Four white guys walk into a salsa bar in Cali, Colombia. It goes roughly as you'd expect. Will is humbled and takes dance lessons. Text COMMUNITY to (332) 877-9540 to join the Authentic Travelers Facebook group.
Weird trivia and stuff Will wants to say
- It’s 18 months later and I’m still terrible at salsa.
- I mentioned it quite a few times in today's episode: join the Authentic Travelers Facebook group. It's a great little community and we'd love to have you.
- If you find yourself in Cali, Colombia, you obviously want to learn salsa because that’s sort of the whole thing in Cali. I highly recommend Viajero Hostel & Salsa School (which is temporarily shut down during Coronavirus), the setting of most of this episode. And, specifically, I recommend lessons with Ivonne (real name) who is wonderful. Also, the salsa bar that serves as the setting for the beginning and end of the episode is La Topa Tolandra. It’s so cool I can’t describe it. Go there and get weird (without a fedora and preferably with reasonably well-practiced salsa skills).
- When I started writing Baggage Claim, I knew I was going to have to learn the nuances of writing for audio. I knew I was going to have to learn how to sound design and edit and record and inflect my voice in interesting ways. One thing I didn't plan: acting. This episode really is my first foray into actually playing characters. You'll notice that in prior episodes, characters are mostly flat plot devices. When I flesh them out, I do so from my perspective. I'll talk about what someone's doing, or I'll describe them from my perspective. With the exception of that atrocious Irish accent I donned in The Pivot, I really haven't become another character. That changes in this episode. I really play three characters: narrator, frazzled version of myself and peppy upbeat salsa instructor, and I'm often playing all three inside one continuous take. I can't imagine that's advisable but I have no acting education and we're just winging it here. Anyway, the jury's out on whether or not it worked.
- I must've watched the Livin’ La Vida Loca music video at least a dozen times during the recording and production of this episode. Man, the nineties. What a time.
I hear with my little ear
- A salsa loop, obviously.
- A salsa timing tune made for beginners.
- A bunch of Germans milling about and having a grand time.
- A Spanish bar with a little background guitar action.
[Salsa music begins]
Okay, so I’ve got a joke for you: four white guys walk into a salsa bar in Cali, Colombia.
Okay, that was the whole joke.
Honestly, it should be enough - it’s ridiculous as it is - but I’ll make it better. We went with four women from our hostel - four European gals. We were under the impression we’d see those women again.
Spoiler alert: we didn’t.
Man, we walked into the place with a big ego, too. Flowing white shirts, jeans. One of us even wore a fedora. Okay... fine, I wore a fedora. But a little advice: you can wear whatever the hell you want to a salsa bar.
If you can dance.
So the eight of us white kids in our mid-twenties walk into the bar. Before we even get to the dance floor, 65-year-old guys approach us. Balding, gray hair. Thick mustaches, pockmarked faces and potbellies. Tan striped button-down shirts and, I shit you not, canes in their hands.
These 60-somethings kiss the hands of our 25-year-old European friends, literally throw their canes to the side and straighten their backs. And then I swear to God they turn into Ricky Martin in the Livin’ La Vida Loca music video, except better somehow because their jackets are sparkling now and they have roses in their mouths.
“Hey Sammy,“ I say to the guy next to me.
“I uh, I think I should take a lesson before I come back here.”
[Theme Music Begins]
This is Baggage Claim: travel stories no one tells.
I’m Will Conway.
Alright friends, I have something for you today.
I’m starting to build out the community around Baggage Claim. Baggage Claim is really supposed to be more than a podcast. It’s a community of people who care about using travel to expand themselves, to grow and learn and develop empathy and authenticity.
So I’ve started a group on Facebook group called Authentic Travelers.
I have a vision for it that expands beyond just a Facebook group, but it’s already becoming a vibrant little community. If that growth side of travel is important to you, then it would mean the world if you join.
It’s called Authentic Travelers. You can find it on Facebook, but you can also text COMMUNITY to (332) 877-9540 and I’ll send you the link.
Okay, today’s episode is embarrassing so just imagine I’m blushing while you’re listening to this.
[Theme Music Ends]
[Sound of step-by-step instructional salsa music]
“Wait, wait, hold on. Can we start over?”
“Uh, yeah,” she says.
We’re on a little patio, elevated above a hostel bar and a pool. It’s mid afternoon. People are sitting and drinking. I can sense eyes on me and I’m sweating.
“It’s okay,” she says. “You got this.”
“Okay, so how’s it go again?”
“It’s easy,” she says. “Uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete.”
She moves her hips on the beat with a rhythm I just can’t comprehend.
“I think I’m gonna need to see that again,” I say.
“Okay, one,” she says. Puts her left foot behind her right. “Two, right foot stomp. Three, left foot forward. Pause at four,” she says, holding out her hands like a traffic cop for extra effect. “Five, right foot behind left. Six, left foot stomp. Seven, right foot back. Got it?”
She’s so unbelievably patient. Her name’s Ivonne. She’s a tiny little person - four foot nothing, afro-Caribbean. The brightest, biggest smile every second of every day. I’m sure her job is pretty cool, but this part must suck. Guiding a 6’1, 200 pound white guy with two left feet, sweating through his shirt and trembling. Ugh.
We’re at Viajero Hostel in Cali, Colombia. Viajero means “traveler,” which is good, because they’ll understand when I pack up my shit and travel my ass out of here and never look back.
“Okay, okay,” I say. “I think I get it.” A handsome shirtless guy and a gal in a bikini and they’re both giggling. I don’t know if they’re giggling at me.
“One, two, three,” she says, clapping on the beat, and I can’t help but think of that time I read Clifford the Big Red Dog with my six-year-old brother and I almost died from boredom and frustration.
“Hey that’s good, Will! That’s really good!” she says like her two year-old daughter ate her broccoli but I don’t care, I’m starting to feel it. Her enthusiasm is just too impenetrable to break. Maybe I am good. Maybe this - this right here - is the fastest a 28-year-old white guy has ever learned basic salsa steps. Maybe I’m amazing at this, and it’s already coming out now, twenty minutes in.
“Okay, I’m going to start the music over,” she says. I nod, confident.
For a minute, it’s actually going pretty well. I mean I’m falling out of step constantly but each time, Ivonne guides me back with a smile.
“Take my hands,” she says.
“Oh, okay,” I say.
“Uh, yeah I think so.”
“Okay, you’re going to spin me now.”
I must have gone full deer-in-headlights. I fall out of step. I stop but Ivonne’s still in it, trying to pull me back. A guy by the pool completely lost interest in the David Baldacci on his lap. He’s got all his money on hoping I can’t see through his tinted glasses. I can.
Ivonne can see I’m in over my head. She puts me out of my misery.
“Okay, okay,” she says. “We’ll pick this up tomorrow. Same time?”
“Yeah, yeah I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Do you remember what we learned?”
“Yeah, yeah I think so.”
“Okay, show me.”
“Alright, alright, that’s not bad. Okay I’m going to teach you how to spin me today.”
“Alright so count your steps. Yup, okay. And on the five, push me back. And then all you do is flick your wrist…”
[Voice trails off, music overtakes]
“Alright, you’re looking pretty good.
“Yeah, yeah. I mean you have something of an avante garde approach to rhythm but, yeah, not bad for a white boy. Alright, I’ll see you here tomorrow.”
“Alright, Will, good to see you.”
“Show me your steps.”
“Nice, and now Cali style.”
“Okay, so today we’re just gonna dance. Hopefully you’ll be ready to go back to the clubs with Sammy this weekend.”
[Music plays for 30 seconds, cuts off suddenly]
“Hey, where’d the music go?
“That’s all the time we have, Will.”
“Really? Oh, well that was pretty fun.”
“Yeah, I think you’re ready to go back to the clubs with Sammy.”
“Alright, have a good weekend.”
[Club music begins]
It’s Friday night again. I walk in the bar with Sam and a few others. I have a little bit of confidence, but not enough for the fedora. I learned my lesson on that.
Sam and I walk up to the bar. Get a drink. The thing about a salsa bar is that anybody can ask anybody to dance and it’s not weird. It’s not sexual. It’s just a dance. It’s kinda nice. And so now I look around and see these people dancing and now I think, “Well, yeah I can kinda do that.” So I walk up to a pretty Colombian girl and I say, “Hey, do you want to dance?”
She doesn’t understand, and so I say, “Bailando?”
And she says “Si, si.”
And we dance. And it feels good.
So we dance together for a song and I’m sweating and feeling good. And I walk back up to Sam and he says, “You took lessons, dude?”
And I say, “Yeah, yeah I did.”
And he says, “Dude you’re terrible.”
[Theme Music Begins]
That was Baggage Claim: travel stories no one tells.
I’m Will Conway.
Alright, I said it before: I’d love to have you in the Authentic Travelers community.
Text COMMUNITY to (332) 877-9540.
That number is in the description below, as is the link to the show notes, which has credits, trivia and a full transcript of the episode.
Okay, see you next Tuesday everyone.
[Theme Music Ends]