Thursday, December 31, 2009

Terminal Cheesecake steals from some original cheesecake

Previously I have been known to rant on my music review section on this blog entitled “The Greatest Albums of All Time in No Particular Order”. This past summer, I did an entry on those acid addled pranksters, Terminal Cheesecake's last album and referenced their prior album “Pearlesque Kings of the Jewmost”. Well, recently I was wasting “valuable” time at work looking at a crazy cover art site and ran across the following:

Well I thought, that surely looked familiar to me! It was the artwork on the back cover of the aforementioned album by the Cheesecake blokes! Well, that is surely a delightful "artistic" heist. I guess it can be accounted for by the supposedly legendary amounts of mind altering chemicals they consumed during their tenure. Sweet.

Classic Colombia!

Was able to use up my remaining vacation time for the calendar year and get back down to Cartagena to see Lyz for about 10 days and to spend more time getting to know her family. Once again the weather was sunny though hot and humid (about 90 F each day with about 80% humidity) but I will take that over tropical rain any time. Once again, we had a great dinner at the La Vitrola restaurante in Centrol on Saturday night shortly after I arrived. The next day we spent some time at the historic castle, San Felipe Castillo, that overlooks the city and was a bastion against invaders but not any sort of residence. We lolled around and got a lot of great pics (see my Webshots link later on).

In the early evening we meet up with Lyz's papi and her brother and his girlfriend at the Cartagena futbol stadium. Real Cartagena were playing their archrivals, Junior de Barranquilla. Barranquilla is about an hour or so away up the northeast coast and is more of a port/commericial center. Lyz's mami is originally from there and her father is originally from Cartagena. But because they lived in Barranquilla for a long time, they are all Junior fans so they had to be on their best behavior. :) In fact, security is pretty intense-you get padded down by policia at about 4 different checkpoints and the serious Junior fans coming from Barranquilla are herded into a blocked off section by the end corner of one of the goals and are escorted into the stands by policia after the game is about 5 minutes old and the same is true near the end of the game. While there is significant security, I did not witness any loco behavior, unlike the time in 2006 when I attended a match at Maracana, the massive stadium in Rio de Janeiro where two city rivals were also playing. Lyz's papi (he's a retired federal police detective) negotiated some scalped tickets for about $5 each so I got us all into the match for about $25-not a bad deal. Too bad it ended in a 0-0 draw.

After getting organized on Monday, we took a flight on Tuesday through Bogota to Bucaramanga. Near there is the massive Chicamocha Canyon, about an hour and ½ drive away. We spent two nights in Bucaramanga, using Wednesday to plan our excursion to the relativey new National Park there and San Gil (another hour and a ½ from Chicamocha) and get a car booked for rental. Bucaramanga has the sixth largest city economy/population in Colombia (similar to Cartagena/Barranquilla), with just over a million people in its metropolitan area. Bucaramanga is known as the "City of Parks" and "Colombia's Beautiful City". It sits in a large bowl-like valley-a pleasant location with the standard large amount of high rise buildings, nice vistas and a more temperate climate-it was about 80 F each day.

Being a little more out in the country per se, we noticed they certainly enjoy their “carne” and we soon realized that the portions were outrageous. At a nice restaurante by our hotel, I ordered one of “steaks” with all the trimmings. I ordered the medio or medium size. It was monsterous-about a foot long and came with a plethora of arepas (cornmeal breadlike griddle cakes) and rice and papa fritas and oh my! It would have been more than enough for the two of us. Lyz asked the waiter what the “grande” size order was like and he spread his arms to indicate enough meat to feed a whole family. The steak was great, drenched in a spicy minced tomato sauce and was only about $8 or 9 for everything that was included.

On Thursday morn, we got into our tiny Chevy “Spark” 5 speed rental and headed out of the city to the Chicamocha region about 50 kms away. Well it was slow but spectacular driving as once out of the city there is only one route through the canyon/mountains and there are tons of trucks as the region of Santander where we were is not far from Venezuela so a lot of commerce is routed through there from Bogota, as Bogota is about 300 kms from Bucaramanga. No problema-we were in no hurry and arrived at the park just before noon.

All I can say is “Wow”! This is a mammoth canyon area and is considered up to the second largest in the world (however, measuring canyons is a very inexact science but I would say based on what I have read is can easily be considered one of the top 5 in the world based on all the factors). The actual park area is not that big and their concept of a National Park does differ from our concept-let's just say it's much more “commercial”.

Regardless, the centerpiece is the tram or “teleferico” that, for about $10 a person, takes you down the canyon and then back up to the other side-it is 6.3 kms long (almost 4 and a ½ miles) and takes almost 45 minutes each way. So it easily outdistances the Albuquerque tram but quite a bit. In short, the vistas were amazing from just about every vantage point and I have a lot of them saved on my Webshots link:

After about 3-4 hours at the park, we headed off to check into our quaint and quiet posada (like a inn or mini-resort) in San Gil. San Gil is known as a natural excursion jumping off point for rafting, hiking, bungy, waterfall rapelling, hang gliding, etc. with some classic and well maintained traditional Spanish style valles or villages nearby. We ate at a very nice and new restaurante that evening after arranging for a morning rafting excursion for Friday.

Again, the weather was perfect (in the mid 70s in the morning) and the rafting trip was great-lots of steady 2 and 3 level class rapids (Lyz had never rafted before so we did a more mellow river-the Rio Fonce that flowed by our posada and through San Gil) and the two hour trip was only about $13 per person.

After that we spent the afternoon and early evening driving around and had lunch in lovely village of San Jose, known for it's chorizos and we ate a bunch at a very old family restaurante and then ambled around the plaza. Then we headed off in search of a waterfall, Juan Curi, that we had read about. The sign directed us to pull off at what appeared to be someone's casa. Indeed it was and we pulled over on their dirt road. Turns out the trail does lead out from their house and the woman there explained to Lyz that you pay 5000 Colombian pesos (about $2.50) per person and had us enter our info in some sort of government tourist directory. Off we went on a 20 minute hike and the waterfall was spectacular and the best part is that we were the only ones there the whole hour or so we were there! The waterfall was multi-tiered and you could get up to the second main tier quite easily. It was on par with many of the waterfall I love in Oregon but without the tourists! It was practically nirvana!

The afternoon was winding down but we wanted to get to the village of Barichara, considered the loveliest village in all of Colombia. We made it there about 45 minutes before dusk after a beautiful drive through the local hills and it did not disappoint. Again we ambled around and had some lovely cakes and cappuccino (only a dollar for one of the best I have ever had!) at a local cafe/bakery and then set back out to posada and then for dinner at a local restaurant and an evening of unwinding after a long day.

The next morning, we bought some ants, a local Bucarmanga Santander delicacy (it's all explained in this link):

and headed off for a 3 hour drive back to Bucaramanga and the airport for our return to Cartagena. Back in Cartagena, we checked back into the Tres Banderas, a lovely hotel in Centro, near my favorite part of the old city, San Diego Plaza and ate once again at La Cevicheria, which was featured on “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel, hosted by the world class iconoclast, “Mad” Anthony Bourdain. The pescado and mojitos were perfect and we enjoyed another great evening together but alas I had to fly back out the States the next morn.

But we are already planning on meeting up in Lima, Peru in April (flights are actually cheap from the Southwest US area) and our application for a fiancee visa is in processing and if all goes according to plan, Lyz will have her immigration interview at the US counsulate in Bogota in the late spring if not earlier and she will be here in the States in late July or early August after she completes her Nursing Masters in mid-July.