I’ve been told that it happens to every traveler at some point along the route. You’ve been traveling so long and somewhere along the way of hopping from one city to another you either momentarily forget where you are or enter a cultural twilight zone that makes you think, “where the hell am I?”, or to be more accurate in my case, “where the fuck am I?”
I always imagined this would happen to me while I was sleeping. I’m an “active” sleeper of sorts, which I know from both being told and actually waking up in the middle of one of my conversations. One of these times, upon waking up, I forgot where I was for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only 15 seconds, to realize that I was in a hotel on the edge of the Sahara desert in Morocco. I was on a trip with about seven other girls and we were hopping around from hotel to nomad tent to hotel over the course of five or six days so I wasn’t surprised that I had become disoriented. While planning for this trip, I expected that with the nature of constantly being on the move, I would have a few nights of sweaty panics as to my whereabouts. Surprisingly and thankfully, this hasn’t happened yet, nor am I aware of any subconscious nocturnal activities of mine, but instead I experienced the weird cultural twilight zone moment when I was having dinner my first night in Medellín.
Did I just discover a new country?
I had been in Medellín for all of two hours and settled in to my first hostel when I decided to venture out in the Poblado neighborhood for dinner. I passed by all of the trendy lounge places that probably offered overpriced, mediocre food and found a little Cuban restaurant. Here’s some fun personal history. Cuban is like the forgotten cuisine for me. I was first introduced to the cuisine and immediately fell in love in the trendy restaurant scene of Philadelphia while attending college and since then I haven’t come across many other Cuban restaurants in all of my travels around the globe. Thus I always forget how much I love some ropa vieja until I get an e-mail from Cuba Libre about their latest specials or until I just happen to spot my first Cuban restaurant outside of the U.S. as I did last night in Medellín.
Upon seeing the Cuban flags and other memorabilia, I sat down without looking at the menu and prepared myself to have high expectations for dinner. To skip ahead to the ending, I will say that dinner turned out rather well, but the path leading there was a bit bizarre. To start, nothing on the menu was decidedly Cuban with the exception of a mojito in the cocktail section. There was no ropa vieja, no yucca, not even arroz con pollo. There was a savory salad section and grilled meat. I went with the easy steak option and hoped that the salsa de carne they were serving would be some new Cuban sauce I’ve yet to discover. Though, I was feeling a little skeptical when I saw that the steak was served with a Caesar salad, again not Cuban, and french fries.
The food arrived and again confusion took hold of me. The salsa de carne was actually gravy and the Caesar salad was covered in a sauce that did not remotely resemble the traditional anchovy based dressing. It actually tasted more like a sweet cream, but oddly enough, tasted alright. The steak too was cooked perfectly, medium rare if you must know, and the gravy was again, decent. Then I made my way to the french fries which were factory crinkle cut (I never understood why Americans were in love with the crinkle cut) and the ketchup. Now the ketchup was the real standout of the evening. I don’t really like ketchup at all, but I gave it a try in Baños and was delightfully surprised so I thought I could try it again here in Medellín. I did and this time it was the weirdest thing I’ve ever experienced. There were notes of nutmeg and cinnamon in the sauce. I thought how could this be? I explained this to the proprietor and instead of taking credit, he admitted that it was store bought. Bizarre, but I can’t say it was bad. This is when I started questioning what country I was in. I was eating American-Italian style food in a Cuban restaurant in Colombia. I thought I had discovered a completely new type of fusion cuisine. And that was just in regards to the food.
The next part of my dinner was obviously an adult beverage. I’ve given up on wine until I head to Chile and Argentina so I went with a simple beer, Apóstol, which I figured to be the local Colombian version of the same South American beer served in every country. Instead, I was then questioned as to which type of Apóstol I wanted. Dubbel, Bok, Weizen, and so forth. I did another double take – these are words I haven’t heard outside of Europe. So now I was really curious. I asked the proprietor from which country this beer was. He smiled very proudly and said it was produced here in Colombia and gave me a pamphlet describing the line of beers they produce and told me about a tour I could take at the brewery in nearby Sabaneta. I read the pamphlet and discovered that they use European ingredients and German processes to produce the fine beers locally here in Colombia.
My mind was blown at this point, but the confusion subsided as the stronger than standard Dubbel was settling in, only to momentarily resurface when I saw a Bentley driving by the restaurant. By this point, I hit the “Just go with it” mentality and forged ahead. I paid my bill, walked back to the hostel and almost immediately bumped into Ronald! Okay, now something had to be off in the time-space continuum. Ronald was one of our local friends at the salsa hostel in Cali and now he was working in my hostel in Medellín. He explained he just came up for a short trip and all went back to normal. I went to bed early last night, mostly from being exhausted by the early morning 11 hour bus journey, and for the first time woke up wondering where the hell I was.