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COLOMBIA | Sunday, 8 January 2006 | Views [1168]

The 'mercado', or 'market' is my favourite place of the lot. I want to hold a barbeque for all the family, to thank them for their kindness and hospitality before I leave. They do not own a grill and the 'cheap', tin, imported jobbies at the home and garden center start at about one hundred US dollars for anything near a suitable size. Armed with a rough drawing I went down to the Mercado to see if they can knock something up for me, I'd seen them burning off oil drums on the other side of the filthy little river that sub-divides the market, and sure enough I got one made to measure for about 20 dollars, plus the taxi fare for Carlos when he dropped it off for me later that same day. That's about 20 euros for an oil-drum sized barbeque grill with a lid, delivered to the house. I call that a bargain. It did cost me a further sack of charcoal and a day's supervision to burn the thing off. It took about 8 hours to stop smoking but barring anything radioactive,(dammit I knew I should have packed a geiger-counter), the thing burns hot and clean and I'm as pleased as punch with it.
The variety of herbs, fruit and veg alone were well worth the trip. Add to that the variety of fish, many species of which I have yet to identify, and any amount of croaked and butchered exotic fauna. (To my delight I learned that they spit-roast guinea pigs here, which must surely be of equal delight to anyone who has raised daughters beyond teenage, and has had to put up with this skittish little stinkers as pets for any length of time).  Without gloating I would say however that they are delicious and make much better meals than housemates.
Anyway. Digression. I managed to purchase a couple of carrier-bags full of HOT chillies which are conspicuous by their abscence in the supermarkets. The hot sauce they sell over the counter as "muy pikante" isn't even as challenging as Listerine. So determined to make a concoction of my own I spent the night frying them up with about ten big onions, a lump of ginger as plump as Quasimodo's fist, and more garlic than I can remember. When they were fried blackish red in the oil I pureed the whole issue in a food processor; leaving me a chili paste that compares very, very favourably with a Sambal Badjak. You can say goodbye to any unpleasant build-up of viscous bodily slime layers that this stuff touches. It will strip your tubes from tongue to anus allowing the new, purged you, a warm glowing space in which to be reborn. I have a few culinary scores to settle. This should do the trick. For better or worse I hope to be long remembered in Colombia.
While acquiring my peppers have also got my hands on some strange looking local fruit that I have yet to try: Curubas, Granadilla and Tomate de arboles. Watch this space.
After celebrating my purchases in the shade of Carlos's Ironmongers I was privileged enough to be allowed to photograph the Owl,or Lechuza, which perches outside the shop,and is something of a local wonder. Amazingly it just sits there all day, flying off to hunt at night and returning faithfully each day to the buzzing market and it's perch in the low branches, easily within reach of humans. Carlos and the neighbour were enterprising enough to make a calender and are trying to give the owl some cult-like status that will hopefully bring devotees flocking to the shrine from far and near. They were a little concerned that I might use a flash and scare away their little golden-egg laying protégée. It wasn't fazed by me in the least. After our photo session, and the lads extracting from me the promise I would put the photo on the Internet, I wobbled off homeward leaving them as pleased with their owl as I was with my newly acquired barbeque grill.
Life can be a bountiful business.
(P.S. If you are in Barranquirra visit Ferretaria Carlos Diaz on the market and enjoy the opportunity to see Lechuza Rafita. Promise fulfilled. Salud Carlos.)

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