PFB Latin American Awards 2014 – Part 2

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So, here it is: the second and final instalment of our much-awaited PFB awards. As always, the judges were forced to make tough decisions, but after much chopsying we have a field of gert lush winners for your reading pleasure, so yer tiz … sorry, we’ve been living in the Forest of Dean for a few weeks. Roll VT!

BEST STAY

Honourable Mention: NM Lima Hotel, Peru

Whilst NM Lima is unfortunately ineligible for a Golden Prawn on account of being a four star ‘boutique-business’ hotel, and definitely not your typical accommodation for Latin American travelers, we did however want to give a big shout out to its staff, who over a stressful Christmas 2013 looked after your tired and emotional correspondents (perhaps more so after a couple of their very strong complimentary Pisco Sours). They were charming and knowledgeable in equal measure, going out of the way to welcome us in and help us out when everything else was shut. Further gratitude is due to The Very Reverend and Most Excellent Stephen Smalley, who stepped in to cover Prawns For Breakfast’s slightly alarming expense account. (Well, we are pikey travellers in desperate need of a bath, after all).

Runner-up: Refugio El Padrino, Puerto Williams, Chile

We also decided our Best Stay award had to go to a hostel in the true sense of the word, because this would be most representative of the places we stayed in during most of our trip (unfortunately there is no space for a couchsurfing award on these pages, but we thoroughly recommend it to anyone planning to travel South America). But the worthy recipient of a ‘Best Patron Vibes’ gong would without a doubt be Cecilia Mancilla Oyarzun, owner of the tiny woodcabin refuge El Padrino in Puerto Williams, the town at the end of the world. As we wrote at the time, “from the moment Cecilia met us at the airport, giving us warm hugs as if we were old friends, to bundling us into her 4WD, where we were squeezed up next to some fellow guests, to the beers she gave us as soon as we got in, we knew we were going to feel at home at El Padrino.” Those days will stay in our memory for a very long time: the days may have been cold and the digs basic, but the reception was nothing short of magnificent.

Cecilia, you're breaking our hearts

Cecilia, you’re breaking our hearts

Best Stay

Best Stay

Winner: Hostal Pagalu, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

When we visited Costa Rica in November 2013, we weren’t very kind to it. So, to make amends, we felt it should be the recipient of one of our Golden Prawns, and here it is. Pagalu, in the sprawling tourist beach town of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast, is the model of what all hostels in Latin America should aspire to. Purposely designed with light, airy, mosquito-proof dorms built on two floors around a large, comfortable lobby area, the hostel is both spotlessly clean and filled with little touches to make the weary traveler’s day easier, like backpack-sized lockers and bed-side fans, charging points and, thank God, reading lights. A large and well stocked open-plan kitchen and plenty of outdoor chill-out areas between the two buildings made for many a night of cooking, chatting and making merry. As a TripAdvisor reviewer surmised, because the knowledgeable and hands-on owners clearly care for the hostel and their guests, their guests care for the hostel (in fact, Pagalu seems to attract the best travellers). Tip: If you are planning on visiting Puerto Viejo, get here early as they don’t take reservations and always book up fast. JS

 

WORST IN-COUNTRY JOURNEY

Runner up: Shuttle bus from San Pedro La Laguna to Guatemala City, Guatemala

There were many, many things that made this trip awful. Driving around Antigua to pick up two American guys who had got so drunk the night before they hadn’t packed their stuff in time and had to taxi to an unscheduled pick up point so they could hurl themselves and their collection of overflowing bags onto the already cramped bus. Sharing our bus with said Americans, two of the most truly revolting people we’ve ever met in our lives, who spent the entire trip offering to show fellow travellers phone snaps of their female conquests during their time working as bar tenders in the city, boasting of still being drunk from the previous night’s adventures and casually waving a whip around whilst wondering loudly whether they could get it through customs. All our bags getting soaked as we drove through Guatemala City’s nightmarish traffic in a rainstorm shouting at the driver until he pulled over and put the tarpaulin on the roof. Getting to the bus station late and missing our connecting bus to El Salvador… I could go on but I won’t. Just trust me, it was bad.

Worst In-Country Journey

Worst Journey

Winner: Buses (and hikes) from Salento to Popoyan, Colombia

This Golden Prawn goes to a truly epic journey that saw us at the mercy of Colombia’s rainy season. We’d been staying at La Serana hostel in Salento, a town in Colombia’s ‘Coffee Triangle’. Part one of our mission involved getting from the hostel to the town square. This should have been a simple journey in one of the jeeps that serve as taxis in this area. Today we weren’t so lucky as recent rains had rendered the road into town impassable. Our only option was to walk, loaded down with our backpacks, slipping and sliding our way down the mired road so we could make our connecting bus. Bus caught, an hour later we pulled into the nearby city of Armenia. But the journey wasn’t over then, oh no. We hopped on to our second bus which was due to take us all the way to Popayan in the east of the country, only it didn’t. After more bumpy cramped hours of travelling we pulled into the city of Cali where we were told we were changing to a smaller, more rickety minibus. We finally arrived in Popayan at 8.00 that night, tired, hungry and in the middle of a tropical rainstorm with no taxis to be seen. When Jovian repaired at a delapidated fast food shack at the terminal to scoff dirty fried chicken, we’d officially reached a nadir. There was nothing we could do to make it bettter apart from get to our hostel as quickly as possible, another 20 minute walk away, in the pelting rain, with our backpacks on. A truly horrible travelling experience. CR

BEST BREAKFAST OR BRUNCH

Runner-up: Hippie Burrito with hash brown – Café Atitlan, San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

Ahh, Café Atitlan, a favourite hang-out for the rag-tag bunch of traveller students at Cooperativa Spanish School in San Pedro La Laguna.  In the afternoons we would wander there to do our homework over a cup of coffee made (unusually) from 100% pure Guatemalan coffee beans. Much later we might pop in after a few wind-down beverages to feast on deep fried banana with ice cream (the most indulgent post-drinking snack ever created). And on Saturday mornings, we would often nurse our aching heads with some of the biggest and best brunches we have sampled in Latin America. Filling porridge with cinnamon and banana, omelettes with homemade bread and waffles with fresh fruit – and of course the mighty Elvis – all featured, but in runner up position to this prestigious award, Clare nominated the Hippie Burrito, packed to the max with eggs, roasted red peppers, caramelised onions, zucchini and black beans, topped with avocado, tomato salsa and cheese. Yum squared.

Worst In-Country Journey

Best Breakfast

Winner: Set Breakfast no. 1 – La Fortaleza, San Carlos, Nicaragua

Between the two continents, Central America won the coveted breakfast category hands-down, with strong challenges from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. The majority of nominations were for well-known traveller joints who served up killer set breakfasts with all the bells, whistles and syrups. But in the end it was a softly spoken entry from an otherwise forgettable Nicaraguan border-town that won the judges’ hearts. Whilst the early morning ferries were readying to leave, La Fortaleza in San Carlos on Lake Nicaragua simply and quietly set about serving up the most satisfying –  and best value – start to the day that Prawns For Breakfast experienced (and believe us, by the time we’d got there, we were in dire need of a wake-up call). So Jovian had no qualms about nominating their Number 1 for our number 1 slot: hot, fresh tortillas, a big pile of perfectly scrambled eggs, creamy white cheese, spicy sausage and a magnificent mountain of Nicaragua’s go-to carb side: gallo pinto (rice and beans). Oo baby, that really hit the spot. JS

Guatemalan Breakfast of Champions

Guatemalan Breakfast of Champions

FAVOURITE MEAL

Runner up: Menu del Dia at a random family restaurant on the main plaza in Cabrera, Colombia 

This was the most homespun eating experience we had in our whole trip. This little restaurant was housed in humble surroundings behind the town’s grocery store cum bar and we were its first customers of the day. The dining room was actually the back yard of the house, complete with a family bathroom that doubled as the restaurant toilet in one corner, herbs sprouting out of ramshackle pots and purple flowering creepers reaching skywards. The owner’s wife was working out of a tiny kitchen in one corner and boy were there some good smells coming out of it. There was no menu, we were simply served bowls of a steaming pasta and bean soup, full of herbs with a subtle meaty flavour, followed by fried chicken seasoned with subtle spices, lentils and vegetables with fluffy rice on the side. It may have been rustic,but it was a meal fit for kings.

Favourite Meal

Favourite Meal

Winner: Ceviche for Christmas Day lunch at La Mar Cebicheria, Lima, Peru

This was one of those rare times where nature colludes to give you an absolutely perfect day. The sun was out, the air was fresh (a miracle considering how polluted most South American cities are) and we managed to get a table at one of Lima’s hottest restaurants. So hot, in fact, it doesn’t take bookings, which if it was in London would mean at least an hour and a half’s wait in the pouring rain with a bunch of bearded hipsters all trying not to look like they’re bothered. At La Mar, they’ve thankfully got a rather excellent cocktail bar at the front of the restaurant so you get to have a decent drink while people watching. Once at our table, our waiter expertly guided us through the menu and helped us order the tastiest selection of raw fish we’ve eaten in our lives. In fact, it was so good, I’m thinking of having ceviche for Christmas every year from now on. CR

La Mar Cebicheria: the cure for Christmas abroard

La Mar Cebicheria: the cure for Christmas abroad

WILDEST RIDE

Runner-up: Catamaran from Puerto Lindo, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia

If you have a bit of cash saved and want to take an unforgettable two week holiday in Latin America, here is what you need to do: fly to Panama City, spend a few days checking out its cosmopolitan streets and tumbledown old town, then bus to the coast and pick up a boat sailing to beautiful, colourful Cartagena on the north coast of Colombia. It will take a bit of organising, and you must be prepared for the day and a half’s voyage across open waters, but the glittering prize of this trip will be three days traversing the Kuna Yala, or San Blas islands, a self-governed group of tropical islands that redefine the term ‘paradise’. Tiny mounds of pure white sand hosting a single palm tree, and some bigger islands hosting groups of travellers that row over to their beach bar, compete for your attention. Sun-bathe on the deck of your Catamaran, swim to your own personal island for the afternoon, snorkel amongst a multitude of tropical fish in HD reefs or drink Flor de Caña rum until the sun finally drops behind an endless horizon: the choice, as they say, is yours. There are few places more perfect on our little planet than the islands of San Blas.

Wildest Ride

Wildest Ride

Winner: 4WD jeep from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia

Our top Golden Prawn was hard to award, but ultimately the judges decided to hand it to a journey that was not only hauntingly spectacular, but truly wild. After a little hesitation (why?) we signed up to travel from tiny but touristy San Pedro, deep in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile, to Uyuni in Bolivia by 4WD jeep. It was a three day journey across hundreds of miles of mind-melting terrain: between copper coloured dunes punctured by volcanic rock which were said to inspire Salvador Dali, past thermal hot springs and bumbling, steaming geysers, around vast green and red-tinged lakes dotted with flamingos and finally over the largest salt flats in the world – the Salar de Uyuni. At over 4,000 square miles, broken only by a single, cactus-filled island and entirely flat, the Salar is beyond wild – it’s ethereal. Around thirty jeeps make this mental trip every day, for around US$150 (£88) per passenger at the time of writing. Some people have died attempting the crossing, so it goes without saying it’s worth shopping around for a reliable operator. But it’s an experience you won’t forget for the rest of your life, so don’t you dare think of missing it out. JS

Dawn rises over the Salar de Uynui as Clare and Jove's feet get a bit wet.

Dawn rises over the Salar de Uynui as Clare and Jove’s feet get a bit wet.

AND THAT’S ALL FOLKS! Prawns For Breakfast would like to extend its heartfelt thanks to regular readers, friends and family for supporting us on our trip of a lifetime and following us over the last year on this blog. We hoped you enjoyed reading it as much as we did writing it. Never give up on your dreams, tread lightly and always share your food. Oh, and don’t forget, if you are thinking about travelling this part of the world yourself, you can always contact us for tips and recommendations. Peace out – Clare and Jovian.

Prawns For Breakfast will be back.

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