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Though Cali is justifiably famous for its nightlife and salsa clubs, weekend days in Cali are noticeably more tranquil. Come Saturday and Sunday afternoon, it can seem like everybody is either at their mother’s house for lunch or at the mall, shopping (Cali’s second favorite pastime after dancing)— and many of them are. A very large amount, however, are likely to be found down at the Pance River (El Rio Pance), in the southern part of the city.
For many, many years, a classic Sunday activity in Cali has been “el paseo de la olla,” roughly translated as “the pot trip,” going to the river to swim and make sancocho, a savory chicken stew with plantains, potato and yucca root. People bring huge cauldrons, make fires along the banks of the river, and cook lunch on the spot. This has been outlawed, however, for fear of forest fires, though caleños (people from Cali) don´t seem to care about the law.
When we go to Pance, we actually go higher up in the mountains sin olla (Rio Pance is in fact a nature reserve), where the water is colder but cleaner, and there are far fewer people.
The area is gorgeous, filled with lush vegetation, plantain trees, sprawling haciendas and picturesque huts. Small vendors along the way sell snacks— melcocha (a cane sugar and gelatin-based sweet), cotton candy, grilled corn, fried plantains, enormous hojaldras (fried dough)— for those not making sancocho, or those who want a little snack afterwards.
Traditional houses made from guadua— a South American bamboo—are maintained by families who have been in the region for years, mixed in with houses made from more modern construction materials.
Whether you choose to make the trek uphill or prefer the more accessible parts of the river, it’s an amazing reminder of the intensely green valley that is the Valle del Cauca (the state in which Cali is situated) and a welcome relief to the bustling urbanity of the city. And after partying all weekend at salsa clubs, a trip to Pance is a refreshing way to recharge your pilas for the next rumba that, in Cali, can’t be far off.