Trip Start Apr 05, 2008
Trip End Jul 19, 2008

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chapter 1 - Images of coffee...

A.  The Cafe

Im buzzing.  Buzzing all over.  Like a bee on a glorious summer's day.  Or a 70s television well past its use-by date.  Like the fridges of student share houses all over the world, I'm buzzing.  As I look out the window, over the lime and aqua railings, of a time warp of a cafe, bells signalling the sale of gas bottles ring and dingle, and another fresh, full cup of colombian tinto coffee appears in front of me - strong, delightfully aromatic, black like the darkest of back alleys.  I add sugar and sip.  And then, I buzz.  Like the bass on a bogan's suped-up commodore.  Like high-voltage wires warning of an impending storm.  Through the lime and aqua door of this traditional local cafe, seven M-16 rifles suspend themselves from seven army personnel, each further armed with the biggest, shiniest black boots in the history of the world, each soldier prohibited from smiling.  Over their camouflage hats, the clouds lower ominously - they promise rain for the Colombian coffee zone today.  And, indeed, there will be rain for this quaint, breezy town of colours - the 'small town with long memories' - the town of Salento.  An older man, his moustache greyer than his hair, moves from his window seat and cowers beneath his cowboy / panama hat and technicolor dream poncho and mutters the spanish equivalent of 'it looks like rain'.  The cafe silently agrees.  A cane walks in with Clint Eastwood, words are uttered and then the cafe fills with steam, the coffee filling the air, the seemingly constant aroma.  THis is, of course, the coffee zone of the devil of the death from hell...

B. The Fields

At my feet, the world falls away, disappearing into a sea of verdant green lush enough to swim in.  The smells of the zona cafeteria swill in the air, mixing, a cocktail of tropical fruit, dirt, humidity, coffee and trout on the grill.  The air is still, the scene one of silence, the only interruption the sound of a moth the size of my head seeking permission to land.  Hundreds of metres on, I notice the world reappear on the other side of the valley, greener than ever, more beautiful than ever.  Tinto appears before me.  Another one.  That's 6 today.  I buzz.  Like a Nokia on vibrate only.  Like a cown's handshake gag, I buzz...

Chapter II - Needs salt...

'That's not salt'.
'Aha.  It is.'
'No.  Surely it couldn't be.  It looks like marble'.
'It's salt.  Trust me'.
'If you don't believe me, taste it'.
'Taste it?'
'Yeah.  Lick it'
'Lick it?  That rock?'

As a general rule, tour guides shouldn't dare you to lick rocks.  Don't you reckon?  Or is that just me?  Especially rocks and stuff.  Or the ground.  They definitely shouldn't dare you to lick the ground.  Ok - so she may have been right - it was salt.  And, ok.  I probably should have listened.  But I'm still not convinced about the daring.  Or even a double dare  I would definitely have preferred a physical challenge...

In my defence, the Cathedral of Salt, just outside Bogota, is really quite an extraordinary sight.  More than extraodrinary actually - unbelievable.  It just doesn't look like salt.  Not as I know it anyway.  Looks more like black marble as I know it actually.  It has a smooth, granite like finish, cold to touch.  All the features, in my expertise, for me to consider it a rock.  Anyway, apparently it isn't.  Since 1992, this particular Salt Cathedral has been fooling idiots like me everywhere.  Following concerns that the original Cathedral of Salt was structurally flawed, work commenced on the new and improved underground salt cathedral of death, commonly known as 'The Cathedral of Salt'.  Adopting massive portions of a disused salt mine, a mind-boggling, subterranean labyrinth was constructed leading to a dim, cavernous and amazing space 100m below ground - the Cathedral of Salt.  Incredible, less due to its construction from salt, more due to the fascinating maze of tunnels and the design of the cathedral which can only be described as sexy.  Well, sexy enough for the cathedral to host fashion shows, concerts and function.  A sight surely to be recommended.  What I don't recommend, however, is licking the rocks.  Or the ground.  Tastes like salt...

Chapter III - Caution...

I've heard them all.  More than I care to remember actually.  They go something like this:

'you're going where?'
'isn't it really dangerous there?'
'Don't they just kill everyone there?'
'watch out for drug.  You know they plant them on you...?'
'You should get yourself a gun.'
'I heard a story about a guy who was there and got kidnapped and woke up without one of his kidneys...'

As much as you try not to think about Colombia's not-so-sparkling reputation, it's hard not to be slightly affected by the drum of fear that has been a constant beat for a while  So itwas with some significant negligence that we somehow strayed onto a road, in the dark of night, that we had been told not to go near.  I blame Tamara - loveable Tam from Perth, solicitor for the State, crazy hippie.  Indeed, I blame her.  What we were going following Tam is one of the great mysteries of mankind, up there with the pyramids, the bermuda triangle, what happened to Steve Guttenberg and how James Spader gets the roles that he does.  Anyway, it will not happen again...

Indeed, Bogota has an unfortunate reputation which has the ability to blind people.  But look beyond this mask, and a culturally rich city of music, art, food and coffee comes alive, names such as Garcia-Marquez and Botero synonomous with the city.  La Candeleria, the city's historic centre, is dotted with cafes, restaurants, pastelerias, bars, jewellery shops, clothes, galleries and museums - a beautiful place for day time strolls and browsing, apparently not for night time walking.  We have only just started to explore Bogota but, alas, our time has elapsed.  As I leave, it is clear that Bogota has a lot more to offer.  Perhaps another time?

Chapter IV - The Top 5

So, to the Top 5.  I am willing to admit that, at times, this blog contains some exaggeration.  Hyperbole.  BUt this next top 5 is not an exaggeration.  It contains none of it.  Zero.  Everything uttered past this point is entirely true.  You see, I think I have found the greatest restaurant in the world.  Not just the greatest - the most fun, the craziest, the most bizarre, the most incredible dining experience of my entire life.  Where?  In a small town outside Bogota of course - Chia.  It's called - Andres Carne de Res.  No description does it justice.  No superlatives can properly convey it.  One must got and experience it.  It is a must.  It is enormous - long and massive, apparently fitting 2000 people.  And thousands flock on the weekend for a party which is meant to be of the devil of the death from hell.  So what's so good about it?  Well, here are the top 5 things that I encountered:

5.  Crazy, eclectic decoration over the entirety of this monstrous steak house.  If it were done differently, it would be considered tacky.  If it were done slightly differently, it would look amatuerish  But it's not done differently.  It's done perfectly.  Stuff from everywhere and anywhere, all over the place.  Bizarre but mind blowing.  Really. 

4.  Official welcoming at your table - a random band, dressed as bandits, rockedup at our table, playing random local tunes,giving us a fake cake with candles, sparklers, firecrackers, hats, tiaras, crowns, bandanas, confetti cut like stars coming from the roof, just for our table.  Bizarre.  Unexpected.  Brilliant.

3.  Models - random models just walk around in random gear.  Dressed from next to nothing to a full, purple sequend suit, they strut and pose next to your table.  Why?  No fucking reason.  Just because.  Because they can.  Ha.  Apparently, theyhave different things everyday.  Tuesday?  Purple dressed rabbits.  Wednesday?  Vampire day.  Random  Weird.  Love it...

2.  Windy menus - no normal paper menus here.  No.  Rather, they come in a metal box, the menu on a scroll inside.  Want to read the expensive menu?  Wind the windy thing on the side.  Awesome...

1.  The food - in the end, it's a steakhouse  And all of its novelty would count for little if its food did not make the mark.  Luckily, the food was magnificent.  What did we have?  Oh yes - the meat plate.  A juicy kilo of beef, topped with perfect bacom almost melting on top, served with a selection of delicious, unidentifiable sauces.  And then the mash?  Oh.  Possibly the best in the world - cheesy but not too cheesy.  Creamy but not too rich.  Fluffy.  Perfectly fluffy.  And the most ridiculous selection that a salad bar has ever seen, the pick being the marinated roast beef, olives and feta.  Brilliant.

To Medellin.  Do it...
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