Category: Travels

How good is the food in Cali?

The guidebooks say that Cali has worse food than Bogotá or Medellin.  Two people I know, both from Cali, wrote to tell me that Cali has worse food.  It is true that Cali does not have the fine dining culture of the two larger cities.  And yet…  When I visited the food market in Bogotá, about half of the stalls were serving Mexican food.  The rest seemed decent but uninspired.  The two meals I had in the food stalls in the Alameda market in Cali were perhaps the two best (and cheapest) meals of the whole trip, and original too, at least to me.

n = 2 does not suffice for inference.  And yet…

Cork notes

It is a lovely town to walk in, seems to have better weather than Dublin, and Honan Chapel is to my mind Ireland’s single greatest sight.  Most of the time, you can look around in any direction — not just the best direction — and see pleasing sights.  So I can heartily recommend a visit.

But I am puzzled by the near-complete absence of restaurant food, at least in the city centre.  You can walk for half an hour and maybe see only one or two places you would even consider eating in.  Especially at lunch time.  So many places open at five.  Other places close at three.  I’ve not been looking for “a standard mid-level pizzeria,” but at times I would have settled for one but I never saw one.  Not once.  There are a reasonable number of coffee places that serve some sandwiches.  Only a small number of pubs serve much food.  I saw two Chinese restaurants, neither of which seemed appealing.  I walked for at least ten minutes from the main cinema down a main street — nothing, not one place to eat.  Many neighborhoods, whether residential or commercial, seem to have zero restaurants whatsoever.  No fish and chips takeaways either.

I looked for Indian food, and was pleased to walk by Eastern Tandoori across from the opera house.  The wooden sign out on the street says they open at 5 p.m.  But they don’t, and if you dig deep enough on the web you will find they are closed until July 1.  I didn’t find any other (actually open) Indian restaurant to eat at.  I ate at Ignite (Pakistani, and quite excellent).  Their Facebook page says they open at noon, but alas no they open at 5 p.m.  Many other restaurants exist on paper but seem to never open, and this is in a prosperous and bustling town.  It is easier to find a barbershop here, or a book store.

The English Market, the main place to buy raw ingredients in town, is excellent.  It has one OK cafe upstairs, and that closes well before dinner time.  It is fine for a chowder and some smoked trout spread, but not too much more.

Nor is the city inundated with American fast food.  Nor does Dublin have this problem.

Within an hour of Cork city centre, there are numerous excellent restaurants, including with Michelin stars.  Cork is set in the heart of Irish food country, believe it or not.  Breads and cheeses are excellent.

So what gives?  Why are the corporate entities here so reluctant to sell me cooked food?

James Person’s Hawaii bleg

Could you please recommend or ask your readers’ recommendations for books about Hawaiian history and culture? I am visiting the state for the first time and like to approach my travels with a deeper understanding as you exemplify in your MR travel posts. Thank you for your time and help and especially for MR and Conversations!

Your assistance for James would be much appreciated!

Notes from Tavira, Portugal

The so-called “Lisbon earthquake” of 1755 in fact occurred near Tavira, which explains why so much of the city was rebuilt in a relatively consistent Portuguese Baroque style.

The best parts of town are scattered along the edges of the center, not in the center itself.  The overall Moorish feel remains, and oranges are grown in the surrounding countryside.

There is in fact nothing to do here.  That said, the town is consistently lovely and you will find few chain stores or fast food outlets.  The real problem is that Portugal is depopulating, and within depopulating Portugal Tavira is itself depopulating in both absolute and relative terms.  Many buildings are uninhabited and they are beginning to fall apart.

I am not sure I have seen an older town, and that includes a variety of stints in Japan.

It is very difficult to use one’s credit cards here, and it is not because they have leapfrogged to some more advanced means of payment.

For dining, I recommend the snack bar attached to the seafood market, on the far left corner as you look at the market.  They serve what is perhaps the best broccoli I ever have had.  It is also full of “characters,” salty men of the sea types.

More generally, I recommend the orangey snacky pastry thing, famous locally.  Pork and clams is a classic regional dish, cod to me is overrated.  Garbanzo beans are deployed profusely.  The seafood is excellent in quality, though too often it is put in a decent but not really interesting tomato broth.  It is worth a cab ride to the food market in nearby Faro, a larger town.

There are numerous Indian restaurants, but I haven’t run across a single Chinese locale, nor seen a single Chinese person here.

Visitors to Tavira do not regret it, but neither do they say “I wish I had come many years earlier!”

Patagonia, Argentina — St. Martin de los Andes

One of the lovelier spots on the planet, and with excellent food.  Thise town has about 35,000 people, and architecture based on Swiss chalets and northern German churches.  It is a jumping off point for exploring the surrounding countryside, but very charming in its own right.  And there is no larger population center anywhere nearby!

Now I am back!

New Buenos Aires notes

My last and rather lengthy Buenos Aires notes are from 2006, still worth a read.  This time my visit was much shorter, but I had three dominant impressions.  First, the city seems more “normal” and less Argentine than in times past.  The nicer parts of town, as you might find in or near Palermo, seemed more “Pan-Latin” than anything else, as you might find in comparable parts of Mexico City or Bogotá.  More hipster.  More Brooklyn even.  The whole “invisible stories about weird librarians obsessed with their cats” side of the city seems weaker these days.  And along similar lines, traditional Argentinean food is harder to find.

Second, the talent of Argentina has been liberated from the country itself.  Argentina has more unicorns — eleven! — than any other Latin American nation, though it is not close to tops in population.  Yet for the most part these unicorns exist beyond the confines of Argentina.  The top talents of Argentina seem to have used the internet more effectively to integrate into global markets than the top talents of other Latin countries.  In contrast, Brazilian commercial talent seems best suited to…the rules of the game in Brazil.

Third, the country no longer seems to alternate between glorious hope and extreme despair.  It seems more accepted that the country is not going to solve its fiscal or monetary problems, and instead will alternate between “OK enough” periods and “uh-oh inflation is really pretty high now” periods.  Currently rates of price inflation are running at about fifty percent, and the black market exchange rate is about two times as favorable for the dollar as the official exchange rate.  No one seems very surprised by this, nor is there much uncertainty about how things will end, nor is there great hope that “the reformers” will solve the problems.  Yet a bounceback is likely to follow as well, sooner or later.  The cyclical nature of the Argentine economy seems more accepted and enshrined in expectations.  And the elite are more insulated from it than ever before, through a mix of Miami-based dollar accounts and crypto, and here are some tactics for the middle class (Bloomberg).

Fortunately, the economy is growing at an annualized rate of over eleven percent, though the year before it contracted by more than ten percent.  None of that will end the cycle.

Buenos Aires remains one of the very best cities in the world, most of all in their summer.

Lexington, Kentucky notes

Here they have NIMHY rather than NIMBY — “Not in my horse’s yard.”  And so the city is ringed by (protected) horse farms and the suburbs are further out.  This makes the downtown core denser and more coherent than you might expect, to the benefit of the visitor but perhaps not the resident?

I was struck by how much everyone complains about “the traffic.”

You may recall that Lexington was the setting for Queen’s Gambit.

Overall I would be “long” the city.   Downtown has a music and theater scene, albeit on a modest scale.  There is a university and a basketball team (Anthony Davis, Rex Chapman, and John Wall, among many others) and lots of health care.  And lots of bourbon.

I had an excellent meal in a Peruvian restaurant, saw a plausible Honduran restaurant and also a “West Indies” chicken restaurant under construction.  The local steak house was very good, and they offer a $160 wagyu cut, not my order however.

Downtown has more historical plaques than are needed, and they can’t even fit the event descriptions on a single side of the plaque.  By the end of the double-sided exposition, you are not sure what they are talking about.

As is common in the Appalachian and near-Appalachian regions, the quality difference between pre-WWII and post-WWII buildings is enormous, even larger than usual.

How many people could, off the top of their heads, name the third largest city in Kentucky?  Overall, Louisville is larger and more charming, but Lexington arguably is less Midwest and “more Kentucky.”

Maybe it was just coincidence, but I sure saw and heard a lot of ambulances whizzing by.

Derry notes, Northern Ireland’s second largest city

People in Derry are still talking about the 1680s…it is bad to be a “Lundy,” namely a traitor to your cause but the bar here has become a high one.  You are either with them or against them.

The 17th century city wall seems fully intact, the buildings are splendid, and the green, wet, and hilly natural setting is a perfect fit.  The town is long on history, short on things to do.  It is perfect for a two-day trip.

I witnessed a Loyalist parade — the men were not feminized, nor did they seem happy. It is now so much “common knowledge” that Britain really does not care about them.  So what is their future and with whom?  Given differential birthrates, Catholics seem headed to become a majority in NI as well.

Most of the city centre is Catholic, and unlike Belfast it is not difficult to imagine Derry rather easily being swallowed up by the Republic of Ireland, some of which even lies to the north of Derry.

I went to see where Bloody Sunday occurred in 1972, and it shocked me how small the “contested territory” is/was.  It feels as if you can count each and every home, and one’s mind starts wandering to the Coase Theorem and Hong Kong real estate billionaires and Special Enterprise Zones.

Real estate in Northern Ireland seems dramatically underpriced, though along a thirty-year rather than a ten-year time horizon.  But should you buy closer to Belfast?

In some ways Derry reminded me of parts of West Virginia, including the Scots-Irish faces, the bygone glories, and also the “every family has an addiction” signs in the center of town.

One hundred years ago, in 1921, who would have thought that joining with the Irish Republic would lead to more prosperity than joining with Britain?  Therein lies a cautionary note for us all.

The Ford F-150: An Electric Vehicle for Red America

The Ford F-150 truck has been America’s best selling vehicle for forty years! (Bubble test: Do you own one or know someone who does?) The new version, the F-150 Lightning, goes into production in 2022 and it’s electric. Even today there is still the whiff of “liberal America” around electric vehicles but what’s impressive about the Lightning isn’t that it’s electric, it’s that it’s a better truck. The Lightning, for example, can power a home and work appliances from its 11 outlets including a 240 volt outlet! Look at this brilliant ad campaign:

Security and peace of mind are invaluable during severe weather and unpredictable events. That’s why Ford helps ensure you never have to worry about being left in the dark…

Security, peace of mind, don’t be left alone in the dark…all great conservative selling points. Note the truck in the picture is powering the house and the chain saw. The husband and wife, their home and their truck, project independence, success and confidence–a power couple–even with a nod to diversity.

The Lightning is also fast with 0-60mph times in line with those of a Porsche 911 circa 2005, it has more carrying capacity (thanks to the smaller electric motors) than a similar gas vehicle, and it can tow a respectable maximum of 10,000 pounds with all the options.

The Lightning might succeed or it might fail but it won’t fail on politics, this is a vehicle a red-blooded, meat-eating skeptic of global warming could love.

Ocean Grove, New Jersey travel notes

Having not visited the New Jersey shore since I was a kid (and then a very regular visitor), I realized you cannot actually swim there with any great facility.  Nor is there much to do, nor should one look forward to the food.

Nonetheless Ocean Grove is one of America’s finest collections of Victorian homes, and the town style is remarkably consistent and intact.  Most of all, it is an “only in America” kind of place:

Ocean Grove was founded in 1869 as an outgrowth of the camp meeting movement in the United States, when a group of Methodist clergymen, led by William B. Osborn and Ellwood H. Stokes, formed the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to develop and operate a summer camp meeting site on the New Jersey seashore. By the early 20th century, the popular Christian meeting ground became known as the “Queen of Religious Resorts.” The community’s land is still owned by the camp meeting association and leased to individual homeowners and businesses. Ocean Grove remains the longest-active camp meeting site in the United States.

The pipe organ in the 19th century Auditorium is still one of the world’s twenty largest.

Ocean Grove, New Jersey - Wikipedia

The Auditorium is closed at the moment, but they still sing gospel music on the boardwalk several times a night.

The police department building is merged together with a Methodist church, separate entrances but both under the same roof.

Ocean Grove remains a fully dry city, for the purpose of “keeping the riff-raff out,” as one waitress explained to me.  To walk up the Ocean Grove boardwalk into nearby Asbury Park (Cuban and Puerto Rican and Haitian in addition to American black) remains a lesson in the economics of sudden segregation, deliberate and otherwise.

Based on my experience as a kid, I recall quite distinct “personae” for the adjacent beach towns of Asbury Park, Ocean Grove, Bradley Beach, Seaside Heights, Lavalette, Belmar, Spring Lake, and Point Pleasant.  This time around I did not see much cultural convergence.  That said, Ocean Grove now seems less the province of the elderly and more of a quiet upscale haunt, including for gay couples.  As an eight-year-old, it was my least favorite beach town on the strip.  Fifty years later, it is now striking to me how much the United States is refusing to be all smoothed over and homogenized.

The merit of Mount Rushmore

I went there once, I think in 1988.  To me it was a nightmare, aesthetically and otherwise.  The art of the monument was “not even as good as fascism.”  (Various Soviet-era memorials are far superior as well.)  I am not into the whole cancelling thing, but I didn’t feel I needed to pay additional homage to a bunch of well-known presidents.  The surrounding food scene appeared quite mediocre, although probably that has improved.  Overall it was crowded, tacky, and unpleasant, with absolutely nothing of value to do.

The main value of the scene was to liberate space and ease congestion in other parts of the universe, so I certainly hope they never abolish it.