travel holidays of the year, though, kind of like our Thanksgiving week, so you have to plan ahead if you don’t want to be paying your entire year’s volunteer stipend just to leave the city. Luckily, I’m friends with some savvy people, and we figured way back in January that by April we’d probably need a break from the Bogotá rain, so we got ourselves some flights to Cartagena ASAP before the prices went through the roof. And holy arepas con huevos, am I glad we did.

Our weeklong journey took us to the beaches of Cartagena, around the walled city and up the ramparts of an old castle, through a highway that winds along the Caribbean coast past the port city of Barranquilla, up to the smaller town of Santa Marta and the gorgeous beaches near Tayrona National Park, then back to Cartagena for one more day of socializing and eating ice cream before we crashed back into the rainy reality of Bogotá. But let’s go back to the warm, happy place for a few minutes, shall we?

oh hey, pretty sky

Like this one!

Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast (think I can squeeze any more alliteration into this sentence?), is built around the preserved remnants of an old walled port, dating back almost 500 years and now an UNESCO World Heritage site — in the company of such illustrious locations as the Sydney Opera House, the Great Wall of China and the Acropolis. I’ve visited a few World Heritage sites over the course of my travels (Argentina’s Iguazú National Park, the historic center of Bruges, Masada and the Baha’i gardens in Israel, Fiordland National Park on New Zealand’s South Island, and Colonia in Uruguay), and I’d definitely say that Cartagena deserves its place on that list. It is outrageously beautiful, the kind of pretty that makes you take pictures of random porches and windows because you’re just trying so hard to capture whatever the essence is hiding in the walls that makes the city so bewitching. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I sure do have a lot of photos to show for it.

So we had two days in Cartagena, with our friends Mayis and Dany serving as official hosts and unofficial tour guides (this is why it’s always smart to go on vacation with someone who’s actually from the place you’re visiting). Though we didn’t realize it before, we ended up visiting the city the week before the sixth Summit of the Americas, which is drawing presidents from all across the region, including Obama and the ever-unpredictable Chávez. Needless to say, the city was positive crawling with cops — we legitimately could not walk two blocks without running into at least half a dozen cops. When people mention shows of force, I think Cartagena the week before the Summit is exactly what they’re talking about.

i'm on a boat!

BOAT CEVICHE. With bbq sauce. Winning.

Still, we didn’t let the omnipresent fluorescent green jackets and large signs proclaiming “Somos seguridad” (“We are security”) put a damper on our vacation. We did all the regular touristy things: walked along the wall, took pictures of doors and horse-drawn carriages, drank piña coladas on the beach, watched sex workers plying their trade on said beach, spotted a few local celebrities, drank micheladas, applied a lot of sunscreen and ate our weight in ice cream. Being the crew of Bourdain groupies that we are, we also made a point to eat at La Cevichería, a cozy ceviche restaurant that was featured during his Colombia “No Reservations” episode. Chalk up another point for the supremacy of Bourdain — the ceviche there was mind-blowingly good, and incredibly creative. Mine came in a dish shaped like a boat! Covered in barbecue sauce! AMERICA!

that kid totally stole my thing

The Santa Marta waterfront. For once, I'm not the one doing the victory pose.

you know, hawaii isn't the only place with pineapples

Tasty fresh mango/papaya/pineapple juice at Lulo in Santa Marta. Breakfast drink of champions!

I could (and probably eventually will) write an entire essay about how much I loved Cartagena, but I’d be remiss and a terrible travel cataloger if I didn’t talk about Santa Marta — and the beach. When I told people here that I was headed to Cartagena, almost everyone informed me that I “had” to go to Santa Marta. I’ve never been one to turn down travel recs, and it turned out that what seemed like half of WorldTeach was also headed to Santa Marta around that same time, so we decided to take two days and head up the coast to see what was so special about it. Santa Marta is about a four-hour easy drive up from Cartagena, along a pretty, mostly waterfront highway. The town itself is pretty small and not necessarily anything to write home about — it kind of looks like a mini-Cartagena that nobody has bothered to wash yet. Its definitely a bit grungier than Cartagena (which may be the key to some of its backpacker appeal), with more than a few iffy-looking neighborhoods, but it has a cute waterfront filled with vendors and some damn good restaurants. I think we might’ve eaten better in Santa Marta than I have anywhere else so far in Colombia — everything from Mediterranean to Italian to breakfast sandwiches and fresh juice.

seeing how your bag gets made

The aforementioned bags, happily-colored and direct from the source!

But you don’t go to Santa Marta just for the food, or to buy cheap bags (though both of those turned out to be excellent perks). You go for Tayrona. Tayrona is one of Colombia’s most famous national parks — and in a country with as many beautiful outdoor spaces as this one, that’s saying something. We actually didn’t visit the park itself, since we only had one day and the entrance fee is a bit pricey for a day visit (most people stay for a few days, hiking and sleeping on the beach). Instead, on the recommendation of several random people we’d met the day before (in my experience, always a good strategy for useful advice), seven of us headed to a beach called Los Angeles, right next to the park. Instead of paying $35,000 pesos and walking for two hours to reach the beach, we were at the waterfront 10 minutes and $3,000 pesos after climbing off the bus.

they do sunsets right, here

This is at least as good as someone reading me a bedtime story.

And you guys, this BEACH. The whole place looks like Jurassic Park — all primeval forests and looming mist-shrouded mountains and crashing waves and mirror-clear water. There were other people at the beach, mostly couples in hammocks or families in tents, but they mostly kept to themselves and there were no vendors in our faces like on the beaches in Cartagena. It felt like we’d discovered this place all by ourselves, like the sky and boulders and soft sand were there just for us, that day. The day at Los Angeles with six of my fellow WorldTeach ladies was probably one of my favorite days I’ve spent in Colombia so far, and my new goal for the year is to make it back there, this time for long enough to spend a few nights in one of those comfy-looking hammocks, waking up to sunlight and sand and waves stretching out in front of me all the way to that prehistoric horizon.

[Stay the digital equivalent of tuned! Many, many more photos to come this week!]