Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ibague Turismo

Spongebob says there's plenty of room between that van and the pickup.

Have you ever played the video game Gran Turismo with one of the four-banger cars, hurtling yourself into the twists and turns at top speed with the engine screaming?

Well that was our trip to the mall this afternoon from downtown Ibague. I've been to a lot of countries and rode in a lot of taxis that were a bit crazy but this guy in Ibague takes the Pole Position. In his little, tiny Hyundai hatchback, the engine is screaming at maximum rpms as he hurtles the car left, right and to the right again. No bus is too big and no curb is too close for this guy. It's a mad dash for the mall and he's going to make the most of our 4,800 peso cab fare.

They use yellow dashes to split oncoming traffic. No problem, just mash the accelerator to the floor and shift into a lower gear. If not by speed then we're going to make it through sheer willpower. At first I didn't notice so much because Rodrigo and I were into our conversation but soon after taking off, the absolute rollercoaster character of the ride overcame any discussion about coffee or profitability. I was soon laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Jog left and hit the gas. Ooops, no we can't beat that oncoming pickup truck, back off and swing to the right. Is there space? Not really but our Colombian Road Warrior is going to prove that we will fit. Zoom and we're sliding in front of some car and narrowly missing that chick on a motorcycle. Another turn and crap - they're too close and we slide to a stop just a half foot from another bike.

Motorcycles be damned!

Another car moves a half length and we're off onto the wrong side of the road. Or perhaps All Your Roads Belong To Us. Those who Rocket: Rule. The little Hyundai can't do anything near what I would consider "rocketing" but that doesn't deter our driver from sliding back to the left side of the road on a right-turning curve with a bus blocking our return to the right'.

By this point, I'm no longer concerned. I'm sure we'll make it. Even if we don't, I've accepted it. A crash won't upset me, it will only make me laugh because I'm having so much fun.

When you're playing Gran Turismo, you do crazy things like send your car screaming into a turn that you're unlikely to make - if for no other reason than you know that it's a video game and nothing will harm you. Imagine doing that in real life, in a real car and you've just started to have an idea of what today's ride to the mall was like.

Looking forward to more taxi rides tomorrow.

Sonata Cafe Coctel

That's not fog wafting over the tables at Sonata.

Our cafe crawl continues with Alfredo and Carolina taking us to Sonata Cafe Coctel, an outdoor cafe located in handicrafts market that's quite popular now that the smoking ban is in effect (the tyranny of American imperialism never stops) and with their offering of a liquor menu. The cafe is pretty and offers some decent drinks. Alfredo roasts coffee for the cafe and we're warmly greeted by the owner, who shares with me his source of Colombian chocolate used in my drink.

We're outdoors, the sun on our backs, good drinks in hand, surrounded by good friends and the sights of pretty Ibague - what more could one ask for?

Sightseeing Ibague!

Rodrigo and his Americano.

Carolina y Frappuccino con liquor.

Rouki y Frappuccino sin liquor.

My Cafe Mocca.

Espresso Alfredo.

Sugar Love Notes.

Ay Dios mio, we're surrounded!

Sonata Cafe Coctel
Cr 5 Calle 10
Tolima, Ibague
(57) (8) 2619036

The Junket de la Prensa

The Publicist, Photographer and Reporter Senor Correa at the ready.

The Press Junket. I have to laugh when I think about it because I never thought I would ever be part of a Junket of anything. Yet there we were, just off the Centro de Ibague being ushered into the dining room of the swanky Circulo de Ibague club to meet the press.

I've been interviewed before but never has a press interview been part of a master schedule of events, nor have I ever had a publicist who was wrangling the press for us. It was both fun and stressful at the same time. Stressful because my Spanish es muy mal and so is my comprehension. Even though I have some experience in Spanish and Latin American countries, my ability to comprehend lies around ten percent. Meaning I'm missing out on 90% of the conversation.

The interviews I've had in the past were low-key affairs with one person, via phone, or through e-mail. Today we had a photographer snapping photos at random, which added to the stress level. Not only do I have to worry about what the reporter is asking but I now also have to worry about not doing something at the wrong time. No scratching my butt or picking my nose. Gotta keep the photographer in my periphery so I know when I can wipe the sweat off my brow, or adjust my seat or fix my shirt. Can't risk getting shot at an inopportune moment, which also means I have to watch my posture, seating position, hand placement and facial expressions. One look at celebrity tabloids and you know what I mean.

My saving grace is Rouki who, in addition to speaking English, Spanish and French fluently, has also worked as a translator and I'm surprised by the amount of jabber she can remember accurately before I have to stop. She's translating the questions from Spanish and telling the reporters my answers. As I listen, she's hitting each point I gave and including all the details. I'm amazed because I was actually putting my translation stops at points that I thought might be too long and she never skipped a beat. Tre Cool.

The interview went well (I think), the reporter was engaging and we drove home some good points about coffee and barista life that I hope makes it to print. In case your wondering, the article is supposed to be published on Thursday in print and at:


Cafe Capristano

Rouki rides the hobby horse at Capristano.

Our first lunch in Ibague finds us at Cafe Capristano, a sort of outdoor cafe that seems to have been tacked onto a building at a street corner. Nothing is fully enclosed and nothing is contained in anything that we would think is a building, yet the environment is warm, friendly and ensconced from the cacophony of the streets just outside the window.

Lunch is pretty simple. A menu of the day is on offer with pork, chicken or beef options. I choose the chicken and it's delicious. The chicken is thinly sliced and cooked on a plancha. It's slightly overcooked and maybe tending towards the dry side but the thinness of the cut, as well as the crisp caramelization of the exterior, and the liberal seasoning makes it just right. What would have been a disaster back home has been skillfully piloted to deliciousness. The potato and salad are okay and more perfunctory than anything else, but the poached banana is a knockout.

Asparagus Soup

Looking at the cross-section, it's not your typical banana but a variety that I usually see at Latin or Asian markets. The meat is a deep golden yellow and holds up well to cooking. From what I've gathered, the banana is cooked in butter, sugar and milk rendering it sweet with a rich lusciousness that was absolutely perfect with the chicken. I was originally weary about ordering the menu of the day and only did so because everyone else was doing it and I didn't want to seem out of place, but the result was absolute delicious goodnesss.

The asparagus soup was also a tasty starting course. Rich while being light and delicately balanced. Just enough cream was added to smoothen it out and a reserved, but proper hand with the seasoning. I wanted to drink the soup from the bowl instead of maintaining my civility and the use of the spoon.

Chicken with cheese, baked potato and poached banana.

The really nice thing about Colombia, and I'm guessing Latin America in general, is the prevalence of fresh juices and lemonades. Forget your sodas, on offer with lunch is a lemonade made with what we know as limes. It's zesty, sweet, refreshing and delicious. And did I mention they make them by hand, to order? I sucked down two of them.

Afterwards, we ordered some coffees from Capristano's baristas. The cafe is next door to the venue and their baristas are attending our training and we wanted to see some of the skill level we'll be dealing with. Watching baristas is always an interesting exploration that reveals different methodology. The barista at Capristano tapped the portafilter roughly 47 times each time she made an espresso (we counted). Luckily for the portafilter she taps lightly and with a plastic tamper. But she grinds the coffee to order.

The espresso and cappuccino were decent enough. Milk slightly on the hotter side but not offensive and the espresso was decent.

Rodrigo arrives with samples from the baristas.

Pondering the espresso and cappuccino.

Cafe Capristano
Calle 11 No. 4-29
Parque Murillo Toro, Ibague

Venta A Minuto

Hope springs eternal in Ibague.

Just outside of the main entrance to the Federacion de Cafeteros de Colombia is a woman selling minutes. If only it were possible to buy a couple more years of life...

Ahhh, Ibague!

The view from my room at the Mercure Hotel.

After a rather long journey, we arrived in Ibague yesterday evening and this morning I woke to this. Beautiful.

Ibague's weather reminds me of Hawaii. It's warm and breezy while comfortable. Just lovely. Sitting in the open air, I'm reminded of my former life in Honolulu and think that we need to organize a trip of coffee friends to Hawaii.

Ibague is hot without being unbearably so. And I'm liking it. Time to head downstairs for some fresh papayas...