April 2, 2018
I wake up early – very early. Early to the point that it is still dark outside, and I should really be in bed. And despite the fact that the upper window facing the street is wide open, I can’t say that I have been woken up as a result of the noise outside. It would have been as a result of tension, knowing I have to resolve matters, i.e. find suitable accommodation. I surf the net, do some writing, then try getting more rest, which does come, and the noise levels outside are still negligible. The place in Barrio Granada I requested a booking for yesterday evening never responded – so much for AirBnB allegedly pushing hosts to respond immediately. So it’s on to booking.com again, not that I want to stay in a hotel. AirBnB is so painful to use in Colombia, though …
The room at the Hostal Ruta Sur feels awkward to use, as if it was really just intended for someone to shower and sleep in, without doing anything else. It seems fine, but for the price, the usability should seem better. A quick jaunt into the kitchen for some jam sandwiches, then onto the street to locate the Hostal Terazza San Antonio in the neighbourhood that looks promising, is not expensive, and has rooms with natural light. The hostal is a short walk away, but when I buzz, there is no answer. Great – what to do now? How about breakfast at the Morus Express in the corner at the end of the block from the Hostal del Sur. A woman appeals to me in broken English, but I am a bit tense, knowing I have until 11 am to get a hotel room of any sort – and get my things out the Hostal del Sur. More importantly, I don’t want to be wasting my precious remaining time in this fashion here.
The ommelet finished, and I am off. It is worth noting that virtually no businesses in the area are open. Apparently, the reason is that people would have been too exhausted from travelling yesterday, which seems fairly feeble. It’s not as if the Semana Santa is some huge booze up, either. Back to the Hotel Terazza San Antonio. The staff is now present, and assures me that there are rooms – plenty of rooms.
For rooms with natural light, I am led to the back where upon climbing some stairs I am shown some very nice rooms, one narrow one with two beds and high ceilings, a TV, a couch, wardrobe, large bathroom, painting, driftwood furniture and very large windows and tiled floor for COP 80,000 cash. The next room is even far more opulent, effectively a suite, 2 – 3 times as big, which more furniture and larger pieces, more art, huge windows, and that for COP $100,000 cash. They have a deal! Not sure which room I will take, but either is opportune, however over my normal budget it may be.
The owner at the Hotel del Sur has a nervous, harried look, as if things aren’t quite right for her. There may be a much higher standard of living in evidence in the privileged central areas of Cali, but given that she has only opened her hotel in recent years, and that following extensive renovations, she may be substantially in debt, and not be able to generate the cash flow to pay off the bank, at least not on a regular basis. I don’t want to stay at her hotel, though, and it has to do with the structure, lack of privacy and lack of natural light, never mind the fact that the room doesn’t work for me, let alone the high price she is asking. But with my things packed and out the door, there is no further commitment.
I dawdle in my new room, relieved that things worked out relatively well, and that I have a place that is pretty much ideal for me. I have no idea as to what other housing options in what neighbourhoods there may be here, but this is an extremely good start. For one, I have stellar views of the town from my room, given that the hotel is at the edge of the hill barrio San Antonio is located on.
The rest of the barrio is still completely dead. I am assured that the place will be hopping later on, but I don’t get that feeling. I just want to get a coffee, and all there are is a few overpriced places, like Pao, whose trendy drip coffee is just not very good. Perhaps I should walk to Barrio Granada. If anything, on my initial outing in town, I should at least get to know the lay of the land. A good place to start would be the junction of Calle 2a and Carrera 4 at a bakery that happens to make meringues, and ones that are actually exceedingly good, with a touch of anise. The Venezuelan baker sympathizes: Colombians really favour the bland, while his country prefers stronger flavours.
Rather than cross the river and proceed towards Granada, how about exploring the neighbourhood between the Colima de San Antonio and the river? Whenever I ask people about the river, they look at me as if they have no idea what I am talking about. And understandably, as the muddy gushing water is walled off from the neighbouring roads, and seems to have no relationship to the surrounding areas. Proceeding to the west, El Peñon reveals itself as a neighbourhood that is both very posh but also somewhat low key, particularly given that most businesses are closed today.
El Peñon occupies a narrow strip of land bordered by the Rio Cali to the north and the Colina De San Antonio to the south. El Peñon has some of the heritage aspects of San Antonio running down the hill a few blocks to the south, although the dominant look is modern, cinder block, with clean lines, copious window space, ample gardening, and bright lighting.
Ironically, the street level tends to be dark as a result of the high towers, trees, and the Colina De San Antonio to the south. Big terraces, wrought iron, public fountains, fan palms, park benches, pastel colours, chandeliers, high ceilings, palm fronds all serve to evoke the Rodeo Drive feeling of the neighbourhood. There are virtually no people on the street, although the neighbourhood is hopping, compared with San Antonio. Many establishments are closed, but there are still enough open to make the area interesting. The graphic murals that coat the walls of buildings on the way into the barrio quickly dissipate, as El Peñon probably does not house a demographic willing to embrace such digressions.
The river gushes dirty water past the copses of guadua and other trees set above the banks above. Cars rush by, oblivious of what is to their side other than the regular bridges that line the river. A young Ecuadorian juggles hoops at an intersection, and as with so many street performers I have seen here, they are given money on a regular basis. Something I would not expect to witness back home!
On the edge of the Barrio Granada I stop off in a small but smart cafe which serves artisanal sandwiches. And these people mean business, the roast beef marinated in wine vinegar and the grilled sandwich served with aioli. The flavour of this sandwich almost brings tears to my eyes, given the amount of bland food I have had to sustain in the country.
Barrio Granada is an interesting mix of experiences, clubs, restaurants, according to various degrees of trendiness, larger commercial establishments, such as banks and car dealership, agencies and other official representation. Very little is evident in the line of the usual modest retail spaces that populate Colombia, never mind street vendors.
The Plazoleta Jairo Varela houses a museum of salsa, so would probably connote one of the epicentres of the tropical music of passion. Beyond the soaring abstract structures and waterlogged flowers, a lot of stragglers wandering along the mouldering street level. I think of the salsa culture, famous for its all-night, no-holds-barred experience, which probably goes hand-in-hand with a segment of society that may not be compelled to get out of bed at 6 in the morning in preparation for work, and hence may also be motivated to find more creative ways of earning money. And so: don’t stand still, keep moving …
I point a man to a mural of Hector Lavoe next to the words emblazoned on the wall ‘Cali es Cali’. ‘Wasn’t he Puerto Rican?’ I ask. The man responds dismissively, without looking at me: ‘Yeah, but it’s about salsa’. And the music of Hector Lavoe is played here a lot, as is that of Rubén Blades.
The clubs and bars lining the streets of the Avenida 6 are cavernous and empty, little to suggest the ecstatic life that pulsates from these establishments at a later time of day. I can only imagine! Don’t bring anything of value, don’t leave your drink unattended, be vigilant, etc.
Further along, the area evokes less nocturnal celebration, and more wealthy commercial spaces, car dealerships, hairdressers, fancy restaurants, department stores, and even a Sea-Do dealership. It takes moving further up north in Granada to get more of a sense of ease around carrying an expensive camera around, and yet further up, on Avenida 8 features a seemingly endless procession of upscale American and European-style eateries, catering to a sit-down experience, rather than the dancing extravaganza a few blocks to the south.
To the north, towers and condominium complexes line the lower ridges of the Parque Natural Bataclán, one of Cali’s paean’s to residential luxury. And you don’t have to walk far down to have it all!
There seems to be little in the line of police on the streets of Cali, particularly the wealthier areas. A few private security guards here and there, but that’s it. Not that the streets feel particularly unsafe …
I have noticed that jeeps are used as collective transport in Cali, another colourful addition to the panoply of transport options in the country!
I can’t believe how pungent the smell of marijuana is on the streets of San Antonio …