This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mucha Rumba at the Feria de Cali

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Rumba is a word used in Colombian Spanish to mean partying, nightlife, drinking, fiesta, etc, etc. If you come to Colombia you will find Rumba and if not Rumba will definitely find you.

We are heading south to Cali so have to come back through Bogota for a night which happens to be Christmas Eve. Nightlife does not start until after 11 PM because people are having Christmas with their family. Around midnight we go to a bar next to our hotel. Afterwards to a salsa/reggae after party hosted by a Jamaican dude we met last week at a free Hari Krishna vegetarian dinner. Going to bed at 4:00 AM is just foreshadowing of things to come.

The feria is very big in Colombia. Ferias are multi day festivals that have several events going on. The big ones will include bullfights, beauty pageants, concerts, parades and parties. No matter what the size of the feria there is sure to be lots of Rumba and even more alcohol.

It was recommended by several people that we go to the Feria de Cali -- “Mucha Rumba.” So we make the effort to book a hotel online and to deviate greatly from our general travel direction to get to the Feria de Cali. The city is Colombia’s third largest and their festival is one of the biggest in the country. The venues in Calí are spread all around the city and we either have to manage the indirect bus system or take taxis. Many of the events are free and just require that we bring a donation of a pound of rice or salt which will go to recent flood victims.

Our hostel is completely packed with travelers from every continent. Everyone is there for the revelry and it is very easy to make friends and drinking buddies. One night at our place more people are awake at 4 AM than asleep. And because we booked late we were stuck in a dormitory. With people returning to their beds at 7 AM and others checking out at 9 AM, a long snooze is hard to come by. Since taking the night bus from Bogota during most of the feria I feel like I am jet lagged from lack of quality sleep.

Photo courtesy of Juyeon Park
Cali happens to be the salsa capital of Colombia so it is quite fitting that the first big feria event we attend is a salsa performance. We arrive to the open air stadium half way through the show and are still there for more than two hours watching one dance school after the other perform their short routines. The groups range from a lone couple to teams of fifteen people or more. The dancers’ ages vary from elementary school to retirement home. Many of the performers are amazing dancers at an age when I was still tripping over my feet slow dancing at bar mitzvahs.

There are various different styles of salsa dancing (e.g. New York style, Cuban style). Cali style is famous for its very fast leg movements. Take that 1..2..1..2 you learned at the free salsa class at your local YMCA -- or at church, in college, on a how to DVD -- add a step and crank it up times 50. That is what we are seeing now. Watching just the speed of their legs is mesmerizing, then they add intricate twists and lifts all synchronized to the music and smiling all the while. The show ends with a stunning international competition winning team from Cali.

**I used a low-quality point and shoot camera, so please ignore the horrible sound quality and focus on the dancers:

Every night there are free salsa concerts. The venue is very fittingly at an old liquor distillery. The first time we go, we wait for over an hour, but it is well worth it. There must be several thousand people here. Many have brought their own cowbells and maracas to create a surround sound percussion section. The music, dancing and drinking carries on until 3:00 AM then we go to a salsa bar until 4:30 AM.

Here is a clip from the concert. Try to ignore the camera quality and focus on the Rumba going on around me. If you can hear, the band and audience are singing a song "Cali, Cali, Calidad" playing off the Spanish word calidad ( 'quality' in English). This really gets the crowd going:

There are also some non-rumba related activities at the Feria de Cali. There are parades every afternoon and bullfights every early evening. Click here to see our day at the bullfight. There is also a temporary amusement park and a beauty pageant which we missed, but I caught some of it on the news. Lines are huge almost everywhere and all Colombians do not seem to be so civil about queueing up as they are in say UK or Japan. On the final day of the feria we wait two and a half hours in a long winding line only to be told that it is full. All because of people hundreds of people cutting in line with very little if any organization. We leave very disappointed. The Cuban band playing is supposed to be amazing. Drat!
View as we are leaving the parade (hot and boring). The people on the ground
are waiting to enter the too packed bleachers.
We have fun just walking around the amusement park and watching families have fun.
Adults and kids are waiting in ridiculously long lines for 30 sec rides.
Time to buy stock in Pop-A-Shot International. Nobody gets anywhere near
to the 240 points necessary to win a stuffed animal.
The Feria de Cali ends but New Year's Eve comes right after. There is a big party with everyone in our hostel. Unlike other Latin American places (and New York City) the streets are strangely quiet. Like at Christmas, everyone celebrates at home and then goes out much later. Our hostel party disperses at 2 AM and we go to a salsa bar which is just starting to pick up then. It is a retro 70's style club. We do not get to our bed until after 6 AM. By this time we are definitely Cali-d and Rumba-d out and ready for somewhere more tranquil. But we are too tired to leave on the 2nd. So on January 3rd we plan to head to a small, quiet  town.

With all of the Rumba we barely see anything of Cali. However, we do
manage one afternoon to drag ourselves to the art museum and visit El Gato del Rio

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