The 2012 Feria de las Flores Starts 03 August.

It’s getting close to the time of year again when Medellin goes crazy for a month.  This is a link to the preliminary schedule. I will post the final version when it is available.

Lots of fun stuff to do including the big orchid/flower show at the Botanical Gardens. Here is some amateur video from last years show.

Other popular events include the antique car parade (Desfile de Autos Clásicos), the horse parade (caballgata) and of course the sillateros. These are traditional floral displays that originated with transporting the flowers from Santa Elena where they are/were grown to the market places of Medellin. They are beautiful indeed.

One of my favorite events is the sancocho contest in Santa Elena. Sancocho is a delicious stew and in this event all the surrounding villages compete for the honor of  making the best. The results are of course for sale 🙂

These are just a few of the events that will take place all over the city and for most of the month. Please check the preliminary schedule for a better idea of just how much happens during August.

In Giradota It’s Lechona on Sundays

We took a trip Sunday down to Girardota and Barbosa to see what these towns have to offer. The towns themselves are not particularly interesting visually. Both have central plazas and reasonably nice churches but they have little of the charm of more traditional locations like San Pedro de Milagros, el Retiro and Helicona. Given we were using public transport we did not have time to explore their surroundings. They are known however for outdoor recreational facilities with pools, lounges, food and drink

We did make one very nice discovery in Girardota. On Sunday’s, lechona (suckling pig stuffed with rice) abounds and both restaurants and street vendors sell this delicious dish. We found it offered at both $COP 7,000 and 8,000. This comes out to about $US 4.00 and 4.50 for a generous plateful + salad, potatoes and a small arepa.

We also chatted with a man in Girardota who told us that in the San Andres neighborhood (vereda) there is a group that performs local traditional dances on demand and serves meals for tourists. We will be visiting there to see what this is all about and will report back.

If you decide to drop in for a Sunday treat you can buy an integrated ticket that includes both your Metro fare to the Niquia Station and a ticket for a connecting bus down to Girardota. These are available at the Metro ticket booth where you enter the system. The bus ride is about 15 or 20 minutes so it is close enough for a comfortable day trip.

If you go, please let us know what you think!

Pleasures of the Countryside

I headed down the trail to buy some corn fritters (torticas de chocolo) earlier this morning.  A couple of days ago we bought some very good empanandas from a lady who has a small stand near the El Arroyuelo trail head about 0.5 kilometer from the house. I found out yesterday that she makes torticas and Nubia said go, you have a mission. So I went.

Mission accomplished. The walk was beautiful.  The trail leads along a singing stream. It rained a lot yesterday afternoon and last night but the creek was clear and bright. Our forests are mossy and this morning the moss was bright green and gave the woods a rich carpeted look.

The torticas turned out to be among the best we have found. They are made of ground or blended whole, fresh field corn. The batter is given a consistency that allows it to be spooned into deep fat for frying. If you like corn you will be hard put to find a simpler, tastier way of eating it.

In addition to a nice walk, and some treats was an opportunity to greet and get to know a neighbor better. People here are very friendly and they always are glad to see you and pass a few chatting. Good way to start the day. Hummm… later today I just might have to go down and get some empanadas…

Humming Birds at Finca El Arroyuelo (Piedras Blancas)

The humming birds have taken to our feeders in a big way. Sometimes it looks like La Guardia on a busy afternoon.

For years we had just one small feeder hung on the front porch. During a recent trip to the States we got a larger one and set it up in May.  Although there was always action, neither attracted a lot of attention until about a month ago. Suddenly the rate at which the birds are taking the sugar water jumped. Now I am refilling both once a week. It may be that the larger one is hanging next to a sietecueros shrub adjacent to the porch. This gives them a staging area where they can wait for an opening. Some of them are very aggressive towards others wanting to use the feeders.

We have four species visiting our feeders. They are:

White-bellied WoodStars,

Bronzy Incas (?)

Greenish Pufflegs.

Green Violetear.

REALLY GOOD COFFEE

I just got back from the Sustainable Coffee Growing Fair and Seminar* in Sabaneta. What a lucky find!  This trade show and conference was wrapping up but the growers were still present and displaying their products. It is a little embarrassing to say but I really had not tasted great Colombian coffee until today.  I only sampled three of the 18 different sustainably grown coffees but what an eye opener.  Flavorful differences ranging from subtle to bold,and all three were among the best coffees I have tasted.

I was especially impressed with San Julian’s product. Ms Maria Victoria Mora, one of the principals, was representing the farm and serving samples. She is a charming and very knowledgeable rep. These folks are in Ciudad Bolivar in the western chain of the Andes. Their coffee was rich and mild at the same time. Very easy to drink. I am going out to visit them in December when their processes are in full swing.

I also sampled the Cafe Turquesa.  Mr. Jaime Valencia serve up their product as expresso. It was rich, mellow and I was thinking seriously of asking for another sample. I also will see about visiting the Turquesa finca.

I can see several trips out into the Southwestern Region of Antioquia on the horizon. It is a beautiful area with lot of things to see and do. I now know another substantial reason to visit there. I think I am going to visit a lot of these fincas (farms) and will be reporting back in both words and pictures.   The story of this coffee deserves to be widely known.

* III Feria Y Seminario de Caficultura Sostenible

Really Good Mexican Food in Sabaneta

We had dinner at Lindo Michoacan in Sabaneta couple of evenings ago. If you like authentic Mexican food this is a great choice. I say that because most “international” restaurant dishes soon take on a distinct Colombian flavor.  This establishment practices authenticity. The proprietor of Linda Michocan, Francisco Ochoa is a native of Michoacan and is a proud proponent of the foods and culture of that region. He serves delicious meals.

He and his staff provide a relaxed friendly environment. The decoration is an education in the culture of Mexico and Michoacan. Abundant, tasteful and not overbearing.

I highly recommend a visit . The restaurant is located about a half block from the plaza at Calle 69 Sur No. 45-50. You can reach them by phone at 306-5369. If you will be using public transportation take the Metro to Itagui. Then take the mini bus or a cab to Sabaneta.  If taking the bus, ask the driver if he passes by the plaza. Have fun, take your appetite and let us know what you think.

New at Piedras Blancas

A few observation on new recreational opportunities at Piedras Blancas. If you are unfamiliar with this area it is a must visit when you are in Medellin. It is easily accessed via the Metro to the Acevedo Station, there you take the Metro Cable to Santa Domingo and transfer to the Cable Arvi which rises above the Medellin Valley and crosses several kilometers of the highland forests,  including some very nice patches of native high elevation woods.

At the Arvi Station you can get guided tours along some very nice trails. There is currently no charge for this service. These give you a chance to see the native vegetation at close hand. When you arrive be sure to take a look at the folios in the shelter just in front of the station exit. They provide photos and information (in Spanish) on the local flora and fauna.

If you chose to walk down to el Tambo (less than a kilometer) there is a very well designed sidewalk with kiosks where the locals sell all manner of snacks  and some fairly nice folk art. This is all monitired by the development agency and I think the food is quite safe. Near the station there is a restaurant called el Punto de Rojas. It is very typical and the food is good. The Rojas family have been in the area for a long time and form a colony not far from el Tambo.

Down the hill in el Tambo will find a very good restaurant and store run by Mariano. He is a local fixture and his meals are excellent, quite large and reasonably priced.

Recently I have see a horse and carriage taking people on rides along the road from el Tambo to Chorro Clarin. I talked with the driver this morning and he offers the service at 6,000 pesos (about $US 3.33) for a half hour and 10,000 pesos ($US 5.55) per hour. I am pretty sure that he will take you where you wish to go and this would be a great way to see the sights if you don’t wish to walk. The local roads a lined with beautiful forests and are well worth seeing.

If you decide to go to Chorro Clarin you will find very nice picnic facilities with roofed kiosks which have fireplaces for barbecues and such. There are vendors who also are monitored by the the development group. They sell typical snacks like empanadas, and tortas de chocolo (corn fritters) that are delicious. These people are our neighbors and are very attentive to tourists. The area is named for a water fall that is very popular with people for wading. It spills in to Piedras Blancas Creek near the vendors kiosks.

Further down the road you will find the new Comfama facility. It features picnicking, and various recreational opportunities including a suspended exercise “trial” up into the the trees. I have not tried it yet but it looks like fun.

Evening comes on at Piedras Blancas

I am up at Piedras Blancas right now. The sun is going down and there are still a few hikers using the trail down by the creek. It has been a warm and sunny day. The pines and cypress are lit by the lowering sun and the air is still warm. The hummingbirds are coming to the feeder for their last few sips before night falls. Wish you were here. The Andes are one of the worlds great resources!

A visit to San Pedro de Milagros

Yesterday we took a day trip to San Pedro de Milagros, a small town on the altiplano north of the Medellin area.  San Pedro is embedded in a large agricultural area primarily dedicated to dairy production. The countryside is GREEN, colored by extensive pastures of kikuyu grass. Scattered among the pastures are homes of various descriptions but mostly built using traditional rammed earth walls and tile roofs.  There is a nice video showing many aspects of the area at the towns website.  It is in Spanish but provides a nice visual, if a bit frantic tour illustrating many of the things I cover below. On the San Pedro website, scroll down a bit to find it.

The importance of the dairy industry is emphasized by the large, modern milk processing plant on the east side of town. A multitude of dairy cows graze in well managed pastures. The near by Via Lacteca (Milky Way) theme park also provides a clue.

The town itself is small and retains a lot of typical architecture. It is friendly and relaxed with an energetic feel which complements its relatively slow pace. As it is a regional economic center there are a lot of people who come in from the surrounding area to do business and buy supplies. Some of them maintain very typical dress with ruanas and traditional hats. The majority dress in “city” cloths, especially the young folks. The contrast is interesting and speaks to the rapid changes that the Colombian countryside is experiencing.

The traditional stands next to the modern. Walking along the streets you will find very narrow sidewalks, people on horseback, and beautiful old homes with hanging baskets of geraniums and other well tended flowers. Next door you may find an Internet salon and shops sell the the latest electronic gadgets.

The basilica is beautiful and well worth a visit. The massive wooden doors are weathered and carved. The ceiling is decorated with many good paintings along both sides of the sanctuary and stained glass windows glow in the long walls. There is fairly good reproduction of Michaelangelo’s Pietà near the alter.

The short walk up to the Calvario provides the best view of the area. It is located on the east side of town several blocks up from the plaza. The entry passes through a garden with Dahlias, Agapanthus, and other flowering shrubs and perennials.

While walking around we came across a beautiful old home which piqued our interest. Looking in through an open window we saw that it is a classic traditional town house. Being Antioquians, my wife and friends had no compunctions about knocking on the door and asking if we could have look inside. The lady of the house was pleased to show us around. We had a very pleasant chat and learned a lot about the town.

We also came across a school talent show in progress and stopped in to enjoy it. Although we were obviously tourists the people made us feel very welcome. The performances were charming and taught me something about life in a small Colombian town. The number we walked in on featured young ladies performing a choreography based on Middle Eastern dance with costumes of harem pants and midriff tops. This is a Catholic School. The drapery behind the stage says “Educate your children in love, respect and tolerance.” I would say they are practicing what they preach. I guess I had stereotyped these towns and did not expect to find such an open attitude. Based on the friendly, helpful manner of just about everyone we met I would say that people take these values seriously.

There are lots of restaurants in San Pedro. We found some of the best pan de queso (cheese bread) we have ever eaten at a small shop on the walk from the terminal to the plaza. It is located about 2/3 of the way along this short walk. These goodies are displayed in the door way and I would not pass them up. There also is a Bancolombia ATM on the east side of the plaza in case you need to grab some cash.

Getting there is easy. One can take the Metro to the Caribe station and walk across the pedestrian bridge to the North Bus Terminal. Go down to the bottom floor and look for the company that has routes to San Pedro, Entrerrios and Santa Rosa de Osos. The ticket is 5000 pesos or about US$2.75 (at an exchange rate of 1800 pesos per dollar). You also can go to the Niquia station and pick up the green Metro bus to San Felix. An integrated ticket is available for this carrier that includes both Metro and bus fare. Check at the Metro station where you enter the system. This costs just 2800 pesos. San Pedro is a few kilometers down the road from where you get off the bus at el Tambo.. You can take another bus from there or grab a taxi for around 6000 pesos. If there are several people in your group this is quite inexpensive.

The weather in San Pedro is cool so take a sweater or jacket and an umbrella.

When the heat and bustle of Medellin gets on your nerves, take a day and make the trip up to San Pedro. I think you you will find a cool relaxing destination with friendly people waiting to greet you. You also will see a bit of the real Colombia you may not have known.