Cali is often described as a bit grungy, a bit down-and-dirty, and above all, a city of salsa. We arrived, and my sole intention was to dance. Most of the popular hostels come with free salsa lessons, so I envisioned a free salsa lesson, a tip on an excellent low-key yet dynamic, poorly lit salsa club, and a long night of spirit-fuelled, hip-swinging adventures. It turns out, we didn’t end up dancing a single step, but arguably had much more fun.
We arrived at the sweet yet heavily regulated, family-run hostel, Colombian Hostel. (Watch out if booking the very cheap 4-bed dorm: it’s a curtained room off of the main entrance, and not so conducive to sleeping.) One of the sons/cousins/nephews/friends floating around the place informed us that it was the semi final of a Colombian football league that evening. One of the local teams, America, was playing and the game was being hosted in Cali. He sold it quite well and, deciding that we could salsa any time, we decided to head to the game. We’d been given very clear instructions to avoid the south side of the stadium, as the level of crazy reached departs from normal sporting merriment and passes well into being scary and dangerous. Avoiding the touts selling the cheap tickets for south, we made our way to the ticket counter and spent about 15,000 COP more on Occidental tickets. As we skirted the stadium searching for our entrance, the crowds changed. It was with a much more civilized bunch that we stood in line and found our seats.
From our vantage point, we could watch the carnage (often more than we watched the game, to be honest) that erupted at the south end of the stadium. From at least 20 minutes before kick-off right down until the final whistle, the stadium shook under the stomping of thousands of feet. Several large marching-band style drums banged a constant rhythm to which the fans sang endless team songs. As the match progressed, and America pulled further into the lead, the fans just got looser. At times several rows at a time became miniature mosh pits and people were pushed and pulled to and fro. Fans had their shirts off, swinging them around in circles, for the best part of the game. A couple of people leaned over the railings on the upper level, one leg on each side, to better shout down at the field. The security guards posted in the area numbered at least 2:1 for guards posted everywhere else in the stadium.
Our section was great. Everyone was excited, singing, jumping, and clapping when the local team scored, but I thankfully wasn’t scared for my life. After the game (America won) we ran into a couple of German guys from our hostel who had braved the south section. They’d left at halftime, after frequent attempts from other fans to steal everything from their camera to their cash to the plastic cup of pop they’d purchased.
And so, unfortunately with no salsa dancing, we left Cali after one short night. You know you’re having fun when you don’t have any pictures to show for it.