Tag Archives: Cali

Goodbye Cali, Hello Cuba!

29 Aug

It’s the end of an era!

Today, after almost 2 years living here, I have left my “Cali bella”. I’m leaving Colombia.

I’m writing this post in El Dorado Airport in Bogota (funnily enough this song was playing when I got off my flight from Cali) as I await my connecting flight that will take me, via San Salvador, to my next destination: La Habana, Cuba.

I’ve spent the last few weeks answering the same questions from my friends over and over again:
-Why are you leaving?
-Did you get bored of Cali?
-What’s are you going to do?

I probably should have written this post a lot sooner to preemptively answer those questions but, as a lot of my friends in Cali pointed out to me over the last few days, I seem to have taken to procrastination after spending so much time here. Better late than never, right!

Why am I leaving?
I’ll be brutally honest: I feel like I’ve stagnated here in Cali and I’ve felt that way for a while now.

I came here with the goals of learning Spanish and adding more “latin sabor” to my salsa. I now speak Spanish (far from perfect but enough for some Colombians who have been speaking to me for a few minutes to find it necessary to confirm that I’m not originally from Colombia) and I now dance very differently from how I danced before I came here.

So now I think it’s time to move on to another challenge (more on that in a moment).

I also feel I need some time outside of Cali to think seriously about what I want to with myself, long term. I was speaking with my mam a few weeks ago and she dropped the “You’re nearly 30” bomb on me. She’s entitled to do it; she’s my mam and she only wants the best for me and she wants to make sure I’m doing something with my life. It still hurt like a kick in the teeth, though.

I’m hoping a change of environment should help me to think and plan a little better. At least that’s the idea.

Did I get bored of Cali?
The best way to answer that is: No, I didn’t get bored of Cali BUT Yes I did get bored of the salsa here.

I’m the Dancing Irishman (yup, it looks like it’s gone to my head) and salsa is a huge part of my life. I’ve become far too comfortable in Cali (typical Irishman; thinks something’s wrong when things are going too smoothly). Dancing socially in Cali doesn’t challenge me the way I would like it too. Don’t get me wrong, I love going out with my friends and dancing into the wee hours but it has become quite repetitive for me. In general I can only use a limited amount of moves in salsa caleña.

I want to learn other styles. I want my own style to continue evolving. I want to get better.

This is why I feel I need to move on and find new challenges.

So what am I going to do?
Cali is known as the world capital of salsa but there a few other places around the world that would like to claim that title.

Hence my first stop: Cuba.

I arrive tomorrow… or this morning… or whatever, I’m tired from a week of going away parties. I’m going to spend 3 weeks there (very short I know but the length of my stay has been dictated by the pitiful-ness of my budget. The plan is to learn as much Cuban salsa as I can, dance my ass off, and get to know the country (and its people) that claims to be the birthplace of salsa.

And then, near the end of September, I arrive in Miami. The idea is to start there and slowly but surely dance my way up the east coast to my final destination: New York City.

Yes folks, it’s time the Dancing Irishman learned to dance “On2”.

And that’s my plan, in all it’s naive simplicity.

Mi nuevo camino
I’m looking at this like an adventure. I’m following my heart (can you say cliché?) and going where the dance takes me.

If you happen to live some where on or near the east coast of the US and you have some advice for me on places to visit (salsa or non-salsa related), if you want to meet up for a coffee or if you want to offer me a couch to sleep on during my travels 🙂 drop me an email: richie@dancingirishman.com

As I’m a big fan of Couchsurfing I’d be very happy to hear from you. Bear in mind that while I’m in Cuba (until September 20th) I won’t have much access to internet but I promise to reply once I arrive in the US. This means I probably won’t publish any new posts for a few weeks.

To my friends in Cali
I can’t finish this blog without mentioning that which became more important for me than anything in Cali: the beautiful people I got to know and the incredible friends I made.

In just two years I truly feel that I became part of Cali, that it opened its arms and accepted me as one of her own (albeit an exceptionally pale one). The people here made me an honorary caleño, ve!

They made me feel welcome, they thought me how to appreciate salsa on a level I never even knew existed, they helped me find my latin “sabor” (turns out I’m white chocolate) and when I was leaving they made sure to say goodbye in a way that would make me want to come back as soon as possible.

Las sonrisas bellas de mi gente linda! That was one hell of a Farewell Party!

Las sonrisas bellas de mi gente linda! That was one hell of a Farewell Party! Try and find the Irishman!

I love you Cali. I love you my Caleños. Les quiero mucho…e hasta pronto!

Cuba, here I come!

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The Cuisine of Colombia (The Good & The Bad…but mostly the good)

21 Aug

Life is nothing without passion.

They say that you need to live passionately to lead a fulfilling and happy life and I couldn’t agree more. I live for my passions and of all of them the one that is most evident to those around me in my day to day life is my almost carnal love for good food.

Eating is one of life’s simplest pleasures and that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy traveling so much. Going to a new country and trying new foods that I’ve never had before is a real pleasure for me (I have to confess that one of the first things I do when I get to a new country is go to a big supermarket so I can get a crash course introduction to how the locals eat).

I have to admit, I didn’t really know much about Colombian food before I came here. I ignorantly assumed (assuming is never a good idea) that it would be something similar to Mexican food, or at least to the Mexican food you get in California (which may not be the best representation). What I actually got was something different.

WARNING: I am about to give my opinion about Colombian food. I will write some good things and I will write some bad things. Before you do anything else, read through the article completely. Then take a deep breath and go for a walk, maybe grab yourself a coffee or even better, an ice-cream and then go back home and sit down before you even think of flying off the handle and starting an online storm of abuse!!!

Any foreigner who has lived in Colombia knows that Colombians are very proud… almost patriotic about their local cuisine. Any bad talk about it is almost considered a sin… or even… treason. That’s why I’m going to be figuratively walking on eggshells for this article and I’m going to be very careful about how I say things.

I’m going to word the next sentence very specifically: The food consumed regularly by the majority of average Colombians i.e. the food that is seen most often in common eating places in Colombia…is disappointing!

Let me clarify, in general, Irish food is nothing special (although it has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years) but I’m not comparing Colombian and Irish food. I’m speaking from a more international perspective. Generally speaking Colombian food is over-cooked, under-seasoned and a lot of it is deep fried (a lot like some Irish food when ya think about it).

BUT!!!!!
And it’s a “big butt” (teehee) ladies and gentlemen, Colombia still boasts an incredible repertoire of spectacular dishes that I have fallen in love with in my two years here. The thing is though, they are not “as” readily available (they’re generally more expensive and sold less commonly) as the poorer quality foods I mentioned above.

The great thing about living in a mountainous country that straddles the equator is that the varied climate zones here mean you can grow almost anything you want. Walking through the fruit and vegetable section of a Colombian supermarket is a true pleasure to the eyes (although it is a real pity that Colombians don’t take full advantage of all this produce; vegetable use is few a far between here). Add to this great produce the indigenous, European and African culinary influences and you end up with some truly memorable dishes.

For the rest of this article I’m going to haphazardly introduce you to some of “MY” FAVORITE Colombian foods. Enjoy!

Soups
When I first arrived in Cali (where midday temperatures hover around a sweaty 29°C) I found it unusual that lunch was always served with a piping hot bowl of soup. In the majority of places this caldo (broth) is nothing to write home about. However Colombia does have a few soups that I definitely think deserve a mention.

Ajiaco

There's a lot of eating in a bowl of Ajiaco

There’s a lot of eating in a bowl of Ajiaco

Ajiaco is a hearty soup made with no less than 3 different varieties of potatoes, chicken, corn and cream, seasoned with a local herb called guasca, topped with a handful of capers and served with slices of avocado. As an Irishman who knows his stuff when it comes to potatoes I have to say this is one of the finest potato soups I have ever tried. There’s eatin’ and drinkin’ in it!

Sancocho

Sancocho de pescado, I never thought I would fall in love with a fish soup!

Sancocho de pescado, I never thought I would fall in love with a fish soup!

This is a soup made with either chicken, beef or fish with big chunks of potato, plantain and cassava inside, seasoned with fresh coriander (cilantro) and lime. My favorite, by far, is the sancocho de pescado or fish version that is made extra creamy from the use of coconut milk. I never thought it would have been possible for me to like fish soup.

Pacifico Food
The western coast of Colombia is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the region is mostly inhabited by the descendants of African slaves that arrived during colonial times. To this day, access to the area is difficult due to poor infrastructure and because of this the area has managed to retain a great deal of its unique culture, in particular music, dance and food.

The cuisine of the pacifico is heavily seafood and coconut based and has easily become my favorite regional cuisine in all of Colombia. Here in Cali I’m blessed to live near a neighbourhood called “La Alameda” which specializes in food from the pacifico. I’m further blessed in that the brother of one of my best friends happens to own one of the best restaurants in that neighbourhood (for those of you visiting Cali it’s called “Punta del Mar”).

Apart from the sancocho de pescado which I just mentioned a few other typical dishes include:

Cazuela de Mariscos

Creamy and delicious cazuela de mariscos

Creamy and delicious cazuela de mariscos

A casserole of mixed seafood cooked in an incredibly seasoned, creamy sauce, topped off with cheese and served in a heated clay dish. The extra weight you’ll gain from eating it is totally worth it.

Arroz  de Mariscos

This seafood rice (arroz de mariscos) is spectacular, especially when it's full of shrimp like this

This seafood rice (arroz de mariscos) is spectacular, especially when it’s full of shrimp like these babies!

A Colombian version of mixed seafood fried rice that would put any Chinese restaurant to shame.

Ají

The ubiquitous Colombian salsa, ají

The ubiquitous Colombian salsa, ají

Not so much a food as a sauce or condiment ubiquitous in Colombian restaurants. Ají is super easy to prepare (it’s just a mix of finely chopped scallions, tomatoes, chilly peppers, fresh coriander and vinegar) but it transforms boring foods into a taste explosion. You can often see Colombians eating empanadas (deep friend pastry parcels of rice, potatoes and meat) with one hand while spooning on generous dollops of ají with the other.

Lechona

The flavored rice and meat are cooked inside the skin of the pig which is served on top of the rice for a crispy treat

The flavored rice and meat are cooked inside the skin of the pig which is served on top of the rice for a crispy treat

Imagine a huge delicious pig hollowed out and then stuffed with a delicious combination of well seasoned rice, peas and pig meat roasting in an oven for 10 hours. Then imagine a portion of that rice-mix that has soaked up all those glorious juices from being roasted inside the pig, topped off with a square of crispy pig skin. That is pure piggy perfection right there.

Chorizo Santarosano

Nothing like a good Chorizo

Nothing like a good Chorizo

Chorizo is a type of sausage common in most latin countries. Chorizo, like most sausage, is good. Chorizo santarosano is simply spectacular. I have no idea what they season it with to make it so good but it has made the town of Santa Rosa famous for producing them. In fact you can walk around the town from stall to stall trying all the different versions of the famous chorizo just like the locals do; with a dash of lime juice.

Arepa
Arepas are cornmeal patties of indigenous origin, cooked on a griddle that are served alongside virtually every meal of the day in Colombia. They are the quintessential “Colombian” food and they take up whole sections in the supermarkets.
Uncooked and cold (just as they are often served with other foods)… they taste like Styrofoam. Heated up on the griddle or even spread with a little butter they begin to taste a little better but I honestly have no idea whey they’re so popular here.

However there are two types of arepa that I have come to love and that prevent the word “arepa” from falling from grace.

Arepa con Todo

Arepa con todo: the kebab of Colombia

Arepa con todo: the kebab of Colombia

Literally an arepa with everything. The contents can vary but generally its an arepa filled with pulled beef and chicken meat, pork-rinds, quail eggs, cheese and an assortment of sauces. It is in my opinion the pinacle of Colombian fast food and it’s my “Go-To” “I’m in a hurry” food in my neighbourhood.

Arepa de Choclo

I could eat arepa de choclo until they came out of my ears!

I could eat arepa de choclo until they came out of my ears!

Choclo is the word used for yellow sweet corn which is used to make these, the sweetest and most flavorful of arepas. A fun day out for me is to go up the mountains outside Cali to a place called “Kilometro 18” where it actually gets cold because of the altitude. Once there, I order a hot chocolate and an arepa de choclo smothered in butter and filled with fresh cheese (on my cheat-day of course). Heaven.

Fritanga
There are a whole host of foods in Colombia that fall under the umbrella of fritanga; basically battered and deep-fried. Some of them can be delicious (like the papa rellena; a battered and deepfried ball of seasoned potatoes, rice and meat. They “can be” amazing and “papa rellena” was actually the first word I learned after I arrived in Cali). However in general they are very “hit and miss” with most just tasting like an oily mess.

There is one however that I cannot leave unmentioned;

Maduro Aborrajado

Maduro aborrajado, it looks so good it's almost sexual.

Maduro aborrajado, it looks so good it’s almost sexual!

A maduro is a “mature” or ripe plantain (a member of the banana family) that is sweet and delicious, just like I like them. The plantain is split open along the middle and filled with cheese (mozzarella or doble crema is the best in my opinion). It is then battered and deep-fried to crispy perfection. Now that’s how you cook a plantain.

Almojabana

The best accompaniment to a coffee is a fresh almojabana

The best accompaniment to a coffee is a fresh almojabana

They only bakery product that you will find on this list as living here in Colombia has almost put me completely off eating breads. The almojabana is a special little guy though. When made right, they’re light, airy and moist with a very subtle sweetness and a mild cheesy taste. Amazing with your cup of coffee in the morning, when they’re fresh out of the oven.

Arequipe

Arequipe: Pure Caramel Sinfulness!

Arequipe: Pure Caramel Sinfulness!

Colombian desserts don’t really do it for me. I won’t get into it but there’s nothing special about them. Colombia does, however, have one little sweet trick up it’s sleeve. Arequipe, known as “Dulce de leche” in other parts of South America, is a thick caramel sauce that is hugely popular here… for good reason. You can put it on anything from fruit to biscuits to arepas. If there are any Colombians reading this try spreading some arequipe on a hot arepa de choclo with butter and cheese… you can thank me in the comments.

Fruits and Juices
No article on food in Colombia would be complete without mentioning the amazing fruits and fruit juices that this country is blessed with. On the corner of virtually every busy street you can find a cart or stall selling freshly cut fruit salads and a variety of juices made with water or milk. Pineapple, mango, papaya, blackberry, strawberry, orange, passion-fruit, guava, guanabana, lulo, curuba and a whole host of other fruits I had never heard of before. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried a passion-fruit juice in milk.

On top of that, Colombians have managed to come up with a great many “original” drinks too;

Salpicon

Salpicon, the liquid fruit salad!

Salpicon, the liquid fruit salad!

Chop up a whole variety of different fruits into small chunks and put them in a bowl. the juice seeps out from the fruit creating a liquid fruit salad. It’s one of my favorite on the go snacks.

Lulada

Another Cali favorite, the Lulada

Another Cali favorite, the Lulada

Coarsely chopped lulo mixed with sugar makes this strange looking green juice very popular in Cali.

Champus

Champus may look like vomit but it is paradise in a glass

Champus may look like vomit but it is paradise in a glass

A Cali classic and definitely my favorite drink. A fermented mix of corn, pineapple, lulo and panela (unpreocessed cane sugar) flavored with orange leaves, cloves and cinnamon. Paradise in a glass.

Cholado

Cali is famous for its snow-cone/fruitsalsad combination, the cholado

Cali is famous for its snow-cone/fruitsalsad combination, the cholado

The best way to describe this concoction is as a cross between a fruit salad and a snow-cone drenched in fruit syrup and condensed milk. The perfect way to celebrate a hot Sunday afternoon in Cali.

A Taste for Home
Any body who has lived in a foreign country knows that you eventually develop a taste for the local cuisine. I’ve lived outside of Ireland for 6 of the past 7 years and I’ve grown to love some of the foods in my “new homes” away from home. I have no doubt that in a few months I’ll be craving all sorts of delights from Colombia.

Colombia does have a rich food culture, you just have to look for it a little harder and ignore all the not so nice stuff on offer. I really do hope some of you reading this will get to try some of these dishes if you come to Colombia. I just hope that I’ll get to try them again sometime in the future.

SIDENOTE: It’s 7.30am here in Colombia and I’m just after finishing this article after working through the night since around midnight. I actually completed this article at about 4 am and lost everything with the click of a button. You have no idea how filled with rage I was when I realized what I had done. I simultaneously wanted to cry and to break everything in my vicinity. I’m pretty damn proud of managing to “play through the pain” and write out the whole article all over again. Moral of the story: “be careful how you save your work”.

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Chocolate Blanco: The Whitest Dancing Irishman on Earth

17 Jul
Try and shield your eyes from the glare!

Try and shield your eyes from the glare!

It has been a great, if busy, week in Cali.

I’ve been in training for the world games which start in Cali on July 25th. Not as a competitor (although the Sports Dance division could be a possibility haha) but as the translator/interpretor to the Japanese delgation.

So it was great this weekend to be able to destress a little at a pool party celebrating the birthday of a good friend of mine.

Seeing as I had the opportunity I had a friend take a little video of another friend and I dancing a really relaxed form (and my favourite style) of salsa caleña. Check it out below.

What can I say? I am the whitest human being on Earth. Even after almost two years living in the tropics! I’m fairly sure that most people at the party left with at least partial retinal damage due to the extreme reflection from my pale Irish skin. My apologies to all.

What I am happy about, however, is how much I’ve learned to move and relax my body movements during my time here in Cali, which was one of my main intentions before I came here.

Chocolate Blanco
I still have a long way to go but, compared to how I used to move, I’ve improved leaps and bounds. So much so that I’ve received on more than one occasion the compliment “Este man baila como negro!” resulting in a little nickname that I’ve gained over here: Choclate Blanco (for obvious reasons 😉  )

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The Most Famous Salsa Teacher in Cali, Colombia (and he’s Irish???)

8 Jul

As of last Wednesday, July 3rd, the Dancing Irishman is now probably the most well known salsa teacher in Cali, Colombia.

I was featured in an episode of the show, “Tiempo Real” which aired last week on the local Cali channel, Telepacifico. You can check out the clip below.

The whole thing came about when a journalist friend of mine (muchas gracias, Paola) mentioned my story to a a friend of hers who was looking for stories about foreigners doing things a little bit “different” in Cali. Apparently and Irishman teaching salsa in the “world capital of salsa” qualifies as different… (go figure).

In the clip you can hear some of my students talking about my teaching technique and a number of them mention a couple of things that have given me my own little niche here in the (as you can imagine) “saturated” market of salsa teachers in Cali. Those would be:

  • I speak English (which makes teaching a hell of a lot more efficient when your students don’t speak Spanish)
  • I break down the movements in a way that local teachers simply don’t do because that’s how I learned myself and that’s why my students, some of whom have never been able to dance in their lives, learn salsa so fast.

Another thing that I think has been helping my students is the fact that I only teach moves that they can use (in the “wild”) in salsa clubs in Cali. Most big dance schools here tend to teach a huge amount of complicated footwork which is fine if you eventually want to perform in a show or something like that but in general, you don’t see that out on the dance-floors in Cali and very few “untrained” girls can follow it.

On the other hand I stick to refining my students basics, body movements and turn patterns so they can use everything they learn on an average night out in Cali with the vast majority of dancers. It looks like that plan has been paying off.

Wouldn't you like a mild mannered, poorly accented, bearded Irishman as your salsa teacher???

Wouldn’t you like a mild mannered, poorly accented, bearded Irishman as your salsa teacher???

The Accented Irishman
In the video you also get to hear my spectacularly awful Spanish accent. I literally cried when I heard it for the first time :-(. Thankfully, some of my friends have assured me that I don’t speak that way normally so I’m going to put it down to being nervous in front of the cameras (I’m really very shy 😉 ). It has, however, given me the incentive to work more on my accent in Spanish, so I should have an article on that in a few weeks.

Anyway, since the show aired last week I’ve been getting a huge amount of emails from people (most of whom are Colombian) wanting to take salsa classes with me (Wuhoo for mass media). I guess with the World Salsa Championships just around the corner (August 5th) people want to learn what their city is famous for.

So there you have it, how an Irishman ended up teaching salsa in the World Capital of Salsa: Cali, Colombia.

Keep dancing folks.

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Dancing Salsa like an Irishman

20 Mar
Dancing for truth, justice and good old St. Paddy

Dancing for truth, justice and good old St. Paddy

Last Sunday was St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration of everything Irish and a great excuse for a party. Never one to turn down an opportunity for a rumba (party) I held a “little” shindig in my apartment to celebrate St. Paddy (NOT St. Patty), Cali-style.

All in all I had about 70 guests and a great time was had by all with lots of great music, great dancing and a whole lot of sweating in the tropical heat.

Video Antics
As you know from previous posts like this one I’m a big fan of videoing oneself dancing in order to see where you need to improve and how you’re progressing.

So I got a friend of mine to grab a quick video of my dance-partner Kelli and I dancing a mixture of LA and salsa caleña. Check it out below.

First off, I know, I’m sweating like an animal. If people can sweat dancing salsa in Ireland in the winter, just imagine what it’s like dancing in the tropics.

For those of you unfamiliar with Cali-style salsa, you can recognize it here from the basic back step (side to side in some cases) and the more circular, cuban-style turns. The majority of stuff with complicated handwork is LA style.

Post Game Analysis
One thing that I’m finally starting to improve is my eye contact which is something that I’ve always had trouble with. It might just be the fact that I’m dancing with Kelli who I’m very comfortable with by I manage to get a nice amount of eye contact in during this dance.

One thing that annoyed the crap out of me is the fact that I still hold back from doing more complicated Cali-style moves and footwork when I social dance. I tend to stick with the safe stuff which doesn’t do me any good in the long run.

Help the Irishman Out
What do you think yourself? Where do you think I can improve or what do you think I need to work on? I thrive on constructive criticism so if you think you could offer me a little bit of advice please let me know in the comments.

Excellent New Song
The song we’re dancing to in the video is “Mother’s Delight” from the new Irish salsa group “Baile an Salsa”, check them out. It’s a mix of traditional Irish music and salsa and I really think it’s a fantastic song for dancing linear On1 or On2 salsa. It’s not the most appropriate song for dancing salsa-caleña, however, so that may explain why I didn’t do many Cali moves in the video.

Dancing Alone
You might want to know why Kelli and I are the only couple dancing in the video. I asked the same thing to a Caleño friend of mine that night and he told me it was because the locals weren’t familiar with the song (or the Irish-style music for that matter). He said that caleños tend to only dance to music they’re familiar with. I’ve noticed this when I’ve DJ-ed before, anytime I put on a song that isn’t heard regularly in the clubs in Cali, people tend to shy off the floor and get some conversation in instead. Just a little observation.

We had a great time here in Cali last weekend and I hope you all had a Happy St. Patrick’s Day too, wherever in the world you are.

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21 Things I F##KING HATE about Colombia!

12 Feb
Feel my Blogger's Wrath!

Where’s my bloody Christmas present?

Let’s get something straight right from the get-go: I love my life here in Cali and the great things about living here really do outweigh the bad. I consider Colombia like a second home and I have defended and will continue to defend this beautiful country whenever I hear somebody “intentionally insulting” Colombia or its people.

So BEFORE YOU READ THIS ARTICLE,  READ SOME OF MY OTHER POSTS:
Things I love about Cali
Proud to be Colombian
The Cuisine of Colombia

That said, as anyone who has lived in a foreign country knows, there will always be things that piss you off when comparing one place with another. I lived in Japan for four years and I can safely say they were four of the best years of my life. Despite that, there were a huge amount of things that annoyed the hell out of me about life in Japan or Japanese culture in general. It’s one of the reasons why it’s good to have a few expat friends to give you an outlet to vent some international rage.

Living in Colombia is no different and I’m going to consider this post a form of catharsis; a chance to blow off a little tropical steam. I often blow off lots of steam about my native Ireland’s MANY problems and the only reason I haven’t written an article about it is because if I started I don’t know if I’d be able to stop 😉

TO MY COLOMBIAN FRIENDS: This is not an attack on Colombians in general. Some of the things on this list will make you laugh but some touch on very deeply rooted social problems that I and many Colombians are very concerned about.

I AM ALSO AWARE THAT MANY OF THE POINTS I MENTION HERE ARE NOT UNIQUE TO COLOMBIA AND ARE, IN FACT, COMMON IN OTHER COUNTRIES. HOWEVER, THAT DOES NOT DIMINISH THEIR SIGNIFICANCE IN COLOMBIA, A PLACE I CALL HOME.

1. Safety
Colombia is (by international standards) not a safe country. In fact it is the most dangerous place I’ve ever lived in my life. I’ve been mugged twice here myself and I constantly hear of people getting murdered for their phones or jewelery, people getting drugged and coerced into emptying their bank accounts, kidnappings, hijackings of overnight buses… the list goes on. Add to that the threat of paramilitaries in rural areas and it doesn’t paint a nice picture.

With all that said, if you use your common sense and experience you can avoid most of the trouble that life in Colombia presents. Regardless, that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that it simply feels unpleasant to live in a place where you have to think so much about your personal safety. This apprehension comes from kind-hearted locals constantly reminding me to be careful in certain areas.

2. Worlds Slowest Cashiers
I love grocery shopping but I hate going to the cash register in Colombian supermarkets because the cashiers are probably the slowest in the world. One reason for this is people pay their bills (electricity, water etc.) at the cash register and something that should be incredibly quick and easy is drawn out to ridiculous lengths. The cashiers do everything slowly and even get up to find the price for products themselves even though there’s usually plenty of staff around to do it for them. What amazes me even more is that this doesn’t seem to phase Colombians at all; a culture of being late seems to have instilled the populace with the patience of saints.

3. Poverty
I have never seen (or felt) the gap between rich and poor as much as I have in Colombia. There are a huge amount of people in this country living below the poverty line and shanty towns are a common sight in big cities. In contrast there is a small but very visible class of super-rich that would make most well-off Europeans feel financially inadequate. The problem is that a lot of this is “new wealth” and the problem with families who come into new money is that often (but obviously not always) they can be very extravagant in their spending.

I know kids who barely bat an eyelid at breaking the screen of their iPad because they know that mommy or daddy will buy them a brand new one, or kids that show off their collection of Gucci belts and brag about how just one of them is even more expensive than buying a regular suit.

This poverty gap is what fuels social problems like crime and violence in Colombia and the more I become aware of it the more disappointed I feel about the world in general.

4. Phone service
Calling different mobile phone providers is so expensive that everywhere you go you find “minute sellers” on the street. They basically have a cell phone for each operator (usually attached to them by a small chain) and let you make calls to the operator of your choice and you pay after; like a pay phone for mobiles.So basically, people only use their own phone for receiving calls or calling people who use the same operator as themselves. Convenient, right!

This confused the hell out of me at first until I realized that my phone credit just didn’t last when I called other operators. Often you’ll see people who have two or more different phones with different service operators for “convenience”.

On top of that, the line connection is often really poor which isn’t fun if you’re not a master of the language yet and have to guess what the other person is saying (I will admit this has actually gotten me a few dates in the past from being frustrated at not understanding what’s going on on the phone and just asking the girl out so we can talk in person).

5. Postal Service
It’s mid February and I’m still waiting on my Christmas present from home… enough said!

6. Food
I’ve got a whole post coming on Colombian food but IN GENERAL, FOOD IN COLOMBIA LEAVES MUCH TO BE DESIRED and is one of the main reasons that I couldn’t live here long-term. Most readily available food here is uninteresting, unvaried and usually deep-fried. Good food can be found but you really have to look for it and it’s not cheap. There are some foods I love here but they are the exception and not the rule.

7. Inability to use Public Transport
A bus pulls into it’s station. The people outside wait in an orderly line while the people inside get off so there will be more room on the bus. Sounds logical, right? Not in Colombia.

Once a bus pulls into a station here it is a frenzied free for all with every man for himself. Before anyone on the bus can get off there is a chaotic mob pushing against them to get on. Forming a line is not a well understood concept here.

Even worse are the idiots who decide to stand in the middle of the station doorway with no intention of getting on and expect everyone else to go around them. There is a special place in hell for these people.

8. Driving
Many drivers here show virtually no consideration for other drivers as can be seen by people driving over the painted lines separating lanes, almost non-existent use of turn signals and drivers constantly cutting people off.

Even less respect is shown for cyclists (like me) and I have had plenty of close calls on my bike here to testify to that.

9. Time-keeping (or lack there of)
I once had to wait 3 days for a guy to come and install my oven. I had been told each day that he would arrive at a certain time and I waited like a an idiot until he finally came on the 3rd day. This generally doesn’t apply to big business (I honestly think Colombians can be very professional and hard working) but outside of work I have to talk in Colombian-time; the stated time with about an hour of leeway.  I lived in Japan for 4 years where being late means arriving 5 minutes EARLY so this bugs the hell out of me and what’s killing me is that it’s starting to rub off on me too.

10. Prices
OK, Colombia is technically a “developing country” so the cost of living is obviously much lower than in the “developed” (I’m not very happy with this description) world BUT for the wages that most people make here, things are expensive. Electronics are so expensive that rich Colombians often bring back electronics from vacations to the United States. Good food, nice clothes, mobile-phone plans and many more goods are ridiculously expensive and European produced foods are even more expensive than they are in Europe. This means that people are using credit cards more and more which is not good in the long run.

11. Common Courtesy
When you get to know them, Colombians are incredibly friendly and helpful but on the street there is a certain coldness that doesn’t sit well with me. My mam raised me well so I hold doors open for people and I yield when walking in narrow spaces to allow others to pass. One would expect a courteous “thank you” in return for these actions but it rarely comes here in Colombia.

Another thing that bugs me is that people will block narrow passages and even if they have seen you coming will not think of moving out of the way until you ask for permission to pass.

Nor will anyone ever call you to tell you they’ll be late, even if it’s more than an hour. Common courtesy is not all that common here!

12. Dishonesty in Business
This happens everywhere in the world but really pisses me off here just because I have to deal with it regularly. I am clearly not Colombian and a lot of store owners take advantage of that by charging me ridiculous “gringo-prices” when I ask about the cost of something. I’m good at haggling and enjoy it from time to time but when you have to do it regularly it’s just tiring.

13. Things Men say to Women
I have many times seen an attractive woman passing a man or group of men on the street only to hear those men say the rudest, most foul mouthed “compliments” to the woman in a deranged attempt to get her attention. It’s apparently common in all Latin cultures but it is disgusting and if I was a woman I’d be breaking guy’s jaws on every street corner here.

14. Racism
Colombia is a very racially mixed country and has been so for hundreds of years. People here are a mix of European, African and indigenous South American. Despite that I have heard some of the most racist comments of my life here in this country. As I mentioned earlier there is a small but very visible wealthy elite here, most of whom are amongst the “whitest” or most European in the country. In light conversation I have heard wealthy people say some terrible things about darker people and especially Afr0-descended people.

What’s worse is that they pretend everything is all hunky-dory and that Colombians all consider themselves equal. Afro-descendants and indigenous Colombians still occupy the lowest socioeconomic strata here and even if they are not discriminated against because of their skin colour, it’s because of how much money they have. Some of the upper elite really do seem to look down on the poorer classes here.

To make it worse, there is a saying amongst many darker skinned Colombians called “improving your blood” which means marrying someone with lighter skin so that your kids will be lighter and have better opportunities in life. The amount of times I have heard this here saddens me!

15. Guns
The police force in Ireland, called the Gardaí, is unarmed. The only time I saw guns in Ireland was when the military was escorting armored cars with deliveries of cash to banks. Here in Colombia I have the pleasure of seeing security guards walking around shopping centers carrying shotguns. This is something I will simply never, ever get used to especially since thy walk around with the muzzles of their guns pointing upwards, at head height of many people walking by. I’m not sure they even receive any training at all.

16. Potholes
Being from the Irish countryside I have a certain nostalgic affinity for potholes. Colombia, however, doesn’t just do potholes, oh no, Colombia has “craters”! The state of some of the roads, even in some of the nice neighbourhoods is shocking. And the sidewalks are even worse, so bad in my neighbourhood that I prefer to walk on the moon-like, cratered roads.

17. Big Bills
ATM machines almost always pay out in 50,000 peso bills. Unless you try to spend these in a large department store or supermarket the person at the cash register will probably just laugh at you and tell you to go find some change. Seriously.

18. Airing Dirty Laundry
Some Colombians don’t seem to have any problem shouting or arguing on the street. If they have something to say they will let the whole world know about it and it seems to be the national pass-time to stand around and watch as such altercations transpire.

19. Milk in a bag
I know….

20. Lack of Books
Books can be  found easily in Colombia but are unbelievably expensive; new hardback editions can cost more than half a days wages for some people here and that is contributing to a distancing of the youth of the Colombia from the written word which in my opinion is a crime against humanity. This country is trying to educate its populace to create a better future for themselves and yet the majority of people can’t even afford books to open their minds to new ideas.

The cost of literature has even contributed to a strong trade in counterfeit books of which I have had to become a customer. I simply can’t afford to buy original copies here.

21. Missing Toilet Seats
This is probably the greatest Colombian mystery there is. For some reason in men’s public toilets in Colombia the toilet seats are almost always missing. I have never heard an explanation for this and would love to hear why if anyone knows!

I'm convinced there's a flood of stolen toilet seats on the Colombian Back Market!

I’m convinced there’s a flood of stolen toilet seats on the Colombian Black Market!

And breath….

I may not have any Colombian friends left after this and I may have to watch my back for motorbike drive-bys for a while but it feels good to get that off my chest. And you know what? I love Colombia! This is one of the most beautiful and diverse countries on Earth and I am very proud to call it my home for now (despite the things I don’t like).

If you’re Colombian or you’ve been to Colombia before I’d love to hear what you think (no death-threats please).

Here’s a request: If you’re thinking of leaving a hate-filled comment (of which I’ve received many since this article was first published): Stop, read the this article again (CAREFULLY), read my other articles about Colombia and think about what I’ve written here. I wrote this article because I want people to be aware of these issues because it’s only when people are aware of issues that something gets done to solve them. I didn’t write this article to offend people, remember that.

Keep Dancing Folks!

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What is Salsa Caleña (a few educational videos)

20 Dec
Pura salsa caleña! No hay nada mejor!

Pura salsa caleña!
No hay nada mejor!

Before I came to Cali I knew from glancing at a few videos on Youtube that they danced a very different style of salsa from what I had learned in Ireland and Japan. Add to that the fact that some people who had actually been to Cali before had told me that I wouldn’t get to far dancing the way I did and you’d be right in thinking that I was a little worried about strutting my stuff on the dance floors of Cali.

With the world famous “Feria de Cali” (a week-long party that begins right after Christmas) just around the corner and for the benefit of those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit the world capital of salsa, I’ve found a few videos showing just what salsa caleña (in it’s many forms) looks like. Enjoy.

Here’s a great example of what the local dancers call Salsa Cabaret which is basically salsa caleña on steroids (as many twists, flips and displays of showmanship as possible).

Here’s another lightning fast cabaret performance.

Here’s some great footwork from the 2 time world champions Ricardo and Viviana (pity about the awful commentary)

Here’s a solo performance that shows the level that some caleños achieve with their footwork.

On the other end of the scale here’s an example of how salsa is danced in Cali on the streets at a typical neighborhood party.

and here’s another example of a style of street salsa that has become very popular recently.

Finally here’s one of the most famous videos of Cali club style dancing (although this is much more professional than what you normally find).

I hope you liked them. Watching them has really put me in the mood for a rumba tonight.

Keep dancing folks.

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Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

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