Where do you turn as a struggling single mum in country that has no welfare state? Crepes and Waffles, is a unique restaurant chain that was opened in 1980 and only employs women and often single mothers. The unique company was set up by a couple who had the idea straight out of University to help empower women by providing them with reliable employment and a substantial pay cheque at the end of the month whilst they can still find time to study and look after their families. With a Crepes and Waffles on every corner, it is clear to anyone who visits Colombia, that this chain is successful with it’s ethics, employees and it’s ice cream. Listen to this podcast where I find out from Norma, manager at Crepes and Waffles, how she sees herself as a role model for the women here striving to be independent.
Rewind to 2011 and Ben Howard was exciting stuff- he’d toured our summer festivals around the country and was rumoured to be the up and coming star of the year. One year on, Ben Howard and co. have a worldwide following, have covered insanely popular songs on the radio, including their live lounge version of Carly Rey Jepson’s ‘Call Me Maybe’, which has had over six million views on Youtube and his debut albumn Every Kingdom has been nominated for the 2012 Mercury prize after a successful tour in the US.
But more importantly, this well respected and highly talented musician came back to Bournemouth to bring his biggest headline tour to a sold out show at Bournemouth’s O2 academy this November.
In the long queue, hoards of fans braved the wind and rain to make it to the show and upon entrance, it was clear by the sheer amounts of people that his initial loyal following of surfers and music lovers had swollen to a huge sea of Ben Howard enthusiasts. Depsite the numbers of people, there remained still a calm and common minded atmosphere. Everyone was there to bask in the beautiful melodies from his debut albumn Every Kingdom.
Guests were welcomed by the raw folk rhythms of Willy Mason on arrival and pleasant sounds from the stage were the signature of the American folk musician who was rumoured to be Ben’s warm up act. A few lively country tunes later and excitement oozed throughout the place as a curious energy filled the room. The three layered hall of the academy filled up to the gods, had eager ears listening and awaiting the first appearance.
A spotlight hit the stage and a familiar figure strolled casually and cooly onto stage with fellow bandmates India Bourne, and the Bond brothers. Ben begins with famous favourites and echos of Old Pine and Diamonds linger as the crowd awaits some of his unreleased Eps.
Burgh Island and Esmerelda have a slightly darker feel to them and the academy listens intently to the world premier of White Lights, written at the same time as Esmerelda.
Ben comments: “I don’t remember it being this big here.”
An encore encourages the last couple of tunes out of the band in which an impressive version of Promise plays out to backdrop footage of driving home. Ben salutes a satisfied and mesmirised ocean of supporters who will come back again again to hear the therepeutic tones of this unique and inspiring artist.
On my first night in Cartagena I met my guide and translator Juan Carlos Narvarez who turned out to be wonderful. We didn´t recognise each other at first as I had only spoken to him on the phone and seen his photo on facebook and visa versa but optimistically shouted his name and a deep friendly voice answered.
He took me for dinner at Crepes and Waffles where I explained my documentary to him. I was very impressed with his English, despite him explaining that he had stopped studying years ago and at 37 he had lots of energy and enthusiasm to help me and would always find a word to express his meaning even if it wasn´t the first one he was looking for.
We agreed to meet the next morning at 8am sharp at my hostel where we would take the hour long bus ride to Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar, the foundation I have been in contact with in Cartagena. I had arranged a meeting with the Director of the teenage pregnancy programme Leon who had so far been very helpful and replied to my emails straight away.
The next morning we took the long bus journey out of the city to Ternera, which was in complete contrast to the beautiful old town I was staying in. Days later Juan admitted that he had “exposed me” slightly here and for the first time I was seeing Colombian poverty in it´s nakedness.
We arrived to the foundation exactly on time for our 9:30 meeting with Leon. This cuddly faced man met us and led us into his very refreshingly air conditioned office where he told us the story of how Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar foundation was set up. It was a very sad tale.
Juan Felipe was a four year old baby boy who tragically fell from a builing and his death motivated the Gomez Escobar family and his mother to set up a foundation to help save the lives of thousands of other children in need. The family witnessed the lack of resources in hospitals and clinics around the city and hoped to serve impoverished communities like the ones on its doorstep and to improve the quality and access of maternal health care.
Leon himself was responsible for the second objective of the foundation´s intervention model, to train adolescent mothers through the Teenage Mothers Program and the Teenage Mothers Extension Program. And I couldn´t have pictured anyone better for the job than this incredibly empathetic, generous and helpful man.
He explained to us the statistics that helped support the foundations research and told us that in order for the foundation to design a socially committed organization, it needed to study extensively statistics on infant mortality and teenage pregnancy, and to correlate these statistics with global policies such as the Millennium Development Goals. This is when I knew that Leon and I were a perfect match. Previous research I had conducted for my documentary, linked inextricably to what Leon was talking about. The UN Millenium Declaration resolution had eight goals; number three was gender equality along with number five- decreasing infant mortality and number six- increasing maternal health. Leon was my match made in heaven.
After a very long and intriguing interview with Leon, he kindly gave us a tour of the foundation and it was now that I was incredibly impressed with the work they were doing there. There were teenage mothers and pregnant women wondering around all over the place with their baby blue Juan Felipe shirts on and there was a sense of hope and positivity amongst the impecibly clean grounds.
The sun shone through the windows into a room where Leon explained the young women took sex education classes, self esteem classes, sewing lessons, cooking lessons, beauty courses and IT courses. I was so impressed I had to ask how all of this was funded. Leon immediately led us to the entrance of the grounds where there were plaques with lists and lists of companies that sponsored Juan Felipe foundation including well known Colombian banks such as Davivenda, and oil companies such as Repsol and hundreds of others. I was astounded by the amount of support they were getting and suddenly Juan Felipe foundation stood out to me like a sparkling diamond in the rough that was proactively helping the women around it back into education and to a prosperous and hopeful future. I had a moment of clarity. This was what I had come to Colombia for.
A very sad tale that led to some incredibly rewarding and successful work on the part of Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar´s foundation and the work of it´s very friendly and committed staff.
Leon and his colleague then arranged for me to talk to one teenage girl Danis who was 8 months pregnant and another teenage mother Jennifer who had a baby girl.
Both of who had come from completely different backgrounds. Danis was sad that her partner had not stayed by her when he´d found out that she had got pregnant but instead left and decided to have no responsibility for the coming child, leaving Danis nervous about her future and the birth of her baby girl, until the foundation came along.
Jennifer´s story is somewhat different. This strong young woman has a boyfriend and family who is supporting her but explained she came to the foundation when she was depressed about her situation. She is only 17 years old and was shocked when she became pregnant despite being very casual about using protection of which she admits she rarely used with her boyfriend when they had sex. She revealed to us that her father was absent when she was growing up and took the path of drugs. I asked if she regretted getting pregnant at such a young age and she said she did at the time but now she has her little baby girl she doesn´t regret it and interestingly said that her little baby girl now fills a void that her father couldn´t.
I have just been to arguably one of worlds best restaurants. And I am not exaggerating. Andres Carne de Res was fine down to every last detail and yet it was not the posh ¨best restaurant in Bogota” I was expecting. It was better.
I was told all week that my friend Tatiana and her family wanted to take me to experience Andres and experience it I certainly did as this is not your normal restaurant experience. In fact we arrived at 2pm (Colombian time) for lunch and didn´t leave till gone 7pm!
The place was incredibly authentic from the beginning with fresh strawberries on entry and after an hour of being there I felt like I was in my own conservatory if not a lot bigger and a lot quirkier. With open plan kitchens dotted in between the maze of different dining areas inside/outside, there was an aroma of hearty food being grilled on open fires and fresh ingredients you could see being prepared all around. The food was simple, tasty and traditional and served in rustic non-matching crockery, which I loved.
The atmosphere was simply ecstatic! After ordering our first few dishes, chicharon (which was basically like fresh pork scratchings- incredible) Colombian chorizo and arepas a grand band attended our table and accosted me to join them in a photo as an honorary guest of the house, after singing and playing to “the English girl”. I was flattered if not a little embarassed as one of the hispanic trio grabbed my leg for a rather sexuale photo!
There were also actors and actresses strolling around, posing as affluent guests and the basics of my Spanish understanding was that there was some kind of Alice in wonderland story going on for the kids, suffice to say it was all a little crazy and- quirky doesn´t really do it justice but it was amazingly endearing and I really did feel like I´d stepped into a fairy tale.
The service was impecible as I noticed an awesome amount of staff that were working there. Apparantly between the restaurant in Chia (just outside Bogota) and the one in the city centre there are approximately 1,500 staff members and as we popped outside for some fresh air mid dining, we witnessed another restaurant next door that served as the servers dining area.
I asked if this restaurant was located anywhere else in the world but apparently the owner Andres wanted to keep it unique to Colombia and despite generous offers from multi-million investors he was stubborn in maintaining these two restaurants as the only ones in the world like it and this is why, although feeling like I have just been on an epic journey to some alternate world rather than a restaurant, I am quite confident in stating that this was quite possibly the best dining experience I have ever had.
The decor inside the place was just unfathomable, with trinkets and odd bits and bobs all over the shop this could never be replicated in the same way anywhere else in my opinion. With the popular interior design of bringing the outside in, there were trees growing by our tables that had clearly been there years and years before our table and at night they lit up with fairy lights to create a whole new atmosphere to the day! Suddenly the relaxing cafe music died out and new energetic Latin American music started to drum underneath.
By this point, after various traditional regional dishes such as patacon con queso (like a tortilla with cheese but made from green plantain fried) and hogao (chopped tomato, onions and spices) morcilla (like English black pudding but much better), chunchullo (not quite sure what this was, a little weird), chicharon (the previously mentioned fresh pork scratchings), arepa de choclo (like a sweet pancake with cheese in the middle) and of course the mazorca (which is like corn on the cob barbecued but again better and something I´ve been wanting to try here for a while as they sell it on the side of the road and streets but I haven´t quite been brave enough)!
There was even a gift shop inside, so that mesmerised guests like myself could take a little piece of Andres away with them. I bought my sister a little crafted milk jug with all the Colombian colours painted on and Tatiana completely surprised me with a beautiful frame inside which was the lovely photo we´d had taken after dinner by the resident photographer. I think it is safe to say I will never forget my day at my now favourite restaurant ever, which I noted in the little comment slip our waiter Hussain kindly left us to comment on our time at Andres!
If Andres was my boyfriend he would be perfect: exciting, energetic, a little bit crazy and tastes great!
I am here in Colombia primarily to make a documentary and for ease, safety and financial reasons, I am basing it in Bogota and Cartagena but if I had the resources and time I would love to travel more of this fascinating country. Unfortunately my budget doesn´t stretch too far and I am really travelling Colombia on a bit of a shoestring.
But in light of working hard all week, setting up interviews and securing access to the foundations and people we want to speak to, Tatiana (my friend, host, translator and fixer) and I decided we were in need of some well deserved tourist time.
So this weekend we met up with two of Tati´s friends and marched our way up to Monserrate, basically a church on top of a mountain. But this church dominates the Bogota skyline and as soon as I saw it I said to Tati we must find time to visit it.
The mountain rises to 3,152 metres above the sea level, which is actually higher than where I lived in a ski resort in France for six months. The church (built in the 17th century) sits quaintly on top and is a shrine, devoted to “El Señor Caído” (Fallen Lord). This too is also a location of pilgrimage and can be reached by an incredibly steep cable car, a rather disconcerting aerial tramway or by walking, the preferred way of pilgrims.
On arrival to the top, the views were nothing short of impressive and we strolled around posing for photos and taking in the views of the city.
We then found our way into the church where they were in the middle of a classic Catholic mass service. Apparantly, these go on all day, every day. Those priests must have lots of stamina I think.
This clearly is a place of homage, judging by the sheer numbers of people who flock to the church, either as tourists or pilgrims but both appreciating the significance of this iconic Colombian location. Tati tells me that her sister and brother-in-law got engaged here at one of the mountain side restaurants. I imagine the beautiful romantic sunset that they must have witnessed over the city.
“I am not a Catholic but I believe in God” said Jose, a teacher I interviewed today for my documentary and this sentiment rang true for myself on top of Monserrate. In some ways I felt slightly out of place during a Catholic church service in Spanish but still I felt a certain peace and understanding stood among many faithful, even as a foreigner. That is the beauty of faith, (not religion)- you can be any creed, colour or culture and you can be accepted and loved.
The service proceeded to bless the masses by sprinkling water onto the congregation and whilst I was glad to be showered with holy water I was slightly concerned for the health of my camera at the same time.
The priest and congregation then continued to say prayers in Spanish, as I joined in with the final word, Ame´n and then they took communion. I wasn´t convinced it was right for me to join in with this part of the service, not being Catholic, I think I would have felt like a fraud so I decidedly stepped away and made my way towards the exit. Colombia is a very catholic country.
It almost felt like we were at a fast food restaurant but the religious kind, where the service was like being stood in a fast moving queue and feeling instantly gratified. But unlike McDonalds I did not feel guilty and unsatisfied afterwards. Morelike, contented and peaceful.
On our way snaking down the mountain we stopped off at the Quinta de Bolivar, which is the colonial house and gardens that served as a residence to Simon Bolivar, in Bogota after the war of independence. It is now used as a museum dedicated to Bolivar’s life.
Bolivar was a Venezuelan military and political leader and is seen as hero, liberator and revolutionary who played a key role in Hispanic America´s struggle for independence from the Spanish empire, and is today considered one of the most influential politicians in the history of the Americas.
Following the triumph over the Spanish monarchy, Bolívar participated in the foundation of the first union of independent nations in Hispanic-America, a republic, which was named Gran Colombia, of which he was president from 1819 to 1830. During his lifetime, he led Venezuela, Colombia (including Panama at the time), Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia to independence, and helped lay the foundations for democracy in much of Latin America, with Colombia having the longest standing democratic government in the whole of South America.
I find this very interesting as I read in The City Paper (the only English newspaper in Bogota) that the government are in peace talks with the FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) after four decades of conflict and terror between the revolutionaries and the government.
President Juan Manuel Santos is respected by many Colombians for his international exposure as an economist, with foreign investment at an all time high under his presidency and many admire him for his social vision. His next challenge then will be to sit down with the FARC and have an honest and frank conversation to calm a very old conflict.
We stop off for a quick refreshment, Lulo juice and Limonade de Coco drink, both of which use natural Colombian juices which are truely divine and appreciate Chorro (the oldest part of Bogota) with old colonial buildings and decor.
There are street musicians and comedians here, entertaining visitors and providing a very warm and friendly atmosphere to where apparantly hoards of youths flock. It is the coolest part of Bogota I have seen so far.
We also head to the El Museo del Oro (The Museum of Gold) where I find out all about the ancient hispanic culture. Interestingly, ancient South America was dominated by Shamans and chiefs who were adorned with golden armour and accessories that reflected the sun which was seen as a God. The shamans also wore the jewellery to transform into animals. They believed they were actually Jaguars and would often attack villagers who lived in fear of them. Luckily for me this was thousands of years ago.
Our museum tour guide also showed us some of the main attractions at the museum, a pear shaped type urn that is symbolic of the female body and he said which represented femininity. I asked if women were seen as equals back in ancient times and he said that in fact there were a lot of priestesses and queens thousands of years ago and they actually wielded a lot of power and respect, a fact I found fascinating.
Juan (our trusty bilingual museum guide) then told us about the raft. Apparantly people come to the museum just to see the raft which in my mind was being painted as a huge impressive ornament. It was hugely impressive but it certainly wasn´t huge as I soon realised when we headed into the next room.
The tiny raft approximately 10cm by 15cm sat in a blacked out room and so was illuminated by it´s golden brightness. It symbolises the offerings of gold and emeralds that the people used to drop into the river for the Gods, to maintain a prosperous year ahead.
After we were led into another blacked out room but this time sealed off and our guide politely asked if we were claustrophobic. “A little” I told him, when suddenly I heard ghostly chanting echoing around the room and lights illuminating the gold jewellery encased in the walls and below our feet on the floor. I wasn´t expecting this but it was a welcomed and very authentic experience of hearing the old shamans chant.
On our way back to our friends house we walked around the equivalent of Colombia´s parliament square, with the presidents house, and the equivalent of the house of commons in the centre. Here I felt like a proper tourist!
Finally, our new friends, Sean and Amilkar, decided we had to go to La Calera to see the sights of the city at night on top of the mountain. This sounded a little more scary than our escapade to the top of Monserrate during the day. But when we arrived it was simply better.
A small shacked out cafe perched on the side of the road/clifftop sat there welcoming us to come and try some hot canelaso (a local alcoholic herbal drink which smells a bit funny but tastes great!) A couple of sips later and lots of laughs after, we headed home for an early night.
I never knew how much sight seeing took it out of me.
I arrived to Santiago at 7am from Madrid and waited for my Spanish stallion of a boyfriend, Carlos for two hours to touch down from London. As I excitedly awaited that familiar face to come through customs I noted the happy faces greeting happy faces at the arrivals lounge and couldn´t help thinking back to the opening scene of the film – Love Actually.
Soon we were off. Carlos´parents and grandmother fondly greeted us and swept us off to Santiago de Compostela.
The cathedral borders the main plaza of the old and well-preserved city, which Carlos´parents insist we explore. Legend has it that the remains of the apostle James were brought to Galicia for burial, although Carlos´father isn´t convinced this is the case but seems to know the entire history of the city and it´s legends.
Apparantly, according to medieval legend, the light of a bright star guided a shepherd who was watching his flock at night to the burial site in Santiago de Compostela. The shepherd quickly reported his discovery to the bishop of Iria, Bishop Teodomiro, who declared that the remains were those of the apostle James and immediately notified King Alfonso II.
To honour St. James, the cathedral was built on the spot where his remains were said to have been found. The legend, which included numerous miraculous events, led to the growth and development of the city and the Way of St. James, a leading pilgrimage route from the 9th Century.
Rewind 14 days and Carlos and I are making dinner back at our student house in Bournemouth. I say: “Can we watch a film?” and Carlos says: “sure, I have the perfect one but you can´t look.” I don´t quite understand what he means but sit down with my dinner to watch his “surprise film”.
A simply wonderful American drama about an American ophthalmologist (Martin Sheen) who goes to France following the death of his adult son, killed in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James).
Tom’s purpose is initially to retrieve his son’s body. However, in a combination of grief and homage to his son, Tom decides to walk the ancient spiritual trail where his son died, in an epic adventure that will make you want to donne your walking boots and set off on a journey of meaning and healing.
While walking the Camino, Tom meets others from around the world, all looking for greater meaning in their lives. He reluctantly falls in with three other pilgrims in particular. Joost is an overweight man from Amsterdam, who says he is walking the route to lose weight to get ready for his brother’s wedding and so that his wife will desire him again. He is a warm extrovert who is the first to start walking with Tom. Tom meets others along the way, each attempting to quit a vice or be inspired to achieve and aspire. Certainly the film hopes to inspire one in the wake of mourning and puts a spiritual, footloose and refreshing spin on a sad tale exploring the universal themes of loss, companionship and faith.
I now realise the meaning of where I am and what exactly the meaning and significance of this beautifully spiritual city is.
Over 100,000 pilgrims travel to the city each year from points all over Europe and other parts of the world.