Cautious in CaliMarch 31 in Colombia
After a three-and-a-half-hour bus journey, we arrived in Cali, the salsa capital of the world. As we approached our apartment in the downtown area, we noticed that the streets were almost deserted except for a few homeless people, who had set up their temporary abode outside our apartment building. It was Easter Saturday but it felt as if the World had ended and Armageddon was approaching. Most of the people on the streets appeared to be under the influence of some kind of mind-altering substance, as they roamed about like zombies; some sat in broad daylight as they pulled out their pipe to fed their addiction or laid on the ground sniffing fumes in a plastic bag. It was if the outside world didn't exist and they lived in a parallel universe.
We had been warned, especially by our Colombian friends, that we needed to be cautious in Colombia because our pasty-white skin and tall stature would be a dead giveaway that we were gringos. And to many, gringos equals a walking ATM (cajero automatico) with lots of cash at their disposal. The murder rates in Cali also didn't fill us with a sense of security, even though police and private security guards were seen throughout the city. Some neighbourhoods even hire watchmen, armed with a large machete, to keep guard over the street. Apparently, the municipal government of Cali spends much less on public security than any other major city in Colombia. And it is evident on the streets.
During the daylight hours, we were courageous enough to venture out into public, avoiding any areas that looked as if we might be express kidnapped. At one point, we needed to make a quick detour to avoid a young guy who whipped out a machete from his bag. And as we walked through Parque Simón Bolivar, we heard a voice call out in English. At first, we ignored the voice and continued to walk. The voice started getting louder, so we turned and acknowledged the man. The man began shouting words that we’re fairly certain were intended to be welcoming but the tone had the opposite affect. We simply thanked him and continued on our way.
On Easter Sunday, we happened to stumble upon a church service and tried to sneak in the back entrance. Insert crude joke. But we only got to the door of the church before the parishioners started wishing each other a Happy Easter and, as they filed past us, they started shaking our hand and muttering some words. Exit stage right before the place goes up in flames. In fact, it was exit stage right out of the city before we were express kidnapped or sold into human slavery to become drug-addicted prostitutes.
Next stop: Armenia
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