Colombia – paranoia dipped in questionable coffee

I could make up a lot of garble about why I wanted to visit Colombia, but the truth is only two folds:

  1. I have a mate in NZ whose mum is Colombian, he grew up in Bogota and was always full of tales.
  2. I love coffee and wanted to go spend some time in the coffee region.

Colombia has been famous (or infamous) for its supply of the white powder into the rest of the world and more recently made famous by the epic TV Series – Narcos.

Since we were in Central America, I wanted to start our South American tour with Bogota. I am still unsure about what I had expected, but Bogota was nothing what I had imagined. The city is super modern and cosmopolitan with high rises, malls and majority of population who are extremely friendly and generous.

View of the big smoke from Monserrate
View of the big smoke from Monserrate

After exiting the airport, we joined the authorised queue for the taxi and got herded by a couple of young men “welcoming us to Colombia” in exchange for a tip. Which they didn’t get. I found the Colombian pesos extremely confusing with the smallest bill being 1,000. If it wasn’t for the honesty of our cab driver, we would have paid him 10x the usual fare.

We checked into a hotel called Hotel Cityflats that was within walking distance of Zona T, known for its gastronomical spread. Rather than doing any research, we had planned to meet my mate’s mum in Bogota, who had a packed itinerary for us.

We met Susi and her sister Gloria at the reception of our hotel the next morning. Rather than take a taxi, we did it like the locals and caught the bus, which in my opinion is the best way to get around in Bogota traffic, but only if you can get your head around it.

Bogota is full of beautiful street art, but Susi does not appreciate "the mess"
Bogota is full of beautiful street art, but Susi does not appreciate “the mess”

Interesting fact about the bus network known as Transmilenio – the network was built by the current Mayor of the city using the taxpayers’ money but is personally owned by the Mayor. This means that even after he finishes his tenure, he (and his family) will keep benefiting from this “investment”.

If Mrs FOMOist and I were alone in Bogota, we may have thought it fairly safe. But since Susi was there, she made sure we were aware of the dangers and once she started pointing them out, it was fairly easy to notice the paranoia among the locals.

Botero's Mona Lisa, soooo cute!
Botero’s Mona Lisa, soooo cute!

Everyone (and I mean everyone) always keep all their belongings clutched to their chests. It is fairly common to see women of all ages guarding their handbags in front of them, held tightly within their clutch. While on the bus, one of the guys got mugged and was wailing that someone stole all his money and phone (not something you want to hear while you’re on the same bus during peak hour).

We were only in Bogota for three days that were spent effectively tasting the local cuisine and the endless variety of fruits that one can hardly find anywhere else in the world.

I found out that there is a fruit called Granadilla that I love more than mango. It is from the passion fruit family (I think), has texture of boogers, but it tastes divine! Then there are little mangoes in Colombia that you can eat like an apple with the skin-on, there are bite-sized plums that look like cherry tomatoes and Zapote that has a vibrant orange pulp that is naturally cut into perfect slices of hairy sweet goodness.

In terms of street foods/snacks, some of our favorites included:

All the flour and cheese combinations might sound like the same thing but they are all so deliciously varied in taste.

The second half of our Colombian adventure was more focused on coffee. I wouldn’t call myself a coffee connoisseur or a coffee snob, but more of a coffee wanker who likes to drink good coffee and would go to great lengths to find a perfect cuppa.

What a place! - Hacienda Venecia, Manizales
What a place! – Hacienda Venecia, Manizales

So the search of the perfect brew took us to one of the cities called Manizales, located within the coffee region. We stayed for three days at an all-inclusive (and surprisingly affordable) resort called Hacienda Venecia. It was in the middle of a coffee farm with hiking tracks around, an onsite pool and unlimited supply of good coffee.

They also have a coffee tour that we did, learning the following basics –

  • There are three main types of coffee beans but we only learnt about Robusta and Arabica.
  • Robusta is the cheaper bean but produces more richer type of coffee that gives the beautiful crema on top and body. These coffee beans are predominantly used to make instant coffee and a blend of it is what makes Italian coffee so delicious.
  • Arabica coffee beans are harder to grow and hence why more expensive. They could be sweet or acidic depending on the processing of the beans. The coffee made from these beans is watery and you can really taste the fruitiness of the berries.

Out of the two, my preference is the cheaper blend – I like them bitter!

And here it is, the perfect brew in a perfect setting
And here it is, the perfect brew in a perfect setting

In keeping with the Cuban discovery of no one smoking cigars, Colombians don’t actually drink good coffee because it is fairly expensive for them. Coffee is widely available and popularly consumed but it is the third or the fourth grade of coffee. The best grade 1 coffee from Colombia is exported for fiends like me to consume so I can whine about the quality of coffee served at their neighbourhood cafe.

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