It was after midnight, and our plane was having trouble negotiating the dense clouds sitting in the high mountain valley of Quito, Ecuador. One pass, then another, then one more, all proved too risky to attempt landing. The pilot's voice carried through the cabin, a reluctant recognition of defeat - we were being diverted. To Cali, Colombia.
Cali, Colombia? At the time, all I knew of it was a vague association with drugs - the Cali Cartel, cocaine, violence. We arrived to a nearly deserted airport in the dark of night, and the thought of actually experiencing this city didn't even cross my mind. I was concerned about the safety of my family, my young kids, my wife. I didn't view our pit stop as an opportunity, but rather a potentially dangerous distraction away from our desired destination.
Which brings me to Anthony Bourdain's new show, Parts Unknown. This past week, Bourdain brought us into a Colombia that I wasn't aware of at the time. A place of beauty, music, fascinating food, welcoming people. Had I seen that episode before our unexpected stop in Cali a few years ago, how would our experience have changed? Would we still peer out the windows of the taxi into the dark night with eyes focused on potential points of peril? Would we still have hunkered down around the hotel, hesitant to venture out into the city? Or would we have embraced the chance for a quick dip into Colombia's culture?
After a four hour sleep, we awoke to views of the lush green hills around us. The hotel staff downstairs welcomed us with coffee and assured us that the neighborhood around us was safe. We cautiously explored the market and mall next to our hotel, which appeared to be Cali's equivalent of Phipps Plaza, full of fashionable shops and a few interesting looking local restaurants. The thought that Cali might be worth exploring tugged at me, but I felt anchored by the need to stay close to our hotel, to get back to the airport, not knowing exactly when our flight would take off for Quito.
On the ride back to the airport, we caught quick glimpses of churches, plazas, large open-air parillas with massive grills surely cooking up deliciously smoky meats. The city soon turned to open fields, sugar cane by the looks of it. We passed a crude roadside stand roasting a whole hog. My foodie Spidey sense tingled, and I looked longingly out the back window of the taxi, hoping we'd come across another similar stand where I could ask the taxi driver to pull over for a quick taste. But the airport soon arrived, and I was left mostly with a sense of regret. It wasn't only the missed opportunity for roadside porky goodness, but the realization that we surely could have done more with our time in Cali. We could have embraced the unknown.
Parts Unknown is Anthony Bourdain's new show that essentially continues where No Reservations left off - an engaging mix of food and culture and politics and adventure in locales from Colombia to Quebec to L.A.'s Koreatown, shot and edited by some of the most talented folks on TV. You can, and should, watch it Sundays at 9pm on CNN. You never know when your path may take you to an unexpected place.
@TheGorgeousJR: "[It is] very inexpensive; we sell it at the shop. You can get it…
Where can you buy caul fat?
This looks amazing. However, I see a bell pepper on the counter, and bell pepper…
Love pork belly.
Some food just doesn't photograph well, even if it is tasty.
Nothing wrong with grease on the walls if the burger is tasty.