A Day in Parque Arvi

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Traveling to foreign cities is great and all, but after a few days I usually find myself longing for some peace and quiet and the greenery of the natural world. The hustle and bustle wears me down.

So to my delight, I discovered that Medellin is home to Parque Arvi, a 16,000 hectare wooded park just a short metro and cable car ride away from downtown.

The park is both a nature preserve where residents and tourists alike can escape city life for a few hours and it’s also an archaeological site that features pre-hispanic artifacts and ruins. Part of the Pre-Hispanic trail – the Camino Cieza de León – actually runs through it.

HOW TO GET THERE

I took the metro from the Poblado Station to the Acevedo Station then transferred to the Line K cablecar that whisked me up the slopes of the valley and over corrugated-tin roofed houses packed together side by side to the barrio of Santo Domingo. The cablecars – or gondolas – may be my favorite feature of Medellin. They give you a fantastic birdseye view over the valley in which Medellin (and several other municipalities) sit and what’s even more impressive is that they’re not simply a tourist attraction. In fact, I’ve seen very few tourists on the cablecars during my rides up and down. Instead, they were built to help the lower-strata families that live higher up on the valley walls get down into the city for work. Medellin has some pretty cool social projects going on. Check out another one – the escalators in Comuna 13 – here.

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Once at Santo Domingo, I transferred to the Line L cablecar that took me even farther up the valley walls and over the ridge into the park. The corrugated-tin roofed houses gave way to fincas (farms) with grazing cattle strewn about then the view below opened up to a huge expanse of wild forest that stretched out as far as I could see. I felt like I was soaring above Jurassic Park!

At the top, I exited the cablecar and was greeted by a small farmers market selling all sorts of goodies: fried empanadas, sausages, and arepas, handmade jewelry, small cups of coffee and locally made mountain wine (which was too sweet for my taste). I bought a cheese arepa to snack on then headed out to find some trails.

WHAT TO DO

Apparently and unfortunately, I discovered that you can’t actually walk most of the trails in the park by yourself and the only tour leaving within the next half hour was a short orchid walk in Spanish, which didn’t appeal to me all that much. So I resigned to walking down a winding paved road (you can also drive to the park, but it takes a lot longer and isn’t nearly as fun) for 40 minutes to a section of the park where I could explore solo – Chorro Clarin (clear stream). I had no idea what to expect, so I was pretty excited when I emerged into this:

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There’s a paved trail that follows the stream for a few miles and alongside the path there are day camp sites and overnight campsites equipped with picnic tables, benches, aesthetically designed shelters and even flat concrete tent platforms for camping. Colombia has its priority straight.

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On the way back, I figured I had two options: option one was to walk back up the road I had come down (boring) or option two was to discreetly set foot onto the Flora Trail that would spit me out about a quarter of a mile up the road from the cable car station – right next to the carabineros station, or mounted policemen. I chose option two of course, hoping that the rule against walking the trails by yourself wasn’t for safety reasons (after all, there are police on horseback in the park, right?). I think I made the right choice 🙂

WHERE TO EAT

Hungry after my hike, I followed signs to a vegetarian restaurant and was greeted by an exuberant hostess who quickly sat me down and served up the most delicious multi-course menu del dia made from organic produce grown right next door. If you made it to  Parque Arvi, don’t miss this spot!

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HOW TO GET THERE Take the metro to Acevedo Station then transfer to the K line cablecar which will bring you to Santo Domino. No need to exit the metro station. At Santo Domingo follow signs to Parque Arvi and transfer to cablecar Line L that will take you into the park.

COST The entrance to Parque Arvi is free, but the cablecar line J up to the park costs CP 5,200 ($1.70) one way

WHAT TO DO Spend some time browsing the stalls at the farmers market (it’s larger on weekends) and grab a snack before hitting the trails. Tours of the park can be arranged at the tourist information booth straight ahead as you exit the cablecar station. If you want to explore on your own, follow the paved path out to the road then turn left toward El Tambo. At the crossroads of El Tambo turn right and continue down the road for 30 minutes or so until you see a sign on the left pointing toward Chorro Clarin. There’s a hacienda on the right. On the way back from Chorro Clarin either retrace your footsteps or find the Flora Trail on the left just as you pass the hacienda.

WHERE TO EAT The vegetarian restaurant across the street from the cablecar station. Also check out the coffee truck and the local beer stand

La Minorista Market

One of the things I love most about traveling far and wide is the food. Finger-licking street food, exotic fruits and veggies, delicious local specialties, fresh drinks, hole-in-the-wall joints – everywhere I go there is something new and exciting to introduce my tastebuds to. More often than not, in fact, I plan my day (and even trips!) around where and what I want to eat.

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Since I love food so much, I try to delve deep in the local food scene at least once during trip (usually many times more). In the past this has included a cooking class in Laos, pinxto tasting in Spain, street food sampling in Oaxaca, a farm-to-table dinner in England, buying fresh cheese from a remote dairy in France, etc… you get the point. I like local foods and local food culture.

These past few days in Colombia have been no different – I’ve sampled the traditional Colombian stew – ajiaco – piled high with toppings, I’ve eaten buttery and cheesy arepas from street vendors, I’ve gulped down freshly made guarapo (sugarcane and lime), and I’ve eaten the best churro I’ve ever had in my life – it was perfectly deep fried, lightly coated with sugar, and filled with a delicious sweet custardy caramel!

But in addition to sampling local foods, I wanted to do something a bit more educational so I signed up for an Exotic Fruit tour at the Minorista Market, a huge food market in downtown Medellin that sells everything from bananas to corn off the cob to fresh queso.

Now I’m not one to usually do tours, my style of travel is typically to do some research on the places I’m interested in visiting then strike out on my own to explore and hopefully not get lost. But the more I travel, the more I’ve come to enjoy small, well-crafted, off-the-beaten-path tours. I’ve learned that I actually miss quite a bit when I don’t have a local to show me around.

Before the tour started, though, I had one obstacle to overcome – figuring out how to ride the metro system. Public transportation is always a bit intimidating for me (and I’m sure many other people) when I’m in a new country because there are so many different ways things could go wrong: get on the wrong bus, head in the opposite direction, miss a stop, get pickpocketed, etc… but I’ve found that once you jump in and start working out the system, it’s really not that hard at all. The Metro in Medellin is actually one of the easiest, cleanest, and safest transit systems I’ve ever taken, including the US!

Quick side story – the people of Medellin are incredibly proud (not in a bad way) people because of the violent, terrible history they’ve endured during Pablo Escobar’s reign and the FARC. Since Escobar’s death and the FARC’s downfall, though, the city has undergone a major renaissance and it’s quite miraculous how efficient, clean, progressive, and community-orientated the city is. The metro was one of their major city improvements in the early 2000’s and they’re extremely proud of it. There are two lines of Metro trains that run above the city, two Metroplus bus lines that have their on lanes on the roads, and five cable cars (or gondolas) that whisk people away up the sides of the valley’s mountainous walls. It’s quite the system and it works to a T. Since it’s the pride of the city, it’s also quite safe and very clean.

So once I found my way to the entrance of the Minorista Market (45 minutes early because I wasn’t sure how the metro would go), I met three other gringos who were on the tour and Diana, our Colombian tour guide who would take us through the market.

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We entered through a side entrance and were immediately met with a slew of different smells, colors, textures, and sounds. There were stalls displaying just fruits, stalls piled high with eggs, stalls with men slicing corn kernels off the cob, stalls with women cooking arepas over hot coals, and stalls jam-packed with traditional medicines and potions. Colombians are very superstitious and have remedies for everything from love elixirs to garnering luck for gambling. Later, we came across the stalls selling blocks of fresh cheese, stalls displaying fresh and dried meats, and stalls showcasing all sorts of different seafood.

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Our focus for the day, though, were the fresh fruits. In all, we tasted about 15 different Colombian-grown fruits. Some of them I’ve had before, like guava and passion fruit, and others I had never even set eyes on before, like the west Indian locust and Spanish limes. All were tasty, but admittedly some better than others. I wasn’t a fan of the peach palm until we covered it with salt and honey, then it was delicious, and I could take or leave the tomato de arbol. The west Indian locust was a trip too. The outer pod is incredibly hard and typically cracked open by a very special too – a hammer. Inside, the fruit is light brown color and resembles freeze dried ice cream. Seriously. It’s chalky and powdery, but the taste is actually quite good – nothing like anything I’ve every tasted before. After ruminating on it a bit, I gave it the thumbs up!

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My favorites out of all the fruits, though, were the Spanish limes, known as mamonchillos, and dragon fruit, which I think are a lot of people’s favorites. Mamonchillos reminded me of lychees – they’re small and round and have a huge pit in the middle surrounded by a fleshy sweet/sour fruit. You suck on them and slowly peel the fruit off with your teeth. Diana told us that parents give their kids mamonchillos when they’re making too much noise.

After about 2 1/2 hours in the market we had made our way through 15 different fruits, 1 arepa, and 1 glass of freshly made juice. I was more than full and slightly queasy from all the different things churning around in my stomach, but I was definitely glad I had signed up for the tour. It had answered my questions about what many of the fruits were that I had been eyeing throughout this trip and throughout many of my previous trips to other tropical places around the world. Now I won’t be relying solely on mangos and bananas when I visit the local markets 🙂

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Spain part 3: Southern France + Rosemary Cornmeal Pancakes with Red Wine Figs

These Spain and France posts (see parts 1 and 2) are copied from a food and travel blog that I created with my ex-partner when I was living in Seattle. Since Forever a Wanderer is my travel diary, I thought it apt to move them over here to fill in some gaps. All photos are taken by Noah.

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It was never our plan to go to France. It actually never even crossed our minds until we got to Zarautz. Our plan was to explore as much of Spain as we could in three short weeks without feeling rushed. Crossing a border was not something we had even considered. But in Zaratuz we found ourselves at a crossroad. We could drive 8 hours south to Granada (our original plan) to experience southern Spain’s frenzied Easter celebrations or we could… we weren’t sure, but we knew that spending a whole day in the car driving from north coast to south coast wasn’t very appealing. It just didn’t feel right. But what to do? After going back and forth for hours, we eventually asked our airbnb host what she would do for a week before needing to be back in Barcelona for a flight out. Hands down, she said go back through Southern France. So that’s what we did.

Once we entered France, the mood and atmosphere changed immensely. The north coast of Spain is very laid back, open, and easy going. The villages are painted in light tones like beige, terra cotta, and white and people are always out and about. Southern France – the part that borders the Pyrenees – is dark and almost sinister in a beautiful way. The tiny cluster of houses that make up the villages are roofed with a dark, glossy shale and have an eerie abandoned feel to them, almost like they haven’t been touched since medieval times.

Our first night in France was spent in Ore. Not because Ore is a popular destination town or because somebody suggested that we should go there, but because Ore was where I found an airbnb within driving distance from the border. We really had no idea where to go or what to do in France nor do either of us speak French. We were kind of like fish out of water, but that’s how we tend to travel, for better or worse. One day at a time. Ore turned out to be great, though, albeit a bit deserted. We spent the early evening exploring the narrow stone streets that were devoid of human life (where was everyone?) and were captivated by a gothic graveyard that looked like it came straight out of a Tim Burton movie. Definitely eerie, but beautiful in an haunting sort of way

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The real highlight for us in France, though, was a total unexpected gem. After Ore, we continued east along the north side of the Pyrenees passing through small village after small village until we came to Galey, home of L’Ancienne Bergerie Bed & Breakfast hosted by Becks and Kevin. The B&B is actually a converted barn that has been beautifully and meticulously restored inside and out. It sits on a ridge overlooking the cloud-encased Pyrenees and dark shale roofs of Augirein below. The surrounding area is a honeycomb of miles and miles of great hiking trails that we explored and got lost in. We only spent one night at the B&B, but I could have stayed a week. Becks – an unofficial chef – prepared a five-course dinner for Noah and I and a Spanish couple visiting from Barcelona (their third time there). We drank Kevin’s homemade herbal wine for an aperitif then sat down for the feast. The first course was toast with local foie gras followed by braised rabbit, local camembert goat cheese from a fromagerie we stumbled across on one of our walks (baby goats galore!), wine poached pears, and lots of red wine. It was decadent! Not staying another night at L’Ancienne Bergerie might be our only regret of the trip…

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Our last three days in France were a little rushed, mainly because it was Easter and we didn’t have any airbnb’s booked. We ended up spending one night in Sete during the height of a tall ships festival, which was fun, but the small city was insanely packed with people. For our last night in France we continued south along the coast to Collioure, a whitewashed coastal town recommended to us by the Spanish couple at the B&B. We really liked Collioure for its lazy atmosphere, good food, and artistic current – we definitely could have spent more time here as well. Our last French meal was at the outdoor patio of La Cuisine Comptoir who’s red wine poached figs were the inspiration of this posts recipe. They were so simple, but so delicious and a perfect ending for our Spain/France sojourn.

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// Rosemary Cornmeal Pancakes with Red Wine Figs // – makes about 10-12 pancakes
This recipe was inspired by a dessert we had in Collioure, France. The dessert was just red wine poached figs, fresh cinnamon whipped cream, and candied walnuts, but it was one of our favorite dishes we had on the trip. So simple, but so delicious! While this recipe isn’t quite the same rendering, it’s no less satisfying. Perfect for a weekend breakfast or brunch. The figs can be made a couple of days in advance and kept in the fridge for 1-2 weeks

For the red wine figs:
1 pint fresh figs, about 8 whole
1 cup red wine
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

For the pancakes:
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup spelt flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon flaxseed, ground
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Butter or oil for cooking

For the walnut-honey syrup:
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 inch piece rosemary

Plain yogurt or creme fraiche to serve

1. Cut the figs in half lengthwise and place cut-side down in a deep glass or ceramic baking dish. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the red wine, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt. Pour red wine mixture over figs and let soak for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°. Bake figs for 20-25 minutes, then flip so cut-side is facing up and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove figs from oven and let cool slightly. With a slotted spoon transfer figs to a bowl. Pour remaining red wine sauce into a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until thick and syrupy, about 10-20 minutes. Let cool then pour sauce over figs and set aside

2) For the pancakes, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and rosemary in a large bowl and mix well. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, yogurt, flaxseed, melted butter, and maple syrup. Slowly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Melt 2 teaspoons of butter or oil in a skillet over medium heat. Pour 1/4 cup cupfuls of batter onto skillet and cook until bubbles form on top and edges turn golden brown. Flip and cook until browned on the other side and cooked through. Keep pancakes warm in oven set at lowest temperature

3) To make the honey-walnut syrup, combine the walnuts, honey, water, vanilla, and rosemary piece in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until honey dissolves and the mixture starts to bubble ferociously. Cook 1 minute more then remove from heat

4) To serve, top pancakes with yogurt or creme fraiche, fig halves, and honey-walnut syrup


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Spain part 2: Basque Country + A Spanish Tortilla

These Spain and France posts (see parts 1 and 3) are copied from a food and travel blog that I created with my ex-partner when I was living in Seattle. Since Forever a Wanderer is my personal travel diary, I thought it apt to move them over here to fill in some gaps. All photos are taken by Noah.

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Welcome to Spain part 2! After exploring Barcelona by foot and bike for a few days, we rented a car and headed west toward wine and Basque Country. Our first stop was Logrono where we got our first taste of real Spanish (or Basque) tapas called pintxos. We sampled them according to tradition – hopping from bar to bar (each bar is known for its special pintxos) and with copious amounts of red wine. If you aren’t familiar with pintxos, they’re basically little bites of food skewered on top of crusty baguette slices with a toothpick. Bars display plates loaded with a wide variety of colorful pintxos on their countertops and patrons choose the ones that they want. You pay for the toothpicks later. The great thing about pintxos is that wine is basically free. Seriously! Single pintxos cost anywhere between 2-6 euros and you usually get a half glass of wine with that 🙂 Truthfully, though, Noah and I were a bit disappointed with our pintxos experience in Logrono. There were only a few amazing standouts – freshly grilled fish and turkey and buttery mushrooms with a tiny shrimp on top. The rest of the pintxos were ok, but that was probably because they sat out on countertops for hours to accommodate the tourists who eat between 5-7pm and the locals who eat any time after 9pm. Definitely go for the pintxos that are grilled or sautéed to order! Another pintxo peculiarity that dismayed us was that after ordering, the pintxos get zapped in a microwave. We’d point to a tasty looking one that had beautiful ribbons of Iberico ham on top and before we could say “no microwave” into the microwave it went for 60 long seconds. The ham (or whatever else was on top) would come out sad looking and defeated. Sigh. Again, go for the pintxos that are fresh.

After Logrono, we made a pit stop in the medieval defense-turned-wine town of Laguardia. No cars are allowed in the walled area, so we spent the rainy, chilly afternoon walking the narrow stone streets and ducking into little bodegas for snacks and wine. A bodega is basically a wine cellar that serves pintxos and local – often made-in-house – wine. Underneath Laguardia is a honeycomb of wine cellars and we decided to visit the caves of Carlos San Pedro Perez de Vinaspre for a wine tour. Unfortunately, the next tour wasn’t in English, but it was really cool to see the musty, moldy old cellar where their wine is made and aged. Coming from a country where almost everything food-related is sterile and stainless steel, it was striking to see the balls of mold on the walls and bottles caked in grime. These people know the benefits of good bacteria!

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After leaving Laguardia, we headed north to the heart of beautiful Basque country. We passed epic landscapes of vibrant green hills, abandoned stone villages, and densely wooded forests. Basque country is easily one of the prettiest places I’ve visited yet and that’s just from seeing it during early spring. We’d love to go back in summer! Our stop for the next three nights was in a tiny, tiny town called Elortza. We had booked an airbnb there mainly because the host has two donkeys and I have a huge soft spot the furry beasts. This stop turned out to be one of our favorite highlights from the trip. Phil – our host – took us on a day hike with the donkeys (Momo and Django) into the surrounding hills and we explored the depths of a crystal-studded limestone cave. Amazing! Hiking with donkeys is not a rushed affair, so we took our time and enjoyed the fresh air and Basque countryside. The recipe inspired by this leg of our trip is a Spanish tortilla that Momo made every effort to eat when we stopped for lunch atop a steep bluff overlooking the valley. Who knew donkeys liked eggs and potatoes?!

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The last leg of our journey through Basque country was along the northern Bay of Biscay coast from Elantxobe – a tiny fishing town built into steep coastal hills that slide into the ocean – to Zarautz, one of our favorite towns that we visited in Spain. The road between the two towns is rugged and beautiful, dotted with small villages with names like Ea and Lekeitio. Zarautz is a mid-size town right on the coast with a great, laid back feel and a gigantic sandy beach. We didn’t spend much time in the popular San Sebastion, but I got the feeling that Zarautz was sort of like its lesser known cousin with amazing boutique shops and great restaurants. Our airbnb host sent us on a great walk from the town center of Zarautz along backroads to the neighboring town of Getaria. We passed an abandoned and graffitied coliseum that definitely looked out of place amid the vineyards and sheep pastures, but would be a perfect venue for a music or skateboarding video. I practiced my handstands. In Getaria, we spent a few hours walking around, had a fantastic lunch, then walked back along the coastal footpath to Zarautz, taking some time to sit on the rocks and watch the ocean splash at our feet

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Next up: Southern France and a decadent breakfast

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// Spanish Tortilla // serves 6-8
A Spanish tortilla isn’t what you normally think of when you hear ‘tortilla’. Most people think of Latin American tortillas made out of flour or corn and food like quesadillas, tacos, fajitas, etc… But a Spanish tortilla has neither flour or corn – it’s made almost entirely of potatoes, eggs, onion, and olive oil. It’s kind of like a frittata, but better. A note about the olive oil: this recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of olive oil. Don’t freak out, you don’t actually consume all that oil, it’s just used to fry the potatoes and onions and the rest is saved for another use (like salad dressings). I added kale to this recipe because I’m a greens fanatic, but feel free to leave it out for a more traditional version. Oh, and watch out for donkeys – they like Spanish tortillas.

1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, about 1 1/2 cups sliced
2 pounds yukon gold or russet potatoes
2 1/4 teaspoons salt (2 teaspoons if you’re sensitive to salt)
8 eggs
1/2 cup packed parsley, chopped
6 large lacinato kale leaves, roughly chopped (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Gently heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed deep frying pan or skillet. When the oil is shimmering, add the onion slices and cook for 8-10 minutes or until they’re translucent, but not super soft. Stir often

2. While the onions are cooking, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/4″ thick rounds. Add the potatoes and salt to the onions and oil. Try to submerge the potatoes as best you can under the oil for even cooking. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes over low heat, checking on the potatoes every so often to make sure they’re all cooking evenly (i.e. stir and flip as needed). The potatoes are done when they can be easily pierced with a  fork or knife. With a slotted spoon, transfer onions and potatoes into a colander placed over a bowl to catch the extra oil. Pour out remaining oil from pan and save for another use

3. Crack eggs into a large bowl and whisk until well combined. Whisk in most of the parsley and all of the kale if using (reserve some parsley for garnish). Add 3 tablespoons of oil back into the frying pan and turn heat on low. Layer onions and potatoes in the skillet, flattening them out as best you can. Pour eggs over onions and potatoes and cook for about 15 minutes over medium-low heat. Gently pull away the sides of the tortilla from the pan with a spatula to allow eggs to run over the side and cook. When eggs are mostly done, place tortilla in oven to finish cooking for 3-5 minutes. Turn oven on to broil and broil top for 1-2 minutes. Remove tortilla from oven, let cool 5 minutes then either flip tortilla upside down onto a plate or slide it out of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature


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Spain part 1: Barcelona + Artichoke, Sausage and Pine nut Sauté

These Spain and France posts (see parts 2 and 3) are copied from a food and travel blog that I created with my ex-partner when I was living in Seattle. Since Forever a Wanderer is my travel diary, I thought it apt to move them over here to fill in some gaps. All photos are taken by Noah.

 

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This post is long overdo. Last time we posted on Traveling Fork was over two months ago and we said the next time you’d hear from us we’d be in Spain. Well Spain has come and gone and now it’s the middle of June. Where does time go! It seems like our trip was just yesterday but also a lifetime ago. Not sure how that works… But we’re back and excited to get started on posting recipes and travel stories again. We have lots of exciting ideas in the works! First, though, let’s talk about Spain (and then France)…

 

We started our trip in Barcelona. After traveling for 16 hours from Seattle, we arrived at the city center at about 9am, wondering what we were going to do – jet-lagged and toting our bags – until 2pm when we could check into our airbnb. We found a little cafe that sat beneath a gigantic medieval stone church (one of the many in Barcelona) and sipped on small coffees that we would later learn to order as cortados. After caffeinating, we decided to jump onto a double decker hop-on-hop-off sight-seeing tour bus that whisked us to the different neighborhoods of Barcelona. We’re not typically keen on doing these types of tours, but the bus was perfect for our jet-lagged situation. We didn’t actually get off the bus (expect to switch to the second line) because we were too exhausted to even think about figuring out a plan.

Neither Noah or I are big city people (yet we live in a big city…) so our plan was to spend a couple of nights in the gothic quarter, explore the sights, then book it west toward Basque country. The following days were filled with delicious tapas, €2 glasses of wine, lots of walking and exploring, window shopping, and of course, siestas. Despite not loving big cities, Noah and I found Barcelona to be extremely charming and livable. The pace of life was laid back, everyone was super friendly, and there were no mega box stores; everyone had their own little cute boutique shop .We both agreed that we could spend several months blending into the city. Maybe that’s just the €2 glasses of wine and siestas talking, though…

Highlights of Barcelona:
– Renting bikes and cruising through the narrow alleyways of the Gothic and Born neighborhoods then down the waterfront esplanade. This is probably our favorite memory of Barcelona
– The markets! I loved wandering through the stalls and crowded aisles of Santa Catarina market and La Boqueria. So many amazing smells, textures, colors, tastes, and varieties of cheeses, sausages, and olives. Try the yayas – they’re amazing!
– Cafe Bar Centric restaurant. We ate here twice because it’s that good. The artichoke and sausage sauté recipe in this post is inspired by a dish we had there
– Parc Guell. The park was ok – we’re not really into tourist attractions like this. My favorite part of that experience was listening to a busker play guitar under a stone colonnade while waiting out a downpour
– Our epic walk up to Parc del Laberint d’Horta, a beautiful and lightly visited park north of the city. From there we came back through north Barcelona and climbed up Parc del Carmel (behind Parc Guell) to get a widespread view of the city
– Sit-down coffee in tiny glass cups. Seriously. We loved taking 10 minutes in the morning to sit down in a small coffee shop to enjoy our cortados and watch the city move around us. This is one habit we’ve tried to maintain back home: no to-go cups and 10 minutes to just enjoy the coffee
– Quiche at The Pan’s Club (strange name, but the quiche’s are amazing!)
– Dumplings at Mosquito in the Gothic Quarter. Not exactly Spanish cuisine, but some of the best dumplings we’ve ever had

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// Artichoke, Sausage + Pine Nut Saute // serves 4-6
The inspiration for this recipe came from a dish that we had at Cafe Bar Centric in the Raval neighborhood of Barcelona. Their dish was just artichoke hearts, sausage, and lots of olive oil. It was so good that we ordered it twice! I found that I needed to add more variety and flavors to make this recipe work, though. Use the highest quality sausage you can get your hands on. It’s worth it! 

6 small artichokes
1 lemon, halved and juiced
4 chorizo sausages, about 6″ in length
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup parmesan, finely grated
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
black pepper to taste
Lemon slice to serve

1. Fill a large bowl with cool water and add lemon juice and lemon halves. Cut the stems off the artichokes and remove the outer 2-3 layers of tough leaves. Discard leaves and stems. Continue to remove the outer leaves of the artichokes, placing the leaves in the lemon water as you go, until you get to the tender inner leaves. The tender part will be mostly yellow or bright green. Once all the outer leaves are removed, cut off the pointy, sharp tips of the inner artichokes and discard tips. You need to cut off more than you think, about 1/2 inch, or else they’ll be too tough to chew. Working quickly to prevent browning, quarter artichoke hearts, roughly scoop our fuzz if there is any, and place in lemon water

2. Prepare a large bowl filled with ice water to blanch artichokes. Bring a big pot of water to boil and salt heavily. Add artichoke leaves and hearts and boil for 3-4 minutes. Add sausage links and boil for another 4 minutes. Drain and immediately add artichokes to ice water. Set sausages aside and slice into rounds when cool

3. Gently heat olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot or frying pan. Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add artichoke hearts and leaves, white wine, and salt. Saute for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently then add sausages. Cover and cook for another 5-7 minutes. When artichokes are soft and sausages are cooked all the way through, turn off heat and add pines nuts, parmesan, most of the parsley (reserve some for garnish), and black pepper to taste. Serve immediately with lemon slices


Artichokes-2

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Coconut Crazy

I was at the beach the other day, at a place called Caletas just outside of Corcovado National Park, when one of our naturalists walked by with an unopened coconut. I pretty much grabbed him as he passed and asked where he had gotten it. Fresh coconuts are one of my favorite things on earth and now whenever come across one, I’m transported back to Yoga Thailand where we would line up at the juice bar after our morning Ashtanga practice and order a fresh, chilled coconut. Coconut water (what sloshes around into the inner cavity before the coconut is broken open) is extremely high in electrolytes (basically salts that are essential for controlling fluid balance within the body). So after a hard workout and a yoga mat drenched in sweat, a fresh coconut filled with nutritious coconut water was heavenly. But back to Caletas. Miguil, the naturalist, offered me the fresh coconut juice for which I was very grateful. He had one of the Ticos (Costa Rican’s) chop off the top with a machete and then he drained the fresh juice into my empty cup. Yum! After the coconut was drained, he broke open the shell and cut out hunks of coconut flesh for everybody to try. Once again, I reiterate, fresh coconut is one of my favorite things on earth. But it gets a bad rap. There is so much fear in our society about fat, and coconuts are laden with it, particularly the “bad” kind – saturated fat. But I don’t think that it’s necessarily the natural saturated fat (or any unprocessed fat for that matter – think avocados, nuts, etc…) that are the problem. The problem comes from when we process that fat and make it into things like hydrogenated oils and trans fats. That’s when our bodies rebel and treat the unnatural substances as artificially dense forms of energy. The processed fats are what pack on the pounds.

I thought I would do a little research in our small library on board (and some Internet browsing), to see what else fresh coconuts provide for our bodies and health. There has definitely been a coconut health craze in the works for the past few months, and even though I’m always a little skeptical about new health crazes, I think coconuts deserve more (positive) attention than they get.

There are two ways to enjoy a fresh coconut. One is a young, or Thai, coconut that isn’t all the way ripe and the other is a fully mature coconut, or the one that has a brown, hairy outer shell. Young coconuts have a more jelly-like flesh and more water in the center while mature coconuts have a firmer flesh and the water is slightly less sweet. Coconuts are also rich in lauric acid, which is known for being anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and boosts the immune system. They are high in fiber and surprisingly high in iron, which I wouldn’t have guessed, as well as phosphorus and zinc. If you think about it, like all other nuts and seeds, coconuts have all the nutrients and minerals needed to create an entire new tree or plant. So how can that powerful concoction not be beneficial to your body?

Aside from fresh coconut, the healthy nut can also be consumed when dried (desiccated), as coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut oil, and coconut butter, which is a combination of both oil and meat (my favorite).

Just don’t sit under a coconut tree 🙂

The Final Countdown

Yep. My two months in SE Asia is coming to an end. Part of me is looking forward to my next adventure (thee months of work on the ships in Costa Rica/Panama and Baja, Mexico with two one weeks breaks in between contracts to recuperate) and part of me wants to continue to explore. I have a feeling I’ll be back, though, especially to the yoga retreat on Koh Samui.

As usual, I have a little catching up to do. After Yogyakarta we were supposed to head up Mount Bromo for a night so we could do a sunrise hike to the top of the crater on Christmas morning. But, alas, the gods must not have been in a good mood because Mount Bromo started erupting and we had to change our plans. Not for the better either, unfortunately. On Christmas eve we had an 11 hour bus ride to Malang, a city in east Java. We really didn’t have much time to explore the city because the next morning (Christmas morning) we got back on the bus for an 8 hour journey into coffee land. We were to spend Christmas night at a resort in Kaliburu, a tiny town in the mountains and jungles of East Java. The hotel was nice and after we dropped our bags we went on a tour through the coffee plantations and surrounding villages. Java is famous for its coffee and there are two main coffee plants that grow here – the robusta and the arabica. There’s another type of coffee that I haven’t tried yet, but I did buy enough to make two cups of brew. It’s the most expensive coffee in the world, one cup at a coffee shops will cost you $10+ and a kilogram is over $50. It’s called Luwak coffee and it’s only found in this part of the world. The Luwak, also know as the civet cat, eats the ripe, red coffee berries, but since it cannot digest the coffee bean, the bean passes through its digestive system whole. But as it passes, it is processed and fermented by special enzymes in the Luwak’s stomach. Once the beans are graciously deposited onto the jungle floor, they are eagerly collected by the local villagers and sold for much more than undigested coffee beans. I can’t wait to try mine!

Along the walk, our guide pointed out several spices growing in the area, such as the white pepper plant, vanilla tree, nutmeg and clove trees, and lemongrass. We also saw how they make palm sugar by boiling the sap of palm trees. It smelled very similar to maple syrup!

Christmas dinner that night was a mellow affair. I had the Indonesian special, called Gado-Gado, which is a pile of mixed steamed vegetables and tofu and tempeh with peanut sauce over the top. Yum!

The next morning we boarded the bus (again) and drive two hours to the ferry that would take us across to Bali. After the short ferry ride, we boarded the bus (again) and drove 4 hours to Sanur where we would be spending the night and meeting five more travelers who would be joining us for the Bali tour. They’re all really nice and we chatted over dinner at a nearby restaurant.

The next day we took a two hour bus ride north to Ubud, a town made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-seller Eat, Pray, Love. We stopped on the way to visit a seaside temple, which was pretty, but crowded.

Bali is amazing (despite its jacked up tourist prices). The landscape is mostly terraced rice paddies, which are beautiful, but what I like most are all the temples and Bali architecture and stone statues covered in green moss that sit interspersed amid modern day developments. Elaborately carved doorways open into courtyards with statues of Ganesh, Hanuman (the monkey God), and other Hindu figures. Walking down the street there is store after store selling replicas of Buddha, batiks, hippie-Indonesian clothing, handmade soaps, and other interesting items. Karen, if you’re reading this and you ever come to Bali, leave your credit card at home or bring extra duffle bags to carry everything back. There’s so much cool stuff. I don’t shop much, but I did buy some shoes and another (bigger!) bottle of coconut oil that I’ll remember to pack in my checked bag. For lunch the next day, Dara, our guide took us to an amazing organic restaurant in the middle of a rice field. It was an adventure in itself to get there, but once we were seated, I was in vegetarian heaven. They even had kombucha! I ordered a sampler plate that had a tempeh and tofu curry, sauteed green beans and carrots, a mixed salad with pickled vegetables and seaweed, tofu pate wrapped in a grape leaf, sweet crispy tempeh, a fried potato pakora, and red and brown rice. It was so good!

That night Sarah, my roommate, and I had an interesting experience. Let me first say that our hotel in Ubud isn’t the most luxurious and it could use a through cleaning. Anyway, at 2 am Sarah jumps out of bed screaming and me, being fast asleep and having no idea what’s going on, start screaming as well. Then I ask her what the f*** happened (exact words I used, I think) and she replied that a mouse just ran over her head. We both started laughing hysterically and half-heartily looked for the culprit before going back to sleep. Two hours later, at 4 am, Sarah jumps out of bed again and announces that “the mouse came back.” She couldn’t go back to sleep in the same bed, so I offered to switch and lay down with my head at the foot of the bed. No mice bothered me for the rest of the night.

Today, after yoga practice overlooking the rice fields, Sarah, Cordelie (from Seattle and a third year med student at Michigan), and I visited the Monkey Forest. It was aptly named because even before we entered the park, we were surrounded by macaque monkeys eating bananas, swinging from tree limbs and watching us with curious expressions. Inside the park was quite an experience as well. Monkeys were everywhere and they let you get pretty close to take pictures. Not too close though, because then they either bared their teeth in a menacing way or tried to steal your camera out of your hands. Those who bought bananas at the entrance or had other treats had monkeys climbing up their legs or jumping onto their backs. I preferred to keep my distance. There were several temples in the forest as well, all seemingly dedicated to Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. The stone figures were covered in green moss and the vines of the banyan trees hung down in sheaths with roots sprawling across the ground in every direction. It was beautiful. After watching and photographing the monkeys for a good hour and a half, we ventured down Monkey Forest road to do some shopping. I bought two pairs of shoes, which I desperately needed and a bus ticket to the airport tomorrow. My flight to Singapore doesn’t leave until 9:30 pm, so I have most of the day here in Ubud. I’m already planning in having lunch at the organic restaurant. Then, once in Singapore, I spend the night at the airport (good times to be had…) and my 48 hour travel marathon to Panama City, Panama begins!