Last update: 07-Dec-2013 3:12 am
Saturday, December 07, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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The Cali charm - tantalising and thrilling
The city of Cali, in Colombia, can be likened to a meal where all your favourite ingredients are harmoniously and excitingly put together in a way that is both unexpected and thrilling.
The city proved to be as exciting and tantalising as its local foods, food which leaves one wanting more and entirely careless about mundane things like weight gain.
Colombia’s reputation leans more toward crime and drugs because popular media say the best cocaine is Colombian and enough stories of guerrilla warfare make their way into international news pages around the world.
During my week in Cali, I did not see or experience any incidents of crime, though that may have been the result of the hundreds of police officers on almost every corner of the city. I did not see drugs and to the relief of all of my loved ones, I was not kidnapped and sold for my body parts on the Colombian black market.
What I saw in Cali was a culture of happiness, where a stranger will walk up to a woman and twirl her before launching into the rhythm of salsa steps.
And if variety is the spice of life, then Cali is the salsa (flavour) of Colombia. The city has something for everyone and equipped with a camera for the many beautiful buildings and stunning landscape, you will definitely find things that you enjoy but may not have been looking for.
My first few days in the city was spent learning the intricate steps of salsa dancing and taking walks in the city centre and around my hotel.
My limited spanish was not a problem as most Latin Americans are expressive and speak using a lot of body language. This helped when I needed to purchase toothpaste but couldn’t find on the shelves outside of the Sheraton Hotel, where I spent my seven days in Cali.
It also came in handy, the one time I got sick and had to explain to paramedics and a concerned hotel manager that I was feeling a bit of nausea, and no I did not want an injection for my stomach pain.
It is a city rich in architecture, history, art and culture, but Cali’s greatest value lies in its population of close to two million people and their appreciation and love of their own culture.
“Cali es Cali y de mas a tomas,” they will tell you. The phrase basically translates to mean Cali is Cali and the rest don’t matter. They won’t say it to be boastful, they say it because they believe it and the many Colombian flags hanging from windows and doorways throughout the diverse city will evidence the strong patriotism and love for both city and country.
It is a city where manufacturer of musical instruments, Hector Rocha, will happily discuss how many of his instruments are shipped to countries like T&T, while offering mango juice and telling a journalist how pretty she is and how popular she would be if she decided to stay in Cali. n Continues on Page B2
At Rocha’s store, El Piernas, like in other places around the city, the idea of staying in Cali forever, seems like the greatest idea in the world.
It is a city that has sites ranging from a famous “cat park” filled with human sized cats of various patterns and designs, to the giant statue of Jesus at Cristo Rey (Christ the King), his hands spread wide as sunlight makes the statue and the surrounding hillside feel majestic.
Cristo Rey, is four metres shorter than the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In Cali, designer stores and large, extravagant complexes can be easily located, but the real shopping can and should be done at local markets such as Loma de la Cruz, where locals make unique but beautiful jewellery out of coffee beans, watermelon seeds and orange peels and really inexpensive leather products can be found.
In the inner city areas, it is easy to spot groups of young people, spray painting or even creating murals on city walls. This is something both approved and encouraged by a Government, which encourages creativity in its citizens.
The city has several gastronomic centers, streets lined with restaurants that represent cultures across the globe, but native Cali food, made of locally grown plantains, avocadoes, arepas stuffed with pork and cheese, savory rice dishes and sweet juices and deserts are enough to tempt one away from regular cuisine.
My stomach yearns for a return to Cali, Colombia, the city where I chewed a coca leaf, and no I did not get high or experience an altered state of being.
I chewed a coca leaf, to be daring but the result was that my misconceptions and preconceived notions of a country of only crime and drugs were destroyed.
That coca leaf, which is used by locals to make a relaxing tea, was more than I expected it to be, and as an introduction to Colombia, Cali, a city of beautiful art, history, culture and dancing was perfect in it’s simplicity.
Kalifa’s trip to Cali, Colombia was sponsored by Pro Export Colombia.
Flights to Colombia are from Piarco via Copa Airlines.
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