In Cali, I got a lesson in just how proud caleño people are when I went to visit the city’s Cristo Rey monument. It’s an exact copy of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue, but a few metres shorter, yet I found I was the only visitor standing below its huge, concrete feet.
“I’ve been to Rio. I’ve seen their one,” said my taxi driver, Túlio, wrinkling his nose to show just how unimpressed he was. “Why is it so popular? I couldn’t believe all the people there. I wanted to say to them, ‘hey, why all the fuss? I’ve got one of these at home in Cali’.” And to emphasize his point, he gives a French-style shrug.
I laughed as clearly Rio gets an edge from its views – across the Atlantic Ocean, rainforested islands and Sugar Loaf mountain – but Túlio wasn’t joking.
People from Cali are extremely proud of their city and they refer to it city as a la sucursal del cielo (a branch of heaven). That may be stretching it a bit, but I found it a good place to spend a few days (perhaps more if you’re a salsa fiend).
Cali doesn’t have the greatest of reputations – not helped by its past as the home of the Cali Cartel – and a few people seemed surprised by my choice to go there. So much so that even though I already had my commission to write about it lined up, I started to have second thoughts.
Fortunately, I was impressed. Here’s the write-up in the Independent: the rhythms of Cali.
Photo: Cristo Rey in Cali, Hector Mesa, Wiki Commons.