Category Archives: Food & Coffee

When one door closes…

Courtenay and Marcello at trainMoving to Colombia fulfilled my long-held dream to not only travel to other countries, but to live abroad as well. But just over four years ago, when at age 37 I became a mom – another dream I hadn’t expected to come true – I assumed that living abroad wouldn’t happen. I am so happy I was wrong. Today, I’m honored and thrilled to be featured in Sarah Duncan’s Expats in Colombia series on Sarepa.com, where I share more about how I ended up first in Barranquilla and then in Medellín – and all the twists and turns along the way.

Somehow I find it oddly comforting that life has so many surprises in store for each of us. Never assume it’s over… for all any of us know, it’s just beginning! Thanks, Sarepa, for the opportunity to share my story and my love for Colombia.

Friday Fotos: Jardín – Antioquia’s Semi-Secret Garden

Last month, I traveled to Jardín, a pueblo just south of Medellín. Although its fame is rising, Jardín has become a destination for foreign travelers relatively recently. While it lacks the polish of a town that has honed its tourism industry to a foreign-demand-meeting perfection, it gleams radiant with an authenticity already lost or waning in other locales.

Jardín, living up to its moniker.

Jardín, living up to its moniker.

Locals and tourists alike sit in the main plaza drinking beer or coffee ’til the wee hours, often watching others show off their riding skills on horses that dance around the periphery. Shortly after the revelers turn in, the bells of the church ring at an ungodly hour – 4:00 a.m. or something – to announce the day’s  first Mass.

Jardín’s name – literally, “Garden” – is apt. It’s nestled in the mountains, surrounded by lush vegetation and waterfalls.

The road to Jardín from Medellín is less idyllic. It’s far easier to drive 45 minutes on impeccable roads to El Retiro or Guatapé than to venture three hours south on the winding, crumbly vías that lead to Jardín. Traffic due to road construction to prevent rockslides stopped us for so long at one point that I got out to walk. Later in the drive, I saw signs to Salgar, where on May 18 a flooding river triggered a landslide that killed some 95 people and left countless without homes. The buses on the route are piloted by very experienced drivers or near-madmen, I’m not sure which, who careen around blind curves in the wrong lane. The communities on the way have rhythmic names that seem out of a Spanish-language Mother Goose: Titiribí and Bolombolo, for example. The signage, or lack thereof, is terrible. But oh, the scenery. Oh the magic.

And by the way, if you do make a wrong turn, it may set you back a couple of hours as it did us, but then you get to see nearby towns like Betania, perched on the edge of the mountains, with locals friendlier than anywhere I have met in all of Colombia, which is saying a lot since this is a friendly place.

When you finally arrive in Jardín, you’ll know it was worth it. A special treat for us was a half-day at Finca Los Ángeles, where the family there taught us about coffee cultivation and the coffee market worldwide, while Doña Ángela prepared a farm-to-table lunch (for real, people) that would rival any big-city fine dining. Coffee cultivation in the region began when a caffeine-loving priest started having parishioners plant it as a penance, or so we were told by a local guide.

But enough words. Here are the pics. Click to scroll through full-size versions.

Five “Normal” American Things That Can Seem Pretty Weird

Por fin! Finally! After nearly a month Stateside (can you say “Stateside” if you aren’t in Europe?) — plus a frantic week preparing to go and an extraordinarily drama-filled week upon return — I’m happy to be writing again. For now, I hope you’ll put it in reverse with me to explore a few of the wonders and woes of an expat’s trip home. “Back it up!” as my son says, quoting his toy Caterpillar trucks. And with that, I bring you five “normal” American things that seem pretty weird if you’ve been out of the US for a long time:

  1. The astounding variety of stuff available, for better or worse, in an average US grocery store. My mental dialogue while browsing goes something like this: “Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch? I’m not sure I understand. Snack chips made with chia seeds? Oh, let’s try that! Take-out sushi? There is a God, and he has chosen to put heaven in this place.” And this is the way that I feel when I go into Kroger or Publix. Put me in Whole Foods too soon after re-entering the US and I might pass out. Seriously. Continue reading

Reflections on Thanksgivings Away

A Strickland Family Thanksgiving.

A Strickland Family Thanksgiving.

Just before my senior year of college, thanks to a generous scholarship from the Georgia Rotary Student Program, I had the opportunity to attend the International Summer School at the University of Oslo in Norway. (By the way, the application process for this scholarship is currently open!) The students hailed from more than 80 countries around the world. The experience was equal parts magic (there’s nothing quite like the views en route between Oslo and Bergen) and practical learning (people from almost anywhere will eat rice with a bean sauce, but music is harder to agree upon). Regularly scheduled “Cultural Nights” were intended to help students get to know each others’ cultures, from local crafts to music, dance, style of dress, food, and more.

Fortunately, making a presentation during Cultural Night was optional. Why fortunately? Continue reading

Speaking of Coffee and Salsa Dancing… Thoughts on CNN’s “10 Things to Know Before Visiting Colombia”

I haven’t yet had a chance to see the Colombia special that aired yesterday on CNN as part of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. I did, however, read the partial coverage provided by the CNN article, 10 Things to know before visiting Colombia, by Justin Calderon. I liked the article very much, but found that as a Barranquillera (however new I may be!), coffee lover, and salsa dancer, a few things need to be clarified.

While I’m definitely in my comfort zone in talking about coffee and salsa, I can’t speak to the cultures of any city in Colombia other than Barranquilla, and even then I still have a lot to learn. As the author rightly points out, Colombia’s climates vary wildly – and I would add that so do the cultures of this vast and diverse country. With that caveat, below are a few things that came to mind from the Barranquilla perspective after reading the CNN article. Continue reading

The Good, the Bad, and the Seriously Tasty

I’ve been in Colombia six weeks now… long enough to miss a few things from the U.S., and long enough to fall in love with a few in Barranquilla. Here’s the short list of both:

I really, dearly love…

  • Limonada Natural. These tart, frozen lemonade drinks are on almost every menu. There are high-end and low-end versions, with the former being this all-natural, elegant granita concoction and the latter basically a mouth-puckering Slurpee.  But they are ALL delicious!  Mmmmmm! Continue reading
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Café en la Calle

Café en la Calle

Just about anywhere in B’quilla, you can get a cup of coffee right on the street. Vendors wheel carts with several thermoses. Using a wooden paddle like the one you see here, vendors can prepare several cups, large and small, at once. There’s milk and sugar to add in and you can get a pancito (small piece of bread) too. Who needs Starbucks anyway!