HIGHLIGHTS FROM ARCHIVES - 2017
To start these diaries off right, you will need to know a little bit about my deeply rooted love I have had with Colombia since 1989. It all began with a classic Hollywood movie, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner; ROMANCING THE STONE...
THE PLOT:
A lonely romance novelist Joan Wilder, gets a letter from her sister's kidnappers in Colombia who have killed her husband and held her ransom for a map that leads to a priceless emerald called El Corazón ("The Heart"). In her quest to save her sister, she travels to Colombia on an unexpected adventure, meeting an American "bad boy,"  Jack T. Colton, who helps her find her sister with of course ulterior motives of earning riches. And like any classic Hollywood movie their adventure and misfortunes turn into a romance and (spoiler alert) they sail off into the sunset. 
This Indiana Jones style of quests has entranced me since the age of 5. Alternative adventure, mild misfortunes and unexpected turns is what I seek when traveling to unknown places. Black Tomato Travel made this come true by creating an itinerary that was unique to what we wanted and have always dreamed of. 

These are the Travel Diaries with
Black Tomato
Day 1-2
Destination: COLOMBIA

BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA- A truly rich place in history, people and culture.
Arriving at Four Seasons Casa Medina in Zona G (for gastronomy), we entered into a perfectly welcoming hotel of both artisanal flair and contemporary art. Breakfast was a new experience of tastes. The sweet/salty concoction of cheese dipped into hot chocolate is a common morning staple and one of the many must tries. Along with the new flavours came a special drink offered to us by the hotel bellboy since one of us was a little under the weather. As simple as it may have been it worked wonders! Hot orange juice infused with ginger.
We were picked up by our very own art specialist tour guide, Laura Esguerra Villegas, to take us on a full day of visiting both up and coming contemporary art galleries and a few more known museums and art spots. Colombia's art scene in the recent years of peace talks and reconstruction, has made quite a boom including its infamous street art. As our guide Laura said, "art took over politics" for a while when mayor Gustavo Petro of Bogotá tried to decriminalize graffiti in certain parts of the city. Calle 26 was one of those areas. In recent years however the government has tried to clean up much of the graffiti to bring Bogotá back to a more conservative image.
Although there maybe unwelcome change on the streets, there is plenty of favoured art in the contemporary galleries that fill the city. With this there is also a push to incorporate the the South and North of Bogota that as Laura said, has been so distinctly divided for so many years.  By creating new art districts in the South is attracting more to visit both sides.
To cover everything in a day was impossible but here is our roundup if you also only have 24 hours.

| CENTRO-SAN DIEGO |
This was our first stop on the tour and also where we discovered that Laura's grandmother is acclaimed sculpturer Alicia Tafur with who she shares a family work studio with. Tafur's work which is inspired by the movement and freedom of birds, is showcased at ALONSO GARCES GALERIA, a well established gallery with  numerous traditional artists. Prices are high but worth a visit.
Next door was a slightly more contemporary space called NC-Arte. Which still remains at the top of our list. It featured younger artists as well as the gallery owner's private collection. Many of the pieces had an intense tribute to the violence Colombia suffered in the past teaching us about the fascinating smaller details within the work.

| LA CANDELARIA |
The historic city neighborhood in Bogotá that is a mix of Spanish colonial, baroque, Art-Deco and modern. Many of your typical tourist attractions are located here and one that was a must for your traveling artist, was MUSEO BOTERO/MUSEOS DEL BANCO DE LA REPUBLICA. Not only does it showcase Fernando Botero's famous works but his personal collection of other artist's pieces like Salvador Dali, Picasso and more.
Included in the visit was a temporary exhibition called PAREIDOLIA based around today's view on reality and how we want to represent ourselves, whether true or not, to society. A very well curated show by JOAN FONTCUBERTA
Besides the museums, galleries, government buildings and street art there is also the FOOD! Of course you can find these special Colombian dishes throughout Bogotá, but two we had in Candelaria were:
 AJIACO COLOMBIANO. a combination of chicken, 3 types of potatoes, corn, an herb called guascas and topped with an avocado. Pure comfort food.
OBLEAS. Two wafer cookies sandwiched with a choice of arequipe (Dulce de Leche), chocolate, coconut shreddings, nuts or jam. Perfect for a sugar top up.

| CHAPINERO To NORTE-SAN FELIPE |
Driving into San Felipe, you would not think that it was a haven for young talent. Looking like any residential district, the galleries were tucked away in converted homes gated with a "ring first" policy. Three of our favourite art spaces were BETA GALERIASKETCH and GALERIA BAOBAB.
A few of the young artists we are keeping an eye on are:
YOSMAN BOTERO
ISMAEL RIVERA
CARLOS BLANCO
With such a fierce history, Colombian artists have a lot to express and have done so in such beautiful ways.
When driving between districts be sure to ride along Calle 26 where the murals of street art are quite extraordinary.

24 hrs may not be enough time to properly discover Bogotá, but by touring the city via exploring the minds of contemporary Colombian artists, gave us an appreciation to the city that was unforgettable.
Until next time B!

LAURA ESGUERRA
{Art Specialist}
UMa Proyectos- Consultoria Cultural

BLACK TOMATO TRAVEL
{Boutique Travel Agency}

CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA- Colorful, provocative and always a party.
Founded in the 16th century by the Spanish as one of their port towns, its history is a pirate fairy tale. Its walled old city is the home to beautiful Spanish colonial homes, a melting pot of delicious street food, and that sensual Caribbean vibe. 
Our first evening we were collected by our unforgettable, Brayan for SCARLET MACAW TRIPS & COLOMBIA 57. We were dropped off for a quick rest atLUXURY HOTEL BASTION built on a XVI-century colonial house, before we headed to a rum and chocolate tasting at HOTEL SOFITEL LEGEND SANTA CLARA . For those of you who love to spa, I hear this one is a must try, we however didn't get the time to.  With plenty of experiences tasting wine, the rum and chocolate tasting was a first time for us. The sweet combination of sugar cane and the bitterness of the dark chocolate (65%-70%) was seriously exquisite. The night ended with a bit of a sugar high, along with sampling the town's street foods of AREPASJUGOS, Colombian KIBBEH and a couple of mojitos. There may have been a few CHAMPETA moves as well.

The following day we visited the sites, sounds and tastes of the city with a few classic tourist spots that Brayan insisted we go to.  CASTILLO SAN FELIPE DE BARAJAS is one of these. An iconic fortress that sits on the Hill of San Lázaro, it is the strategic structure that was built to protect Cartagena from pirate attacks. We also visited The CONVENT OF SANTA CRUZ DE LA POPA where we had a view of the entire city against its ocean backdrop. The contrast of the old city, modern condos, commercial hotels and the slums, had us contemplating how it all worked.  See what a certain slum is doing in order to show travelers an alternative to Cartagena via our post on LA BOQUILLA, day 4 of our trip. If you enjoy discovering unique arts and crafts, Cartagena is definitely a place to add colorful pieces to your collection. Between bags, shoes, hats, and emerald jewellery (in various prices), make sure to have a large suitcase on hand.

| FLASH RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATION | 

CARMEN - CARTAGENA
Cartagena is such a vibrant and wild city inside and outside its famous stone walls. Although some may feel unsafe, Cartagena's unwalled markets, tourist attractions and small villages have so much to offer to this captivating city if done with a plan. The most alluring quality of this city besides its aesthetic beauty is its people, always willing to show you a truly good time.

To book the 'GUACAMAYO' of  tour guides, click on the link below
SCARLET MACAW TRIPS

DANCING WITH FISH - LA BOQUILLA
Cartagena, Colombia is known for its picturesque sunsets, beautiful baroque churches, colorful crafts, and stunning colonial architecture. Its historic town is literally a walled city that was build to protect its citizens from pirate attacks over 400 years ago. What many don't know is that beyond those walls, lies a myriad of slums built on landfills in some of the most alarming living conditions.
One of these slums is La Boquilla; a quaint fishing village nestled on the mangrove swamps between the road north to Santa Marta and a massive development of lavish condos and hotels. It has recently transformed itself into an eco friendly fishing village, hosting tours through the Cueve Del Manglar; its protected eco-system.
As we drove along the desolated beach towards the bay, we passed shack after shack of hammocks and handcrafted grilling pits. Upon arrival we stepped into canoes carved out of scrap tree trunks painted in vibrant colors. As our tour guide pushed us through the tunnels of mangroves, we witnessed men fishing for the evening's dinner, the incredible bio-diversity and watched the sunset as we pulled in.
The children of the village were probably the most memorable of our trip. Not only do their smiles remain in our minds but their humble demeanor and welcoming characters created a desire to give back. We pulled out our mini Instax camera and began to take photos of the kids (that were so eager to pose) handing each one of them their own photo. The moment was cherished and has sparked a new project that will combine our love for travel, people, photography and giving back.

If you want something alternative to your holiday visit:
www.ecotoursboquilla.com

ROSARIO ISLANDS, COLOMBIA- Magical and mysterious.
An empty mind and a sense of mystery went through our bodies when we jet off through the island coves in The Rosario Islands. The only sound was the waves hitting against the boat and the oars of a fisherman splashing as he pulled us by rope through the coral reefs. The colors were something that could never be found on a paint palette and the warm breeze gave you a hit of something unimaginable. 
Stopping at private islands with nothing but hammocks and a wood stool to sit on, snorkeling by Pablo Escobar's sunken plane, looking in wonderment at abandoned narco homes and casinos brought us a a sense of thrill that we will never forget.

FOR THE COFFEE LOVERS & ADVENTURERS -MINCA, COLOMBIA
It was in 1892 when founders Mr. Charles and Mrs. Alice Bowden, trekked through the jungle with carriages of coffee machinery to set up La Victoria Coffee Company. It sits on the north western slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and still runs today. What is outstanding about it is that it completely runs on its original machinery and relies on backpackers and volunteers to help maintain the farm. La Victoria Coffee in its original packaging can only be bought there as most of its Arabica beans are sold and combined in other companies products.
To help keep La Victoria running, it has opened itself to tourists who need to take a 4X4 through the Sierra Nevada to reach its isolated plantation. Volunteer tour guides will walk you through the farm starting with a cup of Victoria coffee and ending with a craft beer made on the location called Nevada. It produces its beer according to season and if you make it in the right time you can grab one with coca leaves (something we missed). Besides its antique machinery, craft beer, great coffee and friendly faces, it is also in a stunning location with plenty of options for hiking and 4X4 fun.
If your the adventurer who looks for something alternative in travel this should be pinned to your map!

LA VICTORIA- MINCA, COLOMBIA
www.lavictoriacoffee.wordpress.com

TAYRONA, COLOMBIA- Breathtaking
From the three hour journey there until our final destination, Tayrona is where you go to be surrounded by beauty. Shakira sings about it and the people vow to it. From its food, trekking, those that stayed to its indigenous people, its a place that makes you never want to leave.