It was 10pm amd crowds of people were clustered everywhere – drunk singing, climbing on car roofs, honking horns and shouting at the confused collection of gringos. It felt crazy. The policeman looked at me aghast, “We’ll take you in the police van” he said in Spanish, “you can’t stay here”.
Rightly or wrongly, Cali had come with a lot of security warnings from fellow backpackers during our trip. In fact they had been so severe, we had almost considered ruling it out completely. I’m so glad we didn’t.
After the quick two buses from Salento, we arrived in the city and immediately went in search of football tickets. I confess, I´m not a football fanatic but following a reccommendation from Gunther in Medellin, we couldn´t pass up the opportunity for a Deportivo Cali match the next day. Sure enough, that Sunday night, I found myself cheering on Cali’s local team in the stadium outside of town. The stamina of the band and jumping crowd was indomitable as they shook the entire width of the stadium with their energised support. Sadly, very drop of it was required as the home team were left dedicating a lot of the match defending their goal. Ninety minutes later, we were equally rallied and feeling like locals, we joined the surging crowd out of the stadium.
We learned a valuable lesson that night: always know how you are getting home.
Although we had taken the outbound 40 minute journey by taxi, it would seem that any return modes of public transport were not available to us. Our thin veil of local confidence starting to dissipate, we quickly realised we were stranded. Needless to say, the authorities were shocked at our cavalier attitude towards our own safety in a quickly empty-ing football stadium in the middle of nowhere… We had rather underestimated our situation.
In the last five weeks, we have come to learn that Colombians are incredibly generous, kind and considerate. At each turn, there is someone wanting to ensure we stay safe and get the most out of their beautiful country. Tonight was no different.
Rallying his colleagues and local friends, our convivial but concerned policeman began to pull-over exiting 4x4s and other large vehicles in the hope that a caleño would take pity on the gung-ho gringos needing to return to the city. Incredibly, a surgeon and his wife gladly accepted us and we were on our way, patching English and Spanish together to pass on our gratitude and learn more about each others’ hometowns.
Cali continued like this, perhaps not in such a dramatic way but every day was a genuine pleasure. Our last stop before Ecuador, it cemented our reluctance to leave Colombia behind and resurfaced all our fond memories of this country we’d come to love so much.
For the rest of our time here, we explored the cat park…
Read in the park whilst watching curious dogs..
And indulged in a delicious food tour..
Sadly, given all the above-mentioned security warnings, I wasnt confident to have my phone on me all the time. Therefore, I have no photographic evidence, just great memories of: the free salsa class and party at Rumba & Salsa, the incredibly sweaty uphill hike to Los 3 Cruces (panoramic view of the city) and the free city walking tour.
We also spent a day visiting the neighbouring village of San Cipriano. This is an offbeat little village outside Cali where you can spend the afternoon, tranquilly floating downstream on a rubber ring, admiring the waterfalls and surrounding nature. Arguably the town’s biggest attraction is their creative adaptation of motorbikes, driven along the town’s train track. This place is not for adrenaline junkies!
The bikes are the only way into San Cipriano and the tracks are still used by the slow-moving train so be prepared to disembark should you see it coming your way! It´s an enjoyable day out but honestly, given the time investment (two hours each way), I am not sure it is worth the excursion unless you have been in Cali so long and are craving respite from citylife!
We departed Cali after five days, energised, with all belongings in tow and with a completely opposite (positive) impression of the city than we had upon arrival.
It´s a 12 hour bus fom Cali to the Ecuadorian border so we left late that night, hoping to get some sort of bus-sleep before arriving at Ipiales for passport control…
Seconds to make count
Baileys really can get better – here we found a dulce de leche flavour which is to die for
The food tour is a great way to see a city, eat free food and make new friends. It also meant I discovered chicharron de coco
Houses in Colombia are numbered in such a way that you know how many metres away from the intersecting calle/carretera the property is!
Uber is (illegally) in this city, just make sure you sit it the front and are ready to tell disbelieving transport police you are friends with a local.
Tips for travellers
Everyone is very wary about the time of day you should head to Los 3 Cruces on the hill. We left at 11am and returned around 2pm. There were policeman at the entrance/exit who told us they are there until 4pm. Perhaps the real danger about leaving it too late is the crippling heat… Bring as much water as you can carry and wear sun cream – it really was the closest feeling I’ve had to being in a desert without actually being in one.
Most hostels offer free salsa classes, and remember – it’s Cali Salsa, not Cuban!
There is an indigenous music night every Thursday near San Antonio.
Topa Talandro is a club where a lot of people go to dance and it’s open almost every night.
Take photocopies of your ID with you on day trips – we were stopped and asked for proof of identity by the police on our way to San Cipriano.
Hostel: Pelican Lary, Duration: 2 nights
Hostel: Caelum, Duration: 4 nights