Feliz cumpleaños, Barranquilla! On April 7th the city, founded in 1813, celebrated its 203 birthday. While it isn’t quite the 480+ years of Cartagena de Indias, La Arenosa (translation: The Sand), as Barranquilla is often called, is a notable, historic city all its own. Travel guide book publisher Lonely Planet gives Barranquilla a so-so review, basically stating if you don’t go for Carnaval, there is little reason to visit. It is possible the writers at Lonely Planet don’t have many friends who are Barranquilleros: some of the warmest, happiest, ready-to-party people in South America.
So, while Lonely Planet doesn’t list some of the local landmarks of Barranquilla worth visiting, like La Troja, famous for salsa music and its collection of thousands of rare records, or La Ocho, the area in the south of town known as La Rumba, notorious for its dozens of dance clubs, the review does include some interesting things to do. `
Cartageneros will probably agree that Barranquilla is one of those cities that, once you begin visiting frequently, is often difficult to leave. For the past two annual Semana Santas, a mysterious vortex within the 4th largest urban location in Colombia seems to draw me to the home of the family I lived with as a volunteer. Repeatedly, the pull transposes into a longer visit than planned, enhanced by delicious home cooked meals, laughter with neighbors who stop by to visit, and the simple enjoyment of sitting a rocking chair as evening breezes roll across the spacious patio.
Spring Break 2016 began with a memorable trip on Berlinas, a reliable go-to bus service for fast, inexpensive transport from Cartagena to Barranquilla. Sitting up front with the driver meant having to hold his lunch container of mondongo for the entire two hour drive. The soup was only spilled after a fast hand-off to the other passenger enjoying the front-seat view of our travel. Arriving to the station, smelling a little like the stomach-lining and vegetables, it was clear this week would be filled with antics and laughter.
The visit coincided with a futbol game at Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez, featuring Colombia playing the United States. Fast planning by our inner circle of adopted family meant tickets in hand within a few hours. Though several people commented it was “just” an Under 23 game, the espiritu of the Colombian fans would speak differently, as happy, excited futbol fans titivated in their finest yellow shirts, filling the stadium with a notable capacity.
Following the game, which was a hackneyed 1-1 draw, our group of futbol fans headed for home near La Ocho, which was already buzzing with after-game celebrations. After walking several blocks through Wednesday night revelers, we appropriated a location at South Beach, a bar influenced by its namesake in Miami, where the drinks are served from coolers placed beneath patrons’ tables, and the music ranges from Vallenato to Bachatta to Reggae: perfect for impulsive dancing!
Next to South Beach, Shrek Comidas Rapidas (fast foods) beckoned with nighttime fragrances of french fries and pizza. Using the moniker of the happy green ogre, this outdoor restaurant, with its simple wood furnishings, string lights and brick grill, appears to be quite popular with night diners, as nearly every table was filled with patrons enjoying hearty pizzas, meats with rice, and of course, salichipapas, a snack-type dish synonymous with the coast.
Vegetarians often garner suspicious looks when ordering food in Colombia, but the best is when requesting “salchipapas, sin salchicas” (hot dogs with french fries, but no hot dogs). The waiters nearly always laugh, and dining companions always add “but put her hot dogs on ours,” making it a win-win for everyone. Usually, the dish is delicious without the salchichas: the cheese is still melty and bubbily, the lettuce and tomato are crisp and juicy, and the papas are still flavorful and warm.
A la Orden Salchipapas (recipe modified from Platos Latinos)
potatoes cut into strips, or Fosforitos
hot dogs, sliced into discs
salt and pepper, to taste
Golf Sauce (salsa rosada) or ketchup and mayonnaise, mixed
Directions: If you are not using Fosforitos, then peel the potatoes, cut into strips and fry in oil until they are brown and crispy. Add the hot dogs and cook until brown. Drain off any excess oil. Stir the potatoes and hot dogs with the cheese, then layer on a plate with lettuce, tomato and more cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with salsa of your choice.
So now you know more about visiting Barranquilla, including South Beach, Shrek, salichipapas, and a Spring Break vortex. Despite what Lonely Planet may write, there are always more reasons to visit this fine city: first and foremost the friends, futbol and fast food, followed closely by the festivos, like Carnaval.
This post dedicated to Cake. Adiós, gatita en el cielo. 2013-2016