“Cali is the salsa capital of the world. Cali is not short for California. Cali is the third biggest city in Colombia. I am here to dance.”
I had to explain this to two of my closest friends and because they are so smart, I decided to not assume that you, reader, know where Cali is.
But seriously. You think I would spend two weeks in California without making plans to see you? Yeah, so I’m crashing somewhere just five blocks down the road…
In the 70s, large salsa bands performed in Cali, they set shop there and people drank in the music ever since. This is according to my friend and bartender of the Manhattan Bar on Calle 5. Why else is it called the Salsa Capital of the World? Other factors include the variety of salsa schools available in Cali, the plethora of discotecas that bang music from night till sunrise and global salsa champs who have won dance contests.
Attended the salsa/circus show Delirio, a must see if they’re on tour!
There are several types of salsa, the most common are:
- dancing on 2 – NY style
- line dancing on 1 – LA style
- Casino rueda/ Cuban – you dance on the same beats as with LA style, except without the crazy arms, Cuban salsa is also more circular
Salsa Caleña is a lot like Cuban style salsa. There’s a bit of a swing and dancing in circles but the beautiful and unique part of salsa Caleña is its use of the mambo (a back step to mark the beat) and crazy and insane footwork.
I saw a professional salsa dancer freestyle solo last night and his legs looked like they were spinning, almost cartoonish. When I first saw it, being a line dancer, I thought it looked a bit silly (but I was really intimidated by the challenge). A few weeks later, I started throwing in my own calenitas and now I love it!
Dancing in Pance
It’s very normal to break into a dance anywhere in Cali
I have a list of things that I need to do before I turn 30 and this has been one of them. I thank my boyfriend and partner in life, James for committing to six weeks of salsa dancing. When we first arrived to Cali, we were nervous because it felt like Barranquilla, there’s nothing to do there for tourists unless it’s carnival season. In Cali, there is no reason to go there unless you’re interested in salsa dancing. Cali is also hot! The nearest largest body of water is over two hours away, so it felt a bit enclosed. Wait, there is the Pance river but that’s different. Anyway, my nagging fear was that I would spend two hours a day dancing in already hot weather but oh well, lets do it!
I did my research on a few salsa schools and narrowed it down to three:
- Son de luz – 10 hours private lessons for $200 US*
- Includes an unlimited month class pass to all their group classes
- Casa de la salsa – $10 for an hour private lesson
- Manicero – $24 for a month pass, good for 16 two-hour group lessons
We decided to check out Manicero and got hooked on the price. If you do the math, that’s $1.50 for a two-hour class. That same class would cost $7-12 in the US. We bought the month pass and decided to supplement it with a weekly private lesson and dancing at salsa clubs at night.
This worked out well. We got the best teacher at Manicero to come to our apartment and give us a 2-hour private lesson. He charged 60,000 pesos or about $18. It was a great set-up and James learned a lot. One of the hardest part for a novice is getting the beat and he’s figured it out in less than a month.
As for me, I was quite happy having a routine:
- 8 – 9am: wake-up, meditate, coffee, skim the NY Times
- 9-12: work
- 1-4pm: swim, exercise a bit more (or not), lunch, hang out
- 4- 9pm: bus to Manicero, salsa lesson, late snack or dinner, take bus back home
We did this four times a week and the grueling 30-40 minute commute to the dance class on the MIO bus took a toll on my road to becoming a less impatient human being. As a result, after three weeks, we moved out of Ciudad Jardin (located in the south) and moved closer to where all the action is.
TIP: Everyone who goes to Cali does so for the salsa. We haven’t met anyone who isn’t here for any other reason. So when you arrive, find a hostel or lodging that’s within walking distance to your chosen salsa school. The traffic in Cali is the worst and something I had to put up with every day. I never saw anything like it anywhere else in Colombia or anywhere else in the world. Allow me to expand on this point.
YEAH EVERYONE SAYS THE TRAFFIC IS BAD JUANA, BUT YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE I LIVE
Oh, yeah? The motorcyclists are obnoxious and rude. They have no sense of space and often drive on pedestrian sidewalks to cut through traffic. I can’t tell you the times that I felt like I was being followed only to turn around and see that a motorcyclist was meandering behind me, waiting for me to get out of the way so that they can slip into a ramp and join traffic. A cab driver told me that three people die a day as a result of these morons. That sounds crazy but I don’t not believe it. My advice? It’s Colombia and you’re a guest. Everyone else is used to it so just keep your eyes peeled and give them the right of way. In Colombia, vehicles have the right away. Resist the urge to yell at them for being selfish, uncivilized pieces of scrap.
OTHER THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR IN COLOMBIA
More Traffic (in Cali)- As soon as you hop on a MIO transit bus, expect to wait five minutes before it takes off. The stop lights in Cali have the longest wait time that I’ve ever experienced.
Just waiting at the Exito Supermarket
The Exito Supermarket – It’s the biggest one around but avoid it if you can. People who decide to redeem their puntos (points) can hold up the line for up to 40 minutes, or longer! This happened to us in several times and one time, I thought I was going to make a quick milk and avocado run but then I had to abandon my groceries after waiting for 20 minutes. It felt like being stuck in traffic there.
Non-committing Colombians – If you get the fortunate opportunity to make friends or acquaintances, great! Here’s a tip: If you ever ask a Colombian for a favor, they will say, “Yes, of course, definitely!” … without any initiative to actually go through with it! So, give yourself a secret deadline. If it doesn’t get done by so and so, move on!
Fast Food Restaurants – When it comes to speed, chains are the slowest in developing countries in Latin America. If you’re in a hurry, grab an already prepared empanada or savory pastry at the panaderia.
Just my experience
WHAT I WILL MISS ABOUT COLOMBIA IN GENERAL
Street Pizza – It’s not bad. It’s perhaps due to the ovens which can at least guarantee a crust with good texture. They also don’t skimp on the ingredients.
Pan de Bono – cheesy bread rings brought by an Italian immigrant who settled in Cali. In Italian, Pan de Bono means “Good bread.”
Diversity – Perhaps the color of your skin is as significant as the color of your hair in Cali. There’s a little bit of everything in Cali.
Caught the Superbowl in Cali with Shane (from Couchsurfers) and Colombian pal, Mauricio
The People – The people here have a great sense of humor. They’re friendly and honest.
Before James and I traveled to Colombia, we had heard from everyone who has NOT been there, that it would be dangerous. If you were that person, perhaps you were concerned about my safety but going forward, it is best to back up your claims by actual sources and not the outrageous media. My mother would text me about the nightmare she had of me in Colombia and to be careful because it was an omen! That only served to spook me momentarily. Colombia did indeed have a dark past but it has changed since and as a result of it still rebounding from it, the tourist industry is still developing. But people are discovering it and once backpackers flock to it for its natural beauty, its people and culture, Colombia will change forever.
Below are photos for the fam. In between dancing and working, we also did other stuff like watch the GOP debate, ate a restaurant called “The Magical Kitchen of…” and swam in the Pance river. In total, we spent five months traveling through Colombia. Next is Ecuador for who knows how long but we’re thinking a month.
In the historical old town of Cali
Watching the GOP debate in Cali
Pan de bono at La Paola panaderia
Me want some more pan de bono
We love it when we Ryan visits