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Traveling through Colombia in a month – Part 3:

A day in Cali, the salsa capital of the world

25 °C

Previously in Colombia Travel Blog by Marcela: After a whole day driving I had finally arrived to Cali and was ready to re-discover the Salsa city….

After a very nice night sleep I woke up and took some notes thinking that I finally was in the first “real” destination of my one month Colombia Odyssey: Cali. Important points I had to take into consideration due to the fact that I had previously decided to spend just a day in the city (willing to explore more of the surroundings during the following days). This city is one of the oldest in Colombia as it was founded in 1536, it is a colorful and very lively place located at a little more than 900 m.a.s.l., which means it is hot all year round, and its considered Colombia’s capital of Salsa!. With my ideas in the right place now, I was ready to get up and explore, asking for some locals’ advice on what to do.

At around 9 am I decided to go and find some breakfast. I walked about 3 blocks and found a fruit street vendor on the Sexta Avenida. What a better way to start my day than with a freshly squeezed orange juice followed by a recently cut sweet papaya and a huge piece of pineapple. I must say that words can't describe the freshness and sweetness of the fruits in Colombia not to mention the exotic ones like Chontaduro which is the fruit of a palm boiled and eaten with salt. Anyway, I just sat on the curve by the Carrito de Fruta and started chatting to the afro-Colombian man that was showing off his skilful fruit cutting technique. As he was cutting all sorts of fruits to prepare a delicious salpicon (very much like a fruit salad with loads of watermelon which gives it its pink colour) he was asking me if I was from Bogota as well as taking orders and money from other people that - it seamed - were walking to the office with their plastic glasses full of salpicon. I replied that, yes I was from Bogota and asked him how he guessed from only a couple of words I'd said.... and he replied that we "rolas" (women from Bogota) are too white to be from Cali and then we both laughed. Around this area of Colombia there is a huge community of African slaves’ descendants that were brought to the country to work in the land and populate the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

We carried on talking and I asked him what would he suggest seeing around Cali and he said that he hadn't been to any museums or touristy stuff but he said that at around 5:30 in the afternoon when he'd finished working and was walking home he would sit in a bench in the Plaza Caicedo, close his eyes to feel and enjoy the cooling breeze that comes down from Los Farallones (local natural reserve up in the mountains) wish you could have seen him making the sweetest and proudest face ever.

I headed straight to the Caicedo Plaza, right in the city center, where Cali's oldest church - La Merced Cathedral- is. I took Av 6, turned left on Calle 4N and left again on Carrera 4. Along the way I found the Archaeological Museum of La Merced http://www.museoarqueologicolamerced.org/Coleccion.html#5. It has an impressive collection of more than 1100 pieces of pottery from pre-Hispanic times. They have a very small entrance fee of $4.000 (US$2) for adults and $3.500 (US$1.75) for students. Have in mind that they are open from 9 to 5 only from Tuesday to Saturday. I left the museum a bit upset because my camera had decided to crash on me - grgrgrgrgr.... I just decided I needed some of that breeze the fruit vendor had told me about; I thought it might just help me to calm down... so I continued with my walk and 5 blocks ahead I finally reached the Plaza Caicedo.

This square has such an interesting feeling to it. It was named in honor and memory of a national hero called Caicedo y Cuero, and it’s a mayor a meeting point for everybody including scribes, artists, street vendors, lottery vendors, shoeshine boys all offering their kind services to the locals and are always fascinated with the tourists that are now travelling to Colombia. It’s surrounded by a mixture of old and new buildings like the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace that interestingly contrasts with the old tropical palm trees that refresh the view. I just sat there and wished there was a camera fixer amongst all of them =(.

I wanted to go for an early lunch, so I had a delicious Sancocho (traditional chicken and vegetable soup) at one of the many very authentic corner restaurants around the area. After lunch I visited the TEC - Teatro Experimental de Colombia http://www.enriquebuenaventura.org/fotos.php. This theater has a very special place in the heart of Colombia because it was right here where theater in Colombia was born and from it The Iberoamerican Theater Festival of Bogota - http://colombia-travel-marcela.blogspot.com/2010/03/festival-iberoamericano-de-teatro-de.html - Festival Iberoamerican de Teatro de Bogota.

Is really hot in Cali! So I decided to go back to the hostel walking while realizing that I was staying in one of the best neighborhoods of Cali: Barrio Granada where there are loads of restaurants, bars, hotels and hostels…. but I didn’t have time to explore that area, as I had made an appointment to meet some old friends for a authentic Cali Salsa night! So, after a much needed shower considering the 25C average temperature, I got on a taxi and went to an area of the city called Cali Viejo, our meeting point. This little hill that happens to be right in the middle of the city is one of many viewpoints that Cali has. This particular one is very famous not only because it offers great views of the city but also has a real size statue of the city's founder, Don Sebastian de Belalcazar from where it gets its name, Mirador de Belalcazar. Around the Mirador there are many parks such as the Parque del Acueducto and also the Crystals Theater, the old Penon neighborhood and the prettiest little colonial church of San Antonio. This little church is much more than an old building; it is a colonial relic with its baroque main altar and its original bell tower.

After meeting my long-time-no-seen friends, we caught up for a couple of hours while having more than a few beers at the view point amongst hundreds of locals. It was getting late and I was ready for my Cali Salsa night!, so already in party mood, we all headed to Kukaramakara http://kukaramakara.com/ one of the best salsa discos in town.

As I’ve said a few times now, Cali is the salsa capital of Colombia… and the world. Although history tells us that it was born in New York from a mixture of Jazz and Son Cubano, it later developed its own beat in each country. People tend to think that most salsa they listen or dance to in European or American clubs is Cuban salsa, and some of it might be, but it’s also a mix of Colombian or Puerto Rican salsa, and while people think that salsa is danced in a particular way, the fact is that people dance VERY differently in each country. Here people are passionate about it. Some people like to spin around and spin their partners whilst some others enjoy dancing in “una sola baldosa” (on one floor tile), which basically means that the only thing that moves is the couple’s hips. There is also another dance style known as Salsa Competition Style.

Cali not only has over 200 hundred salsa academies like Swing Latino (five times winners at the Salsa Open in Philadelphia and ESPN Championship in Las Vegas) but it hosts one of the biggest salsa festival of the world: La Feria de Cali. This festival runs every year from the 25th to the 30th of December. During these six days, that normally run all the way to the New Year =), Colombians and tourist from all over come to Cali to party nonstop. Apart from impressive Horse and Classic Cars parades, a display of “Tascas”, which are outdoor mobile restaurants temporarily built all around the city with the most delicious local and international cuisine and bull fighting shows; la Feria de Cali is most famous for its Salsodromo which is a massive auditorium where the best worldwide salsa performers entertain the crowd every night. You get to see the best salsa school dancers and the best local and international salsa bands like Oscar de Leon, Guayacan, Niche, Gilberto Santarosa, Mark Antony and etc, etc, etc. Each year there are new guests and more local bands all competing for the Song of the Festival award.

… although it wasn’t La Feria de Cali, I had a fabulous time that night and danced nonstop as if I was at the very Salsodromo. When I noticed, I had danced until the early hours at the best Caleno style, and I was ready to go and sleep off the few “canecas” of aguardiente del Valle (bottles of local aguardiente) before continuing my trip to the surroundings of Cali on the valley of the Cauca River later that morning but that I’ll tell you about in my next post.

Just a few things to keep in mind whilst travelling to Cali, Colombia:

My Top 5 things to do in Cali

• Go to Granada neighborhood for great food and drinks
• Have a beer or two at the Belalcazar viewpoint
• Have a "Cholao" (crushed ice with condensed milk, caramel and lemon) at the Canchas Panamericanas
• Go to La Cueva del Tango. A meeting point for salsa and tango dancers. Carrera 11 and Calle 22, Obrero neighborhood.
• Take a salsa lesson in one of the 220 salsa schools. The most famous ones are Swing Latino (calle 29 32B-33) house of many world champions and Rucafe where you learn to dance with no alcohol instead (for serious dancers), they give you an empanada and a champus (a local frozen drink made of maize, lulo and pineapple) not my favorite but if you are there must try it!

Other cool stuff to see, do and eat in Cali

• Visit the Three Cross hill which can also be seen from the Belalcazar view point
• Visit the zoo. I'm not a fan at all but people highly recommend it. Carrera 2 oeste and Calle 14, Santa Teresita neighborhood.
• Visit the Pance River, just out of Cali.
• Buy hand crafts at the La Cruz hill/viewpoint.
• Have a pizza in Salerno
• Have a green mango with salt and lemon whilst walking along the Cali River.
• Have a beer at the Gato (cat) monument.
• You must eat plantain toasts at the Parque del Perro (dog's park).
• Eat pandebonos.... you'll see them everywhere for breakfast and as a snack.

How to get to Cali?

Cali has an international airport, Alfonso Bonilla Aragon (CLO), but is not in the city. It's about 30-40 min away from the city center to the north near a town called Palmira. There are shuttle services from the airport. There are 3 international airlines that fly from and to Cali, these are Avianca, Satena, y Aerorepublica. You can travel to Cali from Miami with Avianca and AA, Panama with Copa, JFK with Avianca, Houston, Tulcan with Tame and Madrid with Avianca. Aires offers local flights and has a shuttle service from and to La 14 de Calima supermarket for US$4,00 or $8.000 pesos per person per route but you have to book in advance.

If you decide to travel to Cali by bus, there are bus services from Bogota, Medellin, Popayan y Pasto. A bus from Bogota would cost round US$30 one way or $60.000 pesos and takes about 8 to 9 hours with Bolivariano http://www.bolivariano.com.co/intro.cfm

Accommodation in Cali.

Hostel wise try Calidad House http://www.angelfire.com/planet/calidadhouse/ or La Iguana http://www.iguana.com.co/ prices go from US$21.00 or $40.000 pesos for a double to US$10.00 or $19.000 pesos for a bed in a dorm.

For a hotel try Cali Plaza Hotel http://www.caliplaza.com/html/cali_plaza_hotel_rates.html with prices going from US$65pppn to US$95pppn. They also offer apartments and long stay rates.

If you want an upscale hotel try the Radisson http://www.radisson.com/ with prices from US$95pppn to US$150pppn.

Abrazos,

Marcela - Colombia Travel Blog http://colombia-travel-marcela.blogspot.com/

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Posted by MarColombi 09:14 Archived in Colombia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Traveling Through Colombia in a month - Part 2:

On the road from Bogota to Cali

all seasons in one day

Previously in Colombia Travel Blog by Marcela: Part one of the Traveling through Colombia in one month was published, Marcela mapped out her trip through Colombia, kissed her parents good bye, and headed Lucerito – her 1998 Pajero truck – from Bogota to Cali, the salsa city….

After about 2 hours driving through the renewed and therefore smooth motorway, the scenery color gradually changes from a dark green forest tone to an array of green tonalities sparkled with colors of flowers and fruit trees, that and the hot weather announces that you’re not in Bogota anymore.

My first stop was for an abundant Colombian breakfast at a joint called “Parador Rojo” just before entering Melgar ( a town close to the home of the Panches tribe and 98k from Bogota). El Parador Rojo is one of those typical Colombian roadside restaurants where you can see people of various places and origins, they have a huge buffete with fresh eggs, arepas, bread, coffee or hot chocolate and a big selection of fresh fruit juices or if you have a truck driver's belly they also have an absolutely delicious beef soup or a stake with fried eggs and rice.... mmmmm!

Besides its weather, Melgar is known for an astonishing wavy and rocky canyon above the river Sumapaz. This canyon takes you down from 1700 m.a.s.l. to 250 m.a.s.l n about 45 minutes and is famous because there is a huge rock that's sticking out of the rock with a nose like shape that the locals call "Nariz del Diablo" – The devil's nose. Back at Lucerito and with enough energy gathered for the remaining 6 hours of driving I had ahead, I stocked myself with loads of water bottles to fight the increasing heat (28 C at this point) and took the Panamerican Highway again.

The next checkpoint in my map was Ibague, a city located in a major rice plantation area, which is the point in which you start ascending to Colombia’s central mountain range “La cordillera Central de Colombia” , but on the way there you have to pass by Giardot, a small and lively city at the banks of the Magdalena river where many Colombians have their “fincas” , literally translated as “farms” but the word is actually used to name colombian’s holiday homes ( I’ll write a post about Colombians and their fincas soon), anyway, before reaching the entrance to the Andes you have to pass the cities of Espinal and Guamo too.

It was around noon already when I finally reached Ibague to fill the tank up in order to get ready to face the road leading to the picks of the Andes. This part of the Panamerican Highway is known as "La Linea" (the line) , firstly because the highest pass of the Cordillera is also called “La Linea” and second because, oh irony!, the road is nothing like a straight line. La Linea is the road that communicates both sides of the Colombian Andes, meaning it is a very busy trade route, so it takes about 3 hours (but only 35 kms) to get from 1200 m.a.s.l. to 3,500 m.a.s.l., through a wavy and misty road full of buses, trucks and cars.

Once again, as it is usual in Colombia, the scenery changes dramatically…as well as the temperature, the thermometer was now showing 10C – 18C less than before!. I stopped for a bit to put my jumper on and to check if there was any signal in my mobile phone to report back home, but and there was none. It took me a about further
two hours to get down from the central mountain range of the Andes and to reach one of the most spectacular landscapes of Colombia: The Triangle of Coffee, a destination that I planned to visit after Cali, so after reaching Armenia , the first city in El Triangulo del Café I took the left road, to Cali (The right one would have taken me to the triangulo).

Just before reaching Armenia I stopped in Calarca for lunch. This is the first town right at the bottom of the Andes. There, I had a beautiful plate with red kidney beans, rice, mince beef and avocado called bandeja paisa; very popular and a traditional dish around this area. Having finished my lunch I headed towards Armenia and then Cali,
the salsa capital of Colombia. The road, as opposed to a couple of hours ago, turns into a very straight motorway surrounded by sugar cane plantations and wineries. This area is called el Valle del Cauca, is where all sugar consumed in the country comes from. I could see on my left hand side the Andes and on my right the huge sugar cane farms. From time to time I came across some of the biggest trucks I have ever seen carrying sugar cane to be processed.

About one hour later I finally reached the last toll before entering Cali. 9 hours and 479 kilometers later, I finally entered Cali and started looking for the hostel I was planning to stay that night not far from the 6th Avenue. Luckily Cali as the rest of the cities in Colombia have their roads divided into Calles and Carreras identified by numbers which means is quite easy to find your way around once you know that the numbers decrease towards the mountains. The other good thing is that you can always ask a taxi driver for directions and they will be more than happy to help. After running up and down a couple of blocks I finally reached Calidad House.

I parked Lucerito a block down the hostel and after calling home to say that I was ok and happy, had a shower and went straight to bed. I had to rest to get ready for the week ahead as I was planning to catch up with a few friends for some salsa nights and also to visit some of the most amazing local sugar farms and doing some rafting and paragliding…. All that and more in my next “ Travelling to Colombia in one month” entry about Cali.

A few tips...

- If you are driving have in mind that there are at least 5 tolls with an avarage fee of $7.000 or US$4.
- Driving time varies between 7 to 9 hours depending on traffic.
- There are plenty of petrol stations all the way.
- If you want to go by bus try Expreso Bolivariano they are good and have buses almost every hour, every day. Tickets are $60.000 or U$30.
- I stopped for lunch in a very local little restaurant which I loved. Is called Gusto y Sabor, Calle 38 N 25 - 30 tel 7422095 - Calarca.
- If you are going on a budget try Hostal Calidad House, they are friendly and well located. If you prefer to stay in a hotel try Cali Plaza Hotel well located too with rates from US$75 for a double to U$190 for a three bed apartment. Some other excellent hotels are Dann Carlton, Four Points and Raddisson.

However, the best of Cali are its surroundings.... but that is going to be my next post' subject so until then...

Abrazos,

Marcela - http://colombia-travel-marcela.blogspot.com/

Posted by MarColombi 14:04 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Epopeya Everest sin Limites 2010

Nelson Cardona reaches Everest summit

Hi all, this is a quick update on the Colombia Epopeya Everest sin Limites Expedition 2010.

Congrats team!!! And specially Marcelo my dear friend and beautiful soul through whom I met Nelson, Edgar and Carolina…Congratulations again and again, this could have only been accomplished by you, Epopeya Colombia.

We are all thrilled; Colombia is celebrating the latest news received from the Everest. In the only place in the world where all nations share the same goal (Everest Base Camp 5,400 masl), the Colombian flag is today's celebrity. At 11:30 (nepal time) on May 17, Rafael Avila and Nelson Cardona reached the highest mountain in the world, mount Everest (8,848 masl).

The Epopeya Evererst official statement confirms that they are in good health and great spirit. They also confirm that the Lobuche team is also back in Base Camp waiting for Nelson and Rafael to climb down after a bit of rest in Camp 4.

I’m going to take the liberty of translating what Nelson, an amputee (right leg), shared with all of us through the Epopeya Everst Sin Limites Expedition website. We, as Colombians set example and showed the world that all dreams can come true and that the differences don’t matter when you built based on the things we have in common. The world’s eyes are onto us because “is not falling that makes a man fail is his inability to stand up again and continue”.

Congrats again and thank you team for sharing your adventure with us and I look forward to meet you all when you get back.

Abrazos,

Marcela - Colombia Travel Blog

Posted by MarColombi 15:14 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Traveling through Colombia in a month –

Part I

sunny

Have I ever told you about Lucerito? Lucerito was my best friend for a little more than a year; she was my travel partner and my gateway to freedom. With her I cruised all of Colombia, crossed rivers, raced thru the jungle and witnesses the most amazing sunrises and sunsets in a variety of unbelievable natural settings, and is thanks to her that I can write this Colombia Travel Blog post.

Lucerito (“Morning Star” in Spanish) was a 1998 4x4 Pajero truck I bought with the specific goal of starting a year round trip throughout my country. I was raised among two brothers, one of them a car racer, and a car fanatic dad, I started driving at 14 – which is very rare in Colombia – so I HAD to grow up as a car lover, I love motors, carburetors and speed! So our first mission was a one month journey to what, for me, are the highlights of Colombia. It was one of those things that my parents would do when they were young but my generation wouldn't have the chance because of the political situation and the fact that the guerrilla used to own most of the country, but now things were different.

With Lucerito, a map, a short budget and a long list of friends and family I was planning to stay with, I had a long talk with my dad - whom has been all over the place- and we came up with this Colombia budget Tour itinerary considering that I was going to drive on my own:

Day 1 – 4 Bogotá - Cali - Valle del Cauca - Calima Lake.

Day 5 – 8 Montenegro - Coffee Triangle - Parque Nacional del Cafe - Salento and natural hot springs.

Day 9 - 11 Medellín - Santa fe de Antioquia

Day 12 - 13 Medellín - Caribbean Coast - Tolú - San Bernardo Islands - Caimanera mangrove swamp.

Day 14 – 15 Tolú - Cartagena - mud volcano

Day 16 - 18 Cartagena – Tayrona National Park - Pueblito.

Day 19 Tayrona - Riohacha - Flamingos Natural reserve - stay in a Wayu trybe Rancheria.

Day 20 – 22 Riohacha - Cabo de la Vela - Manaure See Salt factory.

Day 23 Cabo de la Vela - Bucaramanga.

Day 24-26 Bucaramanga - San Gil - Chicamocha Canion - Chicamocha National Park - adventure sports: rafting, 80mt rappel, and Juan Cury waterfalls.

Day 27 - 28 San Gil - Villa de Leyva.

Day 29 Villa de Leyva - Zipaquira's Salt Cathedral - Bogota. We leave VDL and drive south to the town of Zipaquira.

As you can imagine my somehow apprehensive Colombian mom wasn’t so sure to let me go on my own, but on a Tuesday morning, at 5:30 AM, I kissed my parents good bye and head south towards Cali. The Pan-American highway was almost empty and looking at the horizon while driving and listening to Carlos Vives, I could see Bogota’s early morning deep blue sky encouraging me to enjoy the excitement of a new adventure.

One of the things I realized while leaving Bogota is that not only Colombians but lots of foreigners are back on the road. I’ll write about this and many many other topics and destinations in the next parts of this entry.

So for now, Abrazos

Marcela – Colombia Travel Blog

Posted by MarColombi 11:34 Archived in Colombia Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Colombia to the Everest

a dream of one, a dream of all

I know this is suppposed to be a Colombia travel blog and I swear that when I wrote my last post about the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogota, I promised myself that the next one would be the first in a series about traveling around Colombia in a month. But then I received an email from a friend in Katmandu reminding me of some of the amazing things that are currently happening among Colombians and being as in love with my country as I am I couldnt help the urge to tell you about them.

As I'm writing this words, there is a team of Colombian hikers on their way to Mount Everest, among them my very good friend Marcelo Arbelaez y Carolina Ahumada who sent me the e-mail I'm talking about.
Some of them have already been at the top of the Everest three times, but what is very special about this one is that they will be attempting to take the first handicapped man with no oxygen to the 8.848 m.a.s.l. of Mount Everest, his name is Nelson Cardona, one of the nicest and bravest man I've ever met.

Nelson's history is very inspiring. He has always loved the mountains and that love took him to become a warden in the Nevados National Park of Colombia where he first met Marcelo and his climber friend Juan Pablo Ruiz training for their first attempt to Everest in 1995, they bonded very well and a few months later he was invited to join their expedition.
He couldn't believe that he could actually have the chance to see Mount Everest in person or even better, attemp to climb it, the dream of every climber in the world. So for the next months they trained very hard in the highest picks of South America until 1997 when they headed for Nepal for the first time, during that first attemp they couldn't reach the top and Nelson almost died in an avalanche. During the next ten years, he encountered many setbacks, even deadly ones, in 1998 he saw his friend Lennis Granados die in Mount Manaslu (The 8th highest mountain in the world, in Nepal) and another friend, Gonzalo Ospina almost died in his arms due to a brain edema in Cho Oyu (Tibet).

But the biggest setback of his life was yet to come. In 2006 when training for the 2007 expedition to the Everest with no oxygen, he was climbing the Nevado del Ruiz when he slipped from a 18 mts rock and fell all the way to the bottom of the mountain. He broke almost every bone in his body, he had face and hip double fractures, his right foot was very damaged. He was rushed to hospital in Manizales where he had an 11 hours surgery. After loads of therapy and having had an infection in his foot, the doctors said that he could never run or climb again. But another option was presented to him, if they would partially amputate his leg he would be able to climb again...and his answer was yes.

He retrieved to the mountain in his now home town Suesca (A post about that beautiful place is to come in the next few weeks) and did what he calls the "letting go ceremony". He basically asked his foot permission to let it go because letting it stay would have stop him from doing what he loved the most. So, in November 2007 Nelson was voluntarily amputated and it was then when the Expedicion Epopeya Sin Limites 2010 was born. As soon as he had recovered and got his prosthesis donated he started training again which takes us back to the beginning of this post, Nelson and his team are now on their way to the Everest.

Nelson trained 4 hours a day. Getting used to walk, run and specially climb with his new prosthesis took a bit of time... I was very privileged to do some climbing with him and Marcelo whilst visiting Suesca last October.

The team is divided into two groups. The leader group which includes Nelson will attempt the top of the Everest. The second group will join the leader group to base camp and will then attempt to reach 6.119 m.a.s.l to "Lobuche". This is a group of entrepreneurs and business people that share a passion for Colombia and that have put the resources together to make this dream come true. There is a grand total of 21 Colombians that during the next month will be on their way to make Colombia bigger at the top of the Everest.

Marcelo, Nelson, Edgar, Carolina, Juan Pablos and the rest of the team... EXITOS, EXITOS, EXITOS!

Abrazos,

Marcela - Colombia Travel Blog

Posted by MarColombi 14:46 Archived in Colombia Tagged events Comments (0)

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