The three full days and nights spent in Cali, Colombia's third-largest city, have left me exhausted.
I arrived in Cali tired, on an early Wednesday morning. I still can't seem to sleep on these uncomfortable night buses, and always seem to arrive in the morning on just 30 minutes of sleep. I realized a few minutes too late that I'd left my sock hat on board the bus (an item from my brother that's been traveling with me since I left the U.S.).
The hostal that I ended up staying at, the Calidad House, was spacious and clean, but lacked hot water and a toilet seat in the shared bathroom. The lack of hot water I can understand, the daytime temperature in Cali is generally pretty hot, but I've lost count of the number of places I've stayed at that seem to feel that a cheap toilet seat is a luxury item to provide.
After a lengthy morning nap, I started to explore the city. I was only 20 minutes into my stroll through the crowded, downtown avenues when I noticed a woman across the street that had noticed me, stopped, and waved. Born in Ecuador, Johana had been living in Cali for two years, and was out running errands during her lunch break. We strolled together, she showed me the boutique she worked at, and invited to have dinner with her housemates and some friends.
I love seeing the inside of people's homes, and found Johana's to be rather unique. Narrow, but deep, the first room in the residence is setup as a hair and makeup salon. Her two housemates (an Austrian ex-boyfriend and a female Colombian who lived in NYC for 12 years) run a small operation out of the home.
We ate and chatted until long after midnight. Alex the Austrian is big into alternative medicine and other hippyish lifestyle beliefs—he taught me more about living by the Mayan calendar than I learned during all my time in Central America.
Thursday afternoon I hopped on a bus to see more of the massive city. I rode all the way to the other end of town, where I jumped off at one of the local universities (the University of Javeriana). Strong-arming my way past the security guard controlling admittance at the gate, I sauntered around the campus. Checking out college classrooms and facilities, and comparing/contrasting them with those of other countries is something I enjoy doing from time to time. At one point I found myself sitting in on an interesting marketing and advertising presentation in the main auditorium, entitled "Seducing the World."
Later that evening an exciting thing came into my possession: A pass (with admittance for two) to an invitation-only Diesel fashion show. I decided to bring Jio, a friendly Italian traveler that I was sharing a dorm room with, to the event.
Our taxi took us to the industrial part of town, where security was refusing entry into the complex to those without invitations. Diesel had commandeered a large warehouse, converting it into a place for models and beautiful, rich Colombians to gather.
The scene: Bar and lounge on the left as you enter; to the right, a white runway divides a massive room (adorned with lights, speakers, and video projectors). Chairs, followed by bleachers, flank both sides of the runway, while a mass of photographers and videographers are in position, equipment ready to capture the models as they strut and pose. A very attractive man and woman conduct a pre-show event with large, fluffy angel wings strapped to their backs.
It was neat watching the event. I've seen such things on TV before, but it's a totally different experience in person. For one, you often get the head-on view on television, watching the female models walk from the side is a weird sight. Their shoulders are thrusted way back, their beautiful legs marching at a brisk pace (almost way too far ahead of them), hips swinging madly. They have strong presence, each commanding the attention of the room—something that cannot be said for the men. The clothing and movement of the males models was underwhelming. The women have power in their strut, the men just seem to walk as they would down the street.
…Lord these models change clothes at lighting speed. I couldn't believe it.
And just when people seemed to start getting a bit bored, the show concluded with the swimsuits—daaaaaamn. You could feel the audience tingling.
The same warehouse turned into the after-party. There was probably 500–1,000 (pretty) people at the event, and most stayed to drink, dance, mingle, and flirt while a DJ took care of the tunes and workers striked the stage and lights (not in use for the party). I decided to take a peek backstage and then a walk up and down the runway during the festivities—my, how oddly natural it felt… (laughing)
Jio and I ultimately ended up hanging out with a over a dozen well-off Colombian guys and girls, dancing and drinking whiskey and ice in the lounge area. Many had spent some time in the States. It was nearing 1:00 in the morning when the group decided to change venues.
Nightclubs are an interesting thing in Cali. This is the salsa capital of the country, damn near every dance outfit is pumpin' salsa out of their speakers. Also of interest is that these same places begin shutting down as early as midnight, in at attempt to curb late-night violence. The later in the evening it gets, the further outside of the city center you have to go to dance/party.
Our convoy of four, packed cars pulled into a gravel parking lot, somewhere in outskirts of city. Apparently the signless building adjacent to us was our nightclub for the rest of the evening (morning).
For reasons I didn't really care to have explained to me, the majority of our group decided not to join us (I believe there was some opposition to paying for the cover charge, or bottle fee). The circular nightclub was pretty much empty when we arrived, but somewhere between 3–4:00 in the morning it got lively. Our group emptied the bottle of vodka quickly.
The club was lawless. Drugs were consumed openly, and were almost as cheap as the overpriced alcohol. People were snorting cocaine in the bathroom (US$4 for a baggie of 0.75 grams), swallowing Ecstasy (US$8 per pill) and sniffing poppers (given freely) on the dance floor. Booze certainly wasn't the only vice on the menu.
The music was house/trace/electronic, which I'll dance to with out resistance for a while, but can get really, really old after five hours. It was after 6:00 in the morning when I walked out of the club and into a vivid Las Vegas flashback—surprised eyes squinting at the sunlight after being inside a dark, windowless building for hours on end.
Friday night was meant to be tamer, but things have a bit of a tendency to escalate in Cali—I blame the festive local spirit.
After exploring the salsa scene in the city center I called up Jio, who was drinking and dining on Pizza with an Italian fella (now living in Cali) he met at the fashion show the night before. The Italian was connected in town, and I walked with Jio and two other Italians to a nearby nightclub. I met and partied with the owner, and a bottle of rum was ordered to compliment our beer and aguadiente—Colombian fire water (sugarcane alcohol with a bite that reminds me of Greek ouzo).
The club shut down, a large group of us moved to the next location, too many shots of aguadiente were had, and before I knew it I was having memories of Vegas sunrises again…
Colombians are friendly, warm, inquisitive, and outgoing people (who know how to have a good time). Probably one-in-four nightclub goers have some English under their belts, which can make the conversation much more stimulating for both parties.
Good times; good people.