Grafitti

Really, I just love graffiti. From the inner city blocks of Melbourne, to the Barrios of Medellin, grafitti art provides a colourful outlet for artistic expression as well as adding vibrancy to sometimes otherwise drab places. What sometimes looks like a colourful conglomeration of images can often contain many hidden stories and a running social commentary, if you manage to find it or have a guide explain it.

Without going into the intricacies of all these stories, I learned a lot of the fight against GM foods and the influence of Monsanto throughout Guatemala, the white flag mothers of Medellin who stopped violence in the streets during the Escobar period, the dictatorship years and disappearances in Santiago and Valparaiso in Chile, all through artistic graffiti expression. So here are some of the shots of graffiti that I enjoyed the most. Its a not a definitive list, I took hundreds of shots, these are just a few that caught my eye.

Valparaiso, Chile

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Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile.

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San Pedro, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

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This work depicts the evils of Monsanto and its GM foods. No prizes for guessing who depicts who here.

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Medellin, Colombia

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Punta Arenas, Chile

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Cartagena, Colombia

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Colombia !!!

Unfortunately, due to a malfunctioning computer, my blog posts are being written well after the event. Time takes away some of the immediacy and emotions that come quickly to mind when writing in real time. Time has not however dimmed my love for Colombia. It is simply one of my favourite countries.

How to quickly sum up Colombia in a few words ? Probably diverse, passionate, natural and friendly come to mind quickly.

Diverse –

Colombia has it all, golden Carribean beaches, the wild ( politically and natural ) Pacific coast, the Amazon, cloud forests, jungles and lost cities, mountainous coffee country, adventure galore, ziplining, canyoning, kayaking, rafting, biking ( both motorised and pedal power ), diving, incredible cities and history, sport fishing, desert and most likely a lot more.

                                                    Street kids busking in Medellin

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Passionate –

To the outside world and to anyone that travelled in Colombia years ago, the name simply conjures up visions of danger and drug related violence. This is not the case anymore. Colombia is really no more dangerous than any other South American country and only requires the usual precautions and a common sense approach. As elsewhere, guided city walks always provide an in sight into the local culture and history. The city walk in Medellin especially, was done with very passionate young local Paisas ( as the folks are known locally ). They are extremely proud of their transition from the days of violence and nearly all of them have direct experience of those times as children. They are only too willing to openly discuss the Pablo Escobar era and all that went with it, ( our guide was not a huge fan of the Hollywood version of Narcos, it must be said ).

As elsewhere in South America, graffiti is used widely as a form of expression. there will be a seperate blog post on graffiti later.

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These are known as the Towers of Light. They are located in an area that was formerly a total no go zone because of violence and now represent the new beginnings in Colombia.

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Natural –

Colombia pretty has it all, some of the most diverse bird life on the planet, amazing ocean life, cloud forests, volcanoes, wild rivers etc etc.
For avid bird watchers, it must be among the best on earth. I spent a week in the little town of Taganga on the Caribbean coast doing my Rescue dive certification. For anyone considering doing a diving course, this little place ( along with Honduras ), offers some of the cheapest options on the planet. It does pay to research carefully and select a professional dive centre though ). I cannot recommend Oceano Scuba in Taganga highly enough.

Also, the little mountain town of Minca has incredible bird life if that takes your fancy. This Colibri ( Hummingbird ) drinks from a feeder at the Minca Hotel. Its worth doing breakfast there just to sit with hundreds of these little guys. I love ´em !!!!

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                                                  A lovers sunset at Taganga

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                                                       Afternoon showing off time 

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My time in Colombia was mainly contained to the Northern part of the country. Reports from other travellers confirmed that the southern towns and country further south on the way to Ecuador is just as beautiful and diverse as the north. I arrived in Cartagena by catamaran from Panama ( subject to an earlier post ), and my group of fellow boat mates and I enjoyed a week of post sailing celebrations in this very cool city. The old part of Cartagena is alive with history and pretty, rustic houses draped in vines. It is easy to spend a week just wandering around the old town, taking in the museums and street life. My little Airbnb was located in a quiet side street and my usual afternoon routine simply consisted of buying a few cheap bevies and sitting on the front step and getting to know the locals and watching the world go by. I could have easily stayed longer here.

                                           The beautiful Old Town of Cartagena

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Colourful Guatape is a few hours from Medellin and certainly worth a few days. The temptation is to do a day trip from Medellin but it is best discovered with more time,     ( as always ).

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                                                           Perros !!!!!! ( dogs )

I admit to being a dog lover and South America in general and Colombia in particular also love them. Dogs are everywhere !!! Here are a couple of my favourites.

Barney the weird Corgi / Lab mix that lives in the bar I frequented in the main square of Guatape.

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Lucas, the punk house Schnauzer at the Grand Hostel in Medellin, and by the way, if you are looking for a well run, quiet little hostel in Poblado, go and see Lucy, I loved my time there.

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                                      Climb the 780 steps at El Peñon, Guatape

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                                                        Its not a bad view up there.

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                                                             Street art in Medellin

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                                                             Colourful Cartagena

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The wild Pacific coast at Bahia Solano and El Valle will get its own blog post later. Its a fascinating place both naturally and politically. The major source of revenue here is picking 20kg blocks of contraband cocaine from the ocean, spilt from high speed motor boats plying the North America trade. Both the FARC rebels and Paramilitaries as well as the locals are all looking to make a quid this way, and its a LOT of quids. Its also a world class sport fishing hub for anyone who makes the effort to get there. This humpback was cavorting about as we dragged out lures past.

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                                                        Reflections of Medellin

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                                   Fishing boys on the Pacific Coast at Bahia Solano

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Locals in Medellin are super proud of their Metro system. They view it as an example of their new beginnings. Its is squeaky clean and good luck to anyone who tried to graffiti it. These cable cars also ride up into the hillside Barrios and are all included as part of the metro system. Works like a dream. You can ride all the cable cars for the price of one ticket !!!! Awesome !!!!!

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                          Some imminent rain from the hostel balcony in Guatape

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I could write about Colombia forever but will most likely do some more specific blogposts a little later. They are each worth extra time of their own. So for now, just a few photos above, ( after all, this is a mainly photographic blog and I am no Earnest Hemingway ). I will let the photos do the talking.

Mole !!!! Cooking School in Oaxaca

A really great way to immerse yourself in local food culture and taste is to do a simple cooking class. The last time I did one was many years ago in Hoi An, Vietnam and I enjoyed that so much that I need to give myself an uppercut for not doing them more often. I simply have not indulged in these as often as I should have, but at the suggestion of my travel buddy in Oaxaca, Mexico I decided it was time to give it another crack.

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The usual routine for a cooking class is to hit the local market early in the morning to buy the ingredients. This also gives a far more detailed idea of how the local markets work and just what is available. Just strolling around taking photos does not provide a true indication of what is really available in these local markets. The Central Market in Oaxaca is absolutely massive and the quality of the produce left me spellbound. Stall after stall of super fresh and ripe seasonal produce is laid out as far as the eye can see. Our chef, teacher and all round good bloke Geraldo was our chef, teacher and mentor. He patiently explained the in & outs of both the produce and the people in the market.

Ingredients procured, it was time to head back to Geraldos home, kitchen and classroom. Without going into intimate detail of the preparation of ingredients, the basic idea was to prepare and cook tamales, a salsa de Gusanito, guacamole, a traditional Oaxaca soup and a mole negro. Now, I have tried a couple of moles before but pretty much had little idea of what actually goes into developing the deep flavours required. To be honest, a mole is not the prettiest dish in the world. It looks a little as though a pile of mud was thoughtfully retrieved from the nearest boggy road. The deep smells of the spices as they are pounded in a mortar and pestle however, suggests something very different indeed.

Firstly, the Tameles were prepared with long banana leaves, trimmed and cut into portions. The freshly ground corn was mixed with a preprepared red Mole sauce, folded up and laid in a steamer to cook. Now the big guns were brought out and heavy mortars and pestles were distributed throughout. Without going into the long list of fresh spices to be pounded into shape, ( a photo of the recipe follows ), our little group was soon head down, pounding, mashing and stirring to our hearts content.

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Meanwhile, others were busy deseeding and roasting the fresh chillies to be blended and added to the spice mixture.

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Yep, cactus worms are are a key ingredient of the tasty salsa. These are also often mixed with salt and used to coat the glass rim of the various local margaritas. The delicious Mexican margaritas are worthy of a blog post of their own !!!! My favourite is made with Mezcal, passionfruit juice, red apple and the above salt coating on the glass rim.

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After much ado and not a little elbow grease, the mixtures were toasted, pounded, strained and blended and ready to be cooked and consolidated in a clay pot before the grand finale lunch. The highlight of the lunch was undoubtably the Mole which was poured over some fresh pork also procured at the morning market. The deep smokey flavours lingered on the palette, and certainly overwhelmed its basic appearance.

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As an added bonus, a bottle of Vino Tinto miraculously appeared, along with the obligatory shot or two of Mezcal.

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All in all, an entirely enjoyable day and highly recommended. Wherever you happen to be in the world, a local cooking class will introduce you to a range of flavours, local culture and some seriously delicious food.

And then, Viola !!!! the final climax.

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There was actually quite a bit more involved than mentioned above. Fresh Tortillas were also pressed and roasted.

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The fresh fried pig skin, cheese, raisin and herb soup was delicious !!!!

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A spicy guacamole was prepared.

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So, if you happen to be in Oaxaca, The La Cocina Oaxaqueña Cooking School is highly recommended. You can book through your hotel or hostel or contact them directly at http://www.cooking.com.mx

So there you go, local cooking classes can add an extra dimension to your travels. Just get out and do it !!!!!!!