In Capitol City

Long time readers know that I am addicted to the capital city of Colombia.  So there was no way that I wasn’t going to take a few days to head over to Bogotá the moment I had a chance.  I just got back – and before I head off on my adventure to La Macarena tomorrow, I thought I’d post an update.

Charlie’s Place

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Since I was just stopping in for a few days, I decided to forgo renting my usual apartment.  It’s a good thing I did or I would have missed out on getting to know the folks over at Charlie’s Place, a boutique hotel and spa in Usaquen.


It’s probably not for everyone – people who want to be in the middle of the tourist areas of Bogotá should stick to La Candeleria.  Business travels on large expense accounts can head to the big-name chains.  But for people like me, who want to be in the north side of Bogotá, around Barrio Chico and Usaquen, Charlie’s Place is ideal.

With just 22 rooms, the hotel is very cozy and accommodating.  The manager, Wilson, is a Minnesota native and is delightfully charming and easy-going.  The rest of the staff including Daniela and Javier are equally polite, friendly and helpful.  (There’s a reason Charlie’s Place is consistently rated as excellent by Trip Advisor for the last several years.)  The best part is that the rates are fair and the service is excellent.

Once I was comfortably settled, it was time to get back out and enjoy the brisk weather.  (The weather is one of the reasons I love this city!)  My first stop was over at SaludCoop where the doctors and nurses were nice enough to answer some questions about the ongoing healthcare crisis.

The Colombian Public Health Care Crisis

Right now, the public health system, EPS and SaludCoop are going broke.  Basically, much of the money paid in by members of the health care cooperative has disappeared (been embezzled), leaving hospitals with bare cupboards.  Hospital staff are feeling the pinch as payroll arrives late, in diminished amounts, or in some cases, not at all.   (There are rumors that the money was funneled into the purchase of luxury apartments, fancy vacations and the like).  There have been some protests and work stoppages by health care workers, but unfortunately, the local unions have been unwilling to support their efforts.

Unfortunately, the government seems apathetic to the concerns of the healthcare workers and their patients. The Minister of Health, Alejandro Gaviria went so far as to say that the health care crisis was a “lie” in a recent press conference, following up on his previous twitter (June 2015) and blog comments (Feb 2015), even going so far as quoting Christopher Hitchens in his defense of the health care system.  Of course, no where in his statement does he talk about healthcare workers going without pay or operating rooms without suture.  But he’s not alone in his apathy.

Most of the local politicians  couldn’t even be bothered to show up to a legislative session on the issue.  Only 9 members of the House of representatives (out of 166) attended.

This financial travesty has wide-spread implications beyond just the public health sector (of hospitals and clinics throughout Colombia).  Many of the private facilities also rely on payments from the healthcare cooperative.  (Imagine if medicare went broke through criminal mismanagement – it would affect a lot more that general and county hospitals).  In many cases, these hospitals are forced to write off millions of dollars of nonpayment from the health cooperative.  In fact, one of the largest hospitals in Cali (a city of 2.5 million people) will be forced to shut it;s doors, mainly due to losses incurred from nonpayment by EPS and SaludCoop.  So it’s a huge mess that will probably only get worse without government intervention.

On the flip side of the Colombian Health Care Crisis and the declining peso (over 3200 pesos to the dollar this week) – Hospital Santa Fe de Bogotá  appears to be thriving.

Santa Fe de Bogota’s new emergency department

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of a guided tour of the new Emergency department at Santa fe de Bogota with the current Chief of the Emergency Department (and trauma surgeon), Dr. Francisco Holguin.

Fans of the Bogota book know that I spent quite a bit of time at Santa Fe de Bogotá in the past – and that it is one the highest ranked facilities in all of Latin America, so it was fantastic to see all of the improvements.  (The ER was still under construction the last few times I was there).  The first thing I can say – It’s big! Big, spacious, brightly lit and airy (especially for an ER).  The is good work flow with several large workspaces for the doctors and nurses, instead of the typical traffic jams that occur in older facilities.  It’s on the same floor as diagnostics (CT scan, radiology), the operating rooms and the intensive care units which means that critically ill and injured patients can be rapidly transported to where ever the need to go.

The spacious department now has 56 beds with an overflow unit for critically ill patients.  Several specialists are on-call, in the ER and available 24 hours including orthopedics, trauma and internal medicine.  Downstairs from the main ER is the fast track – for all of the non-life-threatening general medicine problems.

After spending two days interviewing and talking to people about the SaludCoop problems and EPS – it was nice to leave Bogotá on such a nice note.


Crochet, crafts and traditional arts in Colombia


One of my latest crochet projects – American flag scarf

Since learning some basic crochet (very basic) from my (very patient) roommate, Iris in Cartagena, I have continued to crochet.  I find it’s an excellent activity for all the waiting that goes along with travel.  I crochet in the car when we drive from assignment to assignment.

Hat and scarf

Hat and scarf

I need to learn some new stitches but I am getting a lot of practice with my basic stitch.   I have switched to a very large crochet hook (15mm or an “S” hook) and cuddly soft bulky yarns (types 5 and 6).  It makes it easier to see when I make errors and it works up quickly.  Plus, the yarn is so plush and soft feeling.


I made a couple things for my friend’s new baby in Bogota.

My tiny model wearing the first hat I made

My tiny model wearing the first hat I made


So when I went to see her – I spent an afternoon in Chapinero checking out the yarn situation.  I was in a large bookstore in Chapinero when I met Ligia Morena Vega.  I was looking at some new sewing pattern magazines (since I am a sewer who crochets) and she was buying crochet magazines.

So I asked her if she knew where I could find some yarns in the neighborhood.. Not only did she know – she took me with her to meet the proprietors and learn more about the crafting classes offered.

That’s one of the things I’ve noticed in Colombia – pull out a crochet hook or start asking about crochet, and instantly you make friends.  I was on the bus to the airport in Rionegro when this happened the first time.  (It’s a long bus ride to Medellin, so I pulled out my crochet..)  Very quickly I made friends with several women  on the bus as we talked crochet.


with Ligia, shopping for yarn in Bogota

with Ligia, shopping for yarn in Bogota

Ligia crochets professionally.  She was buying magazines to use as catalogs for customers who want custom-made clothing, including formal style and elegant ankle length dresses.    Ligia’s husband runs a coffee and chocolate shop nearby on Calle 57 and Carrera 16 – so I will have to stop in and visit on my next trip to Bogotá (and get some pictures of her latest crochet creations too!)

We walked a few blocks to a short street, Calle 56 (with Carrera 13) where there are several stores selling a variety of yarns.  While there was a lot of Red Heart and Lion Brand (especially the Homespun USA – my favorite, at home), I was able to find some beautiful yarns that are made right in Bogotá.

I fell in love with some of the yarns from Lanas Arvi.

Lanas Arvi

One of the yarns is a beautiful tan and turquoise mix..

some of my new Colombian yarn.. with my gigantic crochet hook.

some of my new Colombian yarn.. with my gigantic crochet hook.

It’s destined to be a scarf.. This time I might even keep it.  So far, I have gifted away everything I’ve made with the exception of a camera lens bag..

Several of the shops offer crochet and knitting classes.  Todos Lanas and Almacen Mutifibras even print the class schedules on the back of their receipts.

The prices are about the same as Wal-mart (since JoAnn’s and some of the craft stores mark up the yarns quite a bit.)  I also bought two small skeins of a lovely dark purple to make a gift for a friend – and two small skeins of a variegated yarn with the bright yellow, blue and red of the Colombian flag..   All of the other yellow/ blue / red yarns were sold out just about everywhere we looked.  Several owners told us that between Colombian Independence Day (today) and the World Cup – they haven’t been able to keep any of the patriotic colors in stock for the last month.

Embajada de la Coca

During my visit to Bogotá – we sampled some delicious Andean style cuisine at the Embajada de la Coca.  (To read my article on the experience, click here.)

welcome to Embajada de la Coca

welcome to Embajada de la Coca

Meet the artist: Isabella Klein

The next day, I spent the afternoon visiting the Klein family.  If the name sounds familiar – it’s because one the sons, Albert Klein, PharmD is a close friend and my co-writer on several of the Hidden Gem titles.  (The Kleins are a talented family; the younger son, Alex plays piano with the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra and the daughter, A. J. is an occasional model.)

(For more about the Bogotá Philharmonic – read this post by a blogger from the University of Texas at Austin.)

His mother, Isabella works as a professional translator as well as teaching English.  But that’s just her job – art is her life.  She works in multiple platforms – mixed media, paintings, photography and artisan crafts.

On today’s visit – we talked about some of her craft work as well as the large craft fairs here in Colombia.  We discussed my ideas for ‘artisan craft style tours‘ where visitors could learn more about the crafting process and Indigenous cultures of Colombia.

She showed me some of her more recent projects – making decorative wooden boxes.  Instead of using the traditional Colombian patterns, she designs her own.

Some of the wooden boxes designed by Isabella Klein

Some of the wooden boxes designed by Isabella Klein

Her mixed media paints are arresting to look at.  Unfortunately, I was too busy admiring them to take any pictures..

But I do have a couple more pictures of the boxes.


I think the next box is just fantastic.. It’s a design that just catches the eye.  I like the combination of blues.


For a portfolio of some of Isabella Klein’s work – click here.

After too few days – it was time to say goodbye to my Bogota friends (new and old) and head back to Medellin to prepare for Colombia Moda..

with dear friends, Camila and Flavita.

with dear friends, Camila and Flavita.

Of course – it wasn’t all bad – these lovely ladies were at the airport in Rionegro to greet me..  The Aguardiente Girls!!

Welcome to Medellin!

Welcome to Medellin!


In the kitchen with Sra. Clara Lozano: Brevas

Clara Lozano and her husband, Alvaro Palacios

Clara Lozano and her husband, Alvaro Palacios

Clara and her family have a special place in my heart.  I first met them when I rented an apartment from them for almost six months while researching the Bogota back.  I have been back several times since, and I always stay with the Palacios..  They are wonderful people who typify the kind and generous nature of Colombians in general.

The other day, while at the fruit market, I purchased several Brevas.  Despite all of my previous visits  – I remained fairly ignorant of this particular Colombian fruit, which is a type of fig.

Mangostinos and brevas.  Brevas are the small green fruit

Mangostinos and brevas. Brevas are the small green fruit

So, Clara was kind enough to share a recipe for making a desert of Brevas that has been in her family for over 100 years, which I will now share with you.  As a spectacularly bad cook – I was smart enough not to get too close as we were cooking, but I took copious notes.  (When I cook, the fire department is often involved.)

The recipe is fairly simple – simple enough that I can probably manage myself next time.  The ingredient list includes: Brevas, washed and rinsed, about a half cup of sugar (or panela) and cinnamon.



1. After rinsing the brevas, cut of the ends.  Then partually section each breva.  (Do not cut into pieces, just make a small cut at the top of the breva, extending about half way down the fruit).

2. Place in a saucepan, and cover with water.

3. Add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of sugar (or panela) to the mixture.. and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon (or one small stick of cinnamon broken into smaller pieces)

4. Boil until the mixture thickens to a syrupy glaze (about 20 – 25 minutes.)  This mixture will be dark brown (from the cinnamon).

Boiling brevas: Photo by Camila

Boiling brevas: Photo by Camila

5.  Serve warm with a slice of mild cheese (queso de crema).

finished brevas

Traditionally served with a mild white cheese and cold milk

Traditionally served with a mild white cheese and cold milk

Delicious!  The cheese is a perfect contrast to the sweet rich taste of the brevas..

For more about Colombian fruits

Sunday in La Candelaria

I am visiting Bogotá this week, before heading back to Medellin..

Bogotá is one of those cities that climbs into your heart – despite initial misgivings; too big, too cold, often rainy; becomes gloriously interesting and wonderfully cool..

I was armed with just a camera phone, so my friend, Camila Togni assisted in my photo-taking endeavors..

Sidewalk in downtown Bogota

Sidewalk in downtown Bogota

Despite its large size – the city manages to be hospitable and friendly to visitors – and I missed my Bogotá “home”.  So I headed back for just a few days to check in and enjoy all the things that make me love this unlikely city so much..

While Barrio Chico (where I live) is pretty quiet – La Candelaria is always quite a bit more lively.

I normally tend to avoid the Candelaria area because of the ever-present crowds of people, which is a shame because there are a lot of interesting places to visit and some beautiful architecture in this part of town.

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Alvaro Palacio & Claro Lozano in front of the Cathedral de Bogota

But this weekend is the celebration por el nino del 20 de julio (and the ORs are closed) so when my friends invited me to go downtown with them – it was an opportunity not to be missed!

First we headed to the Iglesia de nino de 20 de Julio since this what the holiday weekend was all about.. It’s a huge church – a campus, actually – and it was packed with people.

Iglesia de nino del 20 de Julio

Iglesia de nino del 20 de Julio

Even though it was crowded, it was a lovely service – and the church itself is quite pretty.

el nino de 20 de Julio

el nino de 20 de Julio

The church has a lovely glass dome and several stained-glass windows with religious scenes.

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The church is so large, the domed area actually isn’t part of the central church, but an overflow area with a jumbo screen television so worshippers can see the priest conducting the service in the main chamber.

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You can see the crowd milling in the foreground of this photo.

the crowd at the church

the crowd at the church

After the service, we wandered around the large flea market just a street away from the church before heading to lunch at a famous but tiny, and old restaurant called, “La Puerto Falso.

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While the rest of my party had their famous tamals, I was up for a bit of a culinary adventure, so I had a soup called Changua.

Colombian Tamal

Colombian Tamal

While the description of a soup made of milk, eggs, bread, mild local cheese and cilantro didn’t sound that entices – it was actually quite good and is part of Bogotá regional cuisine.

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Links for additional information about sightseeing in Bogota

More information about La Candelaria

Virtual tourist – La Candelaria

Video of LA Candelaria

Cathedral de Bogota

Most guides are going to send you to the Museo de Oro “The Gold Museum” but that’s not my favorite..

Museo de la Policia – probably my favorite of all the museums, thus far, in Colombia.  It’s free – guides welcome you in from the street – and you can see the bloodied, bullet-ridden jacket of Pablo Escobar, from his last moments on a rooftop in Medellin.  (It’s considered rude to ask about Pablo Escobar in general conversation) but if you hold any fascination about how a rural boy from an impoverished background managed to hold Colombia hostage, and gain international infamy – it’s a must.  The guides also offered free candy, and played a game of ‘rana’ with us.  (The are guides for multiple languages).

Anthony Bourdain does Colombia

It’s not his first visit – he’s done several other programs highlighting Colombia, but tonight’s episode on his new CNN show, “Parts Unknown” is definitely his best.  It’s the first time I think  he actually ‘got it’ and was really able to convey a real sense of Colombia to his viewers.

While his previous shows were primarily about food, and local food culture – his episodes on Colombian cuisine were always very wide from the mark..  Sure, he had the names of dishes and such – but he didn’t really bring home the feel of Colombia and it’s people.

Or that Colombian food isn’t really about intense spices, it’s about the intense and rich flavors that comes from the rich textures of the foods themselves – without overpowering curries or heavy sauces..

Better quality, fresher ingredients and a wide variety make for richer flavors

Better quality, fresher ingredients and a wide variety make for richer flavors

Images of Colombia

While I am back here in the United States, I wanted to share many of the images I’ve gathered and collected during my most recent visit to Colombia..  Some of these images will be familiar to long-term readers from various posts about my trips to Lerida, visits to the finca, and day-to-day encounters with different and interesting people in Colombia.

I hope you enjoy!

Happy Anniversary…

As my long-time readers know – I am a huge fan of Adriaan Alsema, a Dutch-borne journalist in Medellin, Colombia.  He is the founder/ creator/ and genius behind Colombia – the English language news source for all things Colombiano.

Mr. Alsema, Editor-in-chief, Colombia Reports

Mr. Alsema, Editor-in-chief, Colombia Reports

It’s the fifth anniversary of Colombia Reports – so I wanted to wish Adriaan a Happy Anniversary..