CALI — Giuseppe got overzealous with the spray foam.
He hit a little kid in the face. He felt bad and apologized. He didn’t realize revenge was coming.
The caleñito, no more than 7 or 8 years old, eventually swiped the canister from Giuseppe’s hands and let him have it. A few moments later, Giuseppe was whiter than the Wisconsin winter.
Quite the Christmas paradox in Cali, where it never snows but you wouldn’t know, not at first glance, on Dec. 25, the first day of the Feria de Cali.
I decided to stop here on my way to Nikos’s and Clara’s wedding, to see how things go. It became the best Christmas Day of my life.
I didn’t open any presents, no bright boxes filled with gifts, but who needed them with all the festive colors carousing with the snow-colored foam that draped a crowd of friendly caleños drunk with happiness, and in some cases, that excitement enhanced with beer, rum and guaro.
We watched as one float after another passed, the best one being the young folks doing the kind of salsa dancing that I could never do, even after a million lessons.
In one sequence, I saw the boys lean the girls back, lift them and hold them horizontally in front of them, then spin them and eventually catch them in the same horizontal position, before putting the girls down, spinning them so each pair was back-to-back, then flipping the girls over their backs so they land facing the boys.
It was such a showstopper, it was the only time the foam wasn’t flying like confetti, but confetti was raining near some of the floats.
It was a good time, that first day, hanging out with Giuseppe, four of his Italian friends and two caleños — Juan Manuel, one of the owners of The Green House who we call Tate (TAH-tay), the hostel where I stayed and one of his friends.
The Green House is one of the best hostels in South America, quiet and small, clean and comfortable, a place where you get to know almost every other traveler there.
The staff is great too, everyone from Tate to the other two owners, Andres (or Piti, as he’s known) and Yenny, and Eva, who runs the place during the day.
A dorm bed costs only 18,000 pesos (about $10) per night, even during the feria, a private room goes for 30,000 to 40,000 (about $17 to $23). And transportation to events and nightlife is included.
One night, we went to a club called Mi Kasa in the zona rosa, a two-level place that had a live salsa band. It was my first time drinking tomaseca, a mix of viche — Colombian moonshine — and I think vodka and some kind of fruit juice. Tastes good, hits hard.
I wanted to see more of Cali, though, the real Cali, what it’s like there when there’s no feria. That’s why I went back, stayed a couple of nights, to break up the long bus ride back to Medellín.
This time I went to Jovitas, the San Antonio hostel that offers salsa lessons, lots of spacious rooms and open spaces, and is in the process of building a pool.
The owner, a beautiful caleña named Katherine, is so welcoming. Two British guys in my dorm commented to me how pretty they think she is, and when I told them she’s the owner, they said, “Wow,” something they’ll probably say a lot in Cali, a place many people think has the most beautiful women in Colombia. Yeah, I suppose an argument can be made for that.
I wish I had more time in the salsa capital. The only additional things I did in Cali were to try a couple of good restaurants and go to a museum.
San Antonio Pizza makes great pies, so good they met the approval of my new Italian friends. They have about 20 different kinds and enough sizes to serve one person who’s not that hungry to a famished family of four.
The other restaurant I tried is Peru Fusion, a swanky place in the upscale El Peñon neighborhood, a place I walked past one night and decided that I would be back.
I got the ceviche mixto to start, a great blend of fish, shrimp and octopus (24,000 pesos, $14), then followed that up with the pollo a la norteña, breaded chicken with onions, tomatoes, rice and yucca (23,000 pesos, $13).
My only disappoint was, when I asked for a box for the rest of my entrée, they didn’t put the rice in with it. Maybe they thought I don’t like rice, a mistake no one would ever make in Hawaii, not anyone who knows me even a little bit.
On my last full day in the city I went with two new friends, a caleña named Diana and a Mexican named Gustavo, to the Museo de Arte Moderno La Tertulia (4,000 pesos, about $2).
We saw a variety of art, from some pieces hanging from the ceiling in one room, to a plaster sculpture of the LOVE statue Philadelphia is famous for, to so many other interesting pieces.
I’ve left two things for next time: kite surfing at Lago Calima with Tate; and scale Cerro de las Tres Cruces (the hill with the three crosses), something that is supposed to be even easier than the Monseratte in Bogotá, the 2.5-kilometer climb that I destroyed in 40 minutes.
My only problem: I don’t know when I’ll go back. I’ll keep you posted.