Villa de Leyva

About 100 miles outside Bogota is Villa de Leyva. a quaint Colonial town some 445 years old. Went there to take sting off turning *cough*somethingsomething*cough, enjoy the sites of the Colombian countryside as well as the village itself.

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Monserrate

Monserrate sits on the hills on the east side of Bogota allowing for some spectacular views. Like those below. To the west the sprawling city that seems to go on forever, whereas to the east, just forest green as far as the eye can see.

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Bogota Street Art Tour

This gallery contains 34 photos.

Shortly after our arrival in Bogota, we did a street art tour through Candeleria neighborhood, learned a bit about the artists as well as the city’s attempts to take art down (which just leads to graffiti) and the rules for … Continue reading

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Bogota

The First Week

So I still owe some closing thoughts on my time in Paraguay… working on those, they’ll go up at some point. And you’ll see a lot of Paraguay below as, well, it’s my only proper South American frame of reference for living, not visiting, abroad.

In the meantime we’ve been in Bogota for almost a week now, so some random thoughts.

Altitude – holy cow! Going from 1,000ft to 8,600ft does exact a toll. I’m sleeping more than normal, a couple days I’ve felt hungover despite not having anything but coffee and water the day before, and while I can walk on the flat surface of Septima (7th, a major traffic artery very close to our current apartment), the mere act of climbing the two flights of stairs to our apartment leaves me winded like I’d just jogged a 5k.

For any of my friends who want to visit me, whether Americano or Parguayo, brace yourself.

And brace yourself for some great views.

Weather – between living in Arizona and Paraguay for the last 30 years (which includes a 2 year stint on Tropical Guam), wasn’t completely ready for here. While the daily high, year around, is somewhere around 62F and is absolutely positively wonderful, the lows in the mid-40s while in apartments with no heating can make things a bit chilly. Consider this a big warning, my Paraguayan or Arizonan friends. Particularly Paraguayans, who treat anything sub 70F by bundling up like the little brother from the Christmas Story movie.

Of course, for those looking to come to visit – or just random people who stumble upon this because the #Bogota hashtag, airBNBs in my neighborhood see nice apartments going for about $36/night. No joke.

Huge city – population of about 9m or so, about 40% more than all of California-sized Paraguay, let alone Asuncion or Tucson, which hover around the 1m mark. Our current apartment is on the cusp of the “rich” area, which is awesome for:

 

FOOD – holy hell. I think I melted FourSquare looking for nearby places to eat.  We had north of 90 within a half mile. Lots of interesting places, it seems. Hooray.

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(Chicken breast Florentine, with “rice Coco” and fried plantains. Cost, with bottled water and tip… $8)

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Within 96 hours of landing I have found one supermarket that sells Cholula and another place that sells Sriracha, so I’ve got that going for me. Makes up for…

BEER – big drop off from Paraguay thus far. Bogota Brewing Company is ok… not quite on par with Paraguay’s Sajonia, let alone the mighty Herken. Not bad, but not great. I’ve tried several other local Colombian beers and don’t think I’ve scored any non-BBC beer above 3 out of 5. Not impressed. Seems there is to be some tour of some of the craft breweries this weekend, hoping to get my name on the list, though as “Not A Teacher”, I, once again, am orbiting the school social scene like the moon and the Earth. Or maybe more accurately, Halley’s Comet … as you see the moon nightly.  While the beer is woeful, and mis amigos from the AcervaPY leave most of what I’ve tried in the dust, Bogota does win equally going the other way with…

COFFEE – Colombia is the 3rd largest producer of coffee in the world. (Bet you can’t guess the second offhand!) … and it’s all over. Great stuff at the supermarkets as well as a coffee places all over. Side note, this lead to a great quote from a younger teacher new to the area that just makes me feel old. She was talking with my wife and said something to the effect of “They’ve got this coffee here and it’s even better than Starbucks. It’s Juan Valdez!”  Upon hearing that all I could think of was my younger years when Juan Valdez was as good as it got in the US before the raise of Hydra…er Starbucks.

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Currency – Paraguay was ballpark 5,000 Guarani to the dollar. Values slowly went up or down, with larger trends which saw the dollar slowly go from 4,200 when I arrived to about 5,500 when I left. Here it’s 3,000 Pesos to the dollar. Or so. Apparently it can fluctuate like 15% in a single day or so. And while it’s fairly easy to mentally convert prices, just divide by 3k, after about two years of using 5k I have to think all my conversions over twice.

 

Peoples – Done some minor touring of the city while doing requisite paperwork with some of Katie’s school’s HR staff and met some of the both Gringo and local teaching staff. Everyone we’ve met has been super nice and friendly. Which is swell. My worst fear here is not getting mugged, kidnapped by some rebels out in the jungle and held for ransom, but rather just being lost and anonymous in a city of this size, particularly after my time in Asuncion where I had some great local friends and couldn’t even do the 5 minute walk to the mall to pay my bills without waving at 5-6 familiar faces and talking futbol with 1 or 2 on the way.

 

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Florianopolis

Florianopolis, more commonly referred to as Floripa, is on an island just off the coast of Brazil just close enough to be connected by a bridge. It has a nice, bustling modern city. We opted to stay a bit away from it. Given advice from some Paraguayan amigos well familiar with the area, we stayed two fistfuls of kilometers out of the city, over some hills and by the water at Lagoa da Conceição.

Our place was decidedly less, uh, modern and perhaps “posh” as places we’ve rented. I’ve always wondered about the 2nd and 3rd floor apartments over small businesses here… the ones with the small, external and dodgy iron wrought spiral staircases. We found out as that is where we stayed. Our place was one big primary room with two small bedrooms. At least the bedrooms had drapes, the dining area/kitchen was a wide open fishbowl. We had a great deck/balcony with tables, lounge chairs, quincho… but it was fairly cold and got dark and actual cold early. Would have been a much better place for bros on a Spring Break than our usual lodging. We’ve liked airBNB for letting us “live local”, we got that flavor this stay.

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That said, the location was perfect for a lot of the fun stuff Floripa has to check out. We had a great view from the balcony, hills on one side and a plaza on the other. Morning markets on Thursday and Saturday, kids playing futebol the rest of the day, all day, until the Sun went down. Conveniently near the water taxi as well.

First night we decided to stay close and check out Books & Beer. Was one of the places I had bookmarked to visit in advance… and conveniently located about 600m from our apartment. Really cool establishment, had a downstairs lounge area with dimmed lights, comfy chairs and couches to relax with friends for a social few. Upstairs was the bar/restaurant, half inside, half on an outside patio overlooking the lagoa. 5 beers on tap, and a large bottle selection, an enjoyable special – fruit of the sea curry style, com cerveja. The menus are printed up like books, with beers, wines, appetizers each having their own chapter and presented almost in literary style. We were handed, much to my amusement, Moby Dick and O Velho E O Bar – the Old Man and the Sea (well, Bar).

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Wednesday we took the morning to hike around our new barrio, take in our new surroundings and get the lay of the land. And continue to enjoy more of Brazil’s absolutely fantastic coffee, courtesy of Café Cultura.

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We did also cab into town to check out the Mercado Municipal – Basically two buildings adjacent to one another, each with open big hallways. One selling meats, fresh fish, and stores with tea, spices (including a Sriracha-imitator). The second more stores, tourist stuff and wares. The middle was restaurants and bars- including Beer Boss, another place with high craft, uh, as the name might imply, beer.

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The entire neighborhood around the barrio also featured street vendors and stores with lots of wares -some maybe of questionable authenticity, along with a nearby plaza/park with a tree with branches so wide and massive they need metal struts to support.

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We capped the day off back in the lagoa, with cheating on both Sriracha (the Hoy Fung original) and Sa-Ing Thai Restaurant (my one a week Tucson lunch for a decade) with Take Thai, mobile food truck. First Thai food I’ve had since January 2015. Thoroughly enjoyed.

As I mentioned we were near the heart of a lot of the outdoorsy/nature things to do, so on Thursday we cabbed a couple KM up to the start of the lagoa hike. It’s a bit of a weird one. Some little patches of hiketude along an old path cuts along the edge of the lagoa. So it’s a nature path… and suddenly houses sprout up. Some along the trail, some along the shore, some set back up higher and more secluded in the hills. Some are clearly for people with money, some are just for the local fishermen.  Then back to trails. And eventually to a couple little villages/towns. There’s also a waterfall that is pretty to look at, but really underwhelming compared to Igauzu.

At some point during the hike we were joined by a black dog that looked vaguely like our old Aussie Shepherd, Jack. He tagged along, scouted ahead and accompanied us for probably a good 40 minutes. We dubbed him Jaco in honor of my old best canine buddy.

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We did enjoy some crab empanadas and beer at the end of our journey, before taking the water taxi on a 45-minute ride back to our the main dropoff right by the plaza/our place. Dinner was a trip to the Food Truck round up. The town converted an old parking lot into a permanent housing for 10 food trucks – 8 various dinner choices – and some desert and one from a local craft brewery, picnic tables, umbrella covering, even a pool that skaters were using to do tricks. Love food trucks, was awesome to see the community utilize them in such a way.

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Friday was cycling day, taking in a tour of the many beaches and dunes in the area, five in all are readily accessible. Enjoyable trip, even if the cobblestone roads of the lagoa were terribly uncomfortable in the saddle-area, particularly compared to Curitiba. We capped the day off with dinner at an artisanal pizza place. The restaurant vibe was great, an old two story house. They allowed us to split a pie half-and-half, which was great as neither of us managed to eat our half. They also had their own house beer, which went well with the pizza.

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We returned to the dunes on Saturday to spend an hour sledding down. Rather 4-5 minutes up for each 30 second ride down. Started with the bunny slopes, but after two runs quickly graduated to larger and largest slope. Was a heckuva lot of fun.

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And, sadly, just like that 8 nights in Brazil were over and we returned home.

 

(Beer enthusiasts – Top three Tupiniquim – Polimango Double IPA, Cervejaria Imigração – Ruleto Russa IPA, Cerveja Blumenau Capivara Little IPA, with special credit to Krug. The local supermercado had 5 different beers of theirs, all named after emotions… they were all great.)

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Curitiba

Mid-July we took a summer (well, winter) break and enjoyed a four night/three day stay in Curitiba, Brazil as the first half of a doubleheader, Brazilian style.

Our apartment was one of the nicest airBNB’s we’ve had the fortune to stay at. It was also conveniently located in the middle of a lot of the places I enjoyed/visited my first trip there for the Bodebrown Beer Train the year before.

Our first morning in, after waiting out some rain we paid a visit to Cafe Lucca for some great coffee (and a coffee-infused beer) as well as some breakfast. We got a little lost walking back, taking in the sites of the centro of the city, passing a few places we’d check out later. Evening closed out with a trip to Barbarium, another placed I had enjoyed. “Chicken from Hell” (from heck, though Brazil brings more heat than Paraguay does) and some of Curitiba and Brazil’s finest craft cerveja.

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Sunday, after some breakfast we visited the Jardim Botanico/Botanical Garden. The weather was near perfect so strolling the park was extremely enjoyable.

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Evening closed out with a visit to the amusingly named Whatafuck Burger. The venue was tiny, only a couple small tables, packed. Burgers are cooked upstairs, than slide down a ramp to the counter, almost like a kids playground. Was 48F out, and yet 200 or so people were strewn over the street, scarfing down burgers or food from Meat Pack next door and enjoying more local craft beer.

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Weather continued to be stellar if not particularly warm on Monday and we managed to book a bike tour of the relatively flat and bike-path friendly city. Gustavo, our guide, was extremely knowledgeable on both the routes and the art itself, giving us some great insight into the artists and what they put into their work.

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We covered a good amount of ground, including a block of the city with a factory/business/whatever inside and white walls along the outside… an entire block of walls. In 2012 the owners coordinated with artists on Street of Styles where top street artists from Brazil and beyond congregated for two days. Each was given a segment of wall to showcase their/their crew’s abilities. Gustavo was able to explain specifics on the styles of some of the artists as well as explaining collaboration – each had their own piece of the wall, but artists conspired and worked together so thematic elements, largely in the background, would work to tie completely separate images together in one arc.

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(Bonus content… Here’s a YouTube link to the event!)

We were so interested and he was so passionate that our tour went at least an hour over. After Street of Styles, we cycled back towards a “cooler” older part of town, took in some mega pieces, including a Shining homage as well as some coffee (after 4pm the temp dipped.)

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A great way to spend a day, burn off cerveja calories, enjoy the fresh air, see the city and learn something. Oh, beer calories? Yeah. I too Katie back to Hop & Roll a last evening out and to enjoy a flight before Tuesday’s flight to Florianopolis aka Floripa.

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(For beer fanatics, best three beers of this leg: Whatafucking F#%*ing Beer Pale Ale, Tormenta IPA, Hop Arabica coffee-infused Blonde Ale)

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Montevideo, Uruguay

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In case the title and lead in pic didn’t give it away, we spent Fall Break/Easter Week/Semana Santa this year in Montevideo, Uruguay. Gave us a chance to check out the city, visit another country, try their take on the lomito (a chivito) and get horribly baffled by the local variation of the language. (Uruguayan Spanish seemed like the equivalent of, say Polish to Russian… lots of shshshsh’s, almost like a “slurred” version. I had a hard time keeping up.)

Weird week to visit. While BA and Mendoza still were bustling last Semana Santa, in Montevideo everyone heads to the resort area, Ponte del Este and the break is referred to as Semana Turistica. Was weird to see more and more shops and businesses close up as the week went on.

Katie had a week off, whereas I didn’t. It was cloudy and cold-ish when we arrived. (60F). Monday through Thursday the weather was absolutely glorious, as you can see from the pics of our Wednesday late afternoon trip to the Bodega Bouza, a nearby vineyard. By Good Friday and time to check out the Mercado Puerto it was grey again, and Saturday tacked some rain on. Not complaining, though, as the colder weather was a welcome change from sweltering Asuncion.

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Our airBNB apartment was, uh, snug, but located mighty close to La Rambla, the walk/biking pathway that follows the edge of the city along the Rio Plate. We enjoyed walking it a couple KM in either direction and Katie enjoyed the playa during the sunnier days while I worked away.

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The city itself was, as we were lead to believe, fairly expensive. Simple items – the boring crackers we buy here for about 80 cents a package were going for just over $3. A chivito, which is a slightly more dressed up lomito goes for about $10, whereas I can get a lomito and a beer, with tip, for about $5 in Asuncion.

a chivito.

a chivito.

Beef, on the other hand, wasn’t terribly expensive, as I recall. And, as you might expect in a South American country with more cows than people, mighty good.

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Places were closing down as the week progressed. The cool, historic but slightly divey Tranquilo Bar was open Monday & Tuesday, then shuttered the rest of the week as were all the nearby cambios and some cafes. Had bad luck with Mastra & Montevideo Brew House being closed earlier in the week, but fortunately were open later and enjoyed some decent beers, though I must confess the two bottles I took home from MBH topped any of the draft beers I tried.

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Exploration was limited to just our barrio/the Rambla, as noted above. We also took a Bodega tour (Bodegas in some parts down here are not small markets, but rather the actual wineries.) The weather was glorious as were the grounds. Bodega Bouza, in addition to a swell restaurant, also houses a museum/show room of some very old cars and motorcycles the family has collected. Really impressive.

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After checking out his olde tyme vehicles we were given a brief tour of the grounds and the winery works. Now kind of familiar to us. We ended with a tasting at the restaurant, paired with cheese and meats. Really enjoyable combinations. Most of their wine is exported, with a majority of the remainder consumed there at the restaurant.

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Friday we checked out the old city, starting with a walk around and lunch at the cool Mercado Puerto. Stuff to buy on the outside, and an old, open structure with pretty much every square inch devoted to asado restaurants, showing their wares and trying to attract the tourists. We opted for a more expensive place simply for the rooftop dining option, so we could look down at the market.  Was a “tourist” place, definitely. The meal was good, but we got better food for less at other restaurants. Still enjoyed the experience and spectacle.

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Continued our walk through the Old City, checking out some landmarks, statues, parks, and the particularly stunning Palacio Salvo, as well as a partial look around Teatro Soliz.

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Saturday’s less than stellar weather kept us from doing much aside from relaxing in our apartment before we had to get up far too early to fly home. Was a fun trip. Our neighborhood in Montevideo, despite being increasingly deserted as the week went on had a lot of charm, cool places to eat, a couple craft beer joints and friendly people.

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