Words and photo by Erin Osbourn
My arrival to Cartagena, Colombia, was very much anticipated even from the very beginning of my trip. I started my journey in Mexico City with a last minute purchase of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. This book kept me company all throughout Central America and flying into Cartagena was a perfect way to finish up the novel.
Right after I settled into the Casa Viena hostel in the heart of the Getsemaní neighborhood, I promptly made my way out to the streets of the famous walled city. The first thing that hit me when I arrived was definitely the heat and humidity. The streets were bustling full of people heading their own way as the sun started to set in the late afternoon. I noticed all the street food vendors grilling and frying all sorts of smells and enticing foods.
I walked my way through a line of vendors who were exclusively selling books next to the large park in Getsemaní. This is the first street book fair that I’ve encountered so far, and certainly not the last oddity I’ll find in Colombia.
I enjoyed my stroll down the Portal de los Dulces and tried a coco de guayaba sweet treat. I felt like Fermina Daza herself, out and about in the city so beautifully kept with colonial architecture and flowerbeds flowing out into the streets.
I am absolutely fascinated to find out why every other traveler that I had met in Central America said that Colombia was the best country in South America. Was it the food? Was it the people? Was it the sights? What sets Colombia apart from the rest of the South American countries? I’m determined to find out.
My first mission, was to put the food to the test. While in Cartagena, me and another British traveler picked up an Aguila (local beer) at the corner market and headed towards the vendors lined up on the main street in front of the Puerta del Reloj.
Our first course was arepas con queso, which is a corn mash that is fried on either side and sliced down the middle only to be filled with plenty of butter and cheese. This salty snack was perfect when washed down with Colombia’s “go to” beer. Next course was grilled chorizos, which was very similar to Mexican chorizo, except not all that spicy. The chorizo man was serving the sausage with chunks of the same corn mash that is used to make the arepas. The corn mash was perfectly wrapped up in green leaves that he removed while cooking our sausages.
He asked us if we were eating here, and we were indeed eating in, so he served up the sausage and corn in red plastic re-usable bowls and provided us toothpicks as utensils. The combination of sausage and corn was hitting the spot. Our final course called for fresh mango, cut to perfection so that each piece peeled neatly off the rind. It was quite possibly the best mango I’ve ever eaten in my life and Colombia certainly passed the street food test. Especially since the entire meal cost each of us only $2 USD, perfect for a budget backpacker!
Erin blogs at http://stellamerica.tumblr.com/