Cali, what can I say about Cali?! I planned on staying about 3 days in Cali but ended up staying nearly 3 weeks. Too many distractions; The World Games, The International Salsa Festival, pretty girls and some great bakeries to name but a few. The last few weeks of my journey could be more accurately described as Billy’s Big Salsa Class and obviously no better place to do a class or 12 than Cali, the world salsa capital.
My arrival into Cali on a Thursday evening coincided with the last few days of the World Games which are the Olympic's little brother. I was in a rush to meet Andrea, a local Caleña who I had met through couchsurfing. We met downtown at about half past six and she gave me directions as to where to meet near her apartment while I cycled and she caught a taxi across town. While making my way to our meeting point with my packed bike I stopped to ask directions at a street corner. After a few questions along the lines of where I was from and what I was doing with all the gear on the bike I noticed that one of the guys had a large television camera. A few minutes later I was doing an interview on Colombian national television about my trip with a crowd of about thirty people around me taking photos. It's amazing who people will line up to have their photo taken with once there is a TV camera in front of them... I didn't even have my Trocaire t-shirt on?! There was a big cheer from the crowd when I waved a Colombian flag that had been thrust into my hands! In the middle of the interview I could feel my phone vibrating with Andrea ringing, worried as to where I had disappeared to! She quickly forgave me for my late show and was laughing as she over heard a passer by exclaiming that I was the cyclist from the television!
The World Games feature lots of sports that haven’t made it into the Olympics such as Tug of War, Lifesaving, Sumo, Latin dancing, Heavy Ball and Artistic Roller Skating to name a few. Once I heard it was not sold out and that some of the tickets were quite cheap I was very excited to go off and check out a few sports that I had never heard of twenty four hours previous. First up was Beach Handball in the city bullring. I got to see the local Colombian team get cheered on to beat Australia. Later that day it was off to see the rugby sevens which seemed to be a lot more popular and was being held in the main stadium - Estadio Olimpico Pascual Guerrero.
|Colombia Vs Australia in the beach handball|
|Brazil Vs Hong Kong in the rugby sevens|
|The Colombia rugby team get great support from their home crowd|
The following day I went to see kayak polo with Andrea and her boyfriend Egor. The outdoor Olympic pool was only a short walk from her apartment. Amused to see what kayak polo was all about, it actually did not take me long to become quite absorbed in the matches. When it comes to kayak polo the Germans appear to be a pretty difficult team to beat. They are very efficient at scoring goals.
|France Vs Holland in the kayak polo|
|Taking a break from the kayak polo and the baking hot sun. No better way than with a cholado, a delicious, refreshing fruit, ice and syrup mix.|
|In the packed out, very warm gymnastics hall|
|Athletes in action on the floor|
Thinking that was me done, Andrea and Egor kindly invited me to the gymnastics which was sold out. There was a fantastic atmosphere in the large arena. We later finished the day off with what I surprisingly found to be the most impressive of all the events witnessed, the climbing. Not being a big fan of heights climbing is not something that had ever caught my attention but to see these athletes sprint up a 30 metre climbing wall à la spiderman was a sight to behold.The competition involved two athletes race up identical climbing walls in a matter of seconds. There was usually only split seconds in the difference.
|On a Sunday bike spin with Andrea we passed this river that's popular for a dip on a warm day.|
|Downtown Cali which becomes a ghost town after dark|
|A day trip to a waterfall on the outskirts of Cali|
As if the World Games was not enough excitement for one city The World Salsa festival was on the following week so I couldn't hop back on the bike without checking that out. Before heading off on this trip I had always hoped to take some Spanish classes and a few salsa classes if the opportunity arose. Having done a weeks Spanish class in Guatemala it was time to tick the salsa box.. in the world salsa capital on the same week as the world salsa festival! Cali is considered the salsa capital of the world due to it's complete dominance over any other type of music in the city... go into a supermarket and salsa music is playing, hop in a taxi and the driver is listening to one of numerous salsa stations. There are over a hundred salsa schools and I heard there are around seven thousand professional salsa dancers in the city. Needless to say, most bars or clubs you visit have salsa playing with locals and tourists spinning each other around to the catchy tunes.
I thought this was great but I wasn't the only Irish man to be enthralled by this salsa city. Richie Kirwan (http://thedancingirishman.wordpress.com/) is a guy from Waterford who I met and is a dance instructor living here for the last two years. I was happy to take Richie up on his offer of a free dance class for every Irish person that passed through. He also had a great bunch of local and international friends who all loved their salsa, so I spent several nights out in different venues attempting the difficult task of putting into practice the rehearsed moves that I had learned earlier in the day. Things seemed to go from bad to worse with my salsa "skills" over the week with some poor girls receiving elbows to the head or body with the occasional kick in the chin to keep them guessing. There was an Australian friend who was a very good dancer who downright refused to dance with me despite being good pals over the week. She had had laser treatment on her eyes earlier in the week and wasn't taking any chances with flying elbows. She told me that she had actually ended up in Accident and Emergency one time due to a salsa move gone wrong. It was not all one way traffic however and I was on the receiving end of a choice elbow to the head one evening in Tin Tin Deo nightclub. (http://www.tintindeo.com/nosotros/) She must have been warned.
|Spot the Irish lads..|
On my last Saturday night out Richie, myself and some of his pals went to Chango's, one of the better known salsa clubs in Cali, located on the outskirts of the city. It was one of the original late night Salsa clubs and it was like walking into a nightclub from the 1970s. It was a great venue with salsa playing nearly all night. Watching the locals in action with all their impressive rhythm and spins was captivating. So, after hours of classes during the week it was time to put some of my new moves into practice. I shudder to even think about it. At one stage I asked a Dutch girl up to dance who was a very good dancer and thus followed probably the worst two minutes I've ever had on a dance floor. (One of the problems that I had acquired in Cali was that I sometimes found it difficult to identify the beat, thinking a song was a fast dance when in fact it was a slower one and vice versa. See Richie's blog for a rough idea of what I'm talking about; http://thedancingirishman.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/how-to-find-that-goddamn-1-beat-in-salsa/ ) Anyway, off we march onto the dance floor and I can't hear the beat, so.. worst thing ever, she starts counting out the "uno, dos, tres, uno, dos, tres..." As the dance continued to deteriorate she had a kinda look of "Is this guy for real..?" and a sense of complete disinterest as if wondering when it would all be over. To be honest by the end of the song, I was pretty relieved it was all over too.
BUT Billy's salsa attempts are not all over, it'll take more than that to dissuade me. Practice makes perfect, or at least remotely look like you know what you are doing, LOTS and lots of practice..! Girls, I promise to take more care with those flying elbows!