A Colonial Gem

Trip Start Nov 10, 2007
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Trip End Nov 15, 2009


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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I've really been wondering what the hell I'm doing here...well, not here.  Now that I'm in Barichara I remember why I am traveling.  But sometimes I forget and the hassles hardly seem worth the reward.  I had heard many glowing reports about Columbia from fellow travelers and I truly enjoyed Cartagena.  But once I left
there I went through a  bit of a funk.  Long travel days, miscommunication and unhelpful "helpers" make it frustrating at times.  And I really have a hard time with beautiful places that are marred by mountains of  (predominantly) plastic garbage.  I really just don't understand how people can let that happen to the places where they live!!??

The other thing that I find very difficult - and I feel a bit like a primadonna about it - is the food.  I love trying new things and being an adventurous eater, but the Latin diet of fried foods, carbs and sugar is killing me!   I end up eating at upscale restaurants just to eat a little more healthy and enjoy a decent glass of wine.   Not great for my budget but I can only eat so many shoe leather steaks!  And most of the street food tends to be breaded and fried and I feel lousy after I eat that kind of food. 

Anyway, now I'm in lovely Barichara and it has elevated my mood by quite a bit.  The trip here from Bucaramanga was incredibly beautiful!   We passed through a verdant landscape of cane, corn and orange cultivation and forests dripping with Spanish Moss.    Soon, the lush hills turned rockier and we were definitely in the mountains now!  At one point, the road must have climbed through 10 switchbacks before cresting the ridge which we then followed for several miles. The canyon to my left was the Bocachica Canyon which someone told me is the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon.  I believe it!  It was not as broad as the Grand, but I felt like I was looking out of an airplane instead of a bus looking at the river thousands of feet below.  

At San Gil I changed buses and had another half hour ride to Barichara where I am staying in a hotel in a 300 year old building - lovely.  The town was founded in1705 and the streets are paved with large stones and lined with whitewashed buildings topped with tile roofs.   Gorgeous!  And the first thing I noticed when I stepped off the bus was how delightfully quiet it is!  The town is located at about 5000 feet elevation in the mountain and it is a relief to be out of the suffocating heat of the coastal lowlands. The Hotel Corata is a delightful little hotel with the usual bland facade that belies the charming and tranquil interior.
My room was simple and comfortable, with an incredibly high ceiling.  
  I strolled through town taking pictures, visiting the church and enjoying the safety and tranquility of the small town.  The church has clerestory windows which is unusual in colonial construction.  The ceiling is made from latillas - very simple.  I think you'll agree that it is truly a picturesque little town.
In the evening I went in search of a restaurant.  Apparently, most are closed except on weekends so it was slim pickings.  I went to the Hostal Mission Santa Barbara with visions of fine dining.  It is a lovely place and indeed has a good restaurant.  As I perused the menu I decided I should venture from my usual steak and try something a little different.  The goat was a little pricey and I am not a big fan of horse meat...so I asked the waiter about a couple of items I was unfamiliar with.  One was a dish made with beef, the other, "pepitoria" was, according to the waiter, a local specialty consisting of a blend of meats, finely chopped and served with eggs. Okay, I thought, I should try the local dish and I ordered that, a cream of onion soup, and a glass of red wine.  The soup was fantastic and I was looking forward to my meal...but as soon as it arrived I realized I had either not completely understood the waiter or he had failed to mention exactly what kind of meat this was: organ meats.  (Note to self:  when encountering an unknown local dish, remember that there is probably a reason it hasn't become popular elsewhere.) The smell alone was enough to scare me off but I didn't want to insult the poor boy and his special local dish...so I dug in.  It was a huge pile of god knows what mixed with scrambled eggs and served with rice.  I mixed the rice in to dilute the "meats" and did my best.  I was able to identify chopped liver by taste and texture and god knows what else was in there.  I saw a chunk of something that was curled and on the outside had stiff hair-like bristles...intestines!  I gagged at the thought of putting that in my mouth and pushed it to the side.  Later I realized I had inadvertently scooped up another such piece and rather than spit it out (I have my manners) I managed to get it down after some diligent chewing and vowed to be more careful with the rest.  Actually, the soup had been pretty filling so I only ate about of the plate.  I tried washing it down with wine but the glasses were pitifully small and I was tired of ordering after the third one. Why didn't I order the chicken for Christs sake!?!?  I motioned to the waiter that I was finished and in answer to his look of surprise I said, "No puedo mas" (I'm full.)  He very graciously offered to give me a doggy bag and I hope I didn't look too stricken as I fumbled for an excuse...No, I don't have a fridge in the hotel...Whew!  Dodged that bullet!  The smell alone would have driven me from my room!  I paid my bill, left him a nice tip and got out of there.


I was burping a bit from the meal and the after taste of those burps made it impossible to forget what I had just eaten.  I went in search of something, anything!, to kill the taste.  On one corner of the square I spied a shop with a rack of wine - that would do!  I bought a demi bottle of red along with a few slices of "Dutch" cheese and a couple of rolls...Now I'm really stuffed but much happier with the taste of salty cheese and a decent Chilean wine!  So much for adventurous eating!  I'm sticking with the shoe leather steaks!

Despite all of that, I love Barichara.  The stone paved streets, the whitewashed buildings, the peace and quiet.  The old Renaults everywhere!
As you can see in the photos, they didn't used cut lumber in the construction here...it's all very organic.  I noticed that the windows here didn't have iron bars, just the bottom third or so had wooden bars as a decorative feature.  The people are incredibly friendly and kind and I think I've finally found the Columbia that people rave about.
 
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Where I stayed
Hotel Corata

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