Sunday, January 29, 2012

That's some hot tamale, and I don't mean Paula!

   Tamales are a popular item with your standard Colombian, though they are not like the Tex-Mex ones.  These are filled with corn meal dough, marinated meat, veggies, etc., and, true to the local horticultural ambience, wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks.  They are then tied with string and boiled.
    The local uppity grocery store ladies looked at me as if I'd asked for chitlins in a Harris Teeter when I mentioned banana leaves.  Even the street market folks nearby laughed and said "Siete de agosto, gringo chump!"
     7th of August?  Ah, a cultural experience, mi amigo!  It's a huge covered market NOT in a great part of town, right next to the leather goods area (another blog entry), and not on the tourist map.  Indeed, somewhere WAY off the edge of the tourist map.
     After dodging the folks waving various agricultural wonders at us, yelling "A la orden!" ("you need to buy this, gringo chump!"), we finally located the leaves, scored a great hand-beaten aluminum colander, and fled.
     To her everlasting foreign-life-accommodating-ability credit, Paula quickly caught on to banana leaf work.
    Meanwhile, I marinated a bunch of good Colombian pork, whipped up some cornmeal masa, and the tamale factory was open for business!
    Visions of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz on the chocolate assembly line came to mind, as we glopped, piled and tied up tamales.  To our wonderment, they kind of looked like the real thing!
    Step #9 - Boil for 1 hour and 45 minutes, thus eliminating any pathogens that hitched a ride on the banana leaves, and tenderizing the Colombian pork, which is generally somewhere between bike tire and shoe leather in consistency.
    This is about as far over the Colombian culinary line as we've ventured so far, complete with the local soda.
   Despite our Newbie status, they really turned out well.  By the way, that's curuba juice she's drinking (see later blog entry about what an Osterizer can do for you in Bogotá).
    OK, we thought they were tasty, but the real test was when we showed a picture to the Elders in the Mission Office, and they said, "When are we invited?"  So, down to 7 de agosto for more leaves.
    We cooked up sixteen this time, and had five Elders over for dinner.  They pretty much wiped out the tamales, declaring them "muy ricos!  And next time, why don't you try making coconut rice?  We'll be happy to give you an opinion on that also!"
    So, if you've got extra banana leaves laying around, we'll be happy to forward a good tamale recipe from Bogotá!
Dave & Paula

Sunday, January 22, 2012

There's an app for that!

Bogotá has grown very rapidly over the last 20 years, and is one of the 30 biggest cities in the world, with 9 million inhabitants.  Only about 15% of the people have cars, but traffic was getting worse and worse.  In the late 90's, a Duke graduate named Enrique Penalosa was elected mayor, and set to work.  
Looking around the world, he realized that not only were bikes good, but mass transit was needed.  However, most models were way too expensive - light rail costs $200 million/kilometer, and needs about $2 per rider.  The solution was "BRT," or Bus Rapid Transit!
In December of 2000, the TransMilenio system was opened to the public.
The TransMilenio consists of articulated (great big red) buses, which operate on dedicated lanes between what look for all the world like subway stations.
The ridership is incredible, moving over 1.6 million people per day.  It carries over twice as many people per day as either Chicago's El system of DC's Metro.  It is so popular that people jokingly call it the "TransMilleno," lleno meaning "full."  It has been said that if you were to die on the TransMilenio, you probably wouldn't fall down for about three days.  Paula asked me to point out that the picture below could actually have been taken during several of the trips we've made.
There are some pretty cool bridges over the roadways to get to the stations
from which we saw a pretty cool car crash yesterday, but that's a whole 'nother story.
It's actually a great system, as long as you avoid getting your pocket picked, and we've brought home curtain rods, a rug, a new broom, light fixtures, etc.  However, the route planner is a real headache, and it would take about 30 minutes planning just to figure which buses to ride.
One day, while hearing me whine while I had the system planner spread out on the floor, Paula looked online and.... there's an app for that!
No kidding!  You just put it on your iPod/Phone/Pad, choose where you want to board and disembark, and it tells you, "Take the D3 out, and the H3 back," etc.  Unbelievable!
Anyway, we hope there's an app for whatever you need, too!
Dave & Paula

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Square hole, round peg - Colombian style!

The 3rd-floor folks across the street are moving out, and today we learned how you get big furniture out, considering the tiny elevators and narrow stairwells.
First, you anchor some ropes to someone else's top-floor terrace,
 put on a harness, 
and get hoisted up to the big picture window.  You hope the guy on the rope remembers to hold it as one of the many attractive (according to Paula) Colombian women walks by.
While trusting your buddies, you chip out the caulking and metal strips that have held the picture window glass in for years.
Meanwhile, the guys below  remember they haven't had lunch, and share it with the guy holding the rope.
Finally, you use a broom, 
then do something with a hammer,
and finally the glass comes loose.
Meanwhile, the really big stuff has been wrapped in cardboard and rope,
and goes out the window.  
¡No problema!  
...except of course for having to stop briefly for a passing downpour (in Bogotá?!  No!)
So, remember, if it doesn't look like your new king-size mattress is going to make it up the stairs, give us a ring and we'll get some Colombian guys to c'mon up and pop out a window.
¡No problema!
Dave & Paula

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why Paula has decided against a modeling career

Bogotá began in an area up against the mountains on the eastern side of the fertile valley across which it has now spread.  The main plaza hosts the iconic 16th-century church and the iconic 21st-century gigantific-ginormous Christmas tree.
Among other things we visited in the old center today was the Botero museum.  It has an amazingly broad collection of works by well-known artists, from Gaugin to Ernst to Calder, all donated by Fernando Botero, who is famous for his plump-people paintings and sculptures.
Paula decided that Picasso probably wouldn't have made her look very good, 
and, just like the TV camera, Botero would have made her look at least 10 kilos out of whack.
With her dream of being an artist's model shattered, at least in Colombia, she consoled herself with admiring the beautiful courtyards of the museum.
And buying a new sweater.
We hope that your aspirations continue to be attainable.
Dave & Paula

We've got mail!!

As a previous post revealed, mailing a letter from here is prohibitive.  However, this week, we received a sweet Christmas card from my 92-year-old father!  Our first mail!
Apparently, the 4-72 guys, through whom the US Post Office sends things down here, can't steal and use the US stamps, which are cancelled, so what's the point? and they deliver the letters, as long as there's nothing that feels of value within.  
When our doorman announced he had more mail for us, we figured it was one of the monthly bills.  Lo and behold, another Christmas card, from our daughter Brynn and family!  
Thanks for the cards!  We look forward to more mail next December/January
Dave & Paula

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

No, really, they sent us to the salt mines

No kidding.  There is a large underground halite mine in a town named Zipaquirá about an hour north of Bogotá, which has been in use since prehistoric times in one way or another, most recently with modern techniques, like the dynamite in the holes behind me. Say what?  Dynamite?!
Anyway, we voluntarily visited the mines before Thanksgiving with a couple of other couples.  You can see Paula's look of excitement over the prospect.
A number of years ago, the miners started carving out grottoes with religious figures and symbols.
After a while, they got organized, and devoted an older part of the mine to a whole series of such areas of worship,

including an entire cathedral constructed in the early 1900's, carved out of the salt rock. This seemed like a great idea, until they noticed that the floor and the ceiling were gradually getting closer, and realized it was because of ground water intrusion. OK, ditch that cathedral.
Meanwhile, immense and I mean football-field, er, rather soccer-field size mining 'galleries' were converted in to sanctuaries.  I don't know if you get a feeling for size here, but beyond the dark group of people, that thing is HUGE.
Finally, in the 1990's, a new cathedral was begun, some 200+ feet below the old one, which at first blush doesn't seem like such a good idea, which is visited and used today.  Again, I don't think the picture does justice to its scale. The cross is about 75 feet tall.
We had a great time scurrying about investigating passages and marveling at the work of the artists and sculptors, some of whom were still working away with air hammers and other delicate instruments.  Here's a picture of one of the more stylish miners.
All of which makes a person hungry, so we stopped at a roadside café serving roasted meat and plaintains.  With plenty of salt.
So on Preparation Days between working, we continue to discover some of the really interesting things in Colombia.
We hope you're having a good New Year so far!
Dave & Paula

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Perhaps La Niña has made a resolution to go away.  The weather this New Year's Day is gorgeous - not a cloud in the sky, about 65 degrees (18.3 C), and if you ignored the stray palm tree and blooming azalea, this could be a beautiful October day in Raleigh.
Everyone must still be asleep from the revelry on New Year's Eve.  I think that some of the things they were lighting off last night couldn't even be purchased in South Carolina.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you can lay hands on major explosive things in Colombia.
This street scene is only remarkable because on any other morning at 7:30 AM, only those with suicidal tendencies would be so ambling across the roadway like the figure below.
As much as 2011 will be bemoaned for European market collapses, underwater Las Vegas housing, Super Committees that weren't so super, and the utter failure of the Red Sox in the last week of the regular season, it really was a good year for us.
I got to retire before anyone kicked me out of the practice, a new grandkid was born safely, and above all, our kids continue to behave themselves.  Paula and I have had to adapt and grow in ways that at times haven't been comfortable, but we've also seen some interesting parts of the world, and Paula said the closing prayer at a baptism yesterday - in Spanish!
We are grateful for 2011, and look forward to new growth in 2012.
Dave & Paula