CHEECH-A-RON aka Chicharrón you've probably seen in the US, albeit in a liquor store or grocery in a Latino neighborhood, is fried pork rinds at its most simplistic; something must more magically delicious in this context. The conversation began over dinner with our neighbors, Carlos and Beatriz. Carlos asked if we liked Chicharrón, to which we responded with that universally recognized crumpled up face. Shocked, he asked if we had ever had it "Costeño-style," and then promptly invited us to a "Chicharrónada" the following weekend.
We piled into their car and took the windy Las Palmas highway up to "Embalse La Fe," Dam of the Faith, a lake created by Medellín's principle water source. Entry to the park and lake cost about $4, which includes just about everything you need to have a great afternoon. We found a cooking site and Carlos proceeded to get to work. The meat he purchased was nothing more than pork ribs and stomach cyts, but as he stressed "the fatty part has the most meat," a tried and true method. He sparked the coals and when they were red hot, he threw the pork into a frying pan and placed it on top, no oil, just a little salt, pepper and cooking in its own fat.
The pieces varied, from the salty thin parts that I had known from having Chicharrón in restaurantes to the more meaty pieces, like bbq pork ribs but with a distinct and delicious flavor. I had about 7 or 8 pieces, not too big, but extremely filling and complimentary with an ice cold beer. After the bbq, we headed out on boats (included in the price) to explore the lake and beautiful scenery of La Fe. Even cooler was the fact that boat rentals were included in the entry price and Elizabeth and I were able to rent a "Water Bike," something I'd never seen before. All in all, I'd say the Chicharrónada at La Fe was one of the better Sundays I've had in Colombia.
Flying back from Bogota to Medellín, I gazed down at the winding mountain roads below me. Bogota - Medellín (roughly 160 miles) by plane takes 30 minutes, while a bus ride lasts 8-9 hours (not including any rain/mudslide delays). Most of the transportation infrastructure in Colombia consists of these windy roads that criscross the 3 mountain ranges that span through the majority of the country.
Proximity has obviously been a huge element in the shaping of Colombian history, namely the difficulty in reaching and governing over the 440+ square miles of the countryside from the department capitals, let along the national capital in Bogota. Bogotanos talk about the time before the tunnel connecting them to Villavicencio was constructed, taking 4-6 hours to reach the town only 50 miles away on dangerous mountain roads, now the trip only takes 90 minutes. Tunnels have been talk of the town here in Medellín, especially with the torrential rains and mudslides that have battered the country since last November.
A proposed tunnel linking Medellín to its international airport purposes to change the driving time from 1 hour to only 20 minutes. Tunnels' successes can be viewed towards the establishment of Santa Fe de Antioquia as a rising tourist attraction; while not much different than other colonial towns in Antioquia, it is the most easily accessed from Medellín because of the Tunel de Occidente. Perhaps most shocking of all is to learn that in ALL of Colombia, there are less than 300 kilometers of two-lane, two-way roads. While this might seem an explication for the road traveling woes facing the country, I believe is presents an opportunity to provide better transportation infrastructure within the country.
After all, freedem of movement is one of the most important freedoms out there. Where would the US be if throughout our history, there hadn't been the possibility of "packing up and headed out West," or even the great American road trip or loading up the family and driving to the next state for Thanksgiving. This freedom has only recently been bestowed on the Republic of Colombia, due to its ability to secure the roads rom guerilla and paramilitary groups. Every person in Medellín I know has a story about not being able to visit their relatives or head to their farm fifteen years ago because the roads were not safe. While the roads are safe from the dangers of armed groups, deterioration, mudslides and dangerous routes still affect the ability of most Colombians to travel long distances by road conveniently. I think a combination of foreign investment and well managed infrastructure development might make Colombia an easier country by ground.