I love Cartagena, but everyone needs a break from the city sometimes. Saturday morning, after a long and dramatic warning from my host mother, host sister, and a neighbor, Autumn and I set off for Playa Blanca.
What I packed: 2 bathing suits, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of leggings, 2 tanktops, a towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, toiletries, comb, cell phone, cash, water bottle, gatorade, chips, apples, my trusty Spanish-English dictionary, my journal, a good novel
When tourists visit this beach, they generally take a boat for $50,000 pesos from the historic center. They ride on a small, bumpy motor boat and arrive at the beach around 10am. Then they are given a lunch that’s included in the price and have to pay to use the umbrellas and chairs on the beach. It’s crowded and they are bombarded non-stop by locals selling jewelry, ceviche, oysters, sunglasses and massages. Then they leave the beach around 4pm. Not my ideal day on the beach.
Autumn and I did our homework, and took the more local route to the beach. We took a bus to Pasacaballos ($1,900) and then moto-taxis across Isla Baru to the beach ($8,000). Taking mototaxis is a new thing for me, but the more I ride on them, the more I enjoy it. This was the longest moto ride I ever took, but it was also one of the coolest. It had been raining while we were on the beach and as we were going down the road steam was rising off the pavement.
The first glimpse of the water took my breath away. It is so clear blue you can see the coral and pebbles being tossed around at the bottom. The sand is light and golden and soft. It beats the Jersey Shore by a mile.
I booked a hostel online, but I think that was a mistake. The websites apparently take a large portion of the money and I could have saved $30,000 pesos by paying for the room in person. But no bother, now I know for next time. It seemed like forever until we found the correct cabana, but eventually we located it. Hostal de Personaje, a small cabana on stilts above the sand with a simple double bed and a mosquito net. No water and no electricity, but you really can’t beat sleeping less than 10 feet away from the ocean.
In a happy stroke of luck, we ran into some familiar faces while we were looking for our accommodations. Our two bosses, Caitlin and Caitlin, and our fellow volunteer Gina. We had no idea they were at the beach the same day we were but we were delighted to be able to spend the afternoon with them. We talked and enjoyed the beautiful sunset, then set off in search of some dinner. I had a pineapple juice with my garlic pasta and shrimp. Absolutely picturesque eating at a candle-lit table on the sand.
In the evening Autumn and I drank aguardiente, danced salsa and vallenato on the beach, and laughed about all that we had seen since we arrived in Cartagena a little over a month ago. When we finally headed back to our cabana to sleep, it was delightful to pull the mosquito net over the bed and drift off to the sound of the waves beneath us.
In the morning we read our books on the beach and sipped tinto given to us by our host Jaime. Then a friendly neighbor from Puerto Rico named Angel took us on a short tour of the beach. We saw the different bungalos and cabanas, a protected area for turtles to lay their eggs, beach bars with fresh juice and beer, and a campground where hippies live for weeks at a time. In the distance Angel pointed out one of the fancy five star resorts and told us about their plans to take over the rest of the cove. What a shame it would be for the locals to lose their business and for us to lose this charming and affordable getaway. For lunch a typical meal of fried fish, plantains, coconut rice, and salad at a little restaurant that had a bright green parrot who whistled to us through the whole meal.
While we were on the beach, the whole world shrunk to only contain this little cove on the island. And then with only a mototaxi and bus, we were back in Cartagena. I still had sand on my feet but I was back in real life, as if I had never been to the beach at all.