A little bit about Colombia: Colombia was conquered & colonized by the Spanish in mid 1500’s, and gained independence in 1819 as the Republic of New Granda (that included Colombia and Panama); and after various changes, including the secession of Panama in 1903 (thanks to the US, for its interest in the Panama Canal), became the Republic of Colombia. Since the 1960’s, Colombia was engulfed in internal strife and armed conflict between the Govt, left wing guerrilla groups (incl FARC) and right wing paramilitary groups; and more recently (1975-1993), the Drug cartels (including Pablo Escobar) armed fights between themselves and with the Govt to protect their lucrative cocaine trade made Colombia the murder capital of the world. The USA was heavily involved in both the left-wing guerilla and drug cartel wars; to wipe out communism before it reached the US, and to eradicate the cocaine trade. Since 2010 onwards, peace deals were made with FARC and the country had become safe, stable and is economically thriving.
To get to Cali, we had to fly from Dallas to Miami and then onto Cali. Colombia is in the same time zone as Dallas, and it took us from 8AM to 8PM to get to Cali; which included two ~4hr flights and transit wait time.
We arrived in Cali after dark, and after clearing immigration, we went through customs which included declaring the value of our good we were carrying (including our suitcases and the names of our suitcases). Once outside, the first thing we saw was a fruit stand where the lady was selling huge mangos and tree tomato fruit.
Since I had free cellular data, I got an Uber to take us to the hotel in downtown Cali. The Uber driver spoke no English, so not much conversation with we could understand, Just as we left the airport outskirts, we saw a brightly lit hotel; called the “Love and Sex Motel”. Hmmmm, interesting, language we can all understand.
The ride into the town took about ~25 mins and the Uber cost was about $12; very reasonable, and good start to our Colombia trip. At the hotel, we inquired about nearby places to go eat at, but we were told that since this was a Sunday, everything around was closed. So we settled for some room service and hit the sack.
Next day, after breakfast (included) at the hotel, we got some idea from the concierge of where to go and what to sightsee. The hotel was in the La Merced and San Antonio areas, both of which were the original settlements of Cali, so historical. We walked over the La Merced cathedral, thru some nice park areas, which were well preserved and had cat (gata) statues from various artists along the pathways, see pics below
We walked into the old area of La Merced and below are some pictures from the old City.
We came across the “Poet’s square” where there were multiple people that had set up typewriter stands and were typing out documents for customers; not a sight you see very often.
There were several pedestrian only areas here which had all kinds of small business set up and of course, the fruit stands
We then walked over to the National Theatre which was a well preserved old theatre both outside and inside
Next, we wandered over the Cali Cultural Center, opposite the Thearto Municipal; to check out what was happening there. We saw a lot of people there and a lot of offices; and walked into a large conference room where it was air conditioned and therefore cool. (Up to now, only the hotel had been cool with AC). We sat and watched as we thought some kind of a show was going on, but it turned out that this was a prep session for a Pacific coast (Cali is only 60miles for the Pacific coast) culinary festival; and was being attended by mostly local women. So after a few minutes of this; we left to go back to the hotel. Some scenes below are of what we saw on the walk back to the hotel.
At evening time, we decided to visit the Cristo Rey statue on the hilltop overlooking the city of Cali. This statue is similar to the one in Rio, but much smaller (only 26m). So we called an Uber to take us there, and the ride there was all uphill through some interesting neighborhoods. Once we got to the top, we saw that there was no public transport back, so we agreed with the driver that he would visit the Christo Rey statue with us, and then take us back into the City. Below are some images at Christo Rey
We then went back to Cali, and asked to get dropped off at San Antonio neighborhood, which was part of the old City with good food paces as it was dinner time. The whole Uber ride cost is $10
Once in San Antonio, we walked around and asked at a coffee shop where we could get some good food, and were directed 2 blocks away to Azul. So we walked over to Azul, and to get in, the doorman had to pull a string to a bell, that then got someone to come let us in. Once inside, we realized that this was a small restaurant that specialized in very good food, and was reasonable full with patrons. Of course, nobody spoke any English, so had to get by on broken Spanish and sign language. Ordered a beer and wine, and then ordered a couple of dishes. It took some time for the food to come, and in the meantime, the owner came and talked to a couple sitting at the table next to us at length. The gentleman at that table got up and spoke to us in perfect English, explaining that our dishes had not turned out to the chef’s quality standards, and were being remade, hence the delay; the establishment wanted to convey their apologies, and give us a dish as complementary. So we asked for free desert instead. In the meantime, our food arrived shortly thereafter, and both dished were delicious and tasty. We then got desert on the house which was a passion fruit desert. These were the first people we met outside the hotel that spoke English.
We got talking to the couple next to us that spoke good English; Ronny and Martha. Ronny teaches English to local company executives, and Martha owns and runs a bakery near where they lived. We learnt a lot about Colombia, Cali, culture, where to go and what to eat etc from Ronny and Martha, who were at this restaurant for Ronny’s birthday 🙂
After dinner, we decided to walk to the hotel, but the restaurant owner advised us to take a taxi instead. So we called an Uber and left after saying our goodbye’s. The dinner plus drinks etc at this boutique place cost us $30 altogether. Uber rides were also cheap, costing us about $1-$3 within the City, where we were staying.
Next day, we decided to go visit the Galleria Alameda, which was the local market for fresh fruits, vegetables, and more; based on Ronny’s recommendations. Took an Uber there, and the driver told us that the Sancocho was the best thing to have at the market. Below are some scenes from this market
At this market, we saw lots of fruits and vegetables, some that we did not recognize; if anyone can help us name some of the fruits and vegetables, that would help a lot
We then went into an area where there were multiple stalls selling cooked meals; and as we were checking out the menu’s; a lady approached us and told us that she had seen us the day before at the Cali Cultural Center when we had stopped at the Culinary festival meeting! What a nice & pleasant coincidence. She showed us her Basilica restaurant menu from the Valle Pacifico, and seeing Sancocho de Pescado on the menu, we were sold. We sat down with her and had the local Sancocho; she showed us her operation and the various herbs she uses in her cooking; we did not recognize any of these herbs she was using. New culinary experience in the market 🙂
The Sancocho was indeed excellent soup with fish, Yuca, Plantain and vegetables inside. After saying our goodbye’s, we went outside to do some more touring
So far, the daytime temperatures were in the high 80’s to low 90’s during the day, and in the mid 70’s at night. A little warm but not uncomfortable. Cali is also about 1-1.5hrs from the Pacific ocean, and there may be options for beach type getaways there.
We found that Cali was in general; reasonably safe; thought I had been warned by hotel staff and at least 1 person on the street, to be careful with my camera. However, we did not experience any issues or hassles, and never felt unsafe in the places we visited in Cali. The presence of a decent number of policemen on every block almost must have helped. And we did not see any evidence of drugs anywhere; in fact, we noted later that we hardly saw anyone smoking cigarettes anywhere; so I believe that education on staying off drugs is paying off. Also, we noted with a very pleasant surprise that all the streets, sidewalks, and market areas were all spotlessly clean; thanks to the many city employees who were constantly cleaning up. This was a very pleasant experience, and people were very helpful when we needed help; no issue. We also partook of street and market foods, and never had any issues because cleanliness appears to be very important to the Calenos.
Later that day, after completing our tour of Cali, we took the hotel shuttle to Cali airport, and took the local Avianca flight to Medellin; the base of Pablo Escobar’s operation.
Medellin nextThis entry was posted in Cali & Medellin July 2017, Colombia, South America