Buga is a Colombian town that gets lots of visitors for several reasons.
First, it’s directly between Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, and the stunningly beautiful mountains of Colombia’s Coffee Triangle area, a place that lots of people like to visit.
Second, it’s the home of an incredibly popular site for religious pilgrimages, the Basilica del Señor de los Milagros. The Basilica is home to an image of Christ called the Lord of Miracles, or El Señor de los Milagros. Three million people a year visit the Basilica.
Of course, the attractions for expats are of a more practical sort. The pretty colonial city (home to 100,000 people) boasts daily high temperatures of about 80 F. It’s a relaxed place, where children play in the town plaza, university students chat in relaxed cafes, and old men talk at length and at ease.
And if you’ve ever dreamed of owning a colonial home, $100,000 will buy you a large property with a backyard or courtyard in the historic district.
All great reasons to enjoy Buga, for sure—or even to consider it as a full-time residence. But the reason I liked Buga was different…although it did have some religious overtones as well.
For me, one of the best things about Buga was the holy water. Or rather, the Holy Water Ale Cafe in the Buga Hostel.
The owners of the Holy Water Ale Cafe know what folks who stay in hostels like. Those owners—Stefan Schnur and Clint Johnson, who moved to Colombia from Washington—know they like bread, which the Cafe makes fresh on site. They like pizza, which the Cafe makes from their homemade breads.
And they like beer, which the Cafe also makes in a nearby microbrewery in the home of one of the owners.
For a backpacker on the road in Colombia…or, in my case, a roving reporter on the road in Colombia…stumbling on the Holy Water Ale Cafe is kind of like stumbling on The Garden of Eden. Real bread. Excellent pizza. And fresh ale.
Just a few blocks away, pilgrims from all over the world were hoping for their illnesses and infirmities to be miraculously cured at the Basilica del Señor de los Milagros.
And at the same time, my wife, Suzan, and I were being refreshed and sustained by the miraculous results of yeast, grain, and water being brought together under the right conditions…those products of the incredible alchemy of fermentation that literally made human civilization possible.
Yes, I’m talking about bread and beer. Real, handmade, up-from-scratch, lovingly concocted bread and beer. And if you’ve been on the road for any time at all without these things, you know what a happy surprise it is to stumble upon them in an unexpected place.
Buga isn’t the biggest city in Colombia, and it’s not the richest or the most modern. But it has two things—two very important things—that set it apart. It has the Basilica del Señor de los Milagros.
And it has the Holy Water Ale Cafe.
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