While backpacking through jungle terrain for three days to find La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) fellow travellers regaled me with stories from the two cities.
Having just arrived in Colombia on the Northern edge, I was keen to find out more.
“In Cali, everyone is CRAZY about salsa! They dance, drink and flirt all night long. To fit in, you need to leave your inhibitions at the door. They work hard, and play harder!”
“Medellin will blow your mind. The most beautiful, intelligent and fun loving women are from there.”
I was interested to sort out fact from fiction when it came to the Cali men and Medellin Women. Especially the Women.
When I first arrived in Medellin, I was keen to get to know the city from a locals perspective. For that purpose I used the excellent conversationexchange.com – a forum where you can meet like minded people keen to trade languages and better understand each others respective cultures.
The woman I met happened to be everything that embodied the Medellin persona. Smart, Intelligent, Funny, Articulate, Ambitious. On top of that, she was also very beautiful. We eventually spent 4-5 weeks in each other’s company and I got a great insight into how the Paisa’s think.
Medellin is the second largest of the Colombian cities but has a deeply troubled past. Infamous Drug lord Pablo Escobar cast a long shadow over the city, and it was once considered the most violent city in the World. Since his death two decades ago, that is no longer the case and the people who have lived in fear for a large part of their lives now embrace life and squeeze as much fun out of it as possible.
In my experience, the people were extremely friendly and courteous, very welcoming to visiting tourists. The mild weather, growing economy, young population, business and entrepreneurial links have all made the city a haven for ex-pats. More often than not, single men are drawn because they have heard that the most beautiful girls in Colombia are from there. I think the Medellin Tourist Board have done a great job of promoting that image, as I heard it from places as far away as Guatemala and Peru!
While Cali on the surface isn’t as picturesque as Medellin, it retains a certain charm which is evident when speaking with the people. Growing up in Ireland has indoctrinated me in a booze culture for most of my life. Alcohol is our crutch for any event – whether it be Weddings, Funerals, Birthdays, Parties…anywhere a group is assembled, alcohol won’t be far away.
My culture promotes talking over dancing. The Irish are known for having the ‘gift of the gab’, able to talk ourselves out of any situation. However, we are terrible at meeting strangers or members of the opposite sex while sober. Dancing is certainly out of the equation, unless you are inebriated.
The Cali men from my experience seemed to have no filter and are certainly not shy about approaching strangers. Dancing in Cali or South America as a whole has different connotations to dancing in Europe.
In Cali, it is simply a fun act. In Ireland, dancing is something that you reluctantly do with your partner (or who you hope will be your partner for that night at least!)
For me, that was an eye opener. To be fearless especially when it came to dancing and potentially making a fool of yourself is something I couldn’t quite carry off with reassured confidence.
There weren’t as many tourists in Cali compared to Medellin which is nice. Easy to spot, we’re normally the ones pummeling our livers into early submission at the bar, trying to coax out our inner Spanglish speaker to connect with the locals.
These two cities helped make my Colombian six week journey the best time of my nine months travelling through South America. I’m grateful for the friendships I made, relationships that would never have come to fruition if I hadn’t made the effort to step outside my comfort zone and mix it up with the locals.
Not bad for a dancing robot.