Girl (at Spanish exchange): So why do you want to learn Spanish?
Me: Well, I’m planning on moving to Colombia next year.
Girl: Really, what part of Colombia?
Me: A city called Cali.
Girl: Really? Wow, I lived there a few years ago. You know, it has the most beautiful women in all of South America?
Me: Really? I hadn’t heard that at all ;-)
Truth be told, it was virtually impossible NOT to hear about the famed beauty of the women of Cali. Once I started doing some research on the place, after I decided to move there to learn Spanish and salsa, virtually every website, blog and article about the city thoroughly emphasized Cali’s reputation as a veritable heaven of latin beauties.
Truth be told, even the Caleña (as the women of Cali are called) who first gave me the idea to move there when I lived in Japan, was stunningly beautiful.
The Spanish in the title of this post is the title of this song, which translates as “The women of Cali are like flowers”. There is whole host of songs dedicated to the city of Cali and none of them fail to mention the qualities of Latin America’s most adored women, their beauty and just as importantly, their skills on the dance floor.
An added benefit
Let me make one thing clear. I came to Cali to dance and learn Spanish, not because of its reputation for stunningly beautiful women…
…that said, it is virtually impossible to not notice how stunningly beautiful the women here are and it has been a nice little perk during my time in this great city because, surprise surprise, I love beautiful women. Go figure!
A Japanese buddy of mine once asked me what 3 things could I absolutely not live without (besides the obvious family, friends and all that other sentimental stuff) and I, without a moments hesitation, answered: great food, great dancing and beautiful women! My sentiments haven’t changed since then.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that!
One thing that makes the women of Cali so special is the sheer variety of women there are here.
Cali has a very eclectic ethnic background made up of the European (mostly Spanish) settlers, the Africans they brought over originally as slaves and the indigenous South Americans who were here before anyone else (which they are understandably very vocal about). What results is a city with a population of people ranging from white to black with every possible gradation in between. This gives Cali its blanquitas, negritas, indiginas, morenas, mulatas, canelas, trigueñas and a whole host of other “colorful” names thought up by the inventive latinos.
Add to that the whole variety of body shapes, eye colors, facial features and hair types from all these diverse backgrounds and you have one of the most physically diverse populations on earth.
All in the attitude
But for me, what really sets the Caleñas apart from other women I’ve met in my life is their attitude. I can’t talk about all latin women but I have to say that women here are a hell of a lot more confident than those from Europe, North America or East Asia. And I like confidence in women.
It’s pretty hard to sum up how I quantify that statement so I’m just going to list a few observations I’ve made:
- The clothes Caleñas wear are generally very revealing (my life here in Cali clearly sucks, right?) even in professional environments where semi-transparent blouses and visible bras are not uncommon. Cleavage is almost universally on display and in a city where plastic surgery is so common that makes for near whiplash like head turning).
- Caleñas have a much better body image than women in other places. Being slightly (or significantly) overweight doesn’t stop women here from flaunting what they’ve got by wearing very tight and revealing clothing (this clearly is not always a good thing). I do however have to admit it’s very refreshing to meet women who are so comfortable with their bodies as it has always bothered me how women in other parts of the world, who, despite having beautiful bodies, are almost ashamed to show any part of it because of poor body image. Further proof is to be seen in the fact that women don’t take offense if they’re called something like “gorda” (fatty). It’s not used as an insult nor is it taken as one. I can’t imagine a man surviving an encounter with a woman if he ever called her “fatty” back home.
- Women here are much more forward when it comes to flirting and in my experience it’s not uncommon for women to come up and start conversations with men in clubs or even on the street. And before anyone comments, they are not working girls (at least not as far as I know, although I may not be the best at picking up on these things) . That has rarely happened to me in other parts of the world (maybe I’m just not attractive to women from other parts in which case I’d really appreciate a heads-up people… by private message :( ). Anyway the world could do with more women flirting (can I get a “Here, Here!” guys).
- Women here also seem to be much more sexually liberated and don’t feel “ashamed” about sex in the way they do in places like Ireland (thanks to Catholic guilt) and Japan (thanks to a whole host of social stigmas I couldn’t possibly touch on here). Sex is a much more socially acceptable topic here, not the taboo that it is in other parts of the (mostly English speaking) world.
- I also think that competition amongst women here makes them a little more forward and “aggressive”. From what I understand (literally what I’ve been” told” as I fail miserably in my “understanding” of women) there is competition amongst women to look good and I’ve seen women being very competitive around men they’re interested in and very protective of their partners around other women. This probably has a lot to do with Colombian men’s reputations as being slightly less that completely faithful.
One way this “self-confidence”, competition and pride in appearance comes to a pinacle is in two things that have really stood out to me here, “Reinadas” and women’s Facebook pictures.
Reinadas are basically beauty queen pageants and they are an exceptionally common occurrence here in Colombia. They have them for everything from queen of local agricultural festivals to “Best Ass in the Valley” contests. Unfortunately they have them for kids too which I think could really mess with a child’s moral compass from a young age. This is where Colombia’s reputation as a haven of Beauty Queens comes from.
As for the Facebook photos, well, let’s just say that some women here put a serious amount of effort into posing for their photo’s. Some of the poses are ridiculously over the top or even sexual but it’s almost considered normal here. In fact, once after just meeting a woman (in her late thirties) at a dance class, during a 5 minute break she asked me to add her on Facebook and proceeded to show me her pics so I could “find her better”. Her pics were all professionally taken shots of her in an exceptionally short skirt and high heels doing various provocative poses on top of a wooden stool (shudder).
Another thing that makes interaction between the sexes here a little more interesting is the Spanish language itself.
You’ve probably heard it before and scoffed but Spanish is genuinely a much more romantic language than English which you can’t help but notice if you’ve ever listened to the lyrics of most salsa or bachata songs (I won’t even get into what they say in reggaeton).
The word for flirt in Spanish “coquetear” itself just sounds fun to say and I couldn’t believe the word that people here use to mean being successful with women or to win a woman’s heart which is “conquistar”. That’s right, men here “conquer” women and that’s a completely socially acceptable turn of phrase. If I used that with a European girl I’m fairly sure I’d be walking away with a black eye and maybe even a few teeth less.
Add to that all the pet-names that people use for each other like papasito (I melt when I hear this one ;-)), mamasita, guapo, hermosa, preciosa, mi reina etc. and the words used by couples for each other such as amor, corazón, mi vida etc. and you can see exactly why this language is just made for getting intimate.
This being a latin country, physical contact is much more common place than back in Northern Europe or the U.S. and I am very, very grateful for it.
Not that I’m some sexual deviant that gets off on the slightest touch from someone of the opposite sex… or anything like that. I just think that the world would be a much happier place if people just touched themsel… I mean each other a little bit more.
Caleñas are masters of this. Once you’ve befriended a girl here you can expect to always get greeted warmly with a hug and a kiss, to have them throw their arm over your shoulder when they’re standing next to you, to have them hold your hand or repeatedly touch your elbow or your knee during a conversation and basically just make you feel a warm, human contact that makes that moment feel ten times more special than it otherwise would.
It took me quite a while to get used to it (especially after 4 years in Japan) and some people thought I was quite cold here at first but now I am a devote believer in regular human contact and I’m very grateful for the caress of the Caleñas.
Viva the Surgeons Knife
Another thing that everyone notices as soon as they get here are the surgical, ahem, “enhancements” that are so common place in Cali.
My first night out dancing here, I was amazed by how many women in the club who had boob-jobs and ass-jobs too (I can only imagine that the ass balances out the boobs and stops them tipping over). I quickly realized why this city has such a reputation for plastic surgery.
Apparently, this fascination with surgical perfection stems from the days of the drug cartels when the big drug-dealers used to show off their wealth by having the girlfriends with the biggest “T & A”. It came to be seen as a sign of success and wealth and over the years, the accentuated hour glass figure has come to be something of an “ideal” amongst certain Caleños and plastic surgery to achieve this “ideal” has become a huge industry here. You can even pay for you’re new body in installments.
All that said, I think a lot of women go way overboard on the boob sizes they choose and I think the fake butts look just ridiculous (imagine a football sliced in half and stuck onto someones butt-cheeks and you’ll get a pretty accurate image). Looking natural here is most definitely not the goal amongst some women.
Tienen sabrosura, porque mueven la cintura
Finally I can’t leave out the famed skills of the Caleñas on the dance floor.
I’ve written about how people in Cali really dance and I still feel the same way. Technically, Caleños don’t really meet many expectations but one thing that the women here do have is “sabrosura” or flavor on the dance floor.
Caleñas, thanks to their confidence, really know how to move their bodies and don’t think twice about doing it. They appreciate the music and interpret it beautifully, they let it take them over and and they “flow” with the music better than a lot of social dancers in non-latin countries. What this means is that slow dancing, be it salsa, bachata, reggaeton or whatever, is a real pleasure here and is where Caleñas really shine.
I’ve been here in Cali over a year now and I’ve been truly blessed with the wonderful women I’ve come to know here. I have made wonderful friends and amazing dance partners and every one of them has made my time here in Cali memorable in their own special way.
Their friendliness, their beauty, their sensuality on the dance floor; all of these qualities are what make Caleñas so special and so famous in not just Colombia, but in South America and the world.
Reading about it really doesn’t even scratch the surface of the wonders of the Caleñas so the only thing to do is to come to Cali and meet them for yourself. And with the “Feria de Cali” coming at the end of December, timing couldn’t be better. Hopefully you’ll make it. Drop me a line if you do.
Keep dancing folks.
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