"Cali es Cali, lo demas es loma"

Trip Start Nov 24, 2007
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Trip End May 15, 2008


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Flag of Colombia  ,
Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cali. Colombia. Home to fake boobs, vanity (lots of it) and hot sweaty salsa. People that know me wouldn't call me a prude. I'm definitely down for a good time, anytime. We are only young for so long. That said, Cali is known for being a wild, off the charts party city Monday through Sunday and granted I didn't really come here to party, I wasn't overly impressed. I still did end up having some pretty good memories.

The first good memory happened the moment I arrived. Stepping off the bus with my belongings, the first thing that hit me was a wave of heat and suffocating humidity. Cali, Bienvenidos. Regaining my wits and having an idea of what to expect in this city after just leaving the more traditional and conservative Popayan, there in the line in front of me moving toward the taxi station was a goofy looking American dude in his mid 40's wearing tan sneakers, white calf-high tube socks that hugged his skinny legs, faded jean shorts that hung right below his knees and a yellow tank top that revealed skin so pale it positively hadn't seen sun in over twenty years. I'm probably not the type to be here I said to myself but it's one stop along the way north. American guy was in his element. He had a haircut that was somewhere in between a mullet and a short-cut toupee on top, little blotches of arm hair here and there, a gold necklace chain and hand on a killer gym bag and the other hand holding his brand new novia caleņa. If he wasn't a spectacle, she was. With a fake set of boobs that stuck out like two Colombian cantaloupe (and they know how to grow their fruit down here) she was an obvious prostitute. Dressed in a skin tight off-orange full body leotard that acted more like a second skin she obviously didn't feel the need to be conservative. The guy, an older version of Dilton Doiley from Archie comics was definitely the most awkward person I have ever seen completely oblivious to everything around him. Boy did he think he was the man though. Ick! Does it not make you shudder? She on the other hand was absolutely in control and while I made my judgments of the pair in complete hilarity, she was probably thinking she was hotter than a Bunsen Burner on high flame and taking advantage of a real good customer. It's always disheartening to see women relegated to some type of possession and sad to see them have to resort to selling themselves as a career without future. The only thing worse is when things like that involve kids. Deep down however part of me knew she liked it. Vanity and sex appeal here as a totally different place in society. Fake boobs or not, this is Cali and I think games are played with different rules.

If only I had taken a picture, then I'd have proof.

Cali isn't a particularly nice city. Aesthetic beauty seems much more focused on plastic surgery and personal looks  than on the curb appeal of streets and city blocks. The truth of it is though, everyone seems perfectly comfortable with that. They know what Cali is, they know what Cali isn't and the beauty of a city to them is measured by the happiness of its people. Probably why they go out every night. What's important is that they look good, their happy because of it and they enjoy
their lives as much as possible. Not a bad way of living in some ways I
guess...

In actuality, the think they live in the best place ever Hence the common colloquialism, "Cali es Cali, lo demas es loma." Cali is Cali and the rest is just hills or something along those lines. Obviously there is some pride involved in living here.

On the darker side, the hostels are dirty, people (the men at least) snort coke in every bathroom of every bar
downtown and there isn't much in town that is appreciated beyond face value. What I did enjoy however, aside from getting amusement out of watching guys do coke bar bathrooms (I went back there a few times and didn't really need-need to pee, just wanted to check out the scene - you can say that about bathrooms in very many places) was the surprising random acts of kindess from complete strangers around almost every corner. First it was the bus driver, then the taxi driver, next is was the person at the restaurant down the street. Cali probably hasn't had very many foreign tourists come visit in the last twenty years and even now it is seen as the most dangerous and violent city between itself, Cartagena, Medellin and Bogota so I am sure that a foreigner here is not all too common but regardless, the everday people were generous and willing and thoughful. It has been that way since I crossed the border. In Ecuador is was so much different. People were far more reserved and soft spoken. Even in close proximity on buses people were quiet where here in Colombia everyone chats. The guy working in the internet place I went to charitably offered me free coffee and even the person who I asked where the nearest cyber cafe how to get there was willing to direct me in person. I bought a fruit drink blended smooth type thing for a snack while walking around on the first day and after paying and telling the lady it was delicious and the best fruit I had tasted (maybe a white lie but she was a nice old lady) she graciously smiled and filled my cup back up again for free against my own will. On top of it all, I was even interviewed by national television on one of the main streets downtown, avenida sexta (that is 6th avenue in spanish for any dirty minds out there). They wanted to know what my thoughts were on street graffiti which, in a shy spanish I responded that it is an artistic avenue for expressing ones thoughts and beliefs. It can even look pretty sometimes on old buildings no longer occupied. The problem is when it used negatively and is used to destruct municipal or private party. A very sensitive topic and way or art.  It was as non-partisan as I could make it. I figured I'm a gringo, I better keep things somewhat ambiguous. I wonder if I made City TV news. Wouldn't that be funny. The last good gesture was by a family out at the same bar an english couple, myself and a german guy were all at one early evening. While it was weird that they wanted to randomly take pictures of us together and they didn't even know who we were, I have been in this position before when for no apparent reason you achieve celebrity status. That night we were probably as unfit for it as a group of people can be; dressed in nothing but stinky travel clothes. The two daughters lived in N.Y. and spoke english fluently. It was her birthday tomorrow and they were coming by to rent out the bar and offered to us that we come by and share the festivity with them. I probably should have stayed as I'm sure it would have been an excellent time and the grandma probably would have rocked the dance floor like no other but it's just one of those things you look back on and say, dang, too bad.

A song that is 100% Cali.
Think party. Think dancing Think warm weather. Think Colombia.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D22MZxGvH8Q

Next I look forward to a day trip to San Cipriano, an isolated little community east of Cali near the infamously poor and lawless port city of Buenaventura. Read next entry to find out more...
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