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Escape To Cali - Colombia - South America

Trip to Cristo Rey and Pichindé

Bellies full from our Pizza Adventure at La Curva, we are driving higher up the mountain, along Carrera 4 in route to the famed Jesus statue that overlooks Cali, Colombia and it’s residents. Knowing that the statue is under construction, we are really hoping for cool air and nice views of the city. We were surprised to not only find both, but also great views of the mountains and the High Cliffs of Cali.

The winding road up to Cristo Rey becomes more narrow the higher we rise, as the overgrowth of bush and grass crash against the black asphalt. Climbing higher we drive through switchbacks and pass brave souls walking along the road in both directions. Motorcycles zip by, Jeeps carrying too many passengers make stops, and drivers tail each other in typical Colombian fashion, waiting for any split second opportunity to pass.

After 7 to 10 minutes we get to a fork with a sharp right turn. We turn right, following the sign to the entrance. There are different parking lots, some closer to the statue, but we park the car at the bottom of the entrance in the first spot we find. A little uphill climb on the paved road follows, and we encounter vendors selling tourist items of Cristo Rey, arepas, obleas, street meat, cigarettes and cell phone minutes, to name a few things.

The winding road up to Cristo Rey becomes more narrow the higher we rise, as the overgrowth of bush and grass crash against the black asphalt.

At the top of the hill, Cristo Rey, and he’s definitely under construction. Barely visible, the poor guy seems to be getting a full face lift and tummy tuck. The large crowd doesn’t seem to mind, snapping photos, mostly of themselves and rarely of the statue.

Having a nearly 360 degree view of Cali, there are a lot of different vantage points for taking great photos. There’s even a huge, clear image of a flawless Cristo Rey on a large sign, where visitors can take pictures of the big guy without the scaffolding. It’s kind of like when people visit Bejing and they take pictures with the image of the clear skyline, a view which no longer actually exists in the city.

Crowds gathers in front of the statue where a tourism promotion company tells stories of Cali and Cristo Rey. Storytelling is a Caleño tradition and in many places you can encounter Quinteros (storytellers) telling jokes and tales. They’re easily found in places like San Antonio Park on Friday through Sunday nights.

I love a good story, but i’m after the views and leave the crowd to scour the grounds. To the East we get great vantage points of the the valley, its roads and buildings, all the way out to its sugar cane fields. Closer to the mountains, we see the high rises of downtown and the western neighborhoods, tucked into the foothills of the Andes. Behind us, to the West, the lush mountains and high peaks of the Farallones, slowly sucking in the sun, as the air cools further. The wind is humming and of course we forgot to bring jackets.

On the way out we pick up these tasty little cookies from a family who makes vegan treats. After paying 3,000 COP for the parking spot, we try and back out, but encounter a jam of cars and motorcycles clogging the narrow entrance. Eventually we back out and head back down the hill. We decide to keep heading away from the city to see what we find. After cruising on paved road for about 12-15 minutes, we hit dirt and rock. A rough terrain not built for the little French Renault Clio we’re driving, but we persist, heading deeper into the lush forest.

A sign points us to merge right, towards Pichindé, an area that is home to the Pichindé River, one of the seven rivers that flow through Cali. We are officially in Los Farallones de Cali, a huge national park, and one of great importance to the Valle de Cauca, the state to which Cali is the capital city.

The sun well into its decent, it’s only for the high altitude – nearly 1600 meters (5500 feet) – that it’s not dark yet. In a particularly thick area of forest, we stop, turn down the radio and just listen. We hear a river rushing by and spot two large birds (unsure what species) in the tree just hanging out. They look like exotic Pigeons, grayish in color, with long necks and a long wide tail. It’s cool outside, extremely shaded by the trees, and feels damp in the air. It’s a refreshing feel from the rush of the city below.

Slowly bumping down the road for another 10 minutes and and we arrive at a bridge that crosses the river and is the home to the Pichindé recreation area. We spot two trucks leaving with mountain bikes mounted to their roofs, so we believe there is good outdoor activities in the area. There’s also a restaurant with a bar and a billiards room blasting classical Salsa music. There weren’t a lot of people there as it was nearly dark out. Certainly anyone who was there had gone home already. It reminded us of a mini – Pance, which we look forward to checking out during the day.

Officially dark out, we turn around and head back to the city. We’re later told that further up the road is Peñas Blancas, a popular mountain with hiking trails into the higher altitudes of Los Farallones. The ride back is tranquilo (calm) and we’re content with our little sunday afternoon journey of Pizza, Views from the Jesus Statue, and a jungle drive to the Pichindé River. Until the next adventure…

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