As our taxi floundered around the back streets of Cali, we reflected on the inability of taxi drivers on this continent to find anything, ever. Despite a lifetime spent building up a local version of ‘The Knowledge’ drivers inevitably ask us for detailed directions to our hostel, refusing the option of GPS map services in their determination to get us lost down a dubious back alley. I suspect a scheme to rinse tourists of their money, but have never quite discovered the right time/abandoned street to confront anyone about it.
Finally arriving at Hostel Magic Garden, we were welcomed by the friendliest woman in the world. She excitedly listed Cali’s best eateries, sights and activities – we didn’t have the heart to tell her we were only passing through. Our room was tastefully decorated and spacious, with a small welcome basket sat at our bedside. Having found what is clearly the best hostel in the world, it seemed apt that we would only spent one night here…
Cali has a bit of a gritty reputation, and we confined ourselves to the affluent (and Gringo-replete) San Antonio area, sampling the coffee at the locally revered Moncora Cafe. Afterwards we climbed the hill to the tumbledown San Antonio church, then sat on the worn steps and enjoyed a panoramic view of the ‘Salsa Capital of the World’.
That evening there was a parade in honour of the Colombian armed forces; music filled the air as locals flocked to San Antonio park. A local and his son chatted to us while groups of soldiers marched past; evidently there is concern here about the destabilising effect of the Venezuelan crisis. As he confidently spoke to us in 3 languages (English, Spanish, German), his young son solved math problems in both English and Spanish – they were evidently a disgustingly capable family!
At the height of the parade, a group of young soldiers took to the stage for a surprisingly competent song and dance routine, the crowd surging forward to join in with the salsa dancing. The atmosphere was electric; it was undoubtedly the most Colombian thing we had seen so far!