It is hard to believe that I am already entering my third month as an English Teaching Fellow here in the beautiful city of Cali! For those readers new to my story, the Connecting Worlds Latin America team helped me pursue my passion for all things Latin America and in early January 2016 I arrived in Colombia to work as an English Language Teacher in a public high school. I will remain in Colombia for one year and I sincerely hope to make as big of an impact on my students as they have already left on me!
There has not been a single school day that I have not left laughing alongside my students. Everyday after school I arrive at my bus stop with a band of smiling students who escort me from the classroom to the station, usually about a ten minute walk. During this time we discuss that day’s events, places I need to visit in Colombia, and most importantly, Justin Bieber’s performance at the Grammys. Through the past weeks I have learned that Colombian students are hilarious, passionate, and extremely kind-hearted.
Since my last post I have continued to experience new things each day while slowly assimilating into the Caleño way of life. While I may be a bit biased, I could not be happier with my placement city, Cali. Whether you already applied to this wonderful (free!) program or just happened to click on this link, I highly encourage you to consider Cali as you next travel destination! Here is why:
The food. I write about this very important decision factor first because in my mind, well, it is the most important. Cali is known as one of the country’s gastronomic centers both for the variety and quality of the food here. I have learned that this title is well-deserved. In short, my stomach has assimilated to the Caleño lifestyle quite nicely. From mouth-watering empanadas to fresh Pacific fish you will not be disappointed here. In Colombia lunch is the big meal of the day. Throughout Cali you will find delicious “almuerzos tipicos” that usually consist of meat, rice, vegetables, and soup. All which will cost you about $2-3 USD. Vegetarian? Have no fear, you can still come to Cali and not starve. I was pleasantly surprised by the large variety of food within the city. San Antonio, the historic barrio in the city’s center, is full of vegetarian-friendly restaurants and corner cafes. While I rarely pass up a typical Colombian lunch, I have found excellent Asian, Italian, and Mexican food in Cali. Finally, you simply cannot visit Cali and not try cholado, a colorful drink filled with fresh fruit mixed together with sweet milk. I could write for days about all the wonderful food I have encountered here in Cali but you seriously need to come check it out yourself.
The city life. On paper, Cali is a huge city that boasts over 2.5 million inhabitants, however during the past three months here I have learned that while this city is large it also has a small community vibe that is priceless. Further, there is always something to do: a concert to hear, an art exhibit to see, or a festival to attend. On the weekends the artesanal park is full of vendors from the region and every Thursday night is indigenous dance night where all are welcome to join in traditional dances.The parks are always bustling with all sorts of activities from salsa nights to delicious food vendors. The bars are plenty, the music is loud, and Caleños love to have a good time making Cali nightlife a major attraction for travelers. There is something for everyone here in this vibrant city.
The location. Positioned in the Valle de Cauca, Cali has the ideal location for travel! Whether you want a weekend getaway to a small pueblo or want to experience an undiscovered beach on the Pacific coast Cali provides the perfect home base for all your travel desires. I try to travel as much as both my schedule and bank account allow for which usually ends up being around twice a month. Recently I have traveled to the coffee region (3 hours by bus), Popayan (2.5 hours by bus), and Rio Pance (30 mins by bus). Cali is equipped with both an international airport and large bus terminal which makes transportation very easy. For around $8 USD I arrived in the beautiful coffee region of Colombia where I spent my Easter holiday sipping on rich, decadent Colombian coffee! While I absolutely adore Cali sometimes it is nice to leave the city life for a short weekend getaway in the countryside. Many Caleños do so by traveling to fincas which are small farms located outside the city. For the adventurous readers Cali is surrounded by an array of outdoor activities like kitesurfing, hiking, and sailing. Further, Ecuador is a common destination for backpackers in Cali due to its close proximity. Overall, you cannot beat Cali’s great location.
Salsa. Welcome to the salsa capital of the world! This title is not to be taken lightly as the dance runs through the veins of Caleños both old and young. You cannot go anywhere in the city without hearing the vibrant beat of salsa music. Almost every night you can find a salsa bar full of Caleños demonstrating their stellar salsa moves. Upon arriving to Cali I was nervous to enter a salsa bar because I knew my American dance moves were not going to cut it; however, I learned that inside there is a relaxed environment with a variety of salsa levels. Obviously, I still have much to work on but now I can drag my feet into the basic steps of salsa! The salsa culture is everywhere in the city and has become one of my favorite weekend activities.This dance is fun, dynamic, and mirrors the captivating high energy of this city!
The people. I decided to end with this because while I originally deemed food the most important bullet point on my list it is the people in this city that set it apart from any other place I’ve been. Caleños are truly the nicest human beings I have ever met in my entire life. In general, Colombians are perceived as friendly folk but Caleños are a whole other level. I can count numerous times that I have been lost, mainly trying to weave the bus routes together, and approached by a Caleño who was more than happy to decipher my broken Spanish in hopes of helping me. In fact, I found my current room after initiating small talk with an old man at a local cafe. My original intent was to practice my Spanish and I left with a monthly lease to a fabulous room! Huzzah! To keep this brief, even in this busy city there is a neighborly spirit that is always present throughout Cali.
To be honest condensing this amazing city into five points was extremely difficult as there are so many wonderful things here in Cali. As I am becoming less of a tourist and more a long-term traveler I am continuing to push myself by trying new things and practicing my mediocre Spanish. Basically, I am learning it is okay to make mistakes. I have definitely written over my allotted word count at this point and need to get some rest before a long day of teaching tomorrow. Chao from Cali! Abrazos- Sarita
Infinite possibilities and the chance of a life-time experience are awaiting you! Want to join us?