Category Archives: South America

Vertical Gardens and Plant Walls

Creative urban gardeners always looking for more places to grow things have embarked on the next obvious space: the walls. In the style of graffiti and mural art, building have become the new blank canvas, begging the artist for creative input. I’m enjoying this growing trend of urban greenery in American cities, and during our recent jaunt south for the Winter, took some photos in countries across South America in February 2016.

(Pictures forthcoming as I work out the app and mobile uploading)

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Coffee in Cartagena

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Colombia is known worldwide for its quality coffee. One organization, the Juan Valdez (cartel), is in charge of the country’s industry from requiring buying their variety of arabica plant starts to paying them to remove the fruit hull layer and grade the beans. They will not allow the export of smaller beans, which can be sold for national consumption. Only larger grades are allowed for export.

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I love plants, having a masters degree in agriculture and having grown up in California, but I strongly dislike wine and coffee. The burnt bean smell on my clothing after leaving a Starbucks makes me regret entering. The two buck chuck and the cheap wine craze befuddle me, sulphur doesnt pair well with flavor, is inflammatory, and makes for painful hangovers not even Starbucks can fix.  However, an unlabeled bottle poured by the winemaker him/herself is a treat and an honor of excellence I relish and enjoy, knowing the entire process and trusting the integrity and enthusiasm, care and craft, of the person who guided the process of years it took for that special moment to transpire, sharing the enjoyment of their fruits of dedicated labor.

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On another note, I love chocolate, the darker the better, and it seems coffee would be a natural next step, yet I haven’t ever had more than a sip of coffee my entire 44 years. After experiencing the mere aromas of burnt, stale beans, I’ve never been interested to try coffee in the United States.

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After a month and a half in South America trying the stimulants of the region, greatly enjoying the Yerba Mate tea leaves of Argentina and Uruguay and chewing the coca leaves of Bolivia, it was clearly time to visit Colombian coffee.

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Granted a mocchaccino is not a straight cup of black, bitter awfulness Americans call coffee, but not being a fan of coffee in the slightest, it was all an adventure.

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Farm fresh, premium grade, single origen sourced beans produced such subtle, earthy flavors like I’d never known could be expressed through a coffee infusion. Perfectly blended with milk and chocolate syrup, the combination was delightful and I could finally understand the global addiction to this disgusting legal stimulant traded as a commodity second only to oil.

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Although I’m highly unlikely to try coffee again in the US, I greatly enjoyed the experience of locally grown Colombian coffee in Cartagena made by the cafe barista at San Alberto.

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Pablo Escobar Tour

We did the Lonely Planet recommended tour of multiple sites including buildings that got bombed to where Pablo was killed to his grave site.

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Final home of 44 year old Pablo Escobar where he was shot climbing out the back window
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Most visited grave in South America after Eva Peron.
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Pablo Escobar Tour Flyer in the Paisa hostel Medellin

The tour guide concluded with that  there is more business now than during Colombia’s 50 years violence when 100s of thousands of people were killed every year. The seat of global distribution has been shifted to Mexico, where a violent era is in progress.

His was the only grave in this strict, private cemetary allowed special concessions of his favorite Miami palms and decorative rocks.

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Medellin, Colombia

Despite our Medellin hosts not having hot shower water, slow Internet, and the public toilets not having the lids I’ve been accustomed to my entire life, I enjoyed Colombia’s beautiful landscape, access to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans combined with traditional grazing and abundant tropical fruits plus extremely favorable exchange rates.

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Restaurants, movies, and travel were less than a third the prices of any other major US city. Movies were 2-4 dollars with a bottle of water costing another dollar at the concession. Buses and rail were about 60 cents a ride. Taxis cost a few dollars for quick trips to get off our feet for a few minutes.

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Medellin is not the big apple, but I've seen many New York shirts here.
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Park of Lights
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Only one other horse statue in Medellin, Bolivar.
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Medellin malls and movies
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The other end of the multi horse statue

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Many Medellin motorcycles
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Restored classic
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Medellin Botanical Gardens
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Botero Sculpture Garden and Museum
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Bed Bath and Barrel, a tribute rip-off

Chilean Currency – Pesos vs USD

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Chilean pesos are pretty. A different color and different length for each denomination.

The exchange rate varies daily, and the ATM charges fees on both ends, but it’s still quite good. Even a 20,000 peso bill (in January of 2016) is about 30 bucks.

Use a Capital One Venture card at restaurants so you don’t have to carry around cash and coins. They automatically include a 10% tip. If staying in hotels, you can request the 19% VAT (IVA) tax be taken off, if your card doesn’t do that automatically.

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The one on the left is about 70 cents. It takes more than 7 of the ones on the right to make $1 US.

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It takes 700+ of the little ones to make one US$.

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Native Peruvian/Chilean Food Experience

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Perumayen Ancestral Food gastronomists researched and reimagined foods from peoples up and down what is now mostly known as Chile.

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What they came up with using fresh, local ingredients is nothing short of one of the finest dining experiences I’ve had, including the farm to table restaurants of Los Angeles and NYC.

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Eight breads from ancient tribes sampler plate from the house. The square banana one is from Easter island. The little pot is spicy. The one on the right is potato made with and fried in pork grease.

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The palette cleaners after every course were so mind boggling I forgot to get a picture of the tiny square chocolate basket with the tiniest sorbet of a fruit I can’t translate. This one was deep fried seaweed with avocado paste and herbs.

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The vegetarian sampler had taro and seaweed, cheese/grain, mushroom paste, smoked “coliflower”, baked onion and Peruvian potato, quinoa rolled in blue maize.

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Above was pulled rabbit mixed with herbs and also in a stew, with some great tasting strange vegetables and fried taro. Zoe had an incredible salad with the freshest mix of heirloom greens and Chilean hazelnuts like nothing we’d ever tasted.

The dessert sampler had a brownie crumble, a lacuma ice cream, and dehydrated pineapple chips.

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The Rambla in Montevideo

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The Rambla of Montevideo is 17km long, a pedestrian boardwalk separating the road from the beach with many activities including groups sitting drinking mate socially.
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Only the beach are volleyball, futvolley (volleyball with soccer rules, no hands just feet, chest, and head), futball in bubbles, kitesurfing, wading in the water, and sunbathing.
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Constant calls of Helado (ice cream like gelato) from guys pushing carts across the sand.
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