As much as I enjoyed my time in Bogotá, there was one thing I was happy to see the back of: the weather. Bogotá was known as ‘The Fridge’ of Colombia (unbeknownst to me until after I had loaded my suitcases with attire fit for an Indian summer) but Cali’s weather was perfection. It remained between 25-32°C for the duration of my trip which I was told was a typical temperature throughout the year.
I arrived in Cali around 10pm on a Sunday night and was absolutely shattered. The next day, I walked around a little bit, just to get used to my surroundings but wasn’t really keen on doing much more.
Ermita Church (above) was about a fifteen minute walk away from my hostel and I found a quaint and very delicious vegetarian restaurant on my way back (below).
A meal I can still taste: brown rice, salmon, mango, chopped red onion and cabbage and, of course, the legendary plantain chips! I’ll be recreating this at home soon…
When I got back to my hostel, there was not a soul in sight. I managed to Skype a few people back home but I’m ashamed to say I was in bed by 8pm.
So the next day, I made sure I left the house. Above is me getting’ that Vitamin D on my way to a free walking tour (make sure you do these whenever you visit a new city, by the way – always a great introduction!).
A tribute to Cali’s Niche bands – their homegrown musicians. Can you make out the letters?
These monumental trumpets play salsa all day, everyday.
Auntie selling fruits; she was adorable! Reminded me of Ghana.
The chontaduros were interesting though, they tasted like puna yams and auntie added salt and honey to them. An acquired taste maybe? A strange combo if you ask me, I won’t be eating them again in a hurry…
The city centre – you may recognise it from Narcos?
Guarapo – sugar cane juice! So refreshing in the Cali heat.
The vendors crush the sugar cane sticks (and limes) through this contraption and then add the juice to ice et voilà! Heaven in a cup.
Another gold museum that I was forced to visit…
Meanwhile, downstairs had an exhibition that I would have much rather been at but instead my time was wasted looking at more gold *rolls eyes*.
There’s only so much gold I can take, people!
I’ve forgotten the name of this church but my guide, Fernando, was quick to point out that it has two altars.
After a three hour walk around the city, I was famished! I ended up going to a local joint called La Chicharra in San Antonio with one of my tour guides. We had an interesting chat about Colombian politics while chowing down on their menu del dia: bean soup, pork, rice, salad and, of course, plaintain chips (you should know by now!). Oh, and panela juice -brown sugar juice- all for only 10,000 $COP (about £2.50). Unlike many of the other restaurants I visited in all of Colombia, this one was filled with local Caleños and had a really authentic vibe. Not a gringo in sight and the food was top quality. Free refills too, might I add.
That evening, I was determined to have a night out; I couldn’t spend yet another evening cooped up in bed being feasted on by Cali’s sweet-toothed mosquitoes. There was a local Salsa school which offered free classes for an hour each day so I decided to attend. It started at 6pm and the place was a 5 minute walk away, according to Google Maps. But just as I was about to leave, I though it would be best to check with the guy at reception. He told me that the venue was in fact half an hour away BY CAR… If I hadn’t made a promise to myself to go out that night, I would have sacked it off so quickly. But I had to do it for the Insta init so I ordered a taxi and decided to try my luck!
I got there at around 6.20pm and was greeted by some youths who made the obvious incredibly clear: I was tremendously late. There was no class going on so I asked about the local Salsa joints in the area and the unanimously recommended spot was La Topa Tolondra. I had heard about this place online too and was intending to go at some point – good thing it was only about a 30 second walk away from the Salsa school.
La Topa was absolutely boltic inside. Of course I was the first one there, arriving before even some of the bar staff. I grabbed a seat and a beer at the bar and waited for the punters to turn up. 8 o’clock came and went and still not a soul in sight. 9 o’clock came and went and still nobody had shown up… I told myself if no one was there at 10pm, I’d be ducking. But lo and behold, by 9.30pm people started to drip in slowly but surely.
I was accompanied at the bar by a young girl who was also on her own. Neither of us spoke to each other. But then a guy across the bar gestured to me to dance and out of nervousness, I turned to her and said “I think that guy wants to dance with you.” She gave me her bottle of beer to look after and confidently went over to the guy to share a dance.
I had successfully passed the buck.
Instantly, I went onto google translate – my holiday saviour – and learned how to say “I’m a beginner” in Spanish, in preparation for future dances. The men didn’t seem to mind beginners in general, they were used to La Topa being filled with tourists with minimal salsa experience. The problem for me was that, for once, my Blackness blended in! If you’ve read my article entitled ‘Travelling While Black,’ you’d think I’d be grateful! However, because these men thought I was from Cali, they kept approaching me to dance as though I was a professional. And I’m really not lol.
Anywhooo, when the song was over, the young girl came back over and we started chatting like we’d known each other a lifetime. She told me her name was Lina. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, too, as I spent the remainder of my nights in Cali with her frequenting the most happening Salsa spots. And yes, we have consummated our friendship by following each other on Instagram. I’m glad I met her as I know my Cali experience would not have been the same without her cultural expertise. Interesting then that I found out that Lina has a website dedicated to giving tourists recommendations about travel in Colombia by Colombian people. It’s called ‘Get Lost in Colombia’ and is also available for other South American countries. She’s currently fundraising to be able to launch her website so if you have a few pennies to spare, check out the link above and help a sister out!
Speaking of recommendations, this hostel right here was the bomb diggy. At La Topa Tolondra, I met some of Lina’s friends who were staying at El Viajero hostel and recommended it profusely. They had free Salsa lessons, a pool and were in the trendy part of town, San Antonio. The following morning, I packed my bags and made the switch.
And boy, was I glad I did. The hostel was the best I stayed at – hands down – in all of Colombia. I did the free salsa sessions every day and even had six private lessons offered by the hostel staff. By the end of the week, I had met all these fabulous ladies (below) and we went out dancing. Every. Single. Night.
Rolling squaddy with the gyal dem sugar = the girls about to hit up La Topa Tolondra.
I had the privilege of experiencing Colombian Independence Day so had to take a standard picture in front of the flag.
We came alive at night – on our way to Tin Tin Deo.
Gringo Stunners off to Cafe Mi Tierra.
This menu del dia was phenomenal – at a joint called Pita Majita.
Street food: chorizo sausage and an arepa.
When I look back at my time in Cali, it consisted of 3 hour salsa lessons in the mornings, menu del dia’s during the day but little else. Then at night I’d Salsa till the early hours of the morning. By the end of my week, I was absolutely exhausted but had zero regrets.
Cali was a tough place to top but every tourist I had met had rave reviews for my subsequent destination: Medellín.
Stay tuned for my week in Pablo Escobar’s hometown.
Chit Chat: Eating and Salsa-ing all week. The perfect holiday or your worst nightmare? Comment below! xx