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There's a natural park just 30 minutes outside of Bogotá where you can enjoy one of Colombia's most beautiful ecosystems. It's called Chicaque and it was founded in 1990 thanks to private conservation efforts. The most suprising (and saddest) fact is that only 4% of Colombia's "Andean Cloud Forest", like this one, still exists. Over the years people have destroyed it to clear land for grazing and growing potatoes.
In a single day you can hike some of the 18 km (11 miles) of nature trails, go on a horesback riding trip, or do some bird watching, among other outdoorsy activities. We arrived at the park at around 11am and decided to take a precolombian path which was used by the Muisca and Panche indigenous groups, and later on by the Spanish.
Sure enough, we walked through the clouds for most of the hike, taking in the lush vegetation and oak trees that are nearly 60 feet tall. The park's web page has a picture of a sloth but I didn't see a single one, and believe me I was looking! Maybe next time...
When we finally reached El Refugio (after having descended more than 2,000 feet) it was time for lunch and the hike had definitely opened our appetites. The restaurant at El Refugio was full but we found a table quickly and had a delicious local arepa (made with white corn flour and cheese), grilled trout with potatoes (papa salada), green plantains (patacones), fresh hot sauce (ají), and tree tomato juice (tomate de árbol).
Over the last year I've been doing my best to summon the mountaineer in me. Inevitably, on each hike (Chicaque included) my biggest concern is what I'm going to eat on the trail. One of my favorite recipes for this kind of trip are these Banana Oat Bars; healthy, easy to make and with a Colombian touch - sweetened with panela and drinking chocolate.
Oatmeal Banana Bars
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease a baking dish (about 9x9 inches) with a little oil or butter.
Peel the bananas, place them in a bowl and use the back of a fork to mash them up until they are almost pureed and almost liquid.
Add the oatmeal, salt, panela, chocolate and nuts, and mix well. Transfer mixture to the prepared baking dish, spreading it out evenly and pressing it down into the mold so it's compact and of even thickness.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until edges start to turn golden.
Remove from the oven and let cool. Cut into bars. Once they are cool, store them in an airtight container.
Note: you can substitute the nuts and chocolate with raisins, dates, grated coconut, etc. Whatever you have on hand!