Tag Archives: travel

G’s Brunch Boat, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam – synonymous with long, beautiful people perched on bicycles; dozy teenagers weaving from coffee shop to coffee shop; a penchant for deep fried and round foodstuffs and, of course, canals.

This being our second visit to the city we’d already walked the main galleries and museums, squeezed into Anne Frank’s tiny house, acted cool in the red light district and got lost in the series of cobbled streets connected by bridges that all look remarkably alike. We were in search of a different way to explore the city, and had been pointed to a tourist attraction with a twist – G’s Brunch Boat, a hip-hoped themed canal barge that also happens to serve a great breakfast.

Having wandered the Keizersgracht multiple times, we eventually found our docking spot and clambered aboard with a handful of tourists and the laid-back staff. Once on our way we were settled in with a ‘sober’ (an alcohol-free drink) and a cup of coffee while a waiter dressed in shirt and leather apron took orders for our ‘tipsy’ – drinks that ranged from the classic Bloody Mary or mimosa to a glass of red wine or a Dutch beer. While a heavy hip-hop beat acted as the backdrop we were allowed to peruse our menus made from old records as Amsterdam life slid past. As the bucks fizz buzz kicked in we waved at locals tending to their bicycles and peeked into the opulent apartments above, making up lives for the gorgeous inhabitants framed in the city’s resolutely wonky windows.

IMG_2180

In honour of our host city we both chose waffles and bacon, and the plates were delivered with some speed from the tiny kitchen at the front. For dessert, more waffles (this time the syrup-filled kind), more rounds of coffee and drinks or food for those so inclined. Fully fed and slightly merry, we settled back to take in the rest of the trip, skirting around the space-age Nemo museum and heading out across open water before tucking back in to the narrow canals to return us to where we started. Waving (and weaving) as we left, we agreed – while not cheap, it’s hard to imagine a more relaxed and distinctive way to enjoy breakfast on the water.

IMG_2188

Price: €39.50 per person

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Intrepid Breakfasts

Navimag Ferry, Chilean Fjords, Patagonia

There’s nothing that confirms real life more than flicking through reams of holiday photos, quietly weeping into ‘proudly Scottish’ porridge while a cup of non-Colombian coffee cools at my arm.

Yet while the experience can be depressing, it also serves as a timely reminder that adventure really did happen. As pictures of bug-eyed sloths, endless multi-dogs, fantastically bright street art or fluorescent blue glaciers flick by, I’m reminded of the small details: the wonderful gringas served in a tiny Mexican canteen miles from anywhere, the local who adopted us on a street in Antigua and gave us our own personalised tour, the staff on one endless bus journey who opted for a game of bingo before serving us tumblers of wine and yet another ham and cheese sandwich.

And it was whilst I scrolled through thousands of photos that I was reminded of one of our last adventures in South America, a ferry trip through the Patagonian fjords in Chile. It being Autumn we’d gambled with the weather, and having had three unfathomably sunny days while trekking through Torres del Paine we assumed our luck wouldn’t last. As we boarded the ferry a stiff wind was shooting icy rain into the cargo deck,  it’s persistent howl mingling with the mournful lowing of the truly intended passengers. Yet by morning the clouds had passed and the ship set forth into stunningly bright sunlight, the first of the islands set to contrast against the luminous blue sky.

img_20160427_145529_26407963630_o

Though the boat itself was no cruise ship – truly meant for cargo, there’s little in the way of luxury and the interiors all come in industrial pea green, or municipal wipe-down white – the unexpected weather let us spend our days out on deck. From here we’d watch gangs of sea lions pups tumble through the waves, tiny dolphins riding the wake and the effervescent clouds of spray from hundreds of reticent minke whales. With little in the way of entertainment, we’d spend our time watching the horizon, reading books or sleeping in the sun, our reveries only broken by the regular meals provided by young staff, where we’d join tables of fellow tourists or squeeze next to jovial drivers clearly enjoying their truck-free travel. Though made for many and decidedly simple (breakfast was, you guessed it – pan, queso y jamon) the food was surprisingly flavoursome, certainly providing enough fuel for another days’ sitting around.

img_0109_26074362724_o

TripAdvisor will testify, this isn’t for everyone; those after plush bedrooms, private showers and constant access to the internet will not fare well. But for us, happy to watch the sun move across a series of snow-tipped mountains that built the channel of the fjords we sailed through, we didn’t need anything more sophisticated than a cup of coffee and somewhere to perch. And the photos, at least, are an excellent reminder of that.

img_0135_26614216001_o

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Intrepid Breakfasts

The Lighthouse Coffee Shop, La Serena, Chile

There are certain moments in life that signify proper adulthood. Home ownership, marriage or co-creating a tiny, angry version of yourself are some of the most ubiquitous (certainly where social media is concerned) but having spurned a career and our flat in favour of a year of travel, none of these are particularly within reach. But no matter. For me, there’s a much more significant indicator that I’ve become a proper grown-up: I’ve started to eat eggs.

This may seem insignificant to many, and it probably won’t make front page news. I doubt world leaders have gathered to discuss the economic impact of an extra half dozen eggs being bought every fortnight; the housing market and world population (other than for a handful of would-be chickens) will remain unaffected. Nonetheless, this is a large gastronomic step for me – for three decades I have spurned the oddly globular foodstuff that is such a staple for many. In part this was through necessity, as breakfasts throughout Central and South America will often be egg-heavy and it’s an undeniably cheap way to guarantee some sustenance at some point in the day.

However, things have gotten so out of hand that I now actively seek them out on menus. Where once I’d have to sigh and order another round of toast (an odd thing to do when you almost always have bread – and a toaster – at home) the world’s of Florentine, Benedict and Sakshuka are now open to me, though boiled eggs can stay safely in their shells surrounded by the crumby remains of their fallen soldiers, thanks all the same. It must also be said that my own cooked eggs would make Gordon Ramsay weep into his chin gristle, usually fried out of all recognition as a wobbly white is still a step too far, though I’m coming round to a soft-poached as long as there’s plenty else to mop up the golden goo.

Luckily there are lots of cafes offering to cook eggs pretty much any way you please. One of the finest examples we’ve found was The Lighthouse Coffee Shop in La Serena, a Chilean beach town that’s unfailingly popular despite (or perhaps due) to the giant malls, central screaming motorway and uninspiring beach. A quick internet search will proclaim The Lighthouse ‘best for breakfast’, and though the pitchfork-wielding hoardes of TripAdvisor are so often wrong, in this case they are undeniably wise.

The cafe and tea shop are secreted down a side street, away from the pedestrianised shopping centre and therefore far more tranquil. A small space indoors spreads out to a wood-heavy courtyard decorated with bright bird boxes and battered metal signs, upside-down umbrellas and hanging plants, and as the menus are delivered one thing is clear – they take their coffee very, very seriously. Coffee weight, temperature and milk proportions are listed to the decimal point, presumably meaningful to the better informed; either way, the coffee’s delicious. More exciting was the promise of brunch served until 4pm, and with a days’ worth of bus travel only just behind us, we set about it with gusto. Soon great plates of poached eggs, spinach, homemade bread and some unusually decent bacon and sausages were before us. They didn’t last long. After another coffee we left with an over-caffeinated wave and a promise of “hasta mañana” – little did they know we’d be back every day until we left town.

View this post on Instagram

Best #brunch @lighthousecoffeeshop, La Serena.

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

1 Comment

Filed under Intrepid Breakfasts

Hidden Gems, Arica to Santiago, Chile

Some might say (and often do) that I don’t have a good sense of direction. While my sister is known as a Scottish Sat-Nav there have been times when I couldn’t direct someone two streets from my family home. The Egg Poacher claims a better internal compass, but considering recent escapades that include getting stuck on the side of a volcano and taking a 45 minute detour to a pub around the corner, I suspect what he actually possess is an ability to sound like he knows where he’s going. A relaxed approach to research and our strange insistence on not using a map can mean we find ourselves wandering streets for longer than sanity or an amicable relationship normally allow. And yet we continue to eschew Google and turn our noses up at guides, for this haphazard manner can reveal hidden corners and unmarked paths – normally safe before nightfall. This was to be the case in Chile, too, where an itinerant approach brought us some unexpectedly excellent cafes (and there’s little more satisfying than a surprisingly good coffee after you’ve been walking the streets for hours).

Nusta Cafe, Arica, Chile

Our first stop in Chile was the strangely uninspiring Arica, full of promise with a long stretch of coastline that turned out to be somewhat lacklustre against the backdrop of high-rise hotels and arid desert. Despite a wonderful stay in Hotel Apacheta we were ready to move on, and with time to waste before our bus out we sought out a cup of coffee from the clapboard cafe opposite. Though tiny and boasting a highway view, Nusta Cafe was a surprise, offering fantastic coffee and a small food menu served by a friendly and generous couple.  It was here we’d experience the concept of ‘yapa’ first hand: the idea of a little extra for valued customers, usually offered by cholitas (stall owners) across the country, here embodied in the extra glass of smoothie I got, as well as a tour of the miniature space and its retro miscellany before our bus arrived.

Diablo Cafe, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Our most common introduction to a town – the bus station – isn’t always the most appealing. Though San Pedro’s was nicer than some (no visible cockroaches, relatively non-scabby dogs, minimal shouting) we weren’t expecting much, but after a long overnight bus we decided to linger for a much needed caffiene injection before finding a hostel. There are a couple of cafes to choose from, but Diablo’s striking wall art drew us in; inside, there were soothing tunes and local crafts on the wall and an incongruous promise of WiFi from somewhere so obviously surrounded by desert. A gleaming machine produced decent enough coffee, while from the tiny kitchen came enormous empanadas and various continental breakfast options, all excellent fuel for the short but intensely hot hostel hunt that was to follow.

View this post on Instagram

Excellent bus terminal #breakfast, Atacama

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Mackalo Cafe, San Pedro Atacama, Chile

Book-ending our trip through the Atacama and into the Bolivian Salt Flats, we’d returned to San Pedro before commencing our journey south. While waiting for our passports to be stamped at the nominal border post in town we spotted the ever-promising signs – chalk-covered A-board, gleaming chrome food truck – that suggested coffee was nearby. And so it was: a short menu offering various filtered options in Styrophome cups, it was expertly brewed and happily accompanied by crisp and delicious pastries presumably baked some distance from the truck’s diesel engine. There were plenty of cafe and restaurant options in the town itself, but few so unexpectedly good as this.

View this post on Instagram

Amazing coffee at Mackalo Cafe, Atacama

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Cafe Forestal, Santiago, Chile

Through repeated experience we’ve finally learnt that the world – at least from a tourist’s point of view – closes on a Monday. Museums, galleries and parks are shut and despite the likelihood of a host of lost foreigners wandering the streets with nothing to do, restaurants and cafes often follow suit. During such a days’ amble past padlocked gates and ‘Cerrado’ signs we spotted the pretty exterior of Cafe Forestal, toying with us with its bunting, chalkboard walls and solitary Chinese cat waving from behind closed windows. When Tuesday came we filled our boots, visiting all the public buildings we could find and beating a path to Forestal’s door. And it was worth the wait – a tiny space with a few pine stools, the coffee was the best we’ve had in South America, with high-quality and Fairtrade beans shipped from Colombia and brewed with care. Coupled with some truly decadent cakes and a very friendly welcome, this unassuming little place would be on our map – if only we remembered to carry one.

View this post on Instagram

The really very lovely Cafe Forestal, Santiago

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Leave a comment

Filed under Intrepid Breakfasts

Surprising Peru

While our expectations of Central and South America have generally been confounded in every way, Peru was particularly surprising. It started with our first long bus journey through the country, where for a pittance we were ushered aboard an incredibly plush coach, fitted out with WiFi, plug sockets and reclining chairs so huge my feet couldn’t touch the floor. The luxury was incongruous when streets lined with rubbish – and over-run with dusty or muddy dogs, depending on the weather – passed us outside, jarringly set to a soundtrack of 80s disco or the unfortunately ubiquitous loud, violent film. As we sailed through vast desert and gaped at the huge, sculpted sand dunes that lined roads blasted through rock, stewards would bring us hot dinners, precariously pouring soft drinks from strange angles as the driver took on road bends or passing vehicles at great speed. I would learn later that this luxury came at a cost: three of such journeys in there’d be a 100% record on dodgy bellies following our free feed; nonetheless, the coaches themselves made the vast journeys all the more palatable in other ways.

Our first stop would be in the coastal town of Trujillo. While nice enough there was nothing hugely exciting about our arrival – that was until we asked our taxi driver to take us to our hostel, the wonderfully named Hostal Wanka. As has become a habit with us, our driver knew nothing of it so proceeded to yell “Wanka? Si, WANKA!!” across the station forecourt. Things were looking up.

From here we’d explore the pre-Incan Moche ruins dotted around and inside the town. While simple in their design, the carefully crafted structures were covered in intricate decoration and found to be full of ceremonial pots, jugs and jewellery. From the dusty plains of Trujillo we then found ourselves in sparkling Lima, a world away from clay-carved ruins and full of busy highways, cosmopolitan neighbourhoods and all the American brands you could hope to avoid. While on the surface Lima seemed polished and impossibly refined, there were corners of alternative culture and grit to be found, especially in the Barranco district where fantastic ceviche canteens rubbed shoulders with homemade T-shirt shops, miscellany-filled pubs and some very excellent pisco sours.

Our longest bus journey yet – 24 hours, which stretched to 27 – took us all the way to Cusco. We didn’t hang around, instead booking our passes for Machu Picchu and heading straight for Ollantaytambo, a town set in the valley of the giant mountains that lead the way to the site itself. From here we’d catch our first train, the well-appointed Inca Rail that was quickly (and maturely) renamed by me as the Machu Picchu-Chu. On board we were served warming muña tea as we passed through dramatic landscapes full of towering mountains and fast-flowing rapids, stopping alongside fields full of llamas and brightly dressed locals as trains passed the other way. At Agua Calientes we prepared for the next day’s trip to Machu Picchu then hid from the rain in a surprisingly authentic Parisian boulangerie, run by a French man also fluent in Spanish, English and Glaswegian.

View this post on Instagram

Paris in Peru

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

By 5 the next morning we were waiting for the first bus to the national park, suitably British in our eagerness to be the first there. And we were – as the gates opened we were third and fourth in and treated to the sight of a cloud-shrouded Machu Picchu awakening to the light without another person in view. Unable to hike (it being February, when the trail is closed) we nevertheless treated our legs to an excoriating work-out tackling Machu Picchu mountain, a 2-hour climb up a haphazardly steep staircase. At the top we were rewarded with the sight of… nothing much at all, the site being shrouded in very specifically placed cloud. Luckily the mist would pass, allowing as a short view of Machu Picchu in miniature before the steady climb down.

View this post on Instagram

The great Machu Piccu

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Suitably awed by the Incas and their perseverance in building something so huge and beautiful on land so high we returned to Cusco, though not before sampling unexpectedly good coffee and cake at Cafe Mayu in Ollantaytambo’s station. From Cusco we travelled to Puno, a fairly uninspiring and shambolic town with the redeeming feature of providing a gateway to Lake Titicaca.

The lake would be our final surprise in Peru, and a wonderful one at that. On a whim we took a small boat to the Uros Islands, a man-made archipelago of reed islands inhabited by indigenous people who live off the water, its fish, and the boats that bring tourists keen to learn more. We were greeted by a handful of families all dressed in traditionally colourful dress, the women displaying long braids tied with fantastically bright pom poms. As we quietly baked in the scorching heat, we learnt about the islands, their reed houses and the solar panels that brought more modern capabilities, then browsed the stalls of handmade throws, mobiles and bracelets before trundling home – this time having learnt to duck the water balloons lobbed from the entranceway to the islands by laughing locals.

View this post on Instagram

#hairgoals Isla de los Uros, Lake Titicaca

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

The following day we booked a tour to Amantani Island, passing the Uros once again on our journey east. After a slow and stuffy boat ride we were greeted on the pier by a handful of women bedecked in traditional long skirts and head-coverings. Smiling Mathilde would be our host so we, along with fellow travellers Sol and David, followed her up steep paths to her home, where we were greeted with stunning views across the lake, a garden full of flowers and a small pen of sheep eyeing us suspiciously.

Later Mathilde’s son Roger would take us to the great hills at the summit of the island, Pachamama and Pachatati. On the way we passed the ordered system of ‘parceles’, an allotment-like system used by all the villages on the island as a way of cultivating the right number of different crops. At the top we would take in the vast, still water of Lake Titicaca that spread as far as the eye could see. Later, as we sat down to dinner with the family, they would explain the self-sufficient nature of life there, and describe how each house and its surrounding land would be passed through the family, ensuring traditions were kept and foreign business avoided. Exhausted from our day and the altitude, we were in bed by 8, to be woken at dawn by the rising sun and the sounds of hungry sheep and braying donkeys.

View this post on Instagram

Lake Titicaca

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Breakfast was once again with the family – warm quinoa pancakes, fresh muña tea, boiled eggs and bread. We said our sad goodbyes and promised to spread the word before Mathilde walked us down to the pier and waved off our trundling boat. The following day we’d be on yet another bus, heading for Bolivia. It would have a lot to live up to in comparison.

View this post on Instagram

Amantani breakfast

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

2 Comments

Filed under Intrepid Breakfasts

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

If we’d been asked what we thought the Galapagos Islands were like before we arrived, we might have mentioned Attenborough picking his way across exta-terrestrial terrain to shoot the breeze with Lonesome George, Darwin desperately trying to stop his crew from eating all the delicious turtules, or expensive cruises full of retirees in khaki cargo pants and fanny packs. For us it seemed unlikely we’d make it that far, what with our dwindling savings and time.

We knew the only way we could do it would be by ourselves, and had been lucky to find flights from Quito for $300 less than we’d seen elsewhere. Some trawling through travel blogs had given us a rough itinerary, and for once, we booked everything we could in advance so we had an idea of what we were going to do. But nothing could have prepared us for what it was actually like.

We set down in Baltra and after a short boat ride were soon driving through hot, flat desert towards Santa Cruz, the biggest island on the archipelago. By the time we arrived, a thick sea haar had rolled in but, undeterred, we set out for the famous Darwin Station. It wasn’t long until we were in amongst the wildlife: sun-baked sea iguanas that chose to sleep anywhere they pleased, trees full of pelicans, radioactive red crabs scuttling across black lava rock. At the station we met the great, giant tortoises, as well as startling gold land iguanas, fatter and far more regal than their sea-faring cousins.

Golden land iguana, Galapagos

A photo posted by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Determined to make the most of our time we set daily alarms to be up around dawn. The following morning we headed out or a days’ kayaking, packing breakfast and the ever-necessary sun block. With rough directions we made it across the busy boat thoroughfare and the worst of the waves, and were soon tying our kayak to the nearest pier. It was here we encountered our first animal intervention – a large, slumbering sea lion that blocked us from climbing the steps out of the water. In due respect to the native residents we scrabbled up the rocks instead, tiny red crabs disappearing into holes around our feet.

Gate keeper

A photo posted by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

We took the short path away from the pier and emerged at Playa de Los Perros, a stretch of rocky beach and black lava outcrop. There were no other people in sight, but as we set down for our basic breakfast (bread, cream cheese, water) we were soon being eye-balled by great male sea iguanas as they ambled towards the shore. Once fed we took the path back to the pier and dug out the snorkels, following snaking lines of fish along the waters’ edge and encountering our first lazy green turtles, chewing on sea grass a few feet away.

On our way back we took a detour into a small inlet, paddling alongside busy iguanas crossing the water, and a solitary blue-footed boobie sitting on the surface. Soon the tell-tale splashes around us revealed two young sea lions, apparently keen to show off their best Eskimo rolls. Tackling the stretch across to the main pier proved trickier this time around, but properly soaked and seriously sun-baked, we pulled ourselves ashore.

Boobie

A photo posted by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

The following day brought an early-morning dive, our group heading out to a crop of smaller islands on an impressive sailing boat. There wasn’t time to hang about  – the choppy sea and strong currents meant we had to descend as soon as we were in the water – but once submerged, the setting was altogether calmer. Minutes in, we saw what we’d come for: two huge hammerhead sharks an arms’ length from us. Later, the current would pick up and sling-shot us across the water; while I tried to remain roughly horizontal, Chris decided it was the optimum time to make the waggley-antennae sign for “lobster”. Needless to say, while travelling at 100 miles an hour upside-down underwater, I didn’t see it.

A 2 hour, bumpy boat ride took us across to Isabella island the following day. Once properly orientated we went to the local snorkelling spot, an inlet surrounded on one side by mangroves, and a working pier on the other. After picking our way past the obligatory iguanas and sea lions, we jumped in. At first swimming around great groups of flailing tourists, we soon found dark corners filled with fish, and a solitary ray. Aware of excitement across the bay, we set off at speed, stopping in our tracks and spluttering a gargled “look!” when two tiny Galapagos penguins dove past us at great pace.

Next we hired two old mountain bikes and made for the Wall of Tears, a monument-cum-torture instrument built by prisoners in the late 1940s. En route we were required to slow down for haphazardly stationed giant tortoises, enjoying the foliage along the path. As we turned back towards home we stopped at various signposted lakes and beaches, emerging from amongst the mangroves to spot blue-footed boobies, fluorescent pink flamingos, and a breeding centre filled with tortoises ranging from tiny to tremendous.

Thursday.

A photo posted by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Our final day on Isabella was spent heading out to Las Tintoreras, a volcanic island a short boat ride away. From there we could spot grey herons shielding young chicks from the spray, erratically tufted baby penguins and imperious pelicans dotted along the shore. Further in there were piles upon piles of baby sea iguanas basking on the rocks, as well as a sharp-eyed lava heron desperately seeking the magically camouflaged octopus below it. Later we made for the best snorkelling spots, swimming alongside great green turtles and giant parrot fish. Alone with just our guide, we spotted something to our left: a huge alpha male sea lion swimming directly beneath us, its face turned up to contemplate us as it passed.

Coming to the end of our trip, we took another bumpy boat to San Cristobal, an island famed for its preponderance of sea lions. Pavements, park benches, car parks and fountains were all fair game and our time there was accompanied by a symphony of barks, sneezes and grunts from our flippered friends. From here we set out for Kickers Rock, a well-known dive spot set into a natural slice between two rocks in the middle of the ocean. Once again the current was fierce, forcing us to grip on to the sea floor to keep from shooting backwards. Though visibility was poor, our second dive would bring an awesome sight: a wall of fish, more than 15ft tall, that would shift and glisten and envelop us to the point where, for a second, we couldn’t see our fellow divers any more.

Yesterday's dive site – Kicker's Rock

A photo posted by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Back on dry land we took a taxi to Loberia Beach, aptly named for its popularity with ‘lobo marinos’, the ever-present sea lions. In a small rock pool four babies played; keeping our distance, we sat a few feet away, though close enough for the bravest to have a sniff at our toes. As the day progressed the larger females returned from the sea. This being mating season, they were on the warpath – quickly discovered as one particularly grumpy female charged straight at me as I innocently sat on the beach.

Finally back where we started, we waved a sad goodbye as our plane headed back to the mainland. The following days would be spent on day-long buses travelling through busy urban centres – a stark contrast to the beauty and stunning diversity of the Galapagos, and much the worse for the lack of sea lions promenading down the motorway.

Baby sea lions, Loberia Beach

A photo posted by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Leave a comment

Filed under Intrepid Breakfasts

Azimo’s, Bogota, Colombia

There had been a brief hiatus to my stay in Bogota. It being the festive season I decided to come over all Chris Rea and drive (fly) home for Christmas as a surprise for my family, and in particular the new baby who was topping up the female to male ratio in our immediate set up quite nicely. It also meant abandoning the Egg Poacher for 2 weeks, who coped admirably despite enduring illness, a set of new front teeth and the impolitely timed construction work going on above our flat. Nevertheless, by the time I was getting ready to pick up my backpack again I was receiving photo updates showing him with all hair shorn from his head, wrapped in a blanket, in the dark. Probably time to make a move.

I’d spent a week in Bogota before I left, so setting down amongst the mountains and passing the many and various walls covered in street art on the bus felt like returning to familiar ground, helping me not to feel too spun around by the last fortnight of festivities, and the fact that less than 48 hours ago I had been sitting in my family home with a sleeping niece in my lap. Despite recognising the sights, there was much still to explore, and this time with my own personal guide who’d spent a lot of time walking the city (though admittedly mainly to and from the dentist, chock full of painkillers).

Our first stop would be Azimo’s, a cafe-deli-bakery accommodatingly just around the corner from our apartment in the Macarena neighbourhood. We already felt at home in this part of town as it bore an uncanny resemblance to Stokes Croft in Bristol where we’d lived for 5 years before jacking in all responsibilities: local breweries, cosy restaurants, the occasional bleary-eyed ocal with a few opinions to holler into the dark night. Azimo’s followed the same creative, gentrified pattern we’d seen elsewhere with a space full of sunshine from the enormous sky light, recycled lampshades, walls dotted with chalkboards and potted plants, a focus on local and organic, and a cool and well-heeled clientele.

Azimo's is where the cool kids hang…

A photo posted by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

The food is made on-site and much of it comes from their own bakery; light, crisp pastries and delicious bread, as well as cakes, juices and freshly ground coffee. The staff are laid back and seemed a bit unfamiliar with the menu, but they are happy for people to set up camp with the paper or their laptop, and the brunch, though not massive, was pretty good. At weekends the place fills with fashionable students and off-duty business folk who fill the golden banquette that lines one side of the room. This being fashionable Macarena, it’s not the cheapest breakfast in town, but it’s sure to be our new home from home for our remaining ten days in Bogota (and a blessed relief from the drilling upstairs).

Back to #brunch business in #Bogota

A photo posted by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

1 Comment

Filed under Intrepid Breakfasts

Coffee, the traveller’s treat: Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica & Colombia

Having made it from one end of Central America to the other, we are, by now, fairly used to travelling by bus.  In Mexico we started slowly, opting for plush coaches to tackle day-long journeys. In Guatemala and Nicaragua we favoured the chicken bus, where more people than you can possibly imagine are pushed on, usually to the soundtrack of loud reggaeton and the competing yells of people selling food, drinks or disposable razors while miraculously squeezing between hot and grumpy human sardines. Costa Rica and Panama opt more for the wide-bottomed single decker, where most get a seat and fewer people share the aisle. Generally, the speed is somewhat reduced here too, though bus drivers in almost every country seem to take an indifferent approach to traffic lanes, other vehicles or slow-moving pedestrians.

Despite the occasional sharp intake of breath when a chicken bus plays chicken with another chicken bus, there’s lots to be said for this mode of transport: you’re in amongst the locals, and will often be engaged in conversation or a friendly staring contest with a tiny child; hilarity levels rise as the number of passengers reaches ridiculous proportions, and it is almost always unbelievably cheap. We’ve travelled hundreds of miles for tiny amounts, even with the occasional ‘tourist tax’ added on. It’s so cheap, in fact, that we can find ourselves spending far more on the coffee we reward ourselves with on arriving than the entire journey itself. (Bus station coffee is scalding hot, readily available and cheap, but, coffee snobs that we are, generally ear-marked for emergencies only.)

image

Cafe Loco, Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Having hiked our way to Lago Atitlan and settled ourselves in hilly Santa Cruz, it would be a short and soggy boat ride to the villages dotted around the lake. Panajachel is best known for its thoroughfare of stalls, selling all manner of tourist tat and offering fried chicken every hundred metres. We didn’t hold much hope for breakfast, but, in coffee at least, we would be very pleasantly surprised. Hidden amongst the hammocks and ‘authentic’ Guatemalan outifts, Cafe Loco is easy to miss – but this would be a terrible shame. Framed barista awards from around the world nod to the skill within these walls; the giant, gleaming coffee machine and its industrial-sized water filter are the well-tended tools of the trade. The menu is a coffee lovers dream, with every combination conceivable. We opted for a simple latte – blended to perfection – and something more akin to a fine cognac than a cortado: a deep, dark shot of espresso, topped with an exact measurement of foam, served in a glass tumbler and pronounced the Egg Poacher’s Best Coffee, ever. The owners left Korea and learnt their skills in New York, Barcelona and London. Luckily for Guatemalans, they seem set to stay.

View this post on Instagram

Serious beans need serious machines #coffeeporn

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Espressonista, Granada, Nicaragua

Having woken at dawn and taken three buses that screamed through countryside and crawled through busy towns, we arrived, hot and dusty, in Granada. Our hostel was close to the ubiquitous Parque Central, and we were soon following our noses in search of caffiene. Espressonista came up with the goods. Inside the high ceilings, potted plants and interior courtyard gave an airy, tropical feel, while calming electro, striking modern art and beautiful staff added a trace of hipster. As well as complicated salads and an expensive wine list, there were freshly whipped cakes and a host of European coffees on offer. Soon the early start and strains from a bumpy ride had dissolved. Despite the price – more than three times what we’d paid to travel for four hours, though still only amounting to about $12 – we didn’t begrude the expense, chalking this one up as a well-earned (and very well-made) treat.

Como en mi Casa, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

We didn’t plan on being in Puerto Viejo for long, using it as an overnight stop before crossing the border into Panama. Having stayed – and quickly left – our first hostel (home to giant cockroaches and run by highly-strung travellers who forgot to leave) we looked forward to moving on; but not, of course, without breakfast first. Como en mi Casa fits with the town’s hippy theme nicely, run by friendly vegetarians with a penchant for tattoos and comfortable sandals. There are all manner of soya, raw and vegan options, as well as real milk for those less averse to all things bovine. The coffee here is strong and flavourful, and our cakes so well-intentioned (raw strawberry muffin and gluten- and dairy-free pancakes) we might have even lost weight eating them. Or there’s the hope.

View this post on Instagram

All you need is love. And pancakes. #puertoviejo

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Museo de Antiquoia, Medellin, Colombia

We set down in Colombia late at night, so only had the sea of lights to guide our impression of the very sizeable Medellin. By morning the unique landscape was revealed – great swathes of high rises that cover the hills all around, with an equally built up and bustling centre. Despite the fact that everything is industrial-sized, the city is not without its charms: a shiny, new Metro whisks people across the city, allowing us to sample the noisy centre dotted with old churches and galleries, or the far lusher and calmer Botanical Gardens in the university district. On our first morning we opted to head straight into the city’s heart to take in the wonderfully rotund sculptures of Fernando Botero, a man with great fondness for boobs and bums (and not necessarily only on the ladies). There’s a gallery dedicated to him, too, and though the attached cafe might not have had the best coffee in the world, the setting – overlooking the square, aforementioned bums in view – is hard to beat.

1 Comment

Filed under Intrepid Breakfasts

Coffee with a Cause, Guatemala & Honduras

As long term tourists we do our best to travel in a considerate way. It seems obvious that being polite, having a go at the local lingo and leaving a place as you find it are basically good ideas. Sadly it seems more travellers than ever have packed one more bottle of tanning oil in favour of their manners.

Take, for example, the tightly Speedo’d gent in Caye Cualker who considered it acceptable to get a nurse shark in a choke hold for the purposes of his GoPro album (presumably entitled ‘Proof I Wasn’t Brought Up Correctly, 2015’); how about the personification of a hangover in Antigua who left a trail of cigarette butts in his path while watching the cleaners trying to get her job done? There are the ubiquitous ‘shout-louder-and-they’ll-understand-mes’, always, unfailingly baffled when their approach is met with a blank look, as well as those with personalities set to ‘Arse’ when it comes to dealing with anyone unfortunate enough to have to serve said numpty in a country they’re not familiar with.

Of course, not all tourists forget to be human beings, just as not everyone will treat tourists with respect. It can be a minefield – a combination of traveller’s guilt, cash-poor countries and an amorphous tourist ‘industry’ often leaves those looking to have a positive impact – or at the very least, not leave a negative one – somewhat lost. So it’s lucky that there are people out there ready to show us one very small step in the right direction, and in one of our favourite ways – with a cup of coffee.

Cafe Armonia, Xela, Guatemala

Guatemala is famous for its coffee, and rightly so: with 8 regions to pick from, there’s a blend to suit every taste. Xela is a mid-sized town somewhere near the middle, a few hours from the better known Lake Atitlan. It wasn’t to be our favourite place (though this was no doubt tainted by the disappearance of my mobile on the infamous chicken bus), but we did find some very excellent coffee at Cafe Armonia, a Mayan-owned and run place with its own on-site coffee roaster.

It’s a popular spot for Spanish students and freelancers, playing surprisingly excellent electro and offering the ever-obligatory Wi-Fi. Best of all, the cafe only works with local smallholders, ensuring the profits go back into the mountain communities that painstakingly grew the coffee in the first place.

CECAP, Santa Cruz, Guatemala

Santa Cruz must surely be the town with the most defined calf muscles, perched as it is on the side of one of the steep volcanoes around Lake Atitlan. Having heaved ourselves uphill, we headed straight for CECAP, a training kitchen and carpentry workshop built for the local adolescents to hone their skills for working life; off-site, there were also courses in sexual health and childcare and a nursery, tackling head-on the challenges of unemployment and teenage pregnancies that are prevalent in the area.

Back at CECAP, chefs in crisp white aprons bustled to and from the kitchen, serving simple coffees, fresh juices and excellent lunches. Lucky diners were left to take in the views and stretch weary legs, before tackling the descent home.

Tazazul Coffee, La Ceiba, Honduras

After a long journey across the border we found ourselves in Honduras as the sun was setting. Things didn’t start well – the ATMs refused to hand over any cash so our taxi driver tried to charge us double to take us to one that did; when we arrived at our hostel, the setting was somewhat depressing (broken doors, stained walls, ripped bedsheets), though the decor was to become a moot point as the power went off. We managed to find some food then set about sweating quietly into the night – at least until the power came back on at 3am, switching on lights, air-conditioning, radios and fast-flowing showers all at the same time.

The next morning we debated our way via another taxi to the ferry dock in La Ceiba and were ready for an uninspiring wait for the boat that would take us to Utila (famous for its excellent scuba diving and generous tourist-to-local ratio). We didn’t hold much hope for our breakfast options, with only a handful of stalls selling Cokes and SIM cards in sight. And then, from nowhere – Tazazul. A small coffee caravan with its own pine-covered deck, it boasts excellent espresso, cakes and, incongruously, WiFi, all part of a not-for-profit scheme to bring funds to schools in the local area. The staff are friendly and keen to share tips on the surrounding islands – things were starting to look up.

Rio Coco Cafe, Utila, Honduras

Utila is probably the least Honduran place in Honduras, full as it is with salty-haired, tattoo’d tourists looking to learn, or teach, scuba diving. Like Caye Caulker in Belize, golf carts are the transport of choice, and there’s a laid back air to almost everything.

The slow pace also envelops Rio Coco Cafe, only open Mondays to Fridays between 7am and 12pm – but you forgive their langurous attitude when the coffee’s as good as this. There are smoothies, bagels and muffins on offer and they have their own private pier for a dip in the crisp Caribbean seas. And, to reduce the guilt of doing nothing but navel gaze all morning, the profits go towards two major education projects in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Leave a comment

Filed under Intrepid Breakfasts

3 Day Hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Xela had been described as “the perfect Guatemalan town”,  but as far as we could see it was just a town, in Guatemala. We weren’t overly keen to stay, but did so for a few days before we could set off on a three day hike east to Lake Atitlan, organised by a company called Quetzaltrekkers.

There are plenty of companies in Xela offering the same three day hike, but none can make quite the same altruistic claim as Quetzaltrekkers: run entirely by volunteers, the treks fund two projects for abandoned and orphaned children, with 90% of the money going towards a school and shelter in town.

The volunteers are a rag tag bunch who come and go as responsibilities allow, all passionate about the project (less so about cleaning). Our guides would be Tyler, an 18-year old American wise for his years except when mooning the camera, and Ofer, a wandering Israeli with excellent Spanish and a good line in sarcasm. Throughout the trip they’d inform us about the local flora and fauna, offer good stories and first aid kits for feet rubbed raw. They’d also ensure we ate well, with an emphasis on breakfast each day to see us through our 37 kilometre hike.

Day 1: Queztaltrekker Office, Xela

We started early on Saturday, hoeing down great plates of eggs and toast prepared in the office. After sharing out group provisions and packing 15 litre day bags, we set off for a short chicken bus that would take us to the suburbs. Then the walk began – at first a medium slope that would quickly turn into a steep one, prompting me to wonder whether the extent of my hiking experience (being carried halfway up a mid-sized Scottish mountain as a child) might not be quite enough.

The first hour set the tone for the day: breath-taking in every way. Once we’d conquered the steep slope we found ourselves in pasture land, with equally precipitous corn fields to tackle up and down, the locals all putting us to shame as men and boys shimmied up slippery clay slopes with huge baskets of wood strapped to their backs. Lunch was in the ‘cloud forest’, amongst trees entirely encased in white, then there were steep, dusty roads to tackle before a steady upward climb home.

The first night was spent in Santa Catarin Ixtahuacan, using a local’s property to sleep in, the balcony providing stunning views over the mountains while Tyler cooked as much pasta as the pot could handle. In the highlands it’s common for houses to have temescals, low, coal-fired saunas that resemble pizza ovens housed in a chicken shed. Taking it two-by-two we clambered in, instantly feeling our muscles relax as the hot steam worked its magic.

View this post on Instagram

Road to Xiprian

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Day 2: Comedor Belen, Santa Catarina

We set off early the next morning, feeling reassured that the worst was behind us. Breakfast was in a local comedor a short walk from our base, ensuring more than one business would benefit from our stay. Cups of strong cafecito (a sort of coffee/tea blend) and plates of beans, rice and eggs followed by banana pancakes worked like rocket fuel for the day – which was lucky, given what was to come.

View this post on Instagram

Comedor Belen

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

We climbed up through more jungle, then lunched by the river after slipping down to the valley floor. Next would come Record Hill – an almost vertical climb taken one hiker at a time due to the narrow path and likelihood that you’ll need to stop (and possibly spew). Not quite beating the 11 minute record, neither did I win the wooden spoon (a weighty 40 minutes on a previous hike), coming in at a respectable 20 minutes or so.

We felt we’d conquered the worst… until Record Hill merged into Record Mountain, only slightly less steep and considerably more slippy. By the time we reached the promised ‘Ice Cream Village’ everything was sore, and a unique camaraderie started to build around the collective taping of feet to stave off blisters. The rest of the day involved thigh-testing descent, then the final ‘Cornfield of Death’, another raking climb, though mercifully shorter than Record Hill.

Finally we reached our second base at Don Pedro’s, in the village of Xiprian. There were fresh fruit smoothies on arrival, then a fantastic dinner of tamales, chicken and salad served by the Don’s wife; later there was a real fire with marshmallows to melt. Before bed Don Pedro would thank us all for coming and explain the good the project was doing, leaving us all feeling a little humbled and even more pleased we’d happened upon such a worthy cause.

Day 3: San Juan and San Pedro

For our final day we were up at 3:15am, quickly packing our sleeping bags and setting off in the dark to the nearby mirador to await sunrise. On the way we’d pick up our police escort, a precautionary measure introduced after a robbery some years before. Once at the lookout, Tyler and Ofer set about making breakfast – porridge, granola, jam and peanut butter and cookies made by the children benefiting from the scheme, all washed down with hot chocolate and shared with our friendly minders.

View this post on Instagram

Breakfast at sunrise

A post shared by brunchhunter (@brunchhunter) on

Before the sun appeared we watched a nearby volcano – Fuego – erupt in the distance, a far off lightning storm adding to the drama. The sunrise, when it came, was spectacular, throwing electric blues, oranges and purple across the sky, reflecting in the waters of Lake Atitlan below.

After breakfast it was a relatively short and bumpy climb down to the nearest town. Here we’d visit another local business, this time a coffee co-operative in San Juan offering excellent and much needed hot drinks to mark the hike’s end, at an incongrously early 9am. From here we’d take a truck to San Pedro to await our bags, taking the chance to cool off in the Lake and have one final meal together before saying our weary goodbyes.

http://www.quetzaltrekkers.com

Price: From 750Q per person (approx £70).

Leave a comment

Filed under Intrepid Breakfasts