- Armenia – Cali
- Salsa dancing
My lack anticipation to get to Cali was brought on by the fact it was only four days until I was meeting Balicki in Cartagena. I saw it as more of an “in between” place but boy, was I wrong! I arrived to the bus station at 11am after meetin Gustavo at my hostel in Armenia and travelling together towards Cali. One taxi ride to my hostel, Caelum Hostel, and I was ready for the next 3 nights there.
The hostel was located in downtown in a lovely old town house with a giant terrace bar area that was absolutely perfect for socialising. It was a hot, humid day so I slipped in to some shorts and head out for lunch and a wonder since I was too early to check in. Everyone was also still asleep in the hostel which made me realise I’d be having a heavy party or two whilst here!
I first head towards the rumba region of Cali where there were many restaurants and bars. I stopped for some fresh pineapple at a food cart on the side of the street and watched all the children coming out of school as I sat and ate. Then I walked towards a shopping mall near to my hostel for coffee, or ‘tinto’ as it’s called here (in between an espresso and a long black coffee). Having re-fuelled, I decided I’d spend my afternoon around the streets of San Antonio, Cali’s old neighbourhood.
From the hostel, San Antonio was about a 30-minute walk. The river led the route and was accompanied by a bamboo-lined boulevard which made for a very scenic afternoon stroll. That was after I crossed the park packed full of the homeless – I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Once the river walk ended I turned up the hill and through some posher streets of the city which kind of felt like being back in São Paulo. I found a lovely little bakery along these roads and stopped for a mushroom quiche slice before continuing on.
San Antonio park sits on top of the city looking over the old neighbourhood and downtown area. After climbing the hill and being greeted by a various mix of street art and sculptures, I walked up to the view point to take it all in. Hot and sweaty, I stopped for a while and watched the various interactions going on around me: the lesbian newlyweds that were having their photos taken, a scout group reciting some type of code of conduct, a dad and daughter doing running races, couples sprawled over each other, and many artisans selling their homemade jewellery with joints in hand.
When the rain began I decided it was time to slowly walk back home. The shower was over quickly which meant the walk was much more enjoyable and so I took it slowly. This allowed for a middle-aged Colombian man to catch me up from behind and we walked together chatting in Spanish for a while before I turned back on to the river path. Blonde hair, blue eyes and an English accent gets you absolutely anything you want in South America!
Once back I went out to sit in the courtyard and meet some others from the hostel. There I met Eli, a lovely Norwegian girl who was keen to head out and salsa that evening. As such, late afternoon we switched our waters for beers and began the evening in good fashion. Carmen, the hostel cook, came to offer us dinner which we accepted and after lining our stomachs and showering, we continued the drinks out in the bar. Our social group extended to a French-German couple, Kevin and Karen, Dutch Renee and Italian Francesco. A little later on we were also joined by Swiss Michael, French Marion, Israeli Yala, British Samir and Belgian Olivia. Europe was out to represent that night!
One of the hostel staff, Nico, was in charge of our evening plans and once all sufficiently drunk, took us out to a quite posh-looking club. We questioned his choice since we were all travellers dressed as travellers, whilst the club was full of Colombians dressed like celebrities. Nonetheless, it was a fun place to start and learn some salsa basics from a few members of the group. Fortunately Nico had plans for a second club and around 2am took us on to La Pergola, a rooftop salsa-come-pop bar akin to Kensington Roof Gardens but equipped with a pool!
I spent most of my time in La Pergola salsa-ing with Michael and Nico, who both knew how to dance. We also met a bunch of locals who were eager to dance with us although, also eager to laugh at our lack of ability! As t started to rain again, we quite literally were singing and dancing in the rain and loving life. As was the drunk girl floating alone atop a pink blow-up flamingo in the pool, thinking she looked utterly irresistible, much to our amusement.
4 am arrived and the club was emptying but we just wanted to carry on the night! After some confusion outside we all piled in to taxis along with anyone else left in the club and head to God only knows where. When we got out it looked as though we’d literally pulled up at somebody’s house. We could hear salsa music but no one seemed to be the obvious entry point. Eventually we found a completely inconspicuous looking door and rang the bell, only to find it was a secret salsa club in a kind of garage type place full of Colombians!
In we piled for the rest of the night/morning, where I met Maurisio who took me under his wing and flung me around the dance floor. There I was channeling my inner shakira and still having no idea what I was really doing! If in doubt, just shake your hips and move your feet and you’re on to a winner! As I said, being British and blonde also helps. I felt well and truly salsa’d out by 6.30am and it was eventually time to head back home. I went straight to bed, exhausted but exhilarated after such a fantastic night of dancing in Cali.
The following morning after 3 hours sleep, myself, Yala and Olivia quite literally crawled to breakfast and crawled back to bed until about 2pm. By the afternoon a severe storm has started, with crashing thunder shaking the entire hostel. Since almost all of us had been out the night before we all piled in to the TV room for film, followed by documentary, followed by a second film with a few breaks for snacks and dinner along the way. No one was going sightseeing given the weather and our sore heads so I didn’t feel bad at all about the way I chose to spend my day.
By 10.30pm I was safely tucked up in bed and thankfully on recovery road, leaving struggle city behind me. The next morning, my last in Cali, I woke in a much brighter way and joined the group at breakfast to plan our day. Everyone seemed to be in sightseeing mode because they’d spent many days hungover. Eli and I decided to walk to Lomo Del Cruz, a park overlooking the city, full of artisan stalls and a really cool, bohemian feel. We wondered through each shop and looked in awe at some of the handicraft abilities and then decided we’d earnt a pastry and juice to top off our morning.
Since the sun was finally shining and we’d got quite hot, we went back to the hostel in search of Nico who had promised a pool day at his local members’ club. Along with Marion and Michael, we went to meet Nico’s family at this club. Turns out it was actually the most prestigious club you could be a part of in Cali, full of wealthy families and always at least one famous face. Whilst sunbathing, Nico informed us that one of Colombia’s top models was sat just to our right. He could’ve told us this before we ordered a plate full of food to scoff right next to her!
Nico’s family were entertaining two British guests who had booked a private salsa lesson in the club for 3pm. They invited us to join them. Since Michael had recently had stitches put in his leg he took photographer duty whilst Marion, Eli and myself did our thang on the dance floor. So much so that the two British guys (notably dressed in shorts, bright yellow socks and polished black dancing shoes) chose to retire from the dance floor. I felt kind of bad for hijacking their lesson but super grateful to learn with an expert how to actually salsa like Shakira. Well on my way to my hips actually not lying about my dancing abilities!
Thoroughly enthused after our authentic Cali experiences that day, we head home to shower. Eli and I followed this with some Mexican food and a beer and then Renee and I relaxed for the evening watching various programmes on Netflix. Renee then went out dancing later on that night so I sat for the rest of the evening with Yala, Olivia and Samir just generally chatting life and enjoying good company. Since my flight was early the next morning I was in bed before midnight and sad to be leaving Cali for good.
At 6am, I went down to greet poor old Marion who had to work the night shift. Nico then arrived to drive me to the airport like the angel that he was, stopping for an arepa street food breakfast on our way. It was finally the day to reunite with my bestie and see a home face after four months since last stopping briefly in England. A mix of emotions leaving Cali but what a fun few days I had had!
So, 185 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and I am now a dancing queen, thankful to have met such a great group of people in one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at. And now I’m on my way to continue the Colombian fun as an English female duo!