September 6th to 9th 2014
There’s around 4 ways to get to Playa Blanca; the most common way go to the port near the clock tower and take a speed boat from there. When I asked the hostel reception, they only told me about this way of getting there and wouldn’t provide any useful information on the other 3 routes. Sometimes I feel like everyone here bands together to get the most amount of money out of the tourists; taking a boat from that port incurs an additional 13,500 peso port fee, on top of the 35,000 peso ticket, while none of the other routes are even close to that expensive.
As soon as I left the walled city of Cartagena to walk to the port, I was approached by 3 guys, all at the same time, trying to sell me various things. One guy was selling hats, another, bus tickets and the last, boat tickets. And not in a “hey, would you like to buy my product? No, ok bye” type way, but they surrounded me and walked with me the entire 5 mins to the port. Then when I got to the ticket booths at the port, I was surrounded by even more guys trying to sell me their company’s boat tickets. It was a little overwhelming to say the least. I went to each of the windows and inquired about prices; they were all the same: 35K for return trip on the same day, 40K if you include lunch. Only 1 company though said I wouldn’t have to re-pay again if I came back on a different day…not sure how true that would be. I was confused mostly because someone had told me they had managed to haggle the price down to 20K, but they had failed to mention there is also a slow boat option which is cheaper.
When I finally picked a company, I was shuffled through the turnstiles and told to wait on the right hand side. My boat supposedly would leave at 9.15, but of course they aren’t going to leave unless they’re full. So lucky me, I happened to pick the least popular company because our boat was the last to fill up, hence one of the last to leave the port at 10.20 – over an hour late.
I’m 100% sure I was the only person on the boat that didn’t speak Spanish. The driver gave some commentary as we passed the castle type buildings on the way. He made some joke that caused everyone to stand up and start moving, I didn’t understand so I stayed where I was…turned out he was just messing with them. Totally lost on me though. The first stop is at Playa Blanca where you can disembark if you want. If not, the boat continues to Islas Rosarias, leaves you there for an hour or so before coming back to Playa Blanca, then returning to Cartagena later in the afternoon. I wasn’t entirely confident I understood those instructions at the time so I just got off when we first stopped at the beach….at least I would be where I intended on being.
Almost as soon as I started walking along the beach I ran into Jesse and Alex (2 of the 4 guys I had met doing paragliding in San Gil). This is the 4th time I’ve run into Jesse! Which is kinda crazy because we haven’t even been following the same route around the country. They had stayed at Los Corales the night before and were leaving that afternoon. So, rather than hunt for a place to stay, I just hung with them for the afternoon and made the lazy decision to also stay there. As I was at the beach, I just had to have a coconut. Some lady walked past trying to sell dressed and Jesse asked her if she had coconuts…of course not. But 10 mins later, I guy comes around with 4 coconuts for us! Too bad I only wanted one.
The only bad thing about Playa Blanca is the sales people walking the beach. They are constant. Every few mins a massage lady, oyster guy, snorkel guy, boat guy etc walks past and interrupts the peacefulness of the beach. The massage ladies basically don’t take no for an answer; they’ll start massaging you and call it a “present”, until you give in and get a massage. I made the mistake of saying I might take one tomorrow…. She came back and sort me out the next day.
Just as they were leaving and saying goodbye to the hostel owners, the hammock I was lying in ripped apart. I didn’t just roll out of the hammock ungracefully, my butt actually fell through the hammock and hit the sand, feet and arms thrown in the air. And everyone was standing around me to witness this. Why me? I’m now that fat girl that broke the hammock lol
Once all the boats leave (between 12.30 and 4.30) the beach becomes very quite. Especially now that’s its low season, there just not that many people staying here overnight, so its very peaceful.
At some point in the afternoon, Ryan, the son of the lady that runs the hostel, invited me to go fishing with him. I was imagining it to be going out on a boat and throwing a fishing line into the water. Nope. We went spear fishing. He told me we’d be out in the boat around 30 mins…it ended up being like 2 hours. Can’t trust Colombians with times at all. The driver of the boat stopped a couple of times, dunked his head in the water (with snorkel mask on) to see if there were any fish, then kept on going until we found a good spot. There were 3 local guys with us that were really good divers so they were the ones actually doing the fishing. They would dive so far below the surface and stay there for ages, catching fish fairly frequently. Even when I tried holding my breath at the surface, I had to take 3 or 4 breaths in the time that the guys were fishing. I learnt that they were professionals and had been taught a special technique to be able to hold their breaths for up to 11 mins each time. Crazy. Not only did I need to breathe more frequently, I couldn’t seem to pressurise my ears properly to get far enough down to ever get close to the fish to catch. After a while, we got so far away from the boat, they had to use my life jacket to thread the fish onto that they had caught. It was really strange to see. Too bad my shock-proof/water-proof camera decided to break; I could have had some amazing pictures of this. Instead, you’ll just have to imagine how it was.
When we got back to the shore, I got to help scale and clean the fish (with no gloves!). It was a bit gross but a fun experience nonetheless. A few of the locals cooked up dinner with the fish we (they) had just caught and I got to eat dinner with them. Probably the freshes meal I’ve ever eaten. It was a little awkward because Ryan was the only one there that spoke English, and they all spoke way to fast for me to understand anything. Immediate priority: Spanish classes.
Being at the beach changes your sleeping pattern a little. I found myself waking up at sunrise and going to sleep much earlier because there’s just not that much to do when you can’t see anything. I woke up in my hammock to the most beautiful view of the beach – it was spectacular. I love it here! Unfortunately I did wake up to see a mosquito INSIDE my mosquito net, and then fast realised how itchy I was. My day was filled with lying on the sand in front of the cabanas, giving in and getting a massage from yesterday’s massage lady, having a swim, having a delicious coconut fish and rice lunch and walking in both directions along the beach.
In the evening, Ryan and his family invited me to go to a sort of Valentine’s Day dance in the local town. Valentine’s day in Colombia is in September rather than February. I must have given off the impression of a sad, alone traveller because they basically adopted me during my stay there. To get there, Ryan and I got on the back of a family friend’s motorbike, no helmets of course. Had to shut my eyes cos I always felt we would slip on the rocky ground and break my head open. 15 mins later we arrived in town. I’m not sure what I was expecting from a local dance but it wasn’t what I found there. It was a dirt floor, large square place with corrugated iron fencing/plain cement walls around. Inside there was a DJ up the back blasting music so loud your internal organs were shaking, and plastic tables and chairs scattered over the entire space. Though the music itself was good, the DJ was terrible. He would play half a song, stop it so there was a moment of complete silence, then start the song from the beginning again with a loud annoying radio voice declaring “Get ready! new song! Coming UP!”
The entire town is black people: afro hair, dark skin, great sense of dance and no English. I have NEVER felt so white in my life. Even those nights I went out dancing in Bogota have nothing on this experience. I was the ONLY white person in the 2-3,000 person town. And not being able to speak to anyone except Ryan and his mother doesn’t help me fit in. All the girls here wear denim. Tight, short denim shorts, matched with a tight Supre-esque style tight top (sometime also denim). They all have perfectly done up hair – I love all the braided styles, thin eyebrows, heeled shoes. On the other hand, I had beach hair, I was wearing a strapless beach dress (literally EVERYONE else is in denim shorts) and thongs. What I noticed was that no one is on their phones, no one is taking selfies, no one crosses their legs, barely anyone is smoking.
Ryan and I danced a few songs. FYI don’t ever wear a strapless beach dress to dance salsa. I had such a great night but I have never felt so fish-out-of-water before. I could feel everyone watching me attempt to salsa in the middle of the small dance floor. My dress didn’t help at all.
I also need to mention the toilets at this venue. They were just off to the side of the DJ’s stage – at the same height as the stage. Up stairs, so even sitting in the chairs you could see the toilets, and no doors. So you could actually see people peeing. How is that OK?? I had flashbacks to childhood visits to Malaysia: doesn’t matter how thirsty you are, stop drinking anything to avoid having to use the bathroom facilities.
The dance venue got super crowded super fast. At one point, the entire town’s electricity went out and all the music stopped. That lasted about 30 mins. We left the dance and walked around the town in the dark. There were so many peope in the streets. The whole town possibly. Again, feeling very white. When the lights and music came back on, it felt even more crowded than before. By 11.30 I had had enough and Ryan drove me back on a borrowed motorbike (his parents stayed out until 6am apparently). The motorbike didn’t have a headlight so I had to hold a torch while he drove back – safety just doesn’t seem to be a big issue here.
The last 2 days of my stay at Playa Blanca were uneventful compared to the first 2 days. Just did typical beach activities of lying on the beach, tanning, swimming, reading, sleeping etc. It’s so great here I’m so content doing absolutely nothing. On the last day, I asked one of the sellers walking by what time the boat leaves (I was asking about the same boat I took here so I could try use my return ticket). He said “doce y media”, and I was like, yeah cool, see you at 2.30. But then at 12.30, when I was sitting at the table on the beach eating lunch, I suddenly saw the boat leaving. Damnit. He had said 12.30, not “dos y media” 2.30 – they sound so similar and for some reason I already had in my head that it left at 2.30 so that’s what I heard. So missed the boat. Luckily there are many, many boats so I took one that did leave at 2.30. Very sad to have left the beach – really, really love it here.
So because I was taking a different company, I had to pay another 15K to get back to Cartagena. The boat stopped off at the castles we had passed on the way over. From what I understood we were eating lunch here. I hadn’t bought the lunch vouch originally and I wasn’t hungry today so wasn’t panning on eating. Unfortunately, as soon as I got off the boat, some guy grabbed my backpack and started walking away from me. He started giving me a full tour in Spanish about the castles and island, of which I understood maybe 5% of what he was saying. I told him I didn’t want a guide and didn’t want to pay, but he just brushed me off and kept chatting. He eventually led me to where everyone else went, and were now eating lunch in a café. I didn’t want to eat but when food was placed in front of me I ate it. Stupid idea.
Going back to the boat, I had people demanding money from me left, right and centre. 17K for the lunch from one guy and 30K for the tour I didn’t understand. As if!! I only had a 50K note, the lunch guy ran off with my money and a few mins later the guide guy handed me back 10K. What the hell happened with the rest of the money??? Didn’t see the lunch guy again, but managed to get the guide to hand me back the 30K (guess I unintentionally donated 3K to lunch). Then another guy appears and says I haven’t paid for the boat yet. Grrr. I thought that had been included in the lunch fee (had I bought it in Cartagena it would only have been 5K…). So all in all, lunch was 20, the boat was 15 and I gave the guide 5 to shut him up and stop him following me. Its so frustrating when you can feel yourself being ripped off but there’s nothing you can do about it. I had no idea what was meant to happen, where to go if I was going to grab my bag off the guide, where the boat would be after lunch… Sigh, well I’ve learnt a lot from this and won’t be making these mistakes again, that’s for sure.
Couldn’t wait to get back to the hostel and have a proper shower – there is no running fresh water at Playa Blanca. You had to pay extra for a bucket of fresh water to shower with so I had only showered once in 4 days. Now have an epic tan 🙂