Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ipiales, Otavalo, Quito and Colombia by the Numbers

Greetings from Quito! We got in on Tuesday to our friend Andrey's house here in Quito after quite the adventure. Sarah knows Andrey from UCLA (Go Bruins!). We left Pasto on Sunday morning and caught the bus to Ipiales. Ipiales is a relatively small town near the border with Ecuador. There is a magnificent church nearby called the Santuario de Las Lajas which everyone told us we had to see, so we piled into a collectivo and headed for Las Lajas. As we were descending into the canyon with our heavy backpacks we realized that it wasn't going to be a fun trip back up, but the church is really amazing. It is built on a bridge over a small river near the border, and since it was Sunday there were quite a few worshippers. One wall of the inside is the mountain itself, and the rest is painted white and gold with beautiful stained glass. After taking a few pictures of the outside, we slowly ascended back to the road with our backpacks. We had originally planned on staying in Ipiales for a night, but since we had already seen the church, and it was only about noon, we decided to head for the border and go into Ecuador a day early. We caught a collectivo back to the bus station and took a taxi to the border. Formalities were very straightforward, and there were no lines, however a cambista did try to cheat us. Luckily I know how to multiply and we saved $20. After crossing the border we caught another taxi to the small city of Tulcan and caught a Quito-bound bus which would let us off near Otavalo. It literally dropped us off on the side of the Panamerican so we wandered for about ten mins before we got to the center of town. First we checked out a few hotels in the Lonely Planet. Then we walked across the street and found a hotel that was charging half the price, seemed like a good deal and it was operated by an indigenous family. Later on we discovered a delicious chifa called Chifa Mi Chifa. A chifa is basically a Chinese restaurant with some local influence. We decided to each get our own dish which turned out to be way too much food. The next day we checked out the local crafts market where Sarah bought some fancy new pants. We also hiked up to a waterfall, the Cascada de Peguche. We went to the Parque Bolivar, which has free wi-fi and piped in music through a bunch of hidden speakers. We had some pie at a pie shop recommended by the guide book which was delicious, albeit a little expensive. On Tuesday we went up to Parque Condor where injured birds are nurtured back to health. The Andean Condor is an enormous bird with a three meter wingspan. They also have a flight show which includes an American bald eagle who was really having fun flying around. We walked back to the town (about five kilometers) and grabbed a quick lunch at our chifa before catching the bus to Quito. We have been hanging out in Quito relaxing, and last night our host had a concert (he plays the French horn) so we went and watched. Afterwards we had a few beers and Indian food (as in Indian from India, not indigenous to Ecuador). Tomorrow we will probably head out to Baños to check out the thermal pools.

Colombia turned out to be a more expensive country than I had anticipated. It is a much more advanced country than state dept warnings and guidebooks would have you believe. That said, we did a lot in Colombia, went to dozens of musuems, took several guided tours, and ate a ridiculous amount of food. In addition, our camera failed so we had to buy a new one and we both had to buy new hiking shoes. In regards to the camera, technology and electronics in Colombia are more expensive than in the states and are essentially last year's model. That said, with the new free trade agreement that will probably change. Anyways, here are the numbers. We entered the country with $217 and left with $118. We withdrew $3117 from the bank account giving us a total spend in Colombia of $3216. We were in the country for 48 days which comes out to $67 per day, way over budget. However when adjusted for the shoes and camera purchases it comes out to about $56 per day. Either way we were significantly over budget, but there is just so much to do there. That said, so far Ecuador seems much more affordable, so aside from the trip to the Galapagos, we should be able to save some cash. ¡Hasta Luego!

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Hello from Pasto. We left Popayán yesterday in hopes of catching the 8:00A.M. bus, however I made a big mistake and went to the wrong bus company's window. I accidentally bought tickets and we were lead to the bus only to find out that it wasn't a luxury bus as we had expected, but a small bus with standing room only and no air conditioning. This didn't sound too fun for a 6-7 hour ride, so I convinced the (somewhat less than honest) bus sales guy to give us back our money. We went over to the more luxurious bus line only to find out that their 9:00 bus was delayed and probably wouldn't arrive until 10:15. We bought tickets anyway and waited. About ten minutes later the lady let us know that it looked like the bus wouldn't be coming until 11:00 or later and we could wait or she would give us our money back. We checked around, and another bus line was leaving shortly, with available seats and similar to what we wanted, so we switched. Unfortunately this bus was not a direct bus so we stopped in a dozen towns, but we eventually made it and checked into our hotel. We had a big lunch, since it was 4:00P.M. and we hadn't eaten anything of substance, and wandered around the neighborhood.
Today we took a cab to the city center and went to the main cathedral, as well as a cultural artesania heritage musuem. Pictures will be up at some point, but the internet here is a bit slow, so you will have to wait. We also bumped into a very friendly old retired guy in the town square who gave us a brief history of the Nariño region. He used to manage an auto parts store in town. It turned out that his son now lives in the small town in Holland where Sarah's father went to college! This afternoon we went to a lake called La Cocha, about 30 km outside of town. La Cocha is a lake with a small town next to it at about 2850 meters above sea level. We took a boat tour of the lake and visited the flower sanctuary on the island in the middle. Sorry, but you will have to wait for pictures once again. It is a very nice little town and all the homes seem to have a unique architectural style. Anyways, tomorrow we head to Ipiales, and the next day Ecuador!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

More food (update)

We went down to the market todat to finish our Popayán food checklist. On the way, we bought some pandebono, a yuca and corn bread/donut which tastes similar to many breads we've had elsewhere in Colombia. At the market, we first bought some avocados to make guacamole later tonight to finish the other veg and chips we still have. We asked the avocado lady where we might procure some typical lunch and she led us herself to the comedor of her friend. The friend advertised tripazo, one of the items left on our list, unfortunately, it turns out tripazo is normally a weekend only type dish, much like Menudo in Mexico, which is also made of tripe. As Matt put it, he is okay with not trying tripazo, since it probably won't be better than this awesome Menudo he had once and he's eaten so much cow stomach anyway! We did have some sancocho, a delicious soup made with yuca and green plantains, and a side of hueso (bone) with some fatty rib meat and a glass of limeade. This meal officially takes the prize of cheapest meal on the adventure, at an amazingly low 1500 COP (>$1, $1 is approx 1800 pesos these days). We did manage to buy some envueltos, which turned out to be like tamales without any filling. We then headed down to a shop to try some yuca bread and liberales. Unfortunately, the shop was closed. After further investigation, the yuca bread is similar to the pandebono, only in biscuit form, and liberales are just arequipe (caramel/dulce de leche) in a bowl - things we've already had! So we don't feel like we've missed anything in this food capital! We ended our adventure with some yummy fruit - I had a Salpicon (fruit salad) and Matt had a glass of guanabana drink. Tomorrow we head to Pasto, followed by Ipiales. By Monday we will be in Ecuador! See you there, dear readers!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Food, food, food, and more food!

Hello again, dear readers! I am writing to you today during a quick digestion/eating break here in Popayán, the first ever UNESCO City of Gastronomy, so titled for its traditional food heritage. When we arrived Friday afternoon, we saw that our hostal had a list of local and traditional foods here in Popayán, along with recommendations on where to try them. Of course, we saw this as a challenge, and you can see our progress below.

As you can see, we have tried nearly everything, with just a few more items to procure tomorrow. It's been a fun and filling adventure. Matt already updated you that on our first night, we tried Empanadas de Pipian with Aji de Mani - little two-bite empanadas with spicy peanut sauce - along with gelatina - a soft but flavorless marshmallow - and peanut taffy.

On Saturday we headed to the Mercado in the northern part of the city to try the most daring item om the list: ternero, a soup made with cow fetus. The broth was quite tasty, sort of beef broth with peanuts and vegetable base, and there was a lot of meat in the bowl.

Unfortunately, I could only eat about 4 bites of the meat; the texture was fatty and spongy and it just didn't sit right with me. Matt just about finished his bowl. I am proud of both of us for trying new and different things AND we learned an important lesson: sometimes it is better to order just one bowl and share. If it's delicious, we can always order another. I felt awful about leaving more than half of my bowl full, but I would rather not eat something I don't enjoy. We wanted to keep it simple for dinner, so we went to an arepa restaurant and got filled arepas. Arepas are like corn biscuits which they open like a pita pocket and make into sandwhiches. Matt drank a Pony soda, which is a local malt beverage! Sunday was a bit challenging, as nearly everything was closed. While being a city of gastronomy, Popayán is also the religious center of Colombia and Sunday found the city quite quiet. However, there is a Sunday market where we shared a Tamal de Pipian - a tamale made with the same type of peanut filling as the empanadas, yum!, and some freshly made jugo de lulo, Lulo Juice. Lulo is a acidic orange fruit, also called naranjilla, that reminds me of kumquat flavor. All the fruits and vegetables at the market looked so beautiful, we couldn't resist buying some avocados and tomatos and onions and whipping up some guacamole. We then decided to walk up to the Iglesia de Belén, which offers beautiful views of the entire city below. On the way back down, we passed an open restaurant where we tried a traditional drink called Champús, a sort of fruit salad. We needed spoons to drink it all. It was much like salpicon, a fruit salad that is available from any fruit vendor on the street, but with a different blemd of fruits. We accompanied this with a dish of empanadas. We just can't get enough of these delightful little bites! Apparently, Monday was also a holiday, but a few more places were open. We ate breakfast at a bakery off the square and walked around the white city. Since everything was closed in the afternoon, we challeneged some other hostellers to a game of Monopoly, which Matt won! It was also rainy outside, so we didn't miss much. Tuesday found the city alive and bustling again and we began feasting! We started at Café Jengibre with juice and coffee, some hojaldre - fried bread, and carantanta - very thin fried corn chips. They were served with an oniony sauce called hogao which was quite scrumptious!

I also tried some chontanduro from a fruit vendor, it's the fruit from some type of palm tree whose texture is like sweet potato and flavor is like corn. It is prepared with salt and honey, an atypical combination, right? We stopped by the tourism office hoping to find a cooking class where I could learn the secrets of all this deliciousness, but alas, cooking classes are not offered! The tourism officer directed me to several restaurants, but they all said they did not offer instruction. Quite disappointing. After walking around on the warm day, I got a paleta (popsicle) of Salpicon, frozen fruit salad. We returned to La Fresa for more empanadas and peanut sauce! Matt got another Malt soda and I had a toronja (grapefruit) soda. Today, we ventured back to Los Quingos as they are reputed for having excellent Tortilla soup, which we had along with Rellena. Rellena are sausages made with rice and blood, which Matt liked and I thought were not bad. But the pineapple salsa they came with was awesome! Colombian tortilla soup is quite different from Mexican. The broth was clear with scallions and bits of soft tortillas inside. It was accompanied with avocado, tomato slices, some pork bits, rice, and fried plantains. We split the whole platter and were both satisfied.

We ended this lovely meal with some Helado de Paila made at a shop by the same name. The ice cream is made in a copper kettle and the result is a texture somewhere between sorbet and gelato, and quite delicious! This afternoon, we will check out a museum and probably enjoy a light dinner of local vegetables. Tomorrow, we plan to return to the mercado to finish off our checklist before heading to Pasto for the weekend!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Brief Update - Una Actualizacionita

Yesterday we arrived in Popayan safely, after relaxing for a few days in Cali. Since we last wrote we took a few days off from the heavy tourism and relaxed in local coffee shops. On Thursday night we met up with a group of local and international couchsurfers for a language exchange. Wr had a lot of fun practicing our English/Spanish/Japanese, and then we went to a salsa club to practice our new moves. Yesterday we caught the bus to UNESCO's first ever city of gastronomy and kicked off our arrival with 20 empanadas, which were all delicious. I got a drink called kumis, which is sort of a sour milk/yogurt type of beverage. Sarah, being much less food adventurous, had a Sprite. We also had this stuff called gelatina on the way home which is kind of a tasteless marshmellow, and melcocha, which is peanut butter taffy. Later on we had an oblea as a snack. Today we wil be hunting for ternero, a soup made of cow fetus.

Ayer llegamos a Popayán salvamente, despues de relajar por unos días en Calí. Desde la ultima vez que escribimos, no hemos hecho muchas cosas muy turisticas, relajamos en unos cafes. El jueves por la noche asistimos a un intercambio de lenguas con un grupo de couchsurfers locales e internacionales. Nos divertimos mucho practicar nuesto Ingles/Español/Japones, y despues fuimos a una salsateca para practicar nuestras habilidades nuevas. Ayer subimos al bus a la primera ciudad de la gastronomia por UNESCO y celebramos nuestra llegada con 20 empanadas, todas fueron muy ricas. Tomé una bebida que se llama kumis, que es un tipo de leche amarga/yogurt. Sarah, sin sentido de aventura gastronomica, tomó un Sprite. También comimos gelatina por el camino a la casa y melcocha. Más despues compartimos una oblea como una merienda. How vamos a buscar ternero.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Going going back to back to Calí Calí

Hello dear friends and loyal Shapiro Adventure readers!   Since we last wrote, we enjoyed one final day in Bogotá and we wanted to make it a good one, so we had a food tour of the central district.  Since our couchsurfing host, Edwin, works afternoons, we spent the morning with him then said goodbye at the bus station.  He headed to work and we went to the long distance bus station to buy our tickets before heading downtown.  We started by stopping at a cafe hoping to try the famed Chocolate Santafereño - unfortunately, this cafe didn't serve it and we got plain hot chocolate.  After consulting our Lonely Planet, we found a much smaller, more intimate location thay did serve Chocolate Santafereño and we got more than we bargained for.  It comes with the hot chocolate and a piece of cheese akin to mozarella that you drop into the hot chocolate as well as a cheese bread called almojabana and some buttered bread.

 While we enjoyed our melty cheesy drink, we filled up quite quickly and were not able to finish it all!  We met another traveller, a Californian currently living in New York, who was also enjoying Bogotá's food scene and had a pleasant conversation.  While digesting, we went to check out the Colombian Military Museum, home to several weapons, uniforms, and maps from the time of Colombia's independence from Spain to modern day.  Afterwards, we went to find a local restaurant famed for its Ajiaco, a local stew we had to try.  Two unfortunate things happened: the store was not open AND we lost our guide book!  Forunately, we were familar enough with the area to find another restaurant that served Ajiaco and later find our way back to the TransMilenio.  The ajiaco was amazing.  It's a potato stew with chicken, artichoke, capers, and corn with avocado and rice on the side.  It was so hearty, we decided to share a bowl and it was delicios amd filling.  We wandered a little more downtown, then headed back to the apartment to say goodbye to Abuelita and catch our bus.  We took a 9:30 pm bus and arrived the next morning in Calí.

Calí is famous for two things: their zoo and salsa dancing, and we had the chance to do both.  The zoo really is quite nice:  there are many types of animals from all over south and central America, including a video about ants, an aquarium, an aviary, a serpentarium and amphibean house, and a special primate house.  A white faced monkey tried to attack me, but luckily there was some strong glass or plastic between us.

 There were also some very small monkeys called Titis that remind me of the little flying creature from Captain Eo at Disneyland (withiut wings, obviously).  There were some local iguanas, wild, who were making a lovely home in the flamingo pond and the flamingos didn't seem to mind.  While the enclosures were sometimes a little small, they were set up very nicely so that patrons had an unobstructed view of the animals.

Saturday, we decided we wanted to take a salsa lesson before hitting up the salsatecas that night.  At first, our hostel recommended a teacher who would come to the hostal for our lesson, but he wanted 50,00 pesos which he lowered to 40,000 (28$ to 22$), but we decided we'd rather look for a group class that might be more affordable - remember, we're on a budget!  A girl who works at our hostal called around and found a studio that offered classes for just 3,000 pesos a person (less than $2).  We took a taxi ride to the studio, which is basically the living room of Bryan, a salsa dancer who won first place in last years' "Calí Salsa Festival".  There were no other students, so we got a private lesson anyway and in total, our cab rides and classes cost us less than half what the other teacher had wanted.  Bryan is definitely young and slightly inexperienced as a teacher, but he knows his salsa and we had a great time.  So much fun we decided to do a second class on Monday.  Calí salsa is faster and more complicated than the salsa we learned in Guatemala and we worked up quite a sweat.  At the end of our second lesson, we also learned a little bolero, a slower more stately dance similar to the tango.  Saturday evening we headed to a salsa club, but we were a little too intimidated to take a spin, so we enjyed a round of drinks while we watched the locals have a go.  Perhaps we'll try again tonight. While at the club, i was inspired to ask myself, quite frequently, that age old question, "Is he gay or Colombia?". I kid, but man, can those guys shake their hips!  Tomorrow we plan to see some historic sights in town and then the day after we'll head to Popayan - UNESCO's first city of gastronomy!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Musuems, English Speakers, Musuems, Did I Get Pickpocketed????

Here you have a golden snail found in the Bogotá gold musuem. Originally this was actually a sea-snail plated with gold and over hundreds of years the snail shell disintegrated leaving only the gold. We saw a variety of gold ornaments from Colombian peoples going back hundreds of years. Needless to say, the downtown area of Bogotá is filled with musuems. We have been going to a different musuem almost every day and all of them are very affordable, if not free, and are very well maintained. We have seen Picassos, Chagalles, Cezannes, and many more. We have also learned a great deal about the history of Colombia and its history with Spain. Here you can see me hiding behind a Botero sculpture.

Interestingly enough there are many people learning English in this city. In fact, one evening we were followed home by someone who we thought was up to no good...turned out he had just heard us speaking English and wanted our email so we could help him practice. We also met some schoolgirls in one of the musuems who really liked Sarah's hairdo, and thought it was very chevere that she speaks English. Just yesterday, in the Zona Rosa, we met a (possibly drunk) translator who overheard us speaking in unnaccented English and invited us over for a drink whenever we want. We may skip that one. Our host, Edwin, knows a lot of words in English, but it seems like he learned it in school ten years ago and hasn't had much practice.

This is the view of the city as we went up the teleferico to Monserrate. This is a big hill on the side of the city with a church and some very nice restaurants at the top. After going down from the hill after sunset we wandered over to the Septimazo. Every friday night seventh street shuts down in a certain area and becomes a walking street filled with painters, vendors of all things, and street performers. We watched some interesting painting in action as well as ate some kabobs and delicious filled arepas.

On Sunday we went to Zipaquira where there is a salt mine and a cathedral built in it 180 meters underground. We learned all about the different salt extraction techniques used over the years. Nowadays they pump water into the chambers and suck out salt water through a system of pumps that send it to a local salt factory. There used to be an older cathedral in the salt mine but it was closed due to safety concerns and rebuilt. Now they have some roof sections reinforced wih metal and eucalyptus wood. They also leave salt pillars that are probably 10 meters in diameter to hold up the roof of the mine. There is also a tourist train that takes you on a tour of the small town of Zipaquira. Here Edwin is posing with us in front of the trencito.

In addition to all the musuems, we also went to see the Avengers in 3D for a mere $10,000 pesos each. Also, we went to the Bogotá Beer Company after our trip to Zipaquira. The best little brewery in Bogotá as it's called. And today, on our way back home on the TransMilenio I'm fairly certain someone tried to pick my pocket in the crowd. I felt a finger in my pocket and when I grabbed it the guy behind me to the side mysteriously dissapeared. Anyways, we took the TransMilenio home and met a girl from New Jersey going to school here, also getting squished on the TransMilenio. Looks like we will probably be going to Cali within the next few days and will keep you posted.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Hello loyal followers of the team. We have arrived in Bogotá. Our bus got in yesterday morning around 7:00 A.M. We have finally had some luck with couchsurfing and our host picked us up an hour and a half later. We are staying with him and his grandmother in a neighborhood called Galicia in southern Bogotá. He has a job at the biggest beer production facility in South America and works off hours so he was able to pick us up in the morning. We had some lunch and hopped on the TransMilenio. The TransMilenio is a really unique public transportation system with huge articulated buses driving down their own lanes to avoid Bogotá's notorious traffic. Also, many of the stations have alimentadores which are other buses that distribute and collect riders in neighborhoods around the main stations. We headed to the centro looking for a friend of mine who we eventually met at a Juan Valdez, South America's version of Starbuck's. We hung out for a while and ended up heading to a restaurant called Crepes and Waffles where Sarah ordered a cheese and caramel crepe, mmmmmmm. We hopped on the TransMilenio, which was packed, and headed home. Today we are going to the gold musuem, and probably a few other musuems since there are about 20 in downtown Bogotá. On Friday's here they close down a few main streets downtown and they are for pedestrians only. Should be an interesting show of local culture. We will keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


We are in Salento, Colombia, in the coffee zone, doing a little coffee tasting and hiking. Yesterday we took a four and a half hour hike up into the mountains. It started out with a 40 minute jeep ride to the beginning of the trail, where there is also a trout farm. Lucky for us it was raining and very muddy so the hike was extra-fun. After about three hours of hiking and criss-crossing the river on some very sturdy-looking (sarcasm...) bridges, we made it to La Montaña. We had some apples and started heading down. Unfortunately it was quite cloudy, and this was our view.

Coming down the hill was a bit easier and we made it down in about 90 mins. We caught a jeep back to town and had a delicious dinner of soup, beans, rice, fried banana, fried corn pastry, salad, raw banana, stewed veggies, trout, and fruit juice. All that for a mere $6000. This morning we got up and decided to test out some of the local coffees, they are tasty, but no match for Mañana Madera yet. This afternoon we head to Armenia, a slightly larger city to hop onto the night bus to Bogotá. I leave with a picture of a muddy Shapiroadventurer.