These Boots Are Made for Talking – Stella Botas

Leather samples.
Leather samples.

Fancy leather boots crafted solely for your feet… One of the many leather products one can spend one’s money on here in Bogota. Stella Bota is well known in the expat community. The boots cost about 125 U.S. dollars so it’s not an inexpensive experience (but it is hand crafted). The shop has many samples of leather in all colors. They have books from which you can select a design or you can bring in a photo. The sales people will measure your feet and it takes about a month for the boots to be ready. You will want to go in for fittings but, then again, anything you can imagine can be made into leather boots, and that is worth the wait.

The dog in a tutu.
The dog in a tutu.

Their address is 14, Diagonal 61C # 27A, Bogotá.

The shop front.
The shop front.

Stella can also repair leather shoes and boots for a feet.

Lots of boots to be inspired by.
Lots of boots to be inspired by.

While the shop is well known, the dog wearing a tutu will ensure that you won’t forget this shop experience.

This boot can be worn three ways.
This boot can be worn three ways: up, down, and scrunched.

I Remember Eid In Dhaka – Bloody Eid

Foreigners warned me that the streets would run with blood. They told me to get out of town for “bloody Eid” which is the second Eid, Eid-ul-Adha. As Eid will be in early October this year, I wanted to share my experience from last year. A warning: while I am not going to post the most graphic photos, some of you may think that the ones I’ve chosen are still TOO graphic. If so, please stop reading now.

Forcing the bull to the ground.
Forcing the bull to the ground.

Early on the slaughtering morning, we set out for a walk around the neighborhood. All along the streets, lots of groups of men were butchering cattle. There were also lots of “professional” butchers with giant knives ready to butcher for a fee. In reality, once an animal was forced to its knees and had its throat cut, the butchering only took about ten minutes (everything is done halal). Everything was very organized and there was a constant washing and sweeping of the streets. Everyone worked together. The hides were stacked up on rickshaws and taken away.

The streets are cleaned constantly during butchering.
The streets are cleaned constantly during butchering.

Perhaps the most surprising thing for an expat started a few days before the butchering. I came down one day to find a doe eyed bull tethered in the garage. Then, after the day of slaughtering, there were only the hooves and a newly washed patch of cement where once the bull had been.

Butchering is done on the streets.
Butchering is done on the streets.

While plastic shopping bags are banned in Bangladesh, I did see during Eid, lots of beef being sold in clear plastic bags. To the Bangladeshis, this is a big family holiday. I wish them a happy Eid!

A professional butcher for hire.
A professional butcher for hire.

The Bangladeshis told me that slaughtering a cow (actually, they meant a bull — read about my visit to the cow market) was traditional. Normally, a bull or goat (if your circumstances are lesser) or camel (if you have lots of money), is kept tethered until it is slaughtered. Then the meat is shared out to family, friends, and poor people as an act of charity.

The "cow" is cut up quickly after the skin is peeled open.
The “cow” is cut up quickly after the skin is peeled open.

During Eid, the town is empty as everyone is off with their families. Apparently, Bogota also empties out in December for the same reason. And then the traffic is better, a stark contrast to the traffic in Dhaka.

100 Restaurants in Bogota

A margarita in a margarita.
A margarita in a margarita.

100 restaurants in Bogota. No, I have not been to 100 restaurants in Bogota (like I did in Dhaka)… yet. I might get there accidentally. In Bogota, an emerging foodie city, there are thousands of restaurants. Here are my reviews of the ones I’ve tried to so far (though this list is not of 100, it made for a catchy title)… Strange to think that just a few weeks ago, I wondered what types of food I would not be able to get in Bogota). As usual, I have used my own rating system for this collection of bakeries, food stalls, restaurants, pubs, and other eateries. Abasto, Carrera 6 # 119B-52, Usaquen (11/13): Good and friendly service. The staff are as diverse as the goods offered. They offer food, fresh vegetables, fresh bread, cheese, candy, honey, jams, and so on. The crumble a la mode is delicious. Their bread is the best I’ve had in Bogota. It’s yeasty and actually smells like bread. Plus, I bought a roll of goat cheese (at a hefty $20) which was moldy and rolled in black ash. It was yummy and actually tasted like goat cheese.

Abasto's crumble with home made ice cream.
Abasto’s crumble with home made ice cream.

Afternoon Tea, Carrera 15 No. 94-51 (12/13): Super friendly staff. Delicious, pillowy clouds of wheat, baked goods and bubble tea. It’s got an elegant interior (hip in the way that Bogota seems to like) and it is conducive to staying a while with friends. Afternoon Tea opened July 13, 2014 and I think they will become a hugely successful chain. Agadon, Carrera 13, No. 85-75, good for “American” dishes (12/13): Good fried winglets (called “alitas fritas” on the menu) appetizer. These are less breaded than the “fried chicken wings on waffle” which is a main course. The “alitas” cost about 13,500 pesos (about $7 U.S. bucks) and the “fried chicken wings” cost around 20,255 pesos (about $10). They also are known for their burgers. The baby back ribs fell off the bone and were pretty good. But, what was different here was, first, that bottles of Sriracha were on every table, and second, their pork belly buns. These “bun pork belly” are served in very authentic pillowy buns with pork belly slices that are fatty and livery. Supposed they are served with kimchi inside but it was more like a salad. Two buns per serving cost 20,255 ($10). This restaurant is one of the better restaurants around. Good for a date night and good for friends. I’ll be back in daylight with my camera! Antigua Santafe Sabor de Antano, Calle 11, No. 6-20, Candelaria (11/13): It claims to have the best ajiaco soup in the world. Located in Candelaria, this place could be much more touristy than it is. The juice (with milk!) was sweet and I’d never had that kind of fruit before so it is another one to add to my list of new fruits. The soup was filling and good. The use of “guasca” a local herb, adds a unique thickening agent and flavor to the soup. Adding my own avocado and rice just makes it even nicer. Burger Market, Calle 93, No. 13B-56, near Parque 93 (9/13): They grow some of their own vegetables. The burgers are acceptable. Tomato soup is made from their own tomatoes. El Oasis, Calle 47 with Carrera 15: (10/13) It’s a few open doors and counters like a mega-stall. “Best” empanadas in town. The picante “aji” sauce is really hot (on the Scoville scale). Who told me that things weren’t spicy in Bogota?

Bok choy at Gran China.
Bok choy at Gran China.

Gran China, Calle 77A # 11-70 (12/13): This place is owned by Taiwanese people and Chinese people eat here. It’s elegant in the old school Chinese restaurant way. Calle 77A is a sort of open plaza but the restaurant is tucked away and their sign is not visible from Carrera 11 so you have to wander down the street on blind faith, although I followed my nose. If you are Chinese and you know how to ask for spicy, you might actually get spicy here! They don’t seem to have a website but you can order delivery via domicilio.

Dumplings from Gran China. They tasted authentic.
Dumplings from Gran China. They tasted authentic.

Mercado, Parque 93, Calle 93 (8/13): They have salads, meat on a stick, ceviche, etc. Nothing special but okay. Portions are not huge. It is child-friendly.

At Mercado, you choose the juice that is mixed in your ceviche.
At Mercado, I chose lulo juice for my shrimp ceviche and mandarin juice for my drink.

Miro, Avenida La Esperanza, Carrera 43A, paella (5/13): It advertises “La paella desde 1963” which of course makes you wonder if the paella is from 1963. The best thing was the shrimp bisque. Museo de Tequila, Carrera 13A #86A-18 (Zona Rosa), Mexican food (6/13): It’s a sensory overload of Mexican kitsch. The “margarita tradicional” is served with a flower in it (a daisy which is a “margarita”) so it’s pretty and strong. While I liked their iPad visual menu, the service was too argumentative for my liking. The chips and salsa were small portions and getting more than ten nachos was a whole extra serving, at cost. The servings were unreliable. I didn’t like the weird miniscule quesadillas (the four quarters were about the size of two iPhones) but the burrito was a normal size portion and cost between $13-16 (I can’t recall exactly but I think it cost about the same as the margarita).

A burrito at the Museo de Tequila.
A burrito at the Museo de Tequila.

Restaurant Ramen, Calle 26C # 4 – 42 , La Macarena area, Japanese (6/13): I was hopeful once I saw the name. At least it was not obviously instant noodle (although I do like instant noodle — just not at a fancy ramen restaurant). The restaurant served deep fried fake crab pieces as a free appetizer. This seemed like a good sign. But, the ramen, tonkatsu, sushi roll, and salad were not Asian but the Colombian diner found it good. I could not finish my soup because the flavor was too bland while paradoxically, the egg was too salty.

The banh mi sandwich at Sr. Ostia's.
The banh mi sandwich at Sr. Ostia’s.

Los Sanduches de Sr. Ostia, Calle 79A, #8-82, Andino mall and other locations, sandwiches (11/13): This place is famous for having the most “authentic” banh mi sandwich in Bogota. The banh mi is a good pork sandwich but it is not a banh mi. It lacks the pickle in the vegetables and there is no sriracha. It also has a green cream sauce which is definitely not Vietnamese. Next time, I may buy it and doctor it to make authentic. The bread roll was good and airy. Sushino, Avenida La Esperanza 44A-63, sushi/Japanese (3/13): The best thing was the lemonade. I tried the “Hong Kong” ceviche, the California roll (which were shaped like tear drops), and the “Eye of the Tiger” roll which involved several types of raw fish. It was all slightly off and dirty. The upstairs has two dining rooms of which the one is supposed to give the feel of a small bamboo forest patio but instead feels a bit like a zoo cage. The Ugly American Bar and Grill, Calle 81 #9-12, American food (7/13): Another swank bar cum restaurant. It’s in a basement so dark that reading the menu was done by light of an iPhone… but, everyone looks even paler and thinner in the darkness. The menu is fairly basic with some classic “gringo” foods. They didn’t have several of the items on the menu but my fish of the day was a white flaky filet. The Brussels sprouts had too much honey on them but were still very firm (I had to spoon them as I couldn’t get a fork into them and I didn’t want to launch them at my table mates in the dark). They didn’t have cheese cake or red velvet muffins… and the large slice of chocolate cake was so bland and boring that it was left on the plate! The best dessert they have is the “popcorn mousse” dessert. It was caramel corn in a jam jar filled with marshmallow fluff, some chocolate sauce which detracted from the dish, and topped with a caramel candy wedge. Wok, Parque 93 and other locations, pan-Asian food (9/13): Their menu is the size of a magazine and includes everything from ramen, curries, maki rolls and sashimi, pad thai, larb salads, and so on. They also offer various juices and grown-up drinks. I had to try the “inca roll” which consisted of a deep fried fish finger inside a rather bland roll. The outdoor seating is heated so that it’s not unbearably cold to dine outside. The interior is all blond wood and glass. They take credit cards and the toilet is clean. The clientele are the usual “boot-wearing, jean-wearing, involved with our own hipness” selves of Parque 93. There are still some restaurants out there that I’ve heard about… I’ll get there.

Tenth Day – Tsechu Festival in Bhutan

The plaza outside the "dzong" in Thimphu with tsechu crowds.
The plaza outside the “dzong” in Thimphu with tsechu crowds.

Dzong… dzong… dzong. That’s the deep basal reverberating sound that the Bhutanese alpine horns make during the “tsechu” in the “dzong” which is the building where the festival takes place.

One year later, from a completely different mountain range (Bogota and Thimphu are at the same altitude) on the other side of the world, I remember the tsechu I saw when I went to Bhutan. “Tsechu” is the word for the “tenth day” in Bhutan.

Boys wearing formal wear.
Boys wearing formal wear including the kabney scarf.

In Bhutan, the second largest “tsechu” festival of the year takes place in April in the town of Paro. The biggest festival is held in the fall in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. The tsechu festival is extremely complex which is evident from this sample itinerary:

“We can continue attending the Thimphu tsechu day 2 where you will get to witness Chamms (religious associated dances) like The Black Hat Dance (Shana), Dance of the 21 black hats with drums (Sha nga ngacham), Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholeg Moleg), Dance of the Drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Ngacham), Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholeg Moleg) and Dance of the Stag and Hounds (Shawa Shachi). Not all dances will be performed in the morning but we will be able witness at least two.”

Bhutanese women covering their hair from hot sun while watching the tsechu.
Bhutanese women covering their hair from hot sun while watching the tsechu.

Although I didn’t understand most of the stories being told, I enjoyed the colors and costumes. For the Bhutanese, the very act of watching the dances is good for their souls. It’s also educational. The monks who perform the roles of the gods and demons must be in excellent shape as the dance is a marathon. Also, of note, is that the costumes are never washed because washing them would wash away the spirits. After being used, the costumes are immediately packed down until the next time they are needed. No airing out allowed…

A Black Hat dancer.
A Black Hat dancer.

A popular dance is the Black Hat Dance which tells the legend of how the wrathful gods (good guys) draw out the demons by inviting them to a dance. Then during the dance, while the demons (bad guys) watch, the Black Hats take the bows and arrows from their large sleeves and kill the demons.

Everything, from dates, numbers, directions, hand motions, shawl knots, etc. have Buddhist significance in Bhutan.

Another thing that I found interesting about the festival, and Himalayan Buddhism, is that embarrassment is a tool used to  open up the spirit to enlightenment. This was evident at the tsechu with the lively antics of the jester. The jester wandered around making lewd overtures and gestures, including climbing on to the laps of foreigners. I’m sure that his antics made for many a Facebook photo.

And speaking of embarrassment leading to enlightenment, my friend and I had our own enlightenment experience. My male friend and I both bought the cream colored large sash called a “kabney” that the men wear as part of the their formal attire with their gho (see photo). Then we went out in public wearing our kabneys as scarves. This caused embarrassment and my friend was “talked to” by some Bhutanese men. They were embarrassed on his behalf that he was wearing the sash without the proper traditional clothes under it. As a woman, no one said anything to me because it was clear that I was a clueless foreigner… after all no Bhutanese woman would ever wear this piece of male attire! We quickly packed them away, to be worn outside of Bhutan.

Happy tsechu to my Bhutanese friends!

The jester with phallus in hand and phallus hat.
The jester with “enlightenment” tool in hand and matching mask.