Pereira & Cali – How travel plans change and I ended up dancing Salsa in Cali with a Mexican.

Yup, still in Pereira here. Remember, I met this crazy Mexican cyclist – I say crazy because everybody tells me that he’s crazy for wanting to cross South America on a bike – and we hit it off instantly, spending a day at the Termales de Santa Rosa de Cabal together.

After a day floating around in +20° water, surrounded by waterfalls and being shaken in the back of a pick up truck, we took the bus back to Pereira. Once there, the light started to fade away after the sun set and we left the hostel in search for our new home, the next two nights in the centre of the city. Me on foot with my bag firmly strapped on the back and Ale walking next to his bike with all his belongings on top of it. While our former hostel was quite close to the bus station and in a residential area, the new one was smacked right in the middle of the city centre, buzzing with traffic, lights and people looking for a nice night out. And two backpackers, a bit tired of walking twenty minutes up the hill in a darkish part of the city. – I don’t think I would’ve liked to cross that part alone. A big street filled with graffiti, dark, not many people and even less you’d want to talk to after dark. – Finally reaching our destination and…no hostel in sight. Whut? We were walking to the left and the right, passing where the address should be and still no sign of a hostel. Until the neighbour on the first floor of the opposite building kindly points at the tiny sign dangling above our heads. Fieuw. Apparently, the hostel is on the upper floors. Which means dragging a 60 kilos bike – with bags, of course less heavy without – two stairs up to the reception area, a job I left for the guys.

Nightlife in Cali – one artist working with everything he could find, open garage door and very friendly to answer all our questions

PEREIRA CITY LIFE

Once the bike safely reached the reception area, it was time for us to relax, grab something to eat and enjoy the city life. Haha. I think I had a jetlag during my whole 3 months in Colombia and Ecuador, since I was dead tired every day by 8. Well, I did manage to survive long enough to shower, get to know every corner of our – yeey, private! – room with Ale and go grab a pizza for dinner. Yes, we both like pizza with pineapple on top of it. Yes, every pizza we ate together had pineapple on top of it. You can hate me for it later if you want to. Next day was spent in the city centre, – which I already wrote about, I won’t do it again – avoiding people who wanted to a. Sell us love potions and b. where asking for our blood – to donate, of course – while we we’re sitting and chatting at the Plaza de Bolivar, looking at the same Bolivar naked on a horse. Later on we spent some time getting know each other better while sharing an ice-cream in a cheesy 80’s style heladeria, even though it felt like I’d known him already for years in stead of days. Just enjoying time with each other. So much that we both agreed visiting Cali together would be a good idea. – bye bye plans for Medellin, hello salsa in Cali!

Cali, as seen from San Antonio. Obviously by daylight.

The biggest discovery of the day for me still needed to come at that point. Both backpackers on a budget – even though his was a tiny huge little bit smaller than mine – we decided to cook a pasta in the evening and hopped into the supermarket to buy everything we needed. What I didn’t know then, is that I would start to love these moments a lot: him telling me what we need and me looking for the cheapest – jup, we were on a budget… – and tastiest options in the supermarket. Always buying papitas, since we discovered we both have a small addiction to potato chips. Woops. When I wanted to start cooking later on, Ale managed to wriggle the knife out of my hands before I started killing the onions in a very rough, painfull way. Surprise: apparently, I had managed to find myself a professional cook. One that can make everything he touches taste like it came straight out of heaven. Lucky me. Sadly, from then on, I was degraded to dishwasher and vegetable cleaner. Worse things can happen in life, I guess. After stuffing ourselves with a delicious bolognese pasta, we started making plans for the next day and the next destination: Cali.

Here comes the odd part: travelling together, but with a different type of transport. Mine obviously faster than his, but also more expensive. The plan was me going to Cali by bus and sleep one night in a hostel reserved in advance, while he would arrive a day later, by bike, at the same hostel. Well said, well done and the next morning we took off together from the hostel to the crossroads where our ways would separate: he back on the road on his bike and me the opposite way, ready to walk 40 minutes uphill with my backpack strapped on my back. – Not that I knew about the uphill part at this point – When we kissed goodbye, I surely hoped we would see each other again. Yes, we had this connection and just spend three days of pure bliss together in Pereira, but you never know. Things might happen. I hoped not to be disappointed the next day.

First day in the hostel – unexpected birthday drink and chocolate cake

ARRIVING IN CALI

Since we were heading in the same direction, I thought I would see him pedaling forward along the side of the road once I left Pereira by bus. Not counting on the fact I fall asleep within 3 seconds once I’m on a bus. – They call it driving, but most of the times it’s just being shaken around. I don’t mind, it has something soothing and makes me fall asleep in no time. – Sleeping Anke and no sign of Ale, but when I woke up, I did see a lot of palm trees and plain, straight roads with the odd cyclist or a cow along the side of said road. All the way to Cali. There I took a taxi to the hostel, since it was definitely not located in one of the tourist areas in the city and I had no clue which bus to take, not even how the area was called. Which was why the hostel was so cheap, probably – Remember the being on a budget thing and still wanting some privacy? – After a little chat with the driver and a small search for the right house – no signs, nothing…I seem to choose the very, very hidden gems – I did arrive at the right hostel and I could relax a bit. Apparently, the hostel was brand new, as there were no other guests and Erika, our super friendly host, shoved a plate with chocolate cake in my hand, immediately making me a part of the ongoing birthday party inside. On top, she also invited me for a night out with her friends, ready to show me how they dance salsa in Cali. This visit to Cali promised to be very good…

Streets of San Antonio

But first: the quest for internet! The new hostel didn’t had the internet installed yet, so I visited the old school internet café in order to send Ale a message about the hostel. – And to check him out on facebook, didn’t had the time for that yet before. Hey, don’t tell me you never do that? He might’ve been a serial killer and I wouldn’t even know! Or worse, he could have a girlfriend. – After my internet-session I returned to the hostel, only to discover they’d managed to install the internet. Hmpf. Well, I was ready for some sightseeing anyway, and after Erika’s friend arrived we were good to go. First to San Antonio – jup, this is the area where all the other hostels are, I discovered – where the sun had set, tiny little lights covered the trees of the park and streets buzzing with people, in for a quick snack before a night out or just hanging out and watching some street artists doing their thing. Fruit vendors selling the green mango, which ought to be eaten with salt and lime. People arriving on motorbikes, people laughing and eating, people nosing into the little shops still open late at night. And who did I see right in the middle of all? Brecht and Danna – the Belgian – Colombian couple I met earlier in Salento – walking hand in hand in my direction. Obviously, I went over to say ‘hi’ and obviously, they were very surprised to see me, since I was supposed to be in Medellin and going to Choco afterwards. Woops. Since I had some explaining to do – not really, but I had a story to tell -, we all grabbed some food together in one of the little restaurants, where Erika told us about the local delicacies on the menu and Danna declared her love for champú. – not the one you wash your hair with, but the Colombian drink – After stuffing ourselves, we all left for our first salsa-experience in a bar / club called ‘La Topa Tolondria’. Luckily, La Topa is a mixed experience: a lot of locals loving their daily dance in the evening, but also a lot of tourists and travelers who don’t know how to dance. – like me! – Ideal for a beginner to set its first steps on the dance floor and get the hang of it, before the same floor gets taken over by professionals – just the inhabitants of Cali, they can dance salsa before they even start walking – and you’re just staring in awe at the speedy feet and numerous twirls of the dancers. Erika’s friend Jonathan managed to teach me a couple of steps, before I decided to just sit down, have chat with Brecht – whose feeling of rythm is worse than mine, sorry Brecht! – and watch the other dancers. All in all, a perfect first night out in Cali.

Streets of San Antonio

CALI BY NIGHT

After a first night comes a first day which consisted of eagerly waiting for a message from Ale to know if 1. he would still be coming and 2. he would make it that day. Starting with breakfast made by Erika and a chat about Colombia and Cali in particular, which lasted basically the whole morning. Around noon I finally got a first message of my cicloviajero telling me he would arrive in the afternoon, around 4 pm. Same message had a couple of pictures added, so I wouldn’t forget how he looked like. Which was very cute but completely unnecessary, given the fact I was shitting my pants hoping he wouldn’t forget me in Cali. No need to be worried apparently. It gave me the time to check out a local restaurant and discover its menu del dia, something I would survive on the next couple of weeks. – well, survive on during lunch, at least – A Menu del dia is a set lunch menu you’ll find all over Colombia – I assume all over South America – where you’ll get a bowl of soup, a plate with rice / vegetables / arepas / fish, chicken or meat and a fresh juice for a fixed and very reasonable price. I went back to the hostel afterwards, where I had no specific plans besides filling in my journal, which I hadn’t written in since Salento – we all know why – and ask Erika what Ale and me could do during our time in Cali. We ended up checking out my blog, pictures of places in Colombia and watching a movie instead. Until Ale arrived, right on time, at 5 pm. – yes, my stomach was in a knot the whole time, thinking he’d changed his mind – Sweaty, exhausted and very hungry, happy to be there and – hopefully – to see me is how I remember him arriving. Where I had it easy chillin’ and sleeping in the bus, he had a bit of a struggle the first day, covering only 70 km of the 210 he was supposed to ride. Camping in his tent on the porch of a house. Catching up the next day with 120 km straight to Cali, looking for a hostel without a name outside. But he loves cycling…

After his arrival, we went out to eat something together to fill his empty stomach – mine was still full with the delicious fish I ate before – and took off to shower together and spent the rest of the night in our room, chatting about the past two days and checking out how much energy exactly Ale still had left. Quite a lot, apparently.

Enough energy the next morning to start exploring. – After doing our laundry, yep, has to happen as well, especially when cycling clothes tend to get a bit smelly after two days of sweating in them – While I really enjoyed seeing San Antonio by night, when everybody is outside, chatting and socializing, warm air, lights everywhere and music on the streets, I thought we could also visit San Antonio by day. About one hour walking that passed by as if it where five minutes, admiring the trees loaded with Frangipani flowers, who leave a delicious scent in the air. All the way talking about those flowers, trees, our families, his love for cats, the Belgian government, Mexican food, name a topic and we were talking about it. That’s mainly what we did that day, talking effortlessly, as if we’d known each other for years and not only five days. Climbing the steep streets of San Antonio to the square where my first evening out in Cali started…just to be a bit disappointed. The magic of two nights before had disappeared. Apparently, the atmosphere and the people, the lights and the vendors are a night-thing. In the daytime, there’s not much to do besides taking the odd picture about the view upon the city, before trodding off to Parque del Gato – Just next to the San Antonio area -, a quirky little park with a bunch of cat statues, like a tiny cat-lovers amusement park. Well. Since I also love cats and I was accompanied by a Mexican crazy about cats – Although a bit more about bicycles. Even though I saw enough pictures of Sebas to be thinking I’ve been to his house and got the know his cat myself. – , we spend quite some time strolling around, looking for our favorite statue and of course, forgetting to take a pictures of it.

Still in San Antonio

After lunching in a vegetarian restaurant in San Antonio, we made our way back to the hostel for a little siesta before the evening. We would be so ready to tackle the Cali nightlife and become the best salsa-dancers this city had ever seen. Ha. Until it started raining at about 6 o’clock. Waiting out the rain, was the plan. The plan failed a bit, since the rain didn’t stop and before we knew it, the street resembled the Amazone river and I was affraid we would have to call for a taxi boat instead of a regular car to bring us to the club. And I kind of didn’t want to get that wet. And we kind of wanted to eat first in San Antonio – catch that vibe again – before going dancing. And we kind of cancelled our dancing plans after seeing the little river running through the street. Instead, we put on something that looked like a huge pink garbage bag – me – or a raincoat – Ale – and risked our lives crossing the street to get a pizza. With pineapple, of course. In the meantime getting a reggeaton lesson on the television blasting music inside the tiny pizza place, while we decided to take it away and eat it in front of Erika’s television. The hostel had Netflix and we were the only guests. So pizza + netflix + zombiemovies – Obviously Ale’s choice. He likes cats, bicycles and zombies. – replaced our salsa night out in Cali.

Getting ready for the picture.

Biggest cat-lover.

More cats…

RAINY DAYS

Next day: rain. What else can you do besides staying in bed when each other’s company is more than enough? There you got it. Spending the morning in bed ‘getting to know each other better’ is not something I regret. Neither do I regret traveling together with a Mexican cook making you the very best pasta you’ve ever tasted in your life that same day. – I could die a happy woman after eating that pasta one more time – And I already wrote here how much I loved going to the supermarket with Ale and just discovering the things that would form our lunch / dinner, especially when the result is this finger-licking good. This rainy day in Cali is also known as the day were we started our ‘Shithead’ – a card game – competition. During our quest in the supermarket, scanning the shop for the most delicous food at the cheapest prices, we were also searching after some playing cards. Not finding them in this gigantic warehouse filled with tons of stuff, but luckily seeing them in one of the tiny street stalls along the road on our way to the hostel. Ale thaught me the card game during that rainy day. After a couple of times I got a hang out of it, and started beating him every time we played. – To be continued. –

Frangipani flower.

A day with a lot of doing nothing, ended very energetic: yes, we finally went dancing together! Again in ‘La Topa Tolondra’, were we arrived a bit early, to find the dance floor rather empty. Never too shy for words, we were chatting and waiting until I found the courage to step onto the dance floor. Courage that I needed after Ale told me he got classes when he was 22, being quite good at dancing Salsa. Help. My nerves got the overhand at the first passes I set – Come on, who would like to be seen as clumsy and a bad dancer in front of somebody you really like? -, but later on I started to enjoy myself and relax a little bit more. Until the real pros started dancing and watching them and their fast feet was suddenly more enjoyable than being on the dance floor myself, struggling with twisting around. After the big dance battle, we called it a night and went home – as a traveller, I guess home is where your backpack is -, just to fall asleep together. One of my favorite parts of sleeping with Ale were his hugs, abrazos empanadas I used to call them, completely surrounded by his arms, refusing to let you go. It’s one of the things I miss the most.

Early in the evening, ready to dance.

Somewhere during those rainy Cali days, we must’ve decided that our time travelling together wasn’t over yet. Plans were made, bicycles were being prepared – well, one bicycle – and our next destination was known: we would see each other again in Popayan! Read more about my adventures in Colombia in the NEXT blogpost: Popayan – What to do in the whitest city of Colombia?

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in Pereira and Cali, I wrote down how much things cost while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Pereira – Cali: one way – 27.000 COP / 7,71€

Accommodation

2 nights in Coffee & Travel Hostel, Pereira: private room – 32.500 COP per night / 9,73€ per night for two people (breakfast included + comes with a ping pong table on the terrace. You might even find our names on the wall…)

4 nights in Alma Viajera Hostel, Cali: private room – 25.000 COP per night / 7,48€ per night for two people (breakfast included)

Activities

Entrance fee La Topa Tolondria: 5000 COP / 1,43€

Twenty minutes of internet in an internet café: 800 COP / 0,23€

Food

Menu del Dia in Pacific Coast restaurant: lunch menu at the restaurant across the street of my hostel, with a drink, soup and main dish including fish – 11.000 COP / 3,09€

Pizza + drink on the rainy-night: 10.000 COP / 2,81€

Menu del Dia Lasagna in Vegeterian restaurant San Antonio: lunch menu with soup, fresh juice and vegetable lasagna – 16.000 COP / 4,49€

Ingredients for the most delicious pasta ever made by personal chef Ale: 35.000 / 9,91€ – for two people, two servings – yes, we ate it for dinner and lunch, and we drowned it away with a bottle of wine

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