Organica en El Cielo

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When my friend Christy came to visit, back in June and but a few months after the move here, her initial impression was one of shock; she stood in wonder at how American the city of Bogota felt. And I had to second that observation. The cars are US-sized: no chic, miniature Euro machines here. Modern architecture abounds: sleek glass windows, clean lines, plenty of metal and brick. Traffic, smog, trendy fashions and bustling sidewalks are all reminiscent of big cities back home.

I think Christy was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more of an authentic, foreign feel. Where were all the Latin-American tells? The overflowing fruit stands, homemade signage, horseback travelers, mobile mariachi bands? Look, I know this isn’t Mexico. But surely somewhere, some things must be Colombian-originals?

When you live in a place, you’re often oblivious to or apathetic about its best attributes. I don’t know how many Coloradans I’ve met who never once set ski boot down in the mountains. It’s a lot. Or how many Austinites have yet to experience SXSW. Or how many Waco-natives have never… well… I guess that’s where the analogy goes quiet. Though a mighty few seem to know what a historic piece that suspension bridge is.

For myself, I had no idea La Calera was the legit deal, just a forty minute drive out of Bogota, up the mountains and down into a  valley of tourist-town, yes, but also real, I’m-in-a-new-country-now Colombia. We went on Saturday to check out Organica en El Cielo, advertised as a restaurant/picnic/garden/kid-friendly activity experience. The pictures online enticed: all-white wood walls, ceiling and furniture inside a dining room seamlessly blending rustic and formal elements. It reminds me of Beatrice & Woodsley in Denver. I’m an ambience girl, and this place screamed awesome.

As I’m coming to expect here, pictures undersell the reality. El Cielo is the perfect spot for any afternoon gathering. We pulled up and a young lad helped us park, right in front of a large, blooming garden. He led the way up a little rock walkway to the restaurant’s outside dining area – refinished and painted wooden picnic tables on clean green grass beneath a canopy slatted to let plenty of sun in. Music playing (I heard Jack Johnson for the first time in years. It is the soundtrack for weekend living), breeze blowing, Rose wine. I mean, this place was perfect.

Organica en el Cielo

My fish – cooked on a plantain, in a plantain leaf – was delicious, but I kind of wish we’d gone for the picnic order. They bring it to you in a great, weaved basket. Red-checkered blanket included. Thank you! Next time, that’s the ticket. And because the weather was gorgeous, no one opted for indoor seating, though I took a peek around, and the space is every bit as fabulous as the internet would have you believe.

We hiked up to take in the view of La Calera’s man-made lake, though the opposite vista, showcasing the mountainside and its grazing cows, was much better. That is, if you ignored the massive cement factory to the right. It’s quite the photo-bomb. Thankfully, it’s not visible at all from the rest of El Cielo below, where you can stroll through the garden, set up for a rousing croquet match, or partake of this bizarre game (native to Colombia: win!) called Tejo. It involves throwing a puck/disc onto a dirt-covered board that has gunpowder, somewhere, which causes an explosion-sound, if you’re being successful. It’s weird.

Which El Cielo is not. It’s beautiful. It’s idyllic. I can’t imagine a better spot to relax with friends and family. The atmosphere begs you to dive into the present, take in the extraordinary scenery and bask in a peaceful hiatus from city-living. Heavenly? Why yes.

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