Santiago de Cali: Salsa Dancing & Cannabis Smoking Under the World’s 2nd Biggest Jesus
Santiago de Cali, Colombia, my oh my. Although I was only there for a couple days, I certainly found it interesting. We got up high in the hills to see the Cristo Rey (Bug Jesus), the 2nd biggest in the world, as well as a stunning panorama of the city below. Our hostel regaled us with some circus performers one night doing acrobatics, juggling, and cracking whips to pop balloons held by tentative hostels guests in their hands and mouths (shout out to Johnson for involuntarily volunteering). Another night was spent learning to cook a traditional Colombian soup, Ajiaco (of course we also made some mom’s spaghetti), and then forging on the food. And the last night was spent soaking in the sight of a Cali salsa club, which was absolutely mesmerizing.
Cali is notorious for its crazy fast dancing but you really have to see it first hand. The beating heart of the Colombian salsa scene, Cali gets down suavely at a beat faster than my gringo feet can move. It almost seems as if Caleñas (women from Cali) come out of the womb grooving to salsa. It’s pretty absurd how smoothly and intricately they can dance to such fast-paced music flawlessly. We saw one guy dance with a couple girls doing passes, spins, twirls, crossovers, pretty much any more invented...and he did some of them one handed while he was fixing his belt. If you want to learn to Salsa, then Cali is the place for you. Take notes from the local pros, and draw up the courage to ask a Caleña to dance, and maybe she’ll teach your gringo hips, legs, and feet to move to more of a Colombian rhythm.
Surprisingly enough, I learned that Cali is also one of the more hippie friendly towns in all of Colombia. On the last night before heading to the salsa club, I met a Caleña at Plaza San Antonio, which was astonishingly similar to a Colombian Dolores Park. Groups of friends, couples, young and old, were all in circles around the terraced park, and marijuana smoke permeated and perfumed the evening air. I learned from this Caleña that aside from Salsa music, Caleños love listening to reggae and lighting up a joint. To me it checks out that reggae jamming and pot smoking is the flip side of the fast paced salsa scene. I wouldn’t hate having a more of that yin and yang in my life.