Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cali, Colombia

Left Medellin on a Friday morning for a stunning drive to Cali, all the while trying to block out the highly disturbing film that was playing on the bus. Gotta love ipods. Enjoyed the immense mountains, dramatic drop offs and small towns all along the way. That evening arrived in Cali and was met by Jose, who I arranged to stay with for the weekend via Couch Surfing. Before I knew it we were zipping crazily along the streets of his city on the way to his home, where we met his sister and shortly after went to meet his mother and father who were having a beer nearby. My Spanish isn’t exactly comprehensible at this point, so we communicated through Jose who’s quite proficient in Spanish and English alike. After a quick Cerveza Poker, we headed to pick up Anita and were merrily on our way to a popular local salsa bar, La Fuente. It was tiny and packed inside with people dancing and there were at least a hundred people on the side walk and street drinking and dancing as well. It’s here I learned what an institution that salsa really is to this country, and specifically to this city.

Cali is known as the salsa capital of Colombia, and thereby could really be the salsa capital of the world! As the night went on we were joined by Jose’s amazing friends, all of whom I feel lucky to have met. I attempted to follow the feet of the girls and watched how they moved, to see if it was possible for my tall, uncoordinated self to dance such a quick and flowing step. While I had a great time trying, I definitely was doing something which only very slightly resembled the actual dance. Enter into the picture Aguardiente, the Sambuca like drink which people buy by the bottle at bars and take shots of all night long, passing around plastic shot glasses you receive when you purchase this deliciously devilish liquor. A few dozen shots later and all the sudden I’m feeling the dance a little bit more. Whether the dance was feeling me is another thing entirely. Either way, had a tremendous time with Jose, his friends from Cali and foreign friends as well!

Saturday was naturally feeling a little bit like I got hit by a truck, so often the price you pay for such a night. But Lucia’s large homemade lunch revived my spirit and my stomach, and I sat there in amazement at the fact that an entire family plus myself was sitting down to a fresh, hot meal in the middle of the afternoon. It seems like in the U.S. it’s a stretch to even have that happen for dinner anymore, so lunch on a Saturday was a real treat! Jose, his parents, brother and I all headed to a town called Pance, about 30 minutes from Cali, in the mountains and on a river. Jose and I swam in the beautifully clear and frigid mountain water and I adore situations like this because it really does feel so out of the ordinary.

After some sangria by the pool of a friends place, we went for cholados, a delicious and colorful mix of tropical fruits, condensed milk, shaved ice and a wafer cookie. Before going out that night also had some great little empanadas and champús, which is probably now my new favorite thing in the world. It’s a mix of lulo (a delightful fruit only found in Colombia), pineapple, corn and a plant called limoncillo – almost like a drink but you need to use a spoon because of the corn.

Salsa dancing round 2. At Tin Tin Deo, a spacious and stylish spot for both locals and foreigners, the people do not mess around! It was fantastic to watch – most of the time people switch partners continuously, so you can see how everybody seems to work together and how different that the same basic dance can be. It’s really quite beautiful and festive and makes me wish I knew how to move my hips like that! When talking about religious fanatics, I told Jose that I’d gone to a high school which was so absurd it didn’t allow dances…. he reckoned that’s why I don’t understand how to salsa. Maybe I like Widespread Panic so much because there I can dance. Or so I think I can dance.

Somehow more aguardiente and beer went ‘down the hatch’, another remarkable night in Cali! Ate late night food at a place called Mario Brothers, felt just like home. Sunday morning Jose and I went for some pandebono, a baked ring of cheese bread, and also some seafood empanadas, my favorite kind yet. Despite wanting to gag at the thought of alcohol, gave a couple sips of Crema de Viche and Tomaseca (liquors from the Pacific area) a try, as it might be my first and last time to do so. That day we wandered around Cali, and Jose was the best tour guide I could ask for! We saw all the places on the check list and I really feel like I got a good grasp on what the city has to offer.

After some nice churches, buildings, rivers and views of the city from high up, we made our way to the amphitheater where the world festival of salsa 2010 was being held all week. Incredible! A free event and packed to the brim, we took a seat and listened to the entire crowd make noise and music – people had brought their own instruments and everyone was in such an exuberant mood, it was exceptional to be a part of! There were 51 groups, and we stayed until the very end, each one seeming to be better than the last.

Monday morning I said goodbye to Jose and to Cali – and I am still kind of in awe as to what a perfect time I had there and to what a considerate and warm hearted person that Jose is (and also his family and friends). I know that had I gone to Cali by myself, or even with another traveler, there’s no way that I could have experienced the city through eyes like that!

"Sucursal del Cielo" - branch of heaven


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