A Colombian Christmas in Cali

Christmas away from home is bittersweet. As much as I enjoy experiencing new holiday traditions in a foreign country (I was pleased to note that Colombia has many more Christmas lights and fewer jingles), I found myself missing home for the first time as a Kiva Fellow. So, naturally, my immediate reaction was to travel. Big festival in the “Salsa Capital of the World”? Yes, please.

And so on Christmas Eve, I hopped on an 11-hour bus ride to Cali.  Cali is the third largest city in Colombia; it is located in the southwestern region of the country and famous for exceptional salsa dancing, drug cartels and crime. But, like most cities in Colombia, its shady reputation is quickly overshadowed by the friendliness, hospitality and cheer of its residents.

The main event of the six-day festival is “Salsódromo”, a big parade of over a thousand excellent salsa dancers on Christmas afternoon. I was adopted by a Colombian family that had a spot in the front of the crowd and, after a flash introduction of the gaggle of cousins, aunts, and family friends, they handed me a beer, a festive hat and a healthy serving of bubble-gum flavored foam on my face. And so, as we piled on precariously balanced plastic chairs and barrels, we watched the parade. And by “watched the parade”, I mean cheered, sang along, blew horns, sold beers to the rest of the crowd, and sprayed more bubble-gum foam.

If I had to choose an ideal way to spend Christmas away from home, this would be it. Except for the part where I lost my purse.

About the author

Celeste Gonda

Celeste has had a longtime interest in international travel and development, and has lived in Italy, Argentina and Nicaragua. She has spent the last year volunteering for several non-profits, including as an intern at Kiva HQ and as a Vittana Fellow conducting an impact assessment of their student loans in Nicaragua. She is thrilled to rejoin the Kiva team as a fellow in Colombia. Celeste grew up on an island near Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in International Studies.