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A visa run into Brazil from Colombia presented an irresistible opportunity to spend a couple of days exploring the rainforest. After cycling across the open frontier into Brazil and the police station at Tabatinga to stamp my passport, I steamed upriver into the Peruvian Amazon. Here’s some of what I saw.

Pink river dolphinsAmazon sunsetImagePiranha on the hook - fishing for piranha in the AmazonImageImageImageImageBaby cayman grabbed from the midnight waters of the Amazon

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Today is Día sin carro (Car-free Day) here in Bogotá, meaning that all private cars are banned from the roads during daylight hours.

The scheme’s been running since 2001 and by most estimates should take 1.5 million vehicles off the roads. While that excludes taxis and buses i.e. some of the more dangerous drivers and noxious vehicles, respectively, it must have a significant impact on overall levels of airborne nasties choking the city’s 9m residents.

A great idea: if only for one day.

Once a week would be a worthwhile experiment, but I suspect affluent/influential bogotanos‘ aversion to the oversubscribed public transport network makes it less than likely.

Reporteros Sin Fronteras / Reporters Without Borders has released its 2012 assessment of worldwide press freedom.

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It’s perhaps not surprising to see Colombia ranking a lowly 143 out of 179 countries polled given its simmering history of conflict – the lowest in South America by some margin – however the overall trend appears to be improving.

Notwithstanding, 130 violations of press freedom were recorded by FLIP, including two murders – this might compare favourably with the maelstrom of kidnappings and killings to the north, in Mexico and some other Central American countries, but it still doesn’t sit well with Colombia’s rehabilitated international image.

It’s still apparently much safer to be a Colombian periodista than político, however. Since I last put ink to screen, regional elections took place across the country (a corollary of which was a 48-hour ban on alcohol sales – we wisely stocked up and threw a party).

A staggering 41 candidates were assassinated during the electoral campaign, a figure not widely reported outside these borders.

Happier blogging to follow with written and photographic chronicles of my life, times and travels during my latest period of blog-neglect.

Cuídense.

I arrived in Bogotá two weeks ago today. I’m therefore overdue an update on the blog, as far as I can tell.

Arrival into the city on July 24th was marred only by the cringe-worthy efforts of one lone steward on Spirit Airlines. The embodiment of your downtrodden North American service sector worker, he’d grinned at me on boarding my connection from Fort Lauderdale with the detached leer of a man precipitously close to the edge.

As we taxied to the gate at El Dorado airport, he welcomed us to Bogotá with an unmistakably begrudging “we hope you’ve enjoyed your flight, and deplane with your spirit lifted and a song in your heart”. I’m certain I heard a sigh over the intercom at this point, fitting as it is with the wretched carp then breaking into song. Yes.

It seems he has form in this department – as evidenced here – and delirious as I was through my outlandish travel pattern, I just didn’t know  how to process it.

The colombianos sitting next to me eyed me with suspicion until I returned their baffled expression. The misery written all over the flight attendant‘s face for the duration of the flight made the ostensibly cheery lyrics drip with acerbic bile.

The whole episode was both unexpected and, in retrospect, very funny.

I’d recommend flying Spirit just on the off-chance you get attended on by the singing steward with the black countenance of a grieving codfish.

Central to my brief stopover in New York City was the much-lauded foodie tour of the Greenwich Village offered by foodsofny.com.

Savouring local cuisine ranks amongst my absolute favourite aspects of travel, so you can imagine my eager anticipation (stoked in no small way by exemplary TripAdvisor reviews) as I zeroed in on Bleecker Street in the West Village to meet my guide and fellow epicurious tourists. I should say that I’m pleased to share my account of what was to follow with my sister’s blog of her own food infatuation in London, kitchen island dreams. She was inordinately envious of the tour so it’s only fair she gets an early mention!

Our guide, Kurt, immediately set our group of 16 food explorers at ease, and proved an energetic, entertaining and knowledgeable guide to the area and its culinary offerings throughout the three hours of the tour.

First stop proper was Joe’s Pizza on Carmine Street for a slice of Joe’s speciality for the past 35 years. The base was judiciously thin and crisp, the topping an unassuming but studied margherita. In fact, I noted that the entire menu was rather minimalist. It couldn’t be further away from the ‘more is better’, dozen-topping culture more familiar to me, and popular amongst the multinational pizza chains. Joe clearly believes in keeping things simple: it pays off. Peter Parker worked here for a bonus point.

We then ambled back to boutique food store O & Co. for a taste of their own brand of first-/cold-pressed extra virgin. Why wait until everyone else has had their fun with the olives? Fantastic stuff as you’d imagine. Unbeknownst to us, the second taster had been sprinkled with what may be the closest things we earthlings have to crystallised angel tears. White truffle salt. Truly phenomenal.

As we dipped in and out of the local establishments throughout the tour, Kurt assailed and regaled us with a mix of local  history and culture to illustrate the scene. As an example, Stefani Germanotta waited on tables at our next destination until his meteoric rise to fame. [allegedly]

Palma. We were ushered through the small rustic dining area and courtyard and into the rear kitchen on the ground floor of the restaurateur’s family home. Once again simplicity was the order of the day, and Kurt was soon spooning out a dish so easy to make you wonder why you hadn’t discovered it before. Tiny cauliflower florets, pine nuts, breadcrumbs and finely chopped parsley came together to form something far greater than the sum of their humble parts. My relationship with cauliflower is often begrudging at best due to my tendency to over-/under-cook it: this dish of fragmented florets (key to a consistent al dente) may just herald a new dawn, a thawing of the frost in cauli-Dan relations. Moving on…

Faicco! Not Italian profanity but a superlatively equipped Italian charcuterie back on Bleecker Street. We only wandered in to gawk at the sheer array of pork produce on display and to nibble on a prosciutto ball (superb) but you’d be hard pressed to find a better selection of Italian sausage and other porcine sundries from the Old Country at what seemed to my eye, unexpectedly reasonable prices for an area that’s so gentrified it hurts. But my head was swamped with krona and pesos, as well as dollars, pounds and ounces, so who knows?

We traversed Seventh Avenue in short shrift as the call of a heat tempering drink beckoned. Centro Vinoteca was our next port of call and it served up a few canapés to accompany their entirely guilt-free 3pm cocktails. Figs wrapped in bacon, artichoke topped with razor-thin parmesan and an as-yet unidentifiable third, mystery (delicious) canapé jostled for palate supremacy with a Long Island Iced Tea. Outside, the heat still radiating from sky above and pavement below made this respite seem like an indulgence. It felt like it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Savoury yielded effortlessly to sweet as we rounded the corner to the soporifically named Milk & Cookies for a bite of the latter. Melt-in-the-mouth doesn’t begin to describe their oatmeal cookie, but it’s a start.

By now, the food trajectory had locked onto its final target of a probable afternoon snooze, and we pressed on for our cheese course back at Murray’s. Not before a stop at the narrowest house in New York City (9 feet wide and a snip at just $2.7m) and the “off-off-BroadwayCherry Lane Theatre for some local infotainment from Kurt.

Murray’s cheese counter is a sight to behold: Kurt confidently assured us the staff were conversant in the qualities and food pairings of all 300-400 cheeses on offer. We tried but a handful from Europe and the States, and greatly appreciated they were too as counterpoint to the fondly lingering cookie!

I, for one, was well on my way to food and culture surfeit by this stage, so fortunately our last stop was just the shortest of waddles across Bleecker Street. Scali Caffé is the easy-going, Village outlet for a couple of chefs with much more expensive Italian restaurants uptown (Il Postino and Scalinatella) so we were briefed to expect the best. The offering was pitched at just the right level: a sliver of cheesecake so  miraculously light that only Kurt’s repeated exhortations that it wasn’t some eggy flan in disguise could make me believe otherwise.

The tour was priced at $50 from foodsofny.com, and I would highly recommend this or another of their many food-inspired tours on the back of what was a great experience one sultry afternoon in Manhattan. Thanks to Kurt and the many food impresarios we encountered along the way.