Sunday, February 24, 2013

Travel and Living in Colombia: Honey, Look What's Crossing the Road

Danger: Gecarcinus ruricola Ahead

"What's that?" I asked my wife.


"Look ahead there. Can you see that?"

"I see it. What are they?" She asked staring more closely at the crawling masses in front of us.

Hordes of something moving littered the road. I realized what they were and hit the brakes.

The SUV had an anti-skid braking system. So when I slammed on the brakes in disbelief of what we saw in front of us, I didn't lose control. There were hundreds of them. They crawled slowly, almost in unison, in their annual migration across the main coast road to the waiting waves of the sea. Many would meet the jaws of hungry predators. Whether to lay eggs or to escape rain-flooded burrows, they swarmed across the blacktop en masse. In places, it's a mere forty yards or so which must be traversed by the migratory decapods. The annual crossing is both a blessing and curse for residents of the San Andres Islands of Colombia. The three islands, San Andres, Providence and Santa Catalina, experience a similar inundation of the Black land crab known as Gecarcinus ruricola each year. During the April to June migration period, if a heavy rain falls, the affected streets and roads may become impassible for days due to the sheer numbers of crustaceans blanketing the asphalt in their tirade to the Caribbean Sea.

Travel and Living in Colombia

There are many facets to travel and living in Colombia. Among those is a grand variety of foods based on regional tastes. What Colombians eat in one region of the country may be vastly different to local fare in other regions. Even adjoining regions may have few commonalities. But when you travel from the Colombian mainland halfway across the Caribbean, you should expect a completely new venue of foods and staples. Luckily, you won't be disappointed. The archipelago of San Andres, with its cadre of three islands lies about 200 kilometers off the coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea. As one might expect, local fare is based on seafood of many types which is available cheaply year-round. While a plethora of salt water species abound as table fare, it's the annual migration of land crabs which precipitate a regional specialty - Black Crab Soup. You can get Black crabs for the soup almost all year except for the banned egg-laying period from April first to June first when harvesting them is prohibited. "Other times of year they're really cheap and lots of families make crab soup" says Sonia Harrington, a local cook known for her crab soup among numerous other island specialty dishes.

San Andres Island Crab Soup

A virtual smorgasbord of fresh ingredients the soup is slow-cooked in a large pot over a wood fire, typically outdoors, weather permitting. While she refused to divulge the complete recipe for her Black crab soup version, the essential ingredients were fresh staples including:

- potatoes

- sweet potatoes

- onions

- green plantain

- green peppers

- pork stock

- a combination of locally available herbs and spices

- salted pig tail, and of course,

- fresh Black crabs

She placed a large serving bowl full of the soup in front of me. Just the aroma drove my senses wild.

"Where are the smaller bowls for each person?" I asked.

"No, that bowl is just for you" she answered smiling.

Looking down at an ocean of thick rich soup, I thought, "There's no way I can eat all this". I thanked her and dug in. After nearly an hour I gave up. All that remained were a few pieces of plantain. I surprised myself but was as stuffed as a Thanksgiving Turkey. The soup was that good.

Another San Andres Archipelago Specialty

Another peculiar specialty developing in San Andes and Providence is fresh cooked Lionfish or Pterois (Pterois radiata, Pterois volitans or Pterois miles). Often seen as an aquarium species, the beautiful, delicate-looking but deadly Lionfish is making an entrance as a gourmet dish available in the Pacific and the Caribbean. Its spines are highly venomous and its venom painful to endure, but it is flavorful and unique as a dining experience.

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