When you come from a rural town in North Carolina and you’re living somewhere like Cali, Colombia, people are always curious about why you chose to live here and what you like about it. Although, when put on the spot, I’ve rarely had anything eloquent to say about what’s kept me coming back to Cali for the past five years. I’ll get something like, “and why Cali? Isn’t the United States better?” Then I’ll give my short answer that I fell in love with Cali after living here for a year-long teaching program. As far as whether the U.S. is better, well, to each his own. I feel better in Cali. Even though such moments make it difficult for me me to thoroughly reflect upon my attraction to Cali, I’m certainly ‘amañado’. Amañado means to take pleasure in the environment of a place to the point of not wanting to leave. Ever since I’ve learned this word it has been my go-to to describe my existence in Cali.
1. Her Beauty
Apart from having some of the most phenomenal landscapes I’ve seen in my life, generally-speaking Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse places on earth. Cali is surrounded by mountains and littered with trees and exotic fruits. So, living here affords me a glimpse of her natural beauty on a daily basis. I’ve come to appreciate being able to travel a very short distance to get up close and personal with nature. Cali is the third largest city in Colombia and is well supplied with water resources, being known as the ‘city of seven rivers’. I’ve fallen in love her natural beauty and I still haven’t explored enough of it.
Though my standards of beauty aren’t limited to physical fitness, I’d be lying if I said both the men and women haven’t caught my attention for their physique. Cali is definitely “a fit city” so its very normal to see people exercising, biking, rollerblading or hiking throughout the city. A few more ways to take advantage of the marvelous views from all angles of Cali.
2. Afro Diaspora
Cali itself is home to over 2 million people, the majority of African and indigenous American descent. Being here without my family – who’re also of black and indigenous American descent – it is nice to have a sense of familiarity of home when coming in contact with other black and brown people. The cultural diversity in Colombia sometimes feels like the closest thing I can get to Africa and still be within reach of my family if there’s an emergency.
Behind Brazil and the States, Colombia has the third largest population of black people living outside of Africa. With Buenaventura – home to many black and indigenous people and one of Colombia’s most important ports – just 45 kilometers away, the spirit of the Pacific coast is vibrant in Cali. The Pacifico culture is known for its unique infusion of beats and clothing from the motherland. Every August, the largest Afro-Latino culture festival, Petronio Alvarez Festival of Pacific Music, is hosted in Cali. It’s always very satisfying for me to be in the presence of these folks who share a similar history to my own and perhaps ancestors also.
3. Culture of Kindness
I love the infectious kind spirit that radiates from the people of Cali. Where I come from, people speak to each other in passing and I must say I get a taste of home when it comes to the cheerfulness of most folks in Cali. I like how it’s very common to hear a salutation from a stranger occupying the same space. Many people I’ve met exude a certain calmness about them. If someone hasn’t died or been hurt, typically folks here remain relaxed. I’ve watched my Caleño coworkers and friends over the years and noticed similarities in how they all interact. They greet each other with a heartfelt hug and kiss.
I love how they look out for each other and the environment around them. For example, there are iguanas that roam the campus of the school where I teach and they are highly respected. The other day, a child alerted me that a nearby iguana had eaten a banana and was choking. As concerned as I was for our amphibian pal, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do about a choking iguana. Thankfully when I arrived to see for myself, there was already another teacher in the iguana’s face verifying that it hadn’t choked. It also satisfies me how knowledgeable Caleños are when it comes to their land. They are more than willing to share what they know and help guide a newcomer.
4. Vibrant Nightlife
There is much diversity offered in Cali’s nightlife, but salsa is king. Although salsa has not always been my dance of choice, it’s definitely grown on me over the years. I have watched from the sidelines as Caleños respond to their favorite salsa tunes, stopping in their tracks to grab a partner – as if it were second nature – and dance the night away. Folks don’t even require a dance floor to dance salsa! I am not the best dancer, but I’ve learned to keep up. With a plethora of alternative parties (or “rumbas”) in Cali, there is a vibe for everyone. Depending on the DJ and location, music tends to vary from electronic and hip-hop to jazz, reggaeton and top 40’s. There are even a few rock bars scattered about. But Cali is Cali, so salsa will always find its way into almost any rumba around the city.
However, one doesn’t have to enter a bar or club to enjoy the Cali nightlife. Some of my favorite hangouts (or “parches”) have been in parks or along the Boulevard Del Río. The Boulevard is a lively strip that runs parallel to a river in the center of Cali. You will find friends gathering there almost any evening of the week until 9 p.m. – with an extended parche on weekends.
5. Hip Art Scene
From handmade artifacts to dance, graffiti to live music, Cali has something for anyone who appreciates the arts. In fact, I’d even argue that Cali is art. Cali is full of artists. Taking a gander at all of the vibrant colors within the graffiti along the Fifth Street will make this evident. The graffiti in Cali seems tells a story about the city and how she defines herself through intricate – and typically political – street art. Go to any park, especially in San Antonio, and you will find a street vendors selling handmade clothing and trinkets. There are several neat shops scattered around the city to find neat keepsakes and household items.
Take a ride on the public transport, the Mío, and you are sure to encounter talented street musicians performing their creative acts for passengers in transit. I’m often compelled to tip when I have change in my pocket. Live music is all around Cali, especially when you’re looking for it on purpose. My favorite jazz bar for live music in Cali is Punto Baré, where you can usually find a quality brass band gracefully blowing their horns in sync for a relaxing evening. Local artists including dancers, singers, and rappers tend to perform at the various events that happen in Cali throughout the year. Speaking of dancing, we are talking about the salsa capital here so Cali isn’t Cali without salsa – and salsa shows happen often. Not only are there a few salsa festivals throughout the year but other festivals that happen include book, film, folk, jazz and theater festivals to name a few.
With so much to appreciate around me, how could I possibly describe what I love about Cali without giving her due diligence in writing? The next time someone asks me what it’s like to live in Cali, I’ll be prepared to tell them, “I wrote a post about it. Like to read it? Here it go.”