Colombia 7: Cali

Much to my surprise, we actually arrived in Cali around the time advised, making it to the bus terminal at around 1:10pm. I then spent far, far too much of my time trying to figure out where to catch a local bus to the area of Miraflores, speaking to about half a dozen different locals whom all kept pointing me along in the direction I was going, me getting sweatier and more tired as time went on, until I eventually gave in and hailed a taxi. I don’t know why I couldn’t have done that 40 minutes beforehand but there you go. I made it to my hostel – Casa Miraflores – where I was paying $20,000 pesos a night (£6) at just after 2pm and was able to check in immediately.

Now, I think we have all gathered that my Spanish isn’t the best. I can speak basic Spanish and understand less, and I do feel embarrassed and frustrated by how insufficient my ability is, however I am trying. Honestly. It just takes me some time once I have heard someone speak to me to translate it in my head and then understand it. So when the guy at reception told me my room (not something simple like seven – siete – but two hundred and five – doscientos cinco) it took me a few seconds to work it out but before I had time to he sighed and said “you really need to learn Spanish!” Erm, I know – estoy aprendiendo! It’s as though he had forgotten what it is like to learn another language – English – and lost any patience or compassion for it, leaving me feeling small and hot with humiliation. Right, well, let’s see if the rest of Cali can offer any warmth.

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Bunuelo and a cup of Avena

After picking up a map and trying to ask the guy on reception as few questions as I could, I head out in the direction of San Antonio. I didn’t make it far before I spotted a patisserie and, noticing me stick my nose in, a customer asked me where I was from and started chatting to me. Eyeing up what he was chewing down on, and based on his recommendation, I ordered a Bunuelo (a traditional Colombian Christmas treat, but they are also popular year round for breakfast and are popular in other parts of South America, too) and a cup of Avena (which means oats in English but is a traditional Colombian drink that is rich, creamy and delicious). I devoured both – dipping the bunuelo into the avena as per his suggestion – while he warned me about how dangerous San Antonio park and Mirador Sebastian De Belaclazar was; the two places I was heading. I thanked him for his words of comfort and continued on to the hilly area of San Antonio – a popular Backpacker destination.

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I meandered through the streets, through Parque Loma de la Cruz where there were market stalls, locals playing music and police patrolling, and eventually up through the base of San Antonio Park where the church Iglesias San Antonio resides. Here I bought a bottle of water and asked a local where the Mirador (lookout) was and again was directed away from the “danger” – it would really help if I had properly understood which way the “danger” was.

But anyway, I gave it a shot and made sure to never be out of eyesight from people, walking along the path to the right of the park, down the hill and across the road before climbing the steps to Mirador Sebastian; a statue that is pointing out behind him and offers views across the city of Cali. I want to say it was a nice view, I want to have felt peaceful at the top, but… I don’t know, it was lacking any magic for me. 

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I walked back down the hill and alongside the river before making it to the historic down town, an area peppered with landmarks and tourist sights. I wandered around the streets, cross-crossing as I prefer to stumble, not feeling particularly enamoured by anything. I stumbled across Catedral de San Pedro and this was my first moment of joy in Cali – entering a peaceful, quiet, dark church away from the car horns, traffic and chaos if Cali’s streets where I felt stared at and preyed upon. I sat in there for a good 20 minutes, just letting the quiet wash over me, before stepping out onto the Plaza and feeling the first bit of open space without chaos.

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I continued to wander the streets, crossing the river and interrupting street performers, before making my way back to miraflores and grabbing a bite to eat at the cafe just down the road from my hostel – carne plancha with rice, plantain and a salad, along with a bowl of soup and a glass of fresh lemonade, for $7,500 pesos (£2). Back at the hostel I felt exhausted from my long day and worn out by the feeling of not being entirely safe or comfortable on Cali, so I passed up the opportunity for a classic Cali night out of Salsa and hit the sack instead.

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I woke up in a slightly better mood and, after a decent hostel breakfast and feeling perked up from booking my accommodation in Quito, Ecuador, I headed out in the opposite direction from the day before. First I went to Alameda Farmers Market where I perused the meat, fruit, vegetables and other goods on offer without actually buying anything (every vendor’s dream) and then I sat and had a cappuccino for $2,500 pesos (£1) from The Trinitario Coffee as recommended by my hostel. 

I then basically spent the next 4 hours on what I like to call a wild goose chase of money exchange. I really needed to have some dollars before crossing the border into Ecuador – planned for the following morning – and apparently there weren’t money exchange services at the bus terminal. My hostel had pointed out a Western Union not far from the market but this one was closed and, as I was planning to go to Escuela de Baile el Manicero at 4pm for a group salsa class I decided to head in that direction and I would be bound to find something, right?? Wrong. I couldn’t see any small cambier outlet, the next Western Union I passed by wasn’t open yet, the one inside the Exito (supermercado) nearby the salsa place had run out of dollars, so had the one round the corner. The places I was taken to by two kind South American ladies I happened to run into wouldn’t change up money, and I was being directed farther and farther away and my feet were hot and I was tired. It was literally the most ridiculous thing, and when I eventually found a western union that had dollars in Cosmo Centro they asked for my passport and I realised I didn’t have it on me. Brilliant. I almost cried right in front of the bewildered cashier but, on a mission now, I eventually found somewhere in Cosmo Centro that exchanged my pesos for dollars without requiring any identification. Let’s hope it’s not counterfeit…

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The busy streets of Cali near Alameda Farmers Market

I made it back to Escuela de Baile el Manicero just after 4 and went through the difficult-to-spot white door and made my way up the stairs. It seems as though you can book a block of classes however, as I was leaving later that day, I paid $12,000 pesos (£4) for a 2 hour group dance class with about 4 instructors. Still really good value for money. We started with a warm up and then went straight into dancing salsa to music, me just having to crane my head to watch the steps and desperately follow the moves. There were about 3 songs to loosen us up and then we were split into groups based on our level – clearly I was intermediate, and we spent close to an hour learning basic salsa steps and dancing them solo to different music, to then pairing up and trying out the moves in partners. It was so so difficult – much harder than I expected – but so so much fun. I was hot, sweaty but happy, trying not to care what I looked like or how bad I was but just give it my best shot. Laughing at yourself definitely helps. I would say this was without a doubt my highlight of Cali.

In hindsight maybe I should have booked another night to go out to a salsa club in Cali and maybe hike the Three Crosses (3 hour hike up a mountain) for views of Cali, but I had been so put off on my first day and made the decision to move on to Ecuador, so once I was back at my hostel at around 7pm I grabbed a taxi to the bus terminal ($10,000 pesos, or £3) with the intention of getting the 8pm, or maybe 9pm, overnight bus to Ipiales, where you can then catch a taxi to the Ecuadorean border, however apparently there were no spaces left on any of the buses. What?! Nooooooo! (This is literally what I said in response). Luckily another employee said there was 1 space left on the 10pm bus – not ideal as I had over 2 hours to wait and it would mean getting to Ipiales at 10am rather than 8am, meaning crossing the border later and getting into Quito later, etc etc.

However I was just glad to be able to get a bus rather than trundle all the way back to my hostel and have to cancel my booked hostel, so I sat down at a cafe for their Almuerzo Completo, this time having beef with rice and plantain and salad – plus the standard soup – before settling in the waiting room to write my blog (yep, this very post). I did happen to get into conversation with a lovely Colombian for a while, once again being frustrated at my terrible Spanish, making me once again feel a bit sad to be leaving Colombia but also excited about going to Ecuador. Colombia, it took me a while to warm to you, but I’ve had an amazing couple of weeks. Maybe see you again…

LS

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