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«What?! You were in Cali for its famous end-of-year festival and you didn’t go to it. Madness!»
That’s pretty much how most view our (three like-minded Irishmen that is) non-attendance at any of the Cali festival events during our recent visit there.
This ‘shock’ is understandable, of course. People flock from far and wide to check out what is viewed as one of Colombia’s biggest and best festivals.
What better way to get into the salsa swing — Cali is regarded as the salsa capital — when much of the city is in party mood?
Truth is, we’d generally prefer to shovel stiff concrete on a hot day than awkwardly move to salsa. Sure, we’ve given it a go before, but we just don’t enjoy it.
Anyway, there was/is more to the festival than salsa; well, we guess so. However, our choice of hotel left us quite removed from the festival vibe.
The rather industrial, rough-and-ready, Barrio Santander wouldn’t be most visitors’ choice of location to overnight it in Cali. Yet, at festival time prices unsurprisingly shoot up in the more popular locations, such as the tourist-heavy San Antonio.
Cheap and cheerful
So getting a private room for 20.000 COP a night was a bargain not to be turned down. Plus, the city centre was only a steady 30-minute walk away.
In any case, as our few regular readers may have guessed, hanging around and socialising in Colombia’s working-class barrios isn’t at all anathema to us.
You could say we were getting a truer reflection of how Cali rolls. Away from the crowds and the tourists that the festival attracts.
It’s what we enjoy doing when in a new place. Get an idea of what it’s like to live in, Wrong Way style. Thus, finding the value locations is one of the important things in this regard.
As the country’s third biggest city, it’s not exactly a relaxing escape from the normal mayhem of Bogotá. This was one reason why we weren’t overly bothered that after over six years in the country we’d never visited the place.
Taking into account that it was the festive period, there was a nice feel to the place nonetheless. A much warmer climate, but not overbearingly so, than that of Bogotá played its part in this.
The high life
Now considering we had three, um, moderate-drinking Irishmen together at end-of-year holiday time, there wasn’t much exploring done.
We did, however, find time to trek up Cerro de Las Tres Cruces (Hill of the Three Crosses). At an altitude of 1,480 metres, it’s over 400 metres higher than the city itself. It’s a nice little workout to get to the top, from where you get nice views of the metropolis. (Apparently the barrio at the start of the trek can be somewhat dangerous, but we didn’t get any sense of that.)
You can also push yourself a bit more and pump some iron and concrete in the outdoor ‘gym’ at the summit. We gave it just a short test — one wouldn’t want to overdo it.
Apart from that and a bit of wandering around the centre and Barrio San Antonio, that was pretty much our Cali experience. Some people might consider it a shameful act for where we were, but there wasn’t a salsa dance in sight.