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Salsa capital of the world...Cali

COLOMBIA | Monday, 18 April 2011 | Views [2065] | Comments [1]

Cali is my last stop in Colombia before I head to the border and in to Ecuador...it was also due to be one of the craziest as it has the reputation of Salsa capital of the world. 

I arrived late at night with a friendly welcome...nearly ending up in a dorm with 9 other boys, another girl came to the rescue and promptly moved a boy out of her room and swapped me into it, a smaller dorm with a group of her mates!  I was also in search of food but was told not to expect much in Cali, so ordered in, it didn´t even turn up so definitely not a good start on the food front!

The following day, I knew I had to keep moving as I just wanted the weekend in Cali before heading to Ecuador and everything would be shut the following day as it was Sunday (and I might also be a little tired from my salsa night out). Firstly I headed for the post office to send the coffee I had got from Salento at the coffee plantation. I ventured on the bus, a system of a bus crossed with a tram, the bus has specific, raised platform stations but the bus is not on tracks. I made it there easily enough but once I got to the post office ludicrious charges put me off sending the coffee (30 pounds for each 250g bag of which I had three!!) so I tried to send my postcards...they suggested envelopes and didn´t really understand I just needed stamps, so decided to leave it as I was pretty sure that Ecuador would know what postcards and stamps were.  I really shouldn´t have been surprised as I had only found one place that sold postcards in the whole of Colombia.

So I decided to return to the hostel and go on to discover what the town had to offer. After checking which bus I should get on, happily jumping on the one advised, I suddenly realised part way through my journey I´m going in the wrong direction!! Checking again, I find out I am actually going in the wrong direction!!  An hour later and a chat with a friendly bus driver who used to live in New York and I´m back where I´m started! Correct instructions in hand, I eventually find my way back to the bus stop near my hostel, however, this is only to find out I´ve forgotten where my hostel is and in my haste to leave and get to the post office early, that I don´t have the address either! After some hunting around, and asking a few people I eventually find a local to take me back to the hostel. 

Still hungry (no food as yet) and having not seen Cali yet, I decide to head out again fairly swiftly after I got back so I could walk around the centre.  Jumping on the bus, confident I could get to town, I arrived not too long after to find a hustling, bustling place, much like the working town I was told Cali would be.  The plaza was amazing, as was the ornate church nearby. 

Main square in Cali

There were many markets full of all sorts of wears such as mobile phone covers as well as many other gadget and bits and bobs. Other than that there wasn´t much to see and still no food!! Only fried chicken, which didn´t seem that appetising! So I headed back and eventually found a restuarant that took my fancy, only to find out I had to battle with my nemesis, wheat!  The spag bol was falling off the plate...and didn´t taste anything like it should. Oh well!  At least I had low expectations.

There were a group of us at the hostel keen to go out and sample the Cali nightlife and why it is Salsa capital of the world. So, after a rest, some pizza, and some more rest (people don´t go out until midnight usually), we headed off to the big salsa area.  The first place we went to reminded me of one of the places in the movie Goodfellas, with red velvet chairs, and lamps with low lighting, it was quite exquisite.  We ordered our bottle of rum (you buy bottles not glasses of drink here) and some coca cola, settled down to watch some of the locals get into action, and when the rhythm took us, we hit the dancefloor and started to show what us gringos can do (Gringo is the name of a foreigner here - actually Americans but used as a general term too).  We faired well I think but we weren´t being asked for dances yet. 

At about 3-4am, we decided to try some different clubs, this was quite easy as there were a few about.  Most of the salsa-techs as they are known have the same set up, an oval dance floor with booths of tables and chairs around so you and your friends can watch the dancing and join in if you´d like.  The first place was definately the best but the others were good too, with a younger crowd and we were even being asked to dance by the locals, something that hasn´t happened up until now where I´ve been in Colombia (apart from those I´ve known before).  It was great fun!!  I only wish I had some photos to show...didn´t want to loose my camera whilst out and about.

After getting in at 6am I had a few hours sleep and decided I didn´t want to rush off to Ecuador until Monday anyway.  I bumped into someone from the night before, we went for breakfast where I found a friend I´d met in Cartegena who I was due to meet up with for the day. After catching up I started to persude her to come to Ecuador and the Galapagos with me which was fantastic news!  She also found a ´Crepes and Waffles´outlet (http://crepesywaffles.com/websiteftp/index1.html) so I could hit the salad bar and finally have some good food!!  Perfect!!  The rest of the day was spent resting.

On Monday we checked out and went to Crepes and Waffles again.  Our bus wasn´t due until 8.30pm so we had time to sort things that day.  I booked myself in for a last minute salsa lesson as well, I figured I should learn where they do it best!! We ended going across town to a dance studio, there were 3 American boys also doing the lesson and we joined a group of Colombians who were already practising and very good!!  After a warm up, I was partnered with a professional dancer name Stephan, we learnt 7 different steps and 7 different turns.  I was keen to learn the turns as I knew this was a weak area of mine!  At the end of the class I was told I was very good (not just good for a European!) but I think they probably say that to everyone!! 

Salsa in Cali

We finished the class much later than expected so I went into panic mode that we´d miss the bus and have to stay another day!! I eventually got back to the hostel at 7.45pm (an hour later than expected), quickly grabbed my things and cleaned up before jumping in a cab 10 minutes later!  Luckily the bus station wasn´t far away and we made it in record time.  It was only after we´d queued up to get our tickets did we find out all the tickets from the only bus company we were advised to use were sold out!!  It was Semana Santa, which is the Colombian Easter holidays where they get a week off so everything was booked out. The bus company suggested we take Super Taxis, they were going at the same time but as we were going against advice from the guy who owned the hostel.  We were already travelling at night, which is usually warned against but was actually the only option. 

We decided to take the risk, and luckily it paid off, the bus was extremly unorganised but got us where we wanted to go in one piece...Ipiales at 6am!!

Ecuador was in sight (well, nearly!), a cab ride, a money exchange, 2 border checks, duty free, another cab ride and onto another bus to Quito for a budget price ($4 for a 4 hour ride), although the bus was definitely budget and a bit different from what we´re used to - no movie playing or air con, instead, windows open and music blaring! Record timing through the border and on to Quito...

Quito turned out to be freezing and having checked on flights we decided it was best to head straight to the Galapagos islands the following day.  I managed to pick up a cold that night so its a good job we did....next stop paradise!!

Tags: bad food, border, cali, colombia, ecuador, quito, salsa




I just happened to stumble upon your blog when googling salsa capital of the world, but I just have a few comments. Not to be rude, but did you try any Colombian food??? You kept mentioning how the food was so bad, but Colombian food/fruit is sooooo gooood. Who orders spaghetti in Colombia and then is surprised that its not good? I dont know where you were but there is plenty of street food/fruit all over Cali.

  Juan May 7, 2012 1:49 AM

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