Archive for the ‘food’ Tag

Almost Heaven: Manizales, Colombia   6 comments

Once I had an interview where the chancellor of a college asked me, if I could be anywhere in the world where would I be. I remember thinking what a stupid question. But since I was looking for a job, I submitted to the idiocy of the question. I replied, Manizales, Colombia.

Manizales has always been a place where I feel at peace. I like to call it “cloud city.” The views are always stunning. The mountains that surround the city, the people and the culture are all slices of heaven, as far as I am concerned. The city lies on one of the ridges of the Andean Cordillera mountain range. Manizales is the capital of Caldas, one of the smaller departments in Colombia. The city sits more than 7,000 feet above sea level, in the Cafetero, the coffee growers region, near the Nevado del Ruiz volcano. Getting there can be a little of an adventure. Though there are daily flights from both Bogota and Medellin, the weather can play havoc with the small airport there. When that happens, the airlines take you to nearby Pereria. From there they will bus you to Manizales. One can also get there by bus or car from both Medellin and Bogota. The winding curves on the drive into the city provide vistas that can take one’s breadth away. Whatever the journey, for me, it is well worth it.

Having just returned from there, it is tough to say what I like most about Manizales. It is not a big city, with just a little more than half a million people in the region. The city never gets too hot or too cold. The winter rains only serve to keep the land green and the air clean. I consider the people who live there some of the most beautiful in Colombia. There is healthiness about them. Their Spanish descendancy is evident. With neighboring pueblitos and more than ten universities, indigenous and other ethnic groups are also woven throughout the mostly homogeneous human tapestry. The people there seem to have a real value for themselves and their surroundings.

Manizales is a town that values health, wellness and relationships. It is tough to know why there are gyms in the city. Walking the streets, the faldas, inclines, gives one plenty of opportunity to get some exercise. Perhaps that is why I love Sundays in Manizales. They close the main street for about five kilometers, from the outskirts into downtown. Friends, families, couples and singles were all a part of the landscape with city buildings joining the mountains as a backdrop. People walk, bike ride, skateboard, run and play in the streets. This past Sunday there was a bike race. It is a great day for strolling, laughing, talking and just hanging out. Health care professionals were taking blood pressures and doing health care screening. Restaurants line the streets and there are food vendors selling watermelon, mango, pineapples and other fresh fruits and vegetables. Farm land is rich in this part of Colombia. I tried chontaduro for the first time. The flavor is sort of a cross between a bland pumpkin and yucca. I tried it with honey and with salt and thought not ever again. Then I read, chontaduros are almost as high in protein as an egg. That’s good, right? They also contain beta-carotene, phosphorus, Vitamin A, some B and C, calcium and iron. That’s great, right? They are also an aphrodisiac. I may have to give them one more chance.

Manizales has a very rich social life, perhaps because of the many universities. I tend to stay in, or near, Cable Plaza. It is a vibrant area full of restaurants, cafes, shopping and night life. For me it is great that Estelar Hotels recently opened a hotel in the area. One of their smaller hotels, 46 rooms, they are always reasonably priced, offering a full breakfast and an evening sandwich and salad bar. This area also has a very active live music scene, including places to hear jazz, theater and art. And you do not have to wait until the weekends to find a place open. I love to sit outside at the Café Juan Valdez, Cable Plaza, listening to students, faculty and others chat away. I have met many smiles, kind faces and had conversations with people there. Perhaps that typifies Manizales also. It is a warm and friendly place; a peaceful place for me to be, and write. Since my last visit there, in 2009, they have opened a new tram system, a new four story mall, several new apartment and office buildings, and many new restaurants.   About five minutes by cab from Cable Plaza I found, on one of the side streets, a place called Patacones and Pescado, which has the largest patacones, fried platano, which I have seen. Thin and crispy, like a giant tortilla, it was tasty in either of the two dipping sauces we were given. The fish was great, the portions large and the bill only came to about $16 for two of us, including drinks. It is easy to see why the place was popular.

Manizales, and the surrounding area, is a place where people go for healing, or just opportunities to leave the day’s stress and the world’s problems behind. The city is unbelievably clean and is surrounded by parks, nature preserves and, of course, mountains. The Barrio de Chipre, maybe a thirty minute walk from downtown Manizales, offers a mountain top view of the city and the surrounding area. The park is home to the Founders Statue and a really extreme super swing. Though not exact it is about sixty foot high by my estimate. Either way it is high. Chipre is the place where people go, especially on the weekends, to enjoy life, music and each other’s company. Manizales is also close to many thermal baths, including the Hot Springs at Thermals el Otono, Santa Rosa de Cabal, the Ruiz Hot Springs and the Otun Hot Springs. Great places to soak your cares, aches and pains away. Also close to Manizales is the Los Yarumos Ecological Park, great for hiking, cycling, climbing and watching wildlife.

One day, some friends and I were driving to Risaralda, about three hours from Manizales. We came around a bend on this mountainous two lane road. All of a sudden the view was so dramatic, I remember saying “God has made this place.” I was very happy to have not been driving that morning. We would have certainly ended up over the side of that mountain. I think though that trip sums up my feeling for Manizales. It is a place where I feel reminded that there is a God. In all of its simplicity and splendor this little town in the mountains touches my soul. No matter where my journey takes me, Manizales will always be the place where I find peace and harmony with all that God has created.

Posted October 14, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Eating Healthy In Latin America, Part Three: Less Expensive Local Options   1 comment

One of the joys of traveling is enjoying the local food. I mean who wants to go to Cartagena, Colombia and eat at KFC. Well, OK some do. But for many more travelers enjoying the local food is a part of the adventure. Eating locally, off the beaten track, in both Costa Rica and Colombia are inexpensive ways to find great food. Now my caveat is that I am not a meat eater. So, this post is slanted to the fast that both countries are rich in everything I eat. The fish and seafood come from within a two hour radius. The vegetables and fruits are generally grown within an hour’s drive from the vendor or grocery store. And the breads and pastries, my downfalls, are less sugary and rich in natural ingredients.

In Costa Rica, there are hundreds of sodas, small neighborhood convenience stores or eateries serving “comidas rapido,” local fast food, from burgers to sandwiches to chicken or fish dinners and everything in between. These are the places where I love to eat breakfast or grab something for lunch. I cannot attest to the empanadas, which come with chicken, beef or cheese and are a local favorite. I like to get the gallo pinto (rice and peas), eggs and toast. Sodas are inexpensive, some with tables and chairs and many with just a window serving food to the street, with meal prices ranging from $1 to about $7 US.

In Barranquilla, Colombia the restaurants of the Las Flores barrio are my favorite. Many locals go for a nice typical dinner. I once met a teacher and his class of twelve or so students celebrating one student’s birthday at one of the restaurants. Las Flores restaurants are like shanties with a kitchen on the first floor close to the river, where the fishermen bring their catch, and the dining areas on the second and possibly a third floor. Prices for fish, usually fried, salad and patacones usually run around $5 to $6 US.

Local restaurants cater to people who have grown accustom to the micro-organisms in the water. So when eating salads, I drench them in lemon juice which is a great bacteria and chemical cleaning agent. I do not use ice, except in Costa Rica, where the filtration system, especially in cities and developed areas, are more to my comfort. In Colombia my system has not adapted yet, so I do not drink fruit punch or anything cold made with local water or contains ice.

Arepas and bollos are two of my favorite street foods. Though my costeno friends, people from Colombia’s coast, hate to hear me say it I really like arepas made by paisas, people from the cafeteria departments of Colombia. Early one morning friends and I were driving from Manizales to Risaralda. We stopped at a line of roadside food stands, ordering for arepas and coffee. A wonderfully pleasant lady complied putting a few of these thick round corn meal cakes on the grill. After about 10 minutes she slathered them with butter and handed them to us hot with a slice of cheese and a cup of coffee. The cost for the three of us was around $5. I was in heaven. Bollos, a kind of corn mush boiled in corn husks, are made sometimes sweet with cocoa and/or sugar or containing chicken, fish, vegetables or beef, these thick fast food dishes are served on the streets and in the super markets alike. Bollos can range from $.50 to $2. Bollos are prepared with boiling water. I have not had any problem eating them. I love bollos with fish or plain. They are filling and flavorful.

When I buy local fruits and vegetables, especially from street vendors, I know that there is a greater potential for herbicides and pesticides to get into my system. The standards are different. I wash local fruits and vegetables in vinegar and water thoroughly before eating or cooking. Also, eating out often can invite a variety of oils into my system that has my face looking like that of a teenage boy. The problem seems to be that restaurants and road side stands use a grade of oils, grassos, that are often of not high quality. During my extended stays, a week or more, I try to stay in places where I can cook. This gives me more control over the amount of oil I am taking into my system. I have also learned to eat heavier during the day and drink something hot after meals so my system has a better chance of getting rid of the oils I am consuming. And though I am in misery over it, I have also learned to eat less bread and pastries which are heavy in the oils that my system does not tolerate well. Keeping the heart unhealthy and system clogging oils to a minimum helps me retain the benefits of the fresh seafood, vegetables and fruits I am eating; keeping me young in body and spirit longer.

Posted June 20, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Eating For a Long Healthy Life, Part Two: Passion, Food and Life In Latin America   Leave a comment

When I mention that I am living/moving to Latin America, one of the first questions is about how hot the women are. Perhaps that is an effect of the sometimes intentionally mixed messages that marketers use to sell travel and everything else. “Colombia is Passion” is the country’s national tag line. What images does that conjure? There are marriage and introductions agencies whose websites are full of young women in bikinis or sexy poses to promote and sell seats on their single men tours, though I have heard that not all of the men are single. Sponsored by one of the liquor companies, the sign in the San Jose, Costa Rica airport says “Welcome to the Happiest Country in the World.” If you have the wonderful opportunity to enjoy the food at Delfines Con Amor, a San Jose restaurant, one of the menus items is “Viagra 5000 Volitos.” Sopa de mariscos as it is called on many menus in Costa Rica and Colombia, which is really a poor man’s stew that locals have known for generations to be a great aphrodisiac full of zinc and other sex drive nutrients, promises to deliver 5000 volts of fuel for one’s sex drive.

It is easy to think or believe that Latin American is full of wanton hot young poor women whose values are less than immaculate and hot Latin lovers awaiting gringas on every corner with Antonio Banderas smiles. These marketing ploys have made some a lot of money. It is also true that from Avenida Central in San Jose to Zona Rosa in Medellin and the campos close to Risaralda tight short skirts and bare mid-rifts, tight jeans revealing bulging crotches, long flowing manes and swinging hips on high heels pony walking on cobble stone sidewalks all are the norm in many places in Latin America. Young and older lovers sit on park benches making the expression “get a room” nonsensical. Hit the clubs and the dancing can make an American made candle melt without striking a match. Yes, prostitution is legal in many Latin American countries – though pimping or financially benefiting from a prostitute’s work is not. At night some downtown San Jose streets can be filled with transvestites, some looking like a Glamour magazine photo shoot and National Park can be full of gay men looking for their next escapade.

But be careful not to paint a whole region of the world with a marketers brush. Virtue is as honored by many as it was in their parents and grandparents time. In some ways it has to be because many are still living with their grandmothers and mothers. Here, passion refers to a commitment to one’s values and beliefs. Many Latin people, even poor people living in shanty’s or homes where multiple generations share a bed, are passionate about their desire to enjoy life. This is in stark contrast to the wait until the work is done lifestyles of many western cultures. I have been invited to friend’s homes on a Sunday afternoon where family members and friends gathered around salad, rice and beans, patacon, avocado salad, a chicken or fish dish and a few cervezas or homemade fruit punch. Their homes filled with stories, joy, music and laughter reminded me of growing up in Rand, West Virginia during simpler times.

They say Latin blood runs hot. Perhaps it is the fact that these countries are rich in coffee, a natural stimulant that there is no denying gets blood pumping through one’s veins like it is on steroids. Or the fact that they have a high vegetable rich diet, salads served with most meals and vegetarian selections or restaurants in abundance, giving their hearts a chance to have healthy blood flow which gives other parts of the body a chance to function at peak efficiency. Who knows! What I do know is that life is to be enjoyed without many hang-ups. Understanding that liberates one to enjoy their lives, all of their life as a whole, not fragmented pieces to be repressed and/or hidden because some parts may be judged as less than pure.

There are more holidays in Colombia I think than in any other part of the world. Schools are closed in Barranquilla for Carnivales. “Disfruta al goza” my friends tell me. Enjoy yourself to the fullest. Money does not seem to define happiness in Latin America. Perhaps it can’t!  I have learned a lot about rebalancing my life, and my judgments, since I have been in Costa Rica and Colombia. Latin America offers a different view of life and living. Very little seems to be repressed here. That is a huge contradiction for some and one of the beauties of these countries for others. Even poor people can live without worries. Joy, living and the belief in God’s blessing is a serious way of life for many; that God will both provide and forgive. It is this liberation that fuels a passion for living, sharing and enjoying what is in front of one. On the coast of Colombia it is the rumba, partying without worry. In Costa Rica it is Pura Vida. For me it is letting go and learning to enjoy life from a different vantage point.

Posted June 13, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Eating for a Long, Healthy Life In Latin America Part One: Fountain of Youth Found In Latin America   Leave a comment

This is the first in a three part series on “Eating for a Long, Healthy Life in Latin America.”

No, this is not a give-away to ending of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  Besides, from the movie’s reviews it would be the beginning of a very bad blog post.  What I want to talk about is why Costa Rica has  one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world?  Why “Pura Vida” is that country’s theme,  meaning living life to the fullest.  Colombia’s tourism theme: “Colombia is Passion.”  Could it be that in Latin American there exists the mythical fountain of  youth?  And it is right before our eyes, for the taking?  I think so.  Surely not living for eternity at age 24, but  living life healthy and to the fullest longer than most.

Two of the things that attracted me to Latin America, quite frankly, are the food and cultures that characterize a more healthy approach to living.  Both Costa Rica and Colombia are countries rich in vegetables, herbs, fish, fruits and seafood of many varieties.  As importantly the approach to living life emphasizes balance, family and caring for body.  A little known fact about Costenos, people living on Colombia’s northern coast, is their
knowledge and reliance on natural medicines and herbs that promote vigor in one’s life.  My family has a history of high blood pressure and diabetes with the resulting health problems traumatic.  My brother and father both died in their early sixties.  My brother and one of my aunts had amputations because of their diabetes.  I have no desire to succumb to the same fate.

In both Costa Rica and Colombia, fresh vegetables and fruits are plentiful.  From the super markets to road side stands and street vendors, whose stands can be as elaborate as those in the supermarkets or simply crates on the sidewalks, I have found a range of items I knew and much I had no clue existed.  The fruits I have come to know are maracuya, guayaba, nispero, guanavana, ciruela, and granadilla.  As well as giving me a variety of different flavors, I have learned that many have medicinal value.  In Barranquilla, azuca mangos, one of three different varieties of mangos that grow locally, are so plentiful in the neighborhoods that a recent newspaper article cited their abundance as a problem.  Coconut water, served cold in the coconut, can be found at road side stands.  Low in carbs, sugar and mostly fat and cholesterol, aside from having the same electrolyte level as our blood, coconut water is known to boost the immune system, raise the metabolism, promote weight loss, detoxify the system and aid in the fight of viruses.  Arroz con coco is a typical side dish in Colombia.  Every morning here in Barranquilla I hear the street vendor’s voice, “Aguacate, Aguacate,” selling avocados, which is a heart healthy food.

Fish and seafood are widely known to have heart healthy benefits, as well as possess powers to increase one’s vitality if you get my meaning.  At restaurants in Jaco, Puerto Viejo and  Manzanillo, Costa Rica, as well as in Cartagena, Santa Marta and Barranquilla, Colombia “fresh catch” does not mean flown in that day.  The fish on your plate was likely swimming freely in the river or ocean that morning.  In Colombia, de agua salada, meaning from the ocean, you have robalo and sierra (which are very popular in restaurants) mojarra, tilapia, lebranche and more.  De agua dulce, meaning from the river, principally the Magdalena, you can get mojarra, cuatrojos (very popular), arenque, bagre, barbul, corvinata, bocachico and more.  In Costa Rica, meaning rich coast, flounder, grouper, corvina, and several types of snapper are widely available.

They say the best place to hide something is to put it in plain view.  Perhaps the “Fountain of Youth” is turning knowledge into a lifestyle.  In Latin America the knowledge that a healthy diet is the key to a long and youthful life is lived.  I marvel at a Costa Rican friend’s parents, who just left their working farm in their late seventies.  Now in their early eighties they look like, talk like and enjoy life like they are in their sixties.  Understanding what to eat, its effect on one’s body and turning that information into action seems to be the key.  And because people in both countries live inter-generationally, often with three generations in the same house, knowledge about foods, herbs and their benefits are easily passed on, even without the internet.  All one has to do is ask.

Pura Vida!

Posted June 6, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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