On boxing day, Kevin and Rachel flew north to the Caribbean coast, where I would meet them a few days later. My plan had been to spend a few more days in the coffee region, but when I learned that Cali’s annual celebration of music and dance falls on the last week of the year, a change of mind was all but inevitable. So, rather than relax in one of the most beautiful regions of Colombia, I took a four hour bus back to a sprawling, unpopular metropolis. And I’m glad I did. I had the time of my life.
While most night clubs are crowded with people who seem to be looking for something, Cali’s clubs - and during Feria, it’s parks, streets, and riverbanks - are full of people who seem to have found something. Salsa is sport in Cali, where the fans are the players, and the athleticism and passion rival anything you’d find in a soccer stadium. If you end up in the wrong spot on the dance floor, you’ll get run over without a hint of an apology. And you can ask anyone to dance - regardless of the conversation or relationship they’re in the middle of. Caleños are enthusiastic, friendly, and eager to share. Nobody seemed to mind showing a gringo the basics, so I got more than a handful of lessons. But the results weren’t good. Like over-coaching a golf swing, everything went to shit. One woman became exasperated. “Oh god! Forget I told you anything.” she implored, “Please don’t think. Just dance.” But on one cared that I appeared to be a lost cause, I continued to accept and extend invitations, with a nary a sideways glance.
As I’ve grown slightly tired of hopping from one tourist sight to another, I’ve found it’s people that still energize me. So Cali, devoid of anything to do or see, but overflowing with joie de vivre, was just what I needed. It was unusually hard for me to leave.