The drive to Cali was around 3-4 hours from the finca, a lush verdantly green drive (as is apparently all of Colombia, come to think of it) with zaman trees all along the road through the Valle del Cauca, listening to Thievery Corporation and Shakira. Cali is one of the three major cities in Colombia (Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali), and like Bogotá, when you get into the nice parts of town, suddenly you realize just how modern Colombia is. The leaders in Lasik and plastic surgeries reside here (Lasik costs less than $1000; I was tempted), and the plastic surgery can indeed be seen projecting quite visibly from the chests of many women on the streets in Cali. It is also not uncommon to spot some folks (both guys and gals) walking about with tape on their faces from their recent facial enhancements. The breast augmentation is so common, in fact, that there is a term for women who may lack personality, but possess large bamboombas: it is said of such a woman that she has pechonalidad, a mixture of pecho (chest/breasts) and personalidad (personality).
The evening we got to Cali, we met up with my cousin’s extended family at Chipi Chapi, a ginormous brick mall converted from old train warehouses that puts any North American mall to shame. Chip Chapi is not only a mall—it is the place that the well-to-do meet up in, hang out at, have a drink, eat some food, people-watch, plastic surgery assess, etc. We seemed to start all of our excursions here. Chipi Chapi, by the way, is the name of a native tribe that used to reside in the area of Cali, and who have now been honorably immortalized as a gigantic shopping center.
While driving into Cali, we were slowed down by a mass of people on horseback in the streets. This event is called cabalgata, and seems to be some kind of fiesta/horse competition. The horses do this weird kind of high-step/quick trot and demonstrate their prowess. People drink aguardiente. Fun for the whole family.
Once we met up with the exended fam, they took us out to a restaurant in the San Antonio neighborhood, which is the old historic section of town, kind of like La Candelaria in Bogotá, except that people actually live there in Cali. The restaurant, El Zaquán de San Antonio, served comida tipica, which seemed to consist solely (of course) of various forms of fried meat. I gorged myself on empanadas, puerquitos (platano mashed with chicharrón), chicharrón, bofe (smoked cow lung), and costillos (rib). I ate most all of it myself, out of the 10 other people there, and yet somehow did not get ill. I was told that I have the stomach of a Latino, as I kept grabbing at the bofe.
I had a great time showing the family my list of Colombian fruits that I intended to try, and was pleased to see that they got as excited by it as I do. They kept telling me new fruits that I’d never heard of that I needed to try, and when they spotted a níspero tree nearby, two of them got sap all over their clothes trying to grab a fruit for me. So on my list still to try: curubas, badeas, caimones, chontaduros, guamas, mamuncillos, mairoños, grocellas, piñuelos, zapotes, and nísperos. Phew!
The next day we had a large breakfast with the requisite doses of coffee, and I tried pan de yuca, a bread particular to Cali, which is best eaten dipped in coffee or lathered in butter. Then we took the niños out to the zoo. My cousin drove us there, taking a hump on one of the streets at 80 mph and getting a few feet of air, much to the delight of the unbuckled children, and much to my pain and discontent, because I came down right on my tailbone and bruised it.
The zoo was listed in my guidebook and sounded like it would be interesting. It had been a while since I’d been to a zoo, and I’d forgotten that essentially a zoo is just a bunch of cages with miserable animals inside of them. If miserable, dislocated animals is your thing, then definitely go to the zoo in Cali. There you can watch people banging against the windows trying to get a rise out of the monkeys, and see potato chip bags littered all over the floor of animal’s cages. At the Cali zoo, you get very close to the animals, such as in the aviary, where birds will walk along the bath browsing amongst the humans. I felt a little saddened especially by the grizzly bear and the camel at this zoo, both of whom looked to be wondering about why they were in a climate completely foreign to their biology (kind of what I’m wondering right now, as a matter of fact). In any case, I was happy to see a lot of guacamayos and other types of cousins of my amazonian parrot Vinnie.
We ate at the Crepes and Waffles at Chipi Chapi (which seems to be quite the trendy place to be), and then drove back in the night, my cousin’s Toyota landcruiser taking turns at the highest possible speed without turning over.
It is extremely expensive to travel long distance here in Colombia, as there are toll booths located seemingly every several miles or so. We spent almost 30 dollars just on the way to Cali alone. And gasoline is expensive here as well—which is why you will see cars that run on both gasoline and natural gas, such as my cousin’s Landcruiser. Natural gas is less expensive than gasoline, but it also doesn’t get you as far. I imagine it must be somewhat more dangerous as well.