I don't know about you, but I'm feeling 22... That is exactly how I felt in Cali: young, care-free and having so much fun that I'm still smiling at the memories.
Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca region and Colombia's third biggest city, is a lot of things. It is famous for its salsa culture and called "capital de la rumba", thus the best place in Colombia to party. It has its unique gastronomic traditions, and the next best thing to do in Cali after dancing is eating. Also, Cali is currently ranked the 10th most dangerous city in the world, but luckily I didn't even notice it. In many ways, Cali was an interesting city to see. However, people always make the place, and why I spent such wonderful three days in Cali is because of the great people, "Calenos" and other travellers, that I met.
I've recently thought a lot about hostel life and meeting new people while traveling. Before this trip to the Caribbean I had never stayed in hostels, always in hotels, Airbnb's or bed&breakfast-like places. I had of course shared a room with friends when traveling with them but never with complete strangers. Since last December I have a bunch of experiences from different hostels in Jamaican towns, Miami, Bogota, Santa Marta, Sao Paulo and now Cali. Obviously it is the way to do when you are traveling for a longer time, in various places, and with a restricted budget, and in every place I've had a lot of fun. I've met so many interesting people and made an army of new friends, like Spanish M and Welsh S and C from the Reggae hostel in Kingston, or Finnish H from Posh South Beach in Miami. It's hard to believe that I would probably never have bumped into them hadn't we chosen to stay in the same hostel.
Hostel life is the easiest way to get some company when traveling alone. However, I was thinking about it now in Cali and from a social point of view it really is an experience. Also, it is emotionally quite exhausting to always start over: to feel awkward in the beginning and be forced to socialise, to then often make good friends, and in the end, having to say goodbye. In Jamaica I was with J and not being alone it was of course easier to fit in. In other places I only stayed a night or two, or already knew locals so I didn't really care about socialising with people from the hostels. Cali was really the first place where I would be completely alone. I consider myself quite an extrovert and talkative, but this time, on Saturday morning when I arrived to Hostal El Viajero in Cali, I panicked. The place was huge, there were at least 15 dorms and many many people chilling on the terrace and at the swimming pool. It looked like they all knew each other, or at least that they all knew someone, and I felt like a stranger crushing a party. I suddenly got very shy and didn't know if I should join a group or not. So I decided to take a breath, left my bag there and went alone for a walk and to get a snack.
By the way, my hostel El Viajero was a very nice place. It is well-located, clean and the terrace/swimming pool area is lovely. I paid 9 euros/night with daily salsa classes and (great!) breakfast included so I think that was quite reasonable. I took this picture from the internet because I forgot to photograph, it looks cool isn't it?
When I came back from my walk and was waiting for the free salsa class to start, I decided to get over my shyness and start socialising. A strategy that usually always works in any similar situation is to choose one friendly-looking person, start chatting with her/him and then when you know one, it is easier to meet others. I looked around and picked as my target a girl who was coming to the salsa class as well. My plan worked out perfectly, from now on she is A from Bolivia, traveling around Colombia, such a wonderful person and one of my new Cali-friends. Salsa time it was, we went to the class and had a lot of fun with other travellers and salsa-beginners.
In the afternoon I took a rest and had some delicious late lunch in a vegetarian restaurant nearby. That was good because I had done a crazy thing and accepted to go to a party organised by the hostel. The crazy thing is that it would not be just any kind of party but a tour with a chiva, a party bus!
Here's my vegetarian lasagna and maracuyá-lulo juice:
Back in my dorm I met my second very good friend because I started talking with a guy who was in the bunk bed under mine. He is from Spain but living now in Bogota and his name is... Emilio. :D That became over the days a regular joke between us and our friends, and we ended up calling ourselves Emi and Emi. We immediately got a long very well (obviously, since we share the same name!) and even if we both thought that a party bus, free drinks included, sounded a very scary idea and that we were way too old for that kind of fun, we decided to take it easy and go. After all, we might be old but at least we are not getting any younger, so we might as well enjoy while we still can.
We had some pre-drinks by the pool with A and a nice girl from Denmark, J, and then hopped on the bus with others from our hostel.
A chiva is a popular thing to do here in Colombia, we have a party bus tour in Cartagena as well but I haven't tried it out yet. With the right mindset and attitude, it was a lot of fun. Picture a group of young travellers who don't know each other, latino music, dancing and an open bar. This in an open-air bus, driving around the city. The fact that the bus is moving (fast) makes dancing a bit more challenging (the open bar may have something to do with it too) and the result is just hilarious. But all good, the bus didn't crash anything, nobody fell over the rail and so on. I admit that even if I felt like a teenager, I had a great time.
After the chiva we all ended up in a salsa club and danced literally ALL NIGHT LONG. Love Cali.
After a couple of hours of sleep and a tasty breakfast, no traces of fatigue to be seen (young as we are). A wanted to go on an organised city tour but me and my namesake E decided to go for a walk on our own to explore the historic old town, San Antonio. We walked up and down for hours, saw stunning views, enjoyed breathing fresh air, and just talked about our lives. E is my age, from Spain, and working for one year in Bogota for a route safety company (as we were walking he wanted to photograph everything on the streets). Like with A, it was so easy to be with E. We could talk about anything and it didn't feel like we only just met.
Our first stop was at an artisanal park Loma de la Cruz.
We then climbed all the way up to the San Antonio church and sat there for a long while, drinking refreshing slushes (flavoured frozen drink) and admiring the views over Cali.
Views from high up are always nice but that's basically it. It may be partly because of the mostly grey weather but Cali was definitely not a beautiful city, not like Cartagena for example. The architecture was quite boring and everything looked like from the 70's.
While walking we run into some people from our hostel and from Saturday nights chiva party, and in the end we also saw A who had ended up doing her own walking tour with two other girls because their organised tour had gotten canceled. The girls told us to walk to Parque del Gato, a "cat park", which is, as the name says, a park full of cat statues designed by different artists. We went there just for fun, even if we don't like cats at all. I have to post here A's cat picture and ours, you see the difference? I at least tried to fake a smile but E looks like he could kill someone (or a cat maybe).
After we finished our walking tour we joined A and the other girls for dinner. One of them was from our hostel as well, S from Switzerland. I can't believe this, she too was such a lovely person and nice to talk to. She is 10 years older than me (but doesn't look like!), and she has done so much in her life and traveled to countless different countries. Right now she is doing a round-the-world trip and it sounded amazing. My favourite story was from Namibia where she spent two weeks on a desert on a volunteering camp, building water point protection for elephants. Next time I want to go volunteering, that's where you'll find me!
Back at the hostel we were planning to go out but in the end we decided to stay there because it was too agreeable. New friends, swimming pool, evening breeze, music, cheap cocktails, and then a good night's sleep. You don't need more to enjoy life.
Monday was an even better day than Sunday, if that is even possible. The only sad thing was that A left for Salento so we had to survive without her. When I arrived to Cali and was wondering if I would meet nice people of not, I went on Tinder and matched with three guys. I talked a little bit with all of them and asked for recommendations for things to do and see. With two of them I talked about eventually meeting up but I kept changing plans all the time because it turned out that I had plenty to do with the people I met at the hostel, and was not lonely at all. One of the Tinders was persisting and actually me too I really wanted to see him, so I told him that I would go for a street food tour in downtown and that he could join me if he wanted. S came with me and so we met this "tinder boy", J, who turned out to be a great guy and a lot of fun to hang out with. He is a Marketing&Advertising student, part-time model and has his own accessories brand. Talk about hard work and ambition, a very interesting person. Our street food tour was memorable, I wrote an other post about that. E who was actually on a business trip in Cali was supposed to work and changed to another hotel, but finally all his meetings got cancelled (who plans meetings for a public holiday anyway?) so he spent almost the whole day with us as well.
J is originally from Cali, but very international and has lived in the US. It was great to have him show us around! We went from one place to another, trying out local delicacies, and spent some hours at the swimming pool at J's place and playing with his dogs. It really is amazing how well you can get along with people you have just met, and how quickly you can become attached and start to care about them. Maybe it is the traveller mind-set (and J's general mind-set): being care-free, taking what life has to give to you, and living in the moment. Our group of four was a real match, at the end of the day we considered ourselves true friends and started planning future reunions in different places in the world (hopefully first one to come just in a few weeks here in Cartagena!).
We stayed together as long as we could: dinner, dancing at a salsa bar and then wine at E's hotel but good things always come to an end and on Tuesday morning it was time for me and S to leave Cali. Now when I'm back home in Cartagena it feels weird not to be together anymore, and to be back to "normal" life. Same with A, she travelled to Salento and is now in Medellin but we keep exchanging WhatsApp voice messages because we miss each other and it feels like there is so much to talk about.
I have to copy J's instagram post here, I liked it so much:
I can take a group selfie as well. ;)
Swimming pools are becoming an ordinary treat for me, is that bad?
In the evening, La Topa Tolondra salsa bar, watching professional dancers was more fun than trying to dance by ourselves (but we tried anyway and of course J wasn't that bad). But I can totally take a group selfie part 2:
Now I am back in Cartagena and I think I posted all the pictures that I wanted to. :) Cali, oh Cali. Cali was dancing until my injured ankle hurt so bad I couldn't walk anymore. Cali was eating so much that I haven't been very hungry since. Cali was a welcome break, a feeling of being a tourist again. Cali was meeting fantastic people and sharing fantastic moments with them. Cali was laughing, relaxing, and forgetting about the rest of the world. Cali was just great, and I promise to be back one day and keep working on those salsa steps. Thank you for everyone who shared these moments with me.
In conclusion to my thoughts about hostel life: again, I couldn't have imagined how well it all would turn out. I love the part about staying at hostels where you randomly make friends with travellers from all over the world. I like being surrounded by people and I really don't mind sleeping in a dorm or sharing the bathroom and showers, if it is only for a few days. However, the thing about hostels is that if you are sociable as I am, you don't have one quiet moment for yourself. Once you get going, there will always be someone who wants to have a chat or go do something together. As it is a little bit the same thing at our place at the moment since we are four living here (and I'm not used to roommates), I'm starting to miss some alone time. I will be traveling to Medellin in ten days and I'm happy that I found an Airbnb room that seems super nice and was almost as cheap as a hostel (my tip: always check Airbnb, even if traveling alone: they are often a better, and a cheaper option than hotels). I'm sure that I will find a way to meet people if I get bored but at least I will finally have some time and space for just myself. Can't wait.
Lots of love,
Read the next story here.
I'm Emilia, Finnish-Parisian, a recent Master's graduate. I'm currently traveling around the Caribbean and on a volunteering mission in Colombia. I'm passionate about writing, music and different kinds of sports. I can't wait to discover new places and cultures - and share my adventures with you!