When I told a friend that I had recently gone to Barichara for a long weekend with my boyfriend and four-legged daughter, she asked me, “Did you go hang gliding?” No, I chuckled, imagining my dog’s ears flapping in the wind as she soared high above the lush Santander valleys.
“What about the Cava del Indio (a nearby cave)?”
“Well no, we didn’t make it there, either,” I admitted.
“Not even rafting?”
“We did go on some nice walks,” I responded. “Actually they were more like hikes,” I corrected myself, trying to halt this line of questioning.
Indeed, the San Gil area is justifiably known as Colombia’s adventure sports playground. But there is another recreational activity that deserves some attention, which doesn’t involve danger, is apt for most all ages, won’t get you dirty and provides you with an excuse to wander Barichara’s streets. It’s adventure shopping, and it’s a great way to get to know “Colombia’s most beautiful town” and acquire original souvenirs at the same time.
Adventure shopping in Barichara requires discipline (you don’t want to go to the first touristy shop you see and make all your purchases there), patience (a couple of hours one day isn’t enough) and good old-fashioned luck (oftentimes, it’s not a case of you finding neat loot, but rather the neat loot finding you.).
As in all adventures, adventure shopping in Barichara requires preparation. Comfortable shoes are a must. Those wonderful stone streets of Barichara are elegant, but just may be a tad tricky on those stiletto high heels. Also, small bills are important as this is not a plastic-friendly town and besides, you won’t need a lot of money to get some very cool stuff (El Retiro shopping mall Barichara is not). Other musts: sunglasses, sunscreen, and a bottle of water, especially if you’re making the trek down to Guane. Now that you’ve got the gear, and done some stretching, let the shopping adventure begin!
Anyone who spends a few days in Barichara will inevitably make a stop at the Panadería Barichara at Calle 5 No. 5-35, about a block away from the main plaza. A long-time favorite for late afternoon onces and town gossip, this simple bakery may not serve up fancy lattes and croissants, but if you’re looking for the local specialty of cheesy yet sweet galletas de cuajada, there is no better place. Snag a few bags of these crunchy cookies for that long ride back to Bogotá.
Speaking of crunchy, folks in Santander have this thing about ants. In Bucaramanga I’ve heard they make ant sushi rolls. Barichara could be the epicenter of ant chic in Colombia. Around May each year, the whole town goes nuts as they anticipate the annual flight of the hormigas culonas, a.k.a. the big butt ants. They even hold contests to see who can catch the most. Then, I suspect, the critters end up (on purpose) on plates. You too can bring back some ants and impress the city folks back home. Bags of toasted ants can be purchased at various shops and in some private homes throughout Barichara. To get some ideas on how to serve those ants to unsuspecting dinner guests, check out Color de Hormiga (Calle 8 No. 8-44), quite possibly the world’s only ant-themed restaurant.
That entomological protein boost will serve you well as your adventure continues down the Camino Real to the sleepy pueblo of Guane. A perfect way to get some fresh air, taking in some spectacular views as you traverse small farms along the way, you will be rewarded in the end with a free sample of sabajón. Right on the main plaza and next door to the archaeological museum at El Guanerito (Cra. 7 No. 5-23), you can pick up Colombia’s version of Bailey’s Irish Cream (which comes in several exotic flavors) for merely a few thousand pesos. Shoppers, be firm with those naysayers who will question why anyone needs such a sugary, calorie-laden drink and who will predict that the bottle will languish in your refrigerator for years. It’s a great purchase.
Loaded down with a couple of bottles of sabajón in your backpack, or possibly just plain loaded, you may not be up for the hike back to Barichara. Fortunately there’s a bus that makes the uphill journey a couple of times a day. Once again on flat ground, it’s time to pay Gordelia a visit, at the edge of town.
Gordelia, also known as María Patricia Van-Strahlen, is Barichara’s most famous cigar maker. Tobacco once brought great wealth to Santander, and Gordelia is one of a few who are bringing the tradition of hand-rolled cigars back to life. At her factory (Cra. 5 No. 0-84), you will witness cigar-making in progress by her all-female staff. Since setting up shop in 2004, Gordelia has won over cigar aficionados from around the world. Beautifully packaged and without nasty health warnings on the labels, Gordelia cigars make lovely gifts.
Our afternoon adventure shopping concludes in the lovely Plaza Mayor of Barichara. It’s here at El Almacencito de Margoth in the Casa de Cultura where you can pick up original ceramic cookware (tejo de barro), made by hand by Ana Felisa Alquichire. Ana Felisa, who lives in the countryside nearby, is one of a very few who continue this Guane Indian tradition. She makes her resilient pottery, consisting of clay mixed with bits of stone, by cooking it on an open bonfire. At the store, she sells large shallow bowls for making arepas (or toasting ants) and pots to heat up hot chocolate and smaller dishes for cooking eggs. Utilitarian and primitive, each piece is unique, some with Ana Felisa’s signature: her thumbprint. While some admire them for their decorative qualities, local cooks swear by the pottery, as it adds an earthy touch to favorite dishes.
On a final note, between the hiking and the colonial window browsing, take time out to enjoy some of the local gastronomy. Inspired by Spanish cuisine, Carambolo would be the evening’s choice with its tapas, ceviches and locally-prepared chorizo. The venue offers guests the choice of a 5 course meal to pair with an generous wine list. Pleniluni for lunch: a cozy café which specializes in vegetarian dishes such as their house specialty – a spinach ravioli.