…lo demás es loma.
Which more or less translates into ‘Cali is Cali, the rest is over there’. Basically not as good as Cali. Which couldn’t be more spot on.
Tons of people warned me how dangerous it would be, or how boring it would be, but I really could not see it. Sure, it was definitely a slow burner, but once you get to know it and its surrounding, it was irresistible.
After a long trip from Salento which involved getting stuck in traffic for ages and catching a taxi that had no idea where were going and couldn’t read a map (something that will slowly but surely become a recurring theme of my stay here), I finally arrive at my hostel. Which I couldn’t recommend more! Drop Bear Cali, best hostel I’ve ever stayed in.
Anyway I arrive, grumpy but happy to see Gabriel (the owner) and Emily (a friend I made in Medellin). In another excellent case of small world, I also discover that two friends from Bogota (including David, who kindly hosted me in Bogota back at the start of my trip) were staying there too, as they were playing a cricket match over the weekend. Nice to see so many familiar faces!
We quickly get ready and head out for a much deserved dinner and drinks. We then decide to hit a famous salsa bar called La Topatolondra, as it’s Friday night and I totally need to let my hair down.
It turns out to be one of the best nights out I had in a while, despite the realisation that the salsa I learn in Medellin was so different from the authentic salsa caleña. We danced so much, drank some more and made many new friends. Everyone is so willing to teach you and help you learn.
The night continues with us driving around Cali, at high speed (don’t tell my dad), in a car with some new friends and a beautiful caleño boy, and getting home at 6.30am, with a great grin on my face.
The grin disappears later on when my head is pounding and my feet are hurting. But it’s a night with no regrets!
We gather our energy and finally head out to explore the surrounding areas, followed by more salsa dancing in the evening, this time at another famous salsa spot called the Tin Tin Deo with a friend from the previous night.
I have a reasonably early night, ready to do some more exploring the following day. Sadly we wake up too late to hike up the Tres Cruces, a big hill overlooking Cali with three crosses, so we catch a taxi to Cristo Rey, which sits opposite Tres Cruces and still gives us amazing views over beautiful Cali. We also learn that Cali is a reasonably new city, it used to have approximately 40,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 20th century. Now it reaches roughly 3 million!
We also visit Parque de los Gatos,which sculptures of cats are all painted and designed by women and are incredibly interesting and creative.
I finally sign up to learn the proper salsa caleña, for 10 intensive hours. I am not going to lie, the first lesson is quite disastrous, more because I feel like I haven’t learnt anything previous in Medellin (and my teacher was quite strict and tough), but I don’t give up easily and stick to learning and dancing every day, for hours.
We sign up for more ‘tourist’ stuff, such as two tours on the same day by the same funny Dutch guy (which I strongly recommend, Callerojos Tours, look them up!): firstly the street food tour, followed by the walking tour.
The street food tour is nothing short of a mind-blowing sensory explosion, where my taste buds are going absolutely crazy. We try dozens of different fruits, snacks and drinks that I’ve seen being sold on the streets but never had the audacity to try.
Some of my personal highlights were visiting La Galeria (a huge food market) and try roughly 18 different fruits, and finding avocados nearly as big as my head.
Also visiting the statue of Jovita, (‘la reina eterna de Cali’ – the eternal queen of Cali), whose story was interesting to say the least. Jovita took part in a radio competition where you had to sing a song, and if you were out of tune the station would have some dogs barking. Jovita was beyond out of tune, and despite the incessant sound of dogs barking, she continued to sing as she did not agree with the radio station opinion. Persistence was clearly her middle name. She proceeded to become very famous and the students of the Valle University in Cali decided to crown her as a queen. She took these coronations incredibly seriously and wore a crown (as depicted in the statue). She took part in parades, official events, and even opened the very famous Feria de Cali (a huge festival taking place over Christmas). Her funeral was deemed to be one of the busiest events that ever happened in the City.
Anyway, back to more tours! In the afternoon we take part in the walking one and we discover areas of Cali that I wasn’t even aware existed, and learnt some of its interesting yet destructive history, obviously including what happened during the Cali Cartel reign of terror.
On a happier note, a new friend I made in Salento arrived that evening and on the following day we head out to the open air indigenous dance taking place in the beautiful Lomo de la Cruz. I immediately fall in love with all these stunning and friendly indigenous people, eat pizza and dance (badly) a lot. Such an excellent yet simple evening.
At last, we make it to the Tres Cruces hike with a very early wake up call (to avoid the scorching midday heat). The walk is tiring and tough but reasonably short (roughly an hour, including stops) and incredibly rewarding. We even have to climb up on our hands for a few parts of it but the views were outstanding and the feeling when reaching the top was exhilarating. We even caught some refreshing rain on the way down!
….and obviously another weekend arrives, and we head out to the Tin Tin Deo again to dance more salsa (and show off some of my newly learnt salsa moves), and then onto my favourite, La Topatolondra. It’s even more fun when you know what you’re doing (who would have thought!) and even my friend David with whom I’ve danced on the first night I arrived in Cali noticed the improvements. Such a great feeling!
Saturday night we decide to ditch salsa for some much-needed rock music and we head to a venue called Bourbon St. In all honesty it wasn’t very rock to begin with, but it turned out to be such a fun filled night!
On Sunday we decide to just chill by the pool and be lazy Colombian bums too, which was much needed. We then head out for a huuuuge pizza and sit in Parque San Antonio and people watch (including a woman walking a white bunny: the dream!).
So… all in all, Cali has truly stolen my heart. Even more than Medellin, and I can’t wait to be back!
And because I’m a crazy stupid romantic fool, I take the impulsive decision of heading up to Manizales (five hours north of Cali, back towards Medellin) instead of heading down towards Ecuador, to visit someone I met on my first night in Cali.
As I always say, never a dull moment.
More to come soon….