April 12th, 2011
…that is, except for here. We were recently turned on to the coolest little bar, so cool in fact, we’re not going to tell you its name. This bar, we’ll call it The Cabana, is so amazing that our biggest fear is that some guidebook will find out about it and flood it with tourists. The only gringos we want to see there are ourselves and our guests!
What makes it worth the secrecy you ask? Well for one, two nights a week they feature a live band playing traditional Argentinean and Colombian music. There’s no stage; the six or so members gather around a small table with their glasses of beer and empty shot glasses and play whatever strikes their fancy. It’s more like sitting in on a close group of friends having a jam session than listening to a band play.
Every night the experience is completely different, thanks to the local musicians dropping in to lend their voice, guitar, or harp to the band (yes, I said harp). One night we had Argentineans belting out mournful songs, followed by a local singer/cab driver leading the crowd in a rousing version of Tengo Mil Novias (I have a thousand girlfriends). Another night we witnessed a man playing the wooden spoons and an Andean flutist putting Ron Burgundy to shame. We have no doubt that our next visit will bring an entirely different experience.
The owner keeps the drinks simple: aguardiente, rum, and Heineken beer. However, the accompanying snacks are anything but. Served with your drinks are no fewer than four bowls for the fritos, cheese flavored bread balls, mango, fresh coconut pieces, orange slices, grapes, and tree tomatoes (didn’t know some tomatoes grow in trees, did you?) And if that array of munchies doesn’t cut it for you, the tasty pizza joint across the street will bring you your choice of crispy-crusted pizza. ¡Delicioso!
The thing that brings everything together is the ambiance of The Cabana. The entire bar is perhaps the size of a living room and barely fits 10 small tables, which encourages the intermingling of the patrons. Adorning the walls are a variety of musical instruments, portraits, and vintage advertisements for various Colombian beers featuring pin-up girls. Vinyl records are haphazardly stacked on random shelves and in nooks and crannies between the assortment of antique amplifiers, record players and sound equipment. On nights when the band isn’t playing these records are filling the air with the traditional sounds of tango, and if you’re a music buff, you can make requests for your favorite Colombian or Argentinean song.
Rest assured, if you come visit us in Medellin, we’ll show you a good time at The Cabana. But until then, let’s just keep this secret between us.
More photos of The Cabana can be found here.
March 18th, 2011
It’s hard not to stand out here in Colombia. I’m a 6’3” American with a lumberjack beard and a thick accent I just can’t seem to get rid of. With all of the fun Gringo stigmas I get to be associated with as we walk the streets of Medellín, one of my favorite stereotypes (and one that we have for good reason) is how we close car doors.
We’ve discovered that, for whatever reason, the car doors are considerably lighter here, so when we shut them with the same force as we would shut an American car door, there’s the expected loud slam but it’s followed by a wincing sound from the car’s owner. For example, when I closed my first Colombian car door coming off the plane, our cousin Pedro cringed and said “Hey primo, watch it with the door, man. Don’t slam it like a Gringo.”
Whenever we get into a cab here in Medellín, we always notice the driver eying us as we close the door as if bracing himself for the pain-inducing Gringo slam. Some politely remind us to close the door softly while others have taken to posting reminders on the doors (one was actually written in English!). Sometimes drivers have even reached their arm allll the way over the the opposite side of the car to catch the door as we close it and finish the job themselves.
For visitors new to the country, it’s inevitable that they’re going to slam some doors and unintentionally irritate some taxistas. It’s not their fault, they don’t know. That’s why we’re doing our part to inform the Gringo masses of their inevitable future folly and hope that we can one day shed this ugly reputation…one softly closed door at a time.
So fear not, globe-trotting Gringo! The next time you find yourself in Medellin (and we hope that’s soon!), we’ll remind you to “cierre suave” and together we can shock the taxi driver universe!
March 8th, 2011
Colombians are many things: friendly, fun loving, passionate. But above all, one characteristic that nearly every Colombian shares (especially in the Medellin area) is that they are entrepreneurs. You may encounter it at as you back your car out of a parking space and a man stops traffic so you can back out safely in exchange for a few pesos. Or on a city bus where an aspiring rapper takes advantage of his captive audience and walks down the aisle collecting coins as he raps. Or at a traffic light where a man in a robot costume “domo arigatos” it up for cash.
We see Colombia’s entrepreneurial spirit every day but perhaps the best and most entertaining example is guinea pig gambling. It can best be described as guinea pig roulette where there are 15 overturned bowls forming a semi-circle, each with a guinea pig-sized entrance cut out for the guinea pig to enter. The bowls are numbered 1 through 15 and the spectators place money on their bowl of choice. Once there are bets on every bowl, the guinea pig wrangler takes one of his trained pets and places it a few yards from the bowls where it sits patiently. When the wrangler gives the guinea pig a little tap on the head, the ball of fur cautiously makes its way to the bowls, keeping the crowd in suspense until it enters the winning bowl. The coins are then collected from the losing bowls and the winning-bowl-better gets their money back, and then some.
One of our guests, Matt, was lucky enough to win on his first try, turning 100 pesos into a whopping 500! (25 cents) He immediately bet his winnings on the next round but Lady Luck found someone new and Matt lost everything.
So we tip our hat to you, Mr. Guinea Pig Wrangler, who looked at some guinea pigs and bowls and saw not a meal, but a business opportunity. Thanks for keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive, and for keeping us entertained!
December 13th, 2010
WARNING! This story contains brief descriptions of a live turkey being killed in order for us to have it for Thanksgiving. If you find that subject distasteful or perhaps unsettling, you may not want to read on.
Hola! How is everyone enjoying the holiday season? I hope you’re getting to enjoy some time relaxing with family, time away from work, hopefully stress-free travel, and especially some delicious foods. I know it’s about a week too late, but I still wanted to relate to you a great experience that happened back before Thanksgiving. Let me explain…
Back in early November, we were looking ahead to achieving two major life accomplishments in the same meal: both hosting our first Thanksgiving as a married couple in another country and being the ones to put those delicious, comfort foods on the table. We couldn’t do it alone, but we got help in a most unconventional way. Instead of a full house of familial workers sharing traditional recipes and warm stories, our help came in the form of US care packages, hand-delivered from friends traveling to Colombia. They sacrificed sacred suitcase space in order for us to have so many of the Thanksgiving staples we otherwise would be going without. And for that we are extremely thankful.
They brought the classic Thanksgiving staples like green bean casserole, candied yams, cranberry sauce, and stuffing fixings, among others. The only thing they couldn’t fit in their luggage was a turkey, which I could obviously get in Medellín, right? Well, Medellín proved extremely fickle about producing on her end of the bargain.
Getting our Thanksgiving turkey was one of the biggest challenges I’d faced since moving to Medellín 11 months ago. I started out where anyone in my position would: the meat section at the super market. Unfortunately, after a translation error and a quick trip to the sliced meats section, I returned and clarified that I was looking for a whole turkey, one to feed a crowd. He chuckled and told to come back in December (turkeys are big for Christmas here). But then he suggested that if I was up for it, I could just go to the forest and kill one. We shared a laugh.
A few days later, I was downtown and I had the opportunity to investigate with one of the city’s high-end butcher shops. Surely they would have the missing piece to our Thanksgiving puzzle. Sadly, they didn’t. And don’t call me Shirley.
After that additional disappointment, I called the few remaining specialty grocery stores and various out-of-work magicians I thought might have or know how to procure our missing turkey. Sadly, still had no luck finding our bird.
At this point, I was about ready to give up and make the disappointing but still delicious switch to a pork roast. But a fortuitous trip to the local fruit market changed everything and our luck turned around. We were hosting a guest at our bed-and-breakfast in Medellín and during the Fruit Tasting Tour, while getting turned down by the dozens of butchers in the meat section of the market, one of them tipped us off as to where we might find a turkey.
Half excited but still a little skeptical based on my string of failures up to this point, I heeded their advice and went to the live animal section of the expansive market. Within seconds of arrival, a nice young man named Ronal came up and asked me what I was looking for. (I’m telling you, great service in this country!) I told him “pavo” which is the Spanish word for ‘turkey’. Well apparently “pavo” also means something else because he led me over to a confused looking peacock. I had to convince him I hadn’t come to the Minorista to find a peacock and after that, much to my surprise and sincere delight, he showed me what I had searched the entire city to find: our Thanksgiving Turkey. Increible!
From there, it was a simple matter of negotiating the price and Ronal told me I could come back whenever to pick it up. A week later, on the actual day of Thanksgiving when most of those now reading this would probably have been enjoying their own Thanksgiving turkey, we went down to the Minorista market on what was for us a normal Colombian Thursday and picked out our turkey much like one would pick out a lobster. Ronal let me hold several different turkeys by their legs to see which one was heavier and I picked the winner (or loser if you’re the turkey). While Marcela opted to look at puppies, hamsters, and ducklings, I went with Ronal up some stairs to a back room and watched the turkey get “prepared”. Without getting into too many details, I’ll just say it was certainly brutal to watch but it was completely humane, and Timmy the Turkey went with dignity. The fact is that most humans eat some sort of meat and in order to have that privilege, at some point a live animal needs to become a dead animal. After the butcher finished with the turkey, he wrapped it in several large, plastic bags, passed it over, and I went to share the long-awaited spoil with Marcela.
We returned home in a cab with Timmy sitting between us, still warm to the touch. Timmy’s death was not in vain, nor was the exhaustive search throughout Medellín. Timmy was delicious and juicy with a crisp exterior and made the perfect centerpiece at our authentic American Thanksgiving in Colombia.
Happy Holidays y feliz año Nuevo!
*A special Thank You! to Alexis, Jon, and Rin for taking the risk to traffic food into Colombia on our stomach’s behalf!
December 9th, 2010
If you weren’t able to catch Marcela’s radio interview on Rudy Maxa’s World this past Saturday, you can listen to the podcast on Rudy’s website. You can listen to the player under the first heading, December 4th 2010 — Hour 1, or you can click the “download” button under the player which redirects you to a different page (it doesn’t actually download to your computer.) This option tends to go faster and allows you to fast forward more easily than the player.
Marcela’s interview begins at about 23 minutes and she discusses safety, Su Casa Colombia’s vacation planning services, and the unique things Colombia has to offer, among other topics.
Thanks for listening!