Finding the rhythm in Cali

If before coming to Latin America, you dreamt of a place that swung to the rhythm of salsa, where music formed the undertone of everyday life…blaring out from the rolled-down windows of taxi on a hot summer day as the driver waited at a traffic signal, or in café’s with people enjoying a hot cuppa and a newspaper, nodding their heads occasionally as a well known and well worn tune caught their ear, or from stereos in shops as you walked past them. Where this dance and music permeated almost everyone’s life, it didn’t matter what you did or who you were. If you dreamt of dark alley’s and sultry nights where at the end of a long day, the masses came together and simply gave in to the rhythms of this music, leaving all else behind. Unaware of when the night ended and the music stopped.

If this was what you dreamt of Latin America like I did, even if very mistakenly so, then, welcome to Cali.

Singapore’s legacy…

This past week has been filled with tribute’s to Mr.LKY, Singapore’s first PM and the man instrumental for its creation and more importantly, success  and what it is today.  LKYinspiring and also controversial, and Singapore has been criticized often times for the lack of ‘true freedom‘ (particularly speech and censorship) to its citizens — a long debate in itself. Can Singapore be even better than it is today?, should it change more?, can we address more ideological issues now that most have food, water, housing and a job? For sure. Having said that, when one  sees the results of his work — i.e. a country  that actually functions, and very efficiently at that — I also think there are lessons to learn here.

Reading all the articles about LKY, the things he has done (good and the bad) and his quotes – the thing that cut to my core —  His means and approach were questionable, may be wrong at times, but at it’s heart, he loved Singapore and what he did was for Singapore. Of how many politicians today can we say that? 

‘I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial,’ Lee said in an interview with The New York Times published in September 2010. ‘I’m not saying everything I did was right. But everything I did was for an honorable purpose.’   

“At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.”

Some of my favorite LKY’s quotes…

You begin your journey not knowing where it will take you. You have plans, you have dreams, but every now and again you have to take uncharted roads, face impassable mountains, cross treacherous rivers, be blocked by landslides and earthquakes. That’s the way my life has been.

I have never been overconcerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. If you are concerned with whether your rating will go up or down, then you are not a leader. You are just catching the wind … you will go where the wind is blowing. And that’s not what I am in this for.

“You take a poll of any people. What is it they want? The right to write an editorial as you like? They want homes, medicine, jobs, schools.”

On his wife’s passing, Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life… I should find solace in her 89 years of a life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.

What I fear is complacency. When things always become better, people tend to want more for less work.

And article from The Economist here.

An island called Providencia

Why don’t you want children? Who will look after you when you are old?’ says A. I was sitting by the porch, watching the scant traffic and enjoying the quiet night with A from the dive shop and another friend of A’s, kicking back some beers. ‘See, I don’t say you have to marry. Look at me – I have a girl friend, but I have 2 kids. Kids are important man’.

We were discussing the state of our romantic lives (or lack thereof in my case) and the conversation had taken a turn from there. Just sometime before, A had told me how he had a long term girlfriend (with whom he’s had children), but was allowed to have ‘sweets’ on the side. With his Creole Caribbean twang, it was hard to take him serious, but no, he was. And it seemed quite common too, I ended up meeting a man who had kids with 7 women he told me– may be, he was pulling my leg.

I was in Providencia, a Colombian island in the Caribbean. But much closer to Nicaragua, and with residents largely of Afro heritage, I had arrived very much in a different world than mainland Colombia. With a population of only a few thousands, and a rule that doesn’t allow any non-Providencian (unless married to a local I was told and recommended as a way to stay put beyond my week) to settle down here, this island has stayed unchanged over the years and untouched by in-your-face tourism that you see in many other islands.


On a bike, one can circle Providencia in about 30minutes. And that is also the best way to get around the island – by getting lifts. Some of the bikers are taxis and will charge you for the ride, but many are happy to give you a ride anyway and find out your story. This was also the best way to meet locals!

As you drive down from the main ferry port, the houses get sparse and well spread out, and you see a handful of ‘resorts’, though more essential than fancy. There are no backpacker hostels or specific hangouts. While there are a handful of restaurants, most of the food joints are local thoroughfare served in small shacks (totally my kind of thing except for the lack of much vegetarian). There was one right outside the street of my cottage with a TV and the afternoons would quickly gather a crowd for locals catching the football world cup. The beaches are uninterrupted sandy coves, with only coconut trees breaking the sweep of the sand. Some beaches have one or 2 shacks, but many are quite empty. The whole island, despite being a sea-flower biosphere, has just one dive shop (just turn up at 8 in the morning if you want to dive), and don’t worry much about what to do, what to see on this island. You will definitely see all, which is mostly gorgeous waters (and the famous seven shades of blue). Just ask the guy running your cottage – he will introduce you to a friend who runs boat tours.   Oh, and everybody knows everybody else!



And as for nightlife… which is where A & I were heading to that particular night… A popular night entertainment on the island is actually cockfights. Biking down with A to the arena, I was surprised to see the number of bikes parked out on the streets and people hanging around. The arena itself welcomes you with a blast of the latest dancehall music, more Jamaican rather than the popular Reggatone favored in mainland South America. The crowd was mostly men, but there were enough women giving company too and not that this will ever be my favored idea for a night out, but what I saw wasn’t as gruesome as I imagined it to be. Most of them would hang out through the night and the fights went all the way up to 3 or 4AM.

Surprisingly for a Caribbean island, the beach-side night entertainment is limited to Roland’s, a shack on the Manzanilla beach. On weekends, the shack comes alive with live music I am told. And Roland himself is a character – a Bob Marley on a perennial high and you will meet him. Once in a while, there are house parties, and word gets around, so you are bound to stumble upon it, as I did. Although quite mellow, with one of my teenage fantasy of the lead-singer-likes-the girl-next door somewhat coming true, though many years later, and the singer much younger than I’d like, but hey!

When I was asking around people in the mainlad for off-beat destinations, Providencia kept popping up (even if, there seem to be very less of little known secrets on the South American trail). As always, I thought I want to get there before the rest of the world does. And I am glad I did.