Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Our Pilgrimage To Buga, Colombia

Most people who visit Buga, Colombia go to see the famous Basilica del Señor de los Milagros. The city receives over 3 million pilgrims per year. Within a few blocks of the basilica, you arrive to a sea of vendors trying to sell all manner of religious paraphernalia - crosses, Jesus paintings, figurines, rosary beads, the list goes on.

Basilica del Señor de los Milagros

We visited Buga with a different sort of pilgrimage in mind.  When we arrived to Colombia almost 2 months prior, we had marked on our map in bold letters, "Beer!", for the town of Buga. We had read about The Holy Water Ale Cafe from fellow overlanders. They brew their own beer and serve it along with homemade bread and pizza. Let me repeat that - homemade beer, bread, and pizza.

Coming from Portland, Oregon (or Ann Arbor, Michigan for that matter) has put us at a severe disadvantage for being able to enjoy ordinary beer. We are, without a doubt, serious beer snobs. Latin America just doesn't do beer very well. If you want some watery, weird-tasting beer that's likely made with sugar and corn, then you're in luck. And don't tell me that I should try Club Colombia Roja.

We arrived to Buga in the afternoon, and parked pretty far out of town, just in case the parking situation in the center was tricky. We walked about a mile to reach the basilica, and around the corner, we found The Holy Water Ale Cafe. We were anxiously skeptical about the whole situation. We had built this up for 2 months and hundreds of miles. How could it possibly live up to our expectations?

This is me, saying, "yessssssssssssssss"

The Holy Water Ale Cafe did not disappoint! We were worried that the micro-brewed beer was going to put a dent in our wallet, but we were prepared to shell out the big bucks. As it turned out, each glass of beer was only ~$2 USD!!! Instead of waiting for dinner, we had our first few rounds in the afternoon, with plans to return for dinner. They didn't serve pizza during the day, so we shared a curry chicken sandwich with a side of baba ghanoush.  We buzzed and bloated ourselves with a few glasses of absolutely delicious IPA and a good red ale too.

Beer and sammie

So happy to be drinking a delicious IPA straight from the tap

We spent the next few hours trying to find a decent place to camp near the center of town. Other overlanders had suggested that we could park in a big dirt lot near the police station or at the large parking lot at the fire station. The policeman called his boss and gave us a thumbs up. Then, he walked back across the street and said no. We have no idea what happened in the intervening 10 seconds. There was no confusion with the fireman. He said no as if it was ridiculous to even ask.

With no other options, we decided to pay to park in a guarded and walled lot, right at the basilica. When we drove in, we asked if we could park overnight, and asked how much it would cost. The total for the entire stay was to be $8 USD - not bad.

We hung out in the truck for a couple of hours letting the beer and sammy settle in our stomachs. We even showered and spent some time online. As the sun set, we locked up the truck, and headed back to The Holy Water Ale Cafe. We had assumed that it was clear that we were "living" in our truck. We were surprised when we exited the fortressed lot, that one of the kids, who was presumably one of the guards, told us we could not sleep in our truck. In a panic, I said in my crappy Spanish, "we will return in a couple of hours, will you be open?" That got him off our back until we could figure out where we were going to park for the night.

This picture is for my dad. It's the view from the balcony of the brewery (during the day). Slightly different electrical codes in this part of the world, huh?

In our haste, we only
 bought one of the these to go.
How could we be so stupid!?
Unfortunately, this bit of information ruined our evening. We were completely worried about where we would park for the night. Over beer and pizza (delicious, btw) and a liter of IPA to go (why, oh why did we only get one?!), we concocted a few different stories that might enable us to sleep in the lot for the night. Scott's idea: "we're going out dancing later." Never mind that it was a weekday and we had no idea where we would've gone "dancing". More preposterous, is that we've never "gone out dancing" together in our lives! My idea: "We aren't sleeping. We will leave soon" - meaning we would sleep and leave "soon", as in, the morning. Both of these options were pretty lame.

Around 9 pm, we headed to the lot. After a short pause before the gate where we tried to get our story straight, we nonchalantly walked through the gate, past the sleeping guard dog (a yellow lab), and also past the guy lounging in the "guard's" office. We whispered while we were in the truck and never turned on a light. Did we actually just sneak back to the truck? We weren't sure. Maybe the guard saw us, but didn't want to make a fuss?

The next morning, we started the truck up and drove towards the gate. The 2 young guys manning the gate couldn't believe we had "snuck" back to our truck and slept in it. We mostly understood their body language (rather then their Spanish). They were dying with laughter. Something about "dormiendo" with tons of belly aching laughs. I guess we did in fact "sneak" back to our truck.

In retrospect, we are totally bummed that the parking/camping situation was so inhospitable in Buga. If we had been assured that we could sleep in our truck, we would've had much more fun. Regardless, The Holy Water Ale Cafe is a worthy pilgrimage for any beer lover.

1 comment:

Ron said...

Great post! We plan on making our exit from Corporate America in early 2017. Never too early to plan… been following a few Overlander threads. Thanks for the beer post. My biggest worry has been not being able to find a “Proper Ale” down there. I guess I will be stocking up in Buga when I get there. IPA me please.