Natalia – A family of entrepreneurs have converted a Texas ranch into a meeting place for tourists who come to enjoy a Colombian-style fiesta without traveling to the Andean nation.
Located in Natalia, 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of San Antonio, a land of mesas rising from vast plains, Rancho de Margarita is frequented by people of different nationalities eager to enjoy "the Colombian experience."
According to Margarita Restrepo, the idea of having a ranch like this came up several years ago and now has materialized in an area incredibly similar to Colombia's eastern plains.
"I felt the Colombian people needed some fun and enjoyment to escape from the daily routine, to feel the energy and enjoy the open fields and the livestock," the Colombian native said in an interview with Efe.
To make the ranch look like the ones back in Colombia, Restrepo invested in handicrafts typical of her country.
"The idea is to feel at home and teach our customs to those who don't know them. We have to share our culture with the country that has welcomed us, that's what this is all about," said Restrepo, whose ranch breeds and raises several several strains of fine cattle for sale and export to Latin America.
Every Saturday, Rancho de Margarita receives many families who come to taste the typical Colombian dishes, most of which are cooked over a low flame in a rustic wood oven.
From the typical "bandeja paisa" (peasant tray) to the popular arepas, the menu also includes tamales, pork chops and a variety of meat, including "carne a la llanera" (meat as cooked on the plains), a cut of veal rubbed with spices and grilled on a spit over a bonfire on the ground.
"That way it doesn't lose its juices or aroma," said Restrepo, who has also added a series of attractions for children such as horseback riding and a complete tour of the ranch and the large herds of cattle.
At nightfall a band of musicians plays the typical bachata and cumbia rhythms on acoustic guitars, a melodious accordion whose notes fade in the shadows of the trees, and a rhythmic guacharaca, an instrument with a corrugated surface played with a kind of comb that imitates the cry of the like-named South American bird.
For Americans like Steve Peña, an attorney from San Antonio, celebrations like this are not very common, which is why he visits Rancho de Margarita at least once a month without fail.
"It's a very different kind of fiesta from the ones we have in Texas. The people are very friendly, it's all really enjoyable and the food is delicious," Peña said.
At sundown visitors from San Antonio and Austin begin arriving in a typical Colombian country bus painted the colors of the Andean nation's flag and whose interior has been remodeled so passengers can dance to Latin rhythms on their way to the ranch.
Rancho de Margarita also has a place to camp and spend the night if necessary, and on Sunday, those who chose to stay can savor breakfasts that include consomme of ribs, spicy pork sausages with cassava croquettes and arepas with cheese.