On Sunday the carpenter fixing my bathroom door tells me, “You must go to this salsa club. Only tourists are allowed so you can dance without feeling self-conscious.”
“Sure,” I say and have the apartment manager write down the information: “Tuesday, 6-11pm, in front of La Clinica Tequendama.”
Tuesday, I arrive to La Clinica at 6:15pm. I can’t find the club, so I text my Airbnb host. “Thursday,” he responds. I call this the “Tuesday/Thursday Problem.” I wander the streets until I find a mariachi band playing Parcheesi.
They teach me the game in a language I barely understand, start me at a disadvantage, neglect to teach me two rules that end up resetting my pieces, and I still kick their asses to the tune of $3000.
From Left to Right: Julian, Alberto, [I wish I remembered his name], Nacho (Yes, that’s what he said his name was), [That asshole who said it was my fault that I didn’t know that capturing an opponent’s piece was a mandatory move], [The singer, whose name I also forget].
One man, the one in the back of this photo, asks if I have a girlfriend. I say no. “My daughter is 24,” he says and makes obscene gestures. The only one of these gestures repeatable in polite company is his repeated tugging down on his lower eyelid to signal a wink, coupled with the sultry words, “muy bonita.” He asks for my phone number. I give it to him. He asks for my father’s number. I politely decline. He doesn’t call me, so I suppose the match is off.
Tonight, Thursday, six Ubers cancel on me. I arrive to La Clinica at 7:10pm. The clinic receptionist points me in the wrong direction, or maybe I don’t speak Spanish. The druggists at the store across the street don’t know the club I seek, but they’re a bored, fun couple so we talk for a while. I ask whether they sell earplugs. They say, “for swimming?” and I say “For music.” They say, “You mean headphones?” and I say, “For when the music is too loud.” They think I’m French because my Rs are French. I don’t take offense because my Rs are French. They ask if I learned Spanish back in San Francisco.“Just here, this week,” I say, so they’re impressed. They don’t know I’ve already had this conversation six times.
I watch a futbol match while drizzling honey on a fried chicken wing.
No kidding: they even give me gloves for the honey.
The religious man on my right asks me to buy him a coffee. The boy on my left asks whether I came to Colombia on a boat or a plane. The kid leaves. I buy the man coffee. He shows me his bible. I teach him to pronounce “Gideon.”
I walk to the far, far corner drugstore. I finally find earplugs. They’re expensive, but so is my hearing. They cost 13 marranitas (pork belly stuffed inside a ball of green plantain) or 31 empanadas. That’s not how the locals count money—just how I do.
I walk by my mariachi buddies. They aren’t playing Parcheesi so I only stop for a moment. Don’t want to get engaged too many times in one week. I order an Uber and eat a marranita while I wait. The vendor moved to Cali 6 months ago. In Venezuela, where he used to live, he didn’t have food for 4 days. His mother and brother moved here too, but his father’s still in Venezuela because he loves the land.
My Uber’s choice of music is the Latin version of alt-rock. I tell him I like his music taste. We get into a rhythm. He loves salsa dancing. I love salsa dancing. He loves marranillas. I love marranillas. He has a nine-month-old son. I use condoms. We exchange numbers to hit up a club together sometime.
Home, I realize the salsa club was inside me the whole time.
(Editor’s note: $ is also the symbol for Colombian Pesos. Total value of the $3000 COP I won in Parcheesi? Approximately $0.94 US.)