Though the lulada has to rank as our favorite thing in Cali, the Cali Zoo was probably our favorite sight.
Fondest memory: There was a time when zoos were a very big thing for me. I had grown up going to the Philadelphia Zoo in my hometown and it was always a favorite family excursion. It was about the closest thing to nature I was exposed to and if anyone had told me that I would wind up so enamored with the wilderness I would have likely looked at them like they were from another planet. But that was a long time ago and in my current state, zoos have taken quite the backseat to things more natural in the animal world.
Cali was not exactly an important stop for us. It was more or less a convenient place to break up an otherwise lengthy bus trip from the Zona Cafetera and Popayan. Not that Cali sounded like a bad place, just not exactly our kind of town, or so we thought. It has a dangerous reputation and all anyone seemed to rave about when it came to the sweaty capital of Valle de Cauca was salsa, something neither of us was particularly into. At any rate, it was highly unlikely that we were going to break our routine of going to bed around nine and waking up with the sun this close to the end of a very successful and entirely without incident two-month trip to Colombia. But Cali was charming us during our short stay. The San Antonia area where most of the budget accommodation was centered was obviously going through a major sprucing up, the food scene was interesting, and we'd found our favorite fruit beverage of all of South America in the very local lulada. There admittedly were not a whole lot of sights but the overall architecture of the town had decadent allure to it. Ok, maybe it was more a decaying allure but it had something just the same. So, where does the zoo come in? Well, one of the few sights the city does boast is the country's finest zoo. It may have been a bit pricey by South American standards but it was certainly cheap compared to back home, probably lodging in around what my parents paid for our family back in the 60s. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
As chance would have it, while looking for a breakfast place to suit both of our tastes we stumbled across a fruiteria that had a variety of desayuno options. We enjoyed great meals to start our day but oddly enough did not notice the lulada on their menu until after we had ordered. It was quite pricey but we made a mental note to come back if we did not find a street vendor hawking them in city center as hoped for. In town, we did find such a vendor and though she had jugo de lulo, she did not make the famed lulada. They were cheap and quite good. We at least knew we could have nice fruit drinks while in Cali and the lulo was indeed a special and quite tart fruit that we both enjoyed.
On our way back to the hostel later that afternoon, we stopped back at our little breakfast place to have a small snack and to try the lulada. Since it was fairly expensive at nearly 5000 COP and about what you might pay for a whole meal, we only got one to share. When it came out we could understand why it was so pricey. It was quite big and very thick. It was packed with lulos! It also had quite a bit of cream in the mix and condensed milk to take off the tart edge of the fruit. In short, it was heavenly. After one sip each, we knew we had found our juice nirvana. Of course, we were leaving the next morning so we knew where we were coming for breakfast. That's right. Nirvana. One more time for one more lulada. Make that two. We knew we might not ever have another one again.
But these kids were different, somehow cuter. The truth of the matter is, they are a bit better behaved than their North American counterparts too. Another thing I guess that enamored us with them was their fascination with us. I guess they don't get so many gringos at the Cali Zoo and these youngsters were getting as much of a kick out of watching us they were of seeing all the animals. My wife, being quite blond with blue eyes, was particularly intriguing for them. Since we were obviously English-speaking they liked using what English they knew on us and the whole scene was very entertaining, not only for them but us as well.
Oddly enough, I didn't get one photo of any of these very cute kids. It's not like I didn't have my chances. They would have gladly posed and I had a huge zoom lens that I was using to take shots of the animals. No one would have known for the better had my lens deviated from a furry creature to a laughing lad or lass. Oh, I did get some incredible photos of the animals. In fact, I 'll have a tough time getting better shots of lions if I do a safari in Kenya but as good as they all are, I always think of the kids when I look at them. The most interesting species of all escaped my lens, and they were in their natural element too and me ranting about nature and the unnaturalness of such animal enclosures. I guess you can take the boy out of the zoo but you can't take the zoo out of the boy.
We went as much to say we'd gone as much as anything but once inside it became apparent that this was not just a good deal zoo, it was a good deal of a zoo. It was large and sprawling, that much was true but it was also full of the modern-day enclosures that not only presents animals in as close to their natural habitat as possible but also makes for much happier ones too. Indeed, these were the healthiest captive animals either of us had ever seen. Of course, Cali's warm humid climate surely didn't hurt either. It's not like they had polar bears on display though they did have one haggard looking grizzly, perhaps the most begrudged specimen calling Cali Zoo home.
Even with the varied species in prime condition running around in such splendid circumstance, however, were the animals the highlight for a couple of gringos bent on seeing Cali's number one attraction. No, it was during the week and as anyone who has ever visited a zoo when grade schools are in session knows, they are generally packed with hordes of classes scurrying about in excitedly animated fashion. Now, don't get me wrong, I like kids as much as the next person who doesn't have them, perhaps more, but as a rule, this is not my favorite time to visit a zoo or museum for that matter. I don't like crowds and noise, something kids are good at making, is not a big plus for me either. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Finding one was another matter. It was a bit late to head into the city center our first evening so we hung out in the San Antonio neighborhood in which we had chosen to stay. It had sounded more interesting and on walking around, lived every bit up to its charming but a bit run down descriptions. You could literally see the place being spruced up before your eyes. I was happy to find a woman selling champu from the front of her home. This is another lulo-based beverage of sorts, laced with corn of all things. It was interesting but had a bit too much pineapple for my wife. Still, the fact that we found it so easily seemed to bode well for our true sought after gem.
The hilltop park was noted as place for locals to sit outside and enjoy a beer or lulada was busy not such juice vendors were to be found. Ice cones seemed to be the refresher of choice, perhaps a step up from Coke but still not the real McCoy I was looking for. We had dinner in a packed pizza place just as all the locals were doing, went back to the hostel to crash, and hoped to find something more authentic in the morning. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Cali turned out to be a great snacking around town. While most go to party and for salsa, we went for the lulada. What's that you say? No, it's not some Colombian dance but you'll have to read below to find out what it is.
Fondest memory: The variety of climates in Colombia was thrown in our faces once again when walking around Cali our first night. We'd just come from the much cooler and temperate Cafe Cafetera that morning and here we were walking in the sweltering evening heat of the sweaty capital of Valle de Cauca. It would become even more apparent later when we tried to fall asleep in our air-conditionless room. I would even seek refuge in the hammock strewn just outside our room, preferring what little fresh air I could find over the privacy of four walls. We were on a mission to find a lulada and it was not as easy as we were led to believe. Even though the lulo, the fruit from which it is made, is only grown in this area, it seemed the popularity of the drink had waned as street vendors in the park doled out ice cones rather than this local delicacy that at least in part was why we'd come here in the first place.
Cali is noted for many things and most of them did not appeal to us. Capital of salsa sounded okay but rarely were we out even remotely late enough to take in such things and its reputation for danger was renowned even in a country noted for not being the safest. But we had no problems in our six weeks traveling around Colombia so we took such heeding with a grain of salt. That said, we didn't want to tempt our fate so close to the end of our trip. We had already bypassed Medellin as we'd met a few people on our travels that had been robbed there. We had flown into the Zona Cafetera and in so doing we also avoided a couple of long arduous bus trips. But rather than do the same here, we decided to break up another potential long bus trip by stopping briefly in Cali. All this is true but I'd be lying if I didn't say the lulada, while not the overall deciding factor, was certainly the sweetener in the deal. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
Just the atmosphere really. The guidebooks all say Cali is relaxed...it is. There are great restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping, the taxis are reliable and it is really not as violent as some parts of Colombia can be.
Fondest memory: Climate....it is never really too hot or too cold here. The locals are, on the whole, friendly and welcoming as well as being helpful.
Ah, where do I begin? Is it dancing all night with your Colombian friends? Is it paying $2.50 a person to see a movie at the Chipichape Cinima in english (spanish subtitles) in huge reclining chairs and $4.00 for a huge tub of popcorn and two large sodas? Going to the Polo store at the mall and getting thirteen nice shirts, two pair of pants, and one blouse for $168? The zoo is nice... You must try Chilian wine. If you like to smoke you can buy Cuban cigars in Cali!!! A carton of cigarettes is around $10.00. You must sit at an outdoor cafe and talk to the people of Cali, they are great.
Fondest memory: On Christmas they have a big parade of people riding horses down Ave Sexta. It's crazy! I love eating mangos and finding different types of tropical fruit in Cali.
JUANCHITO IS THE PLACE TO GO IF YOU LOVE TO DANCE...YOU CAN TAKE A TOUR OF THE CITY AND IT'S DISCO'S IN A 'CHIVA'. IT WAS THE MOST FUN I HAVE EVER HAD.
Fondest memory: THE PEOPLE. I WAS THERE FOR ALMOST 3 MONTHS AND THOSE PEOPLE JUST WELCOMED ME WITH OPEN ARMS AND TREATED MY LIKE ROALTY.
Favorite thing: Panoramic View of Cali, the mountains you see in the back are the FARALLONES OF CALI. Cali is an example city for Colombia, because is the cleanest and more civilized of all the department´s capitals of Colombia. The nice thing about this city, is that despite it hot weather year round, you drive a few miles up the mountain and you will have a more cool dry weather, and three ours of driving throught and into the mountain you get to the pacific ocean.