‘You wanna dance?’
Then Cali is your friend. Known as the salsa capital of Colombia, we were unfortunately going to arrive on a Sunday and with Sarah still under the weather the chances of hamming up the dance floor looked slim.
Arriving from yet another long overnight bus which, despite all the reports on the internet, was hot enough to roast a chook, we wiped sleep out of our eyes as we lob up to the taxi rank and wait our turn, politely. Mind you this seems to be missed on many locals, who find no qualms in bypassing the formal queue. So many years living in London has turned us into orderly, well-mannered travellers and this manages to irritate us profusely.
Making the front of the line we give the taxi valet the address, who in turn passes it on to the driver, who dramatically claims to have no idea where this centrally located street is in the well-known San Antonio Barrio, nor where the hostel is meant to be. Wise to this kind of crap for means of extorting more money out of us, we stick to our guns and the obvious address.
Finally jumping in the cab we set off, though not before having to ask several times for the meter to be switched on, over the blaring radio playing a fitting soundtrack of salsa. We soon know something’s up when our impolite driver refuses to speak to us yet is hanging out the window conversing with colleagues every chance he gets, with the words ‘San Antonio’ repeated several times before having a laugh with each other.
Arriving at the hostel the meter clearly shows us the price of COP 7000 ($2.50 USD), yet the driver dives across to quickly try and turn off the meter and charge us COP 9000 ($3.50 USD). The GAT or ‘Gringo Added Tax’. Throwing COP 7000 in his hand we give him a dose of his own impolite medicine and ring the doorbell to El Viajero Hostel.
El Viajero is part of a South American hostel chain and is known for being a party place, of little concern today as it was a Sunday and we figured most of the clientele would have been partied out, plus they had a swimming pool in which to escape the hot days in. They also offer free salsa classes most afternoons, except Sundays, so we took to the hammocks slung around the first courtyard.
Street art, Cali
Waking from an unintended slumber we headed out in search of food. Sundays in this part of the world are quiet, and by that we mean the population of dogs on the street far out numbers the bipeds. Finding some street food adjacent to San Antonio Park, where the hippies sell their wares, disinterested the night was cut short with the need for rest.
Next morning feeling refreshed we took full advantage of the free breakfast, again nothing more than bread, jam, coffee, and the exciting additional of yoghurt and cereal, shit. With limited days left in Colombia and in need of some Christmas tree tack (we’ve been collecting one from each country for the last several years), to Parque Artesinals Loma de la Cruz market down the road we venture.
Finding it barely open apart from a handful true to their cause, we ascend the staircase to find the place populated with more bodies of the law than vendors and vagrants combined. Not too put off we wander further in. Finding what we wanted (a baggie of coffee, yes, coffee) we appreciate the repetitiveness of the stall roofs. Matt’s a sucker for repetitive architecture.
Part one person’s vision, part art/feline aficionado, El Gato del Rio is a random draw card of Cali, bringing a much needed splash of colour to what is, on the surface, a city that lacks much else in the way of an official cultural art scene.
The original sculpture is the labour of artist Hernando Tejada, and today it’s become one of the most important icons of Cali along with the Cerro De Cristo Rey. So much so that ten years after the original was designed, the city called for a revitalisation of the area, adding a number of replicas designed by important contemporary artists. A beautiful well-manicured area, it’s become an important icon of Cali.
Skipping in towards the central district we passed the San Francisco Cathedral and La Merced Church, made our way through the financial district to a lunch joint heavily populated with locals for a cheap yet filling lunch of rooster before heading onto the one of the city’s other iconic landmarks.
Whilst admiring the impressive red brick Iglesia de San Francisco, we’re approached by a young gentleman. Here we go again. Cali is also renowned for its seedy element. In an unsettling perfect East London accent, the guys strikes up a conversation, and though not ones to judge a book by its cover, we can tell by the rough arsed tattoos covering his hands that he is neither a traveller nor someone that is in Cali by choice.
‘Got depor’ed from Lundun fa sellin’ drugs and got’ caught too many times’.
Revealing that we too lived in London for eight years, the guys makes all efforts to befriend us then sell us drugs. Cheap of course. Meanwhile street cameras focus in on a dreadlocked Rasta, his red headed hippy missus and a bloke highly recommended for new prison intern of the year. We kindly refuse and make tracks, settling for a view with the Puente Ortiz in the foreground and Ermita church in the background instead.
San Antonio does have some great street art if you wander around, however it’s nowhere near the same scale as Cartagena or Bogota, and the rough around the edges feel can leave you feeling a little unsure if you should whip out the fancy camera.
If art is what you’re after, you can also find this scattered around the area, namely on display at Parque de Penon, where artists show their works every Sunday morning.
Retiring back to the hostel and the irresistible pool for the evening, we watched everybody sink beers and rush out the door for a local football match, only to find out from the taxi drivers that it was a closed match with no fans as their always known to riot, unlucky for the guys whose taxi told them when they were already at the stadium a 30 min drive away. We just sat and contemplated tomorrows dash for the border into Ecuador whilst being that boring, untalkative couple.
SIDE NOTE: Unfortunately we missed the whole Salsa scene due to both timing and Sarah’s on going belly issues, and apologies, only a small bit, for not venturing down this path.