After travelling from one side of the continent to the other by bus over the past few months, the flights to and from the Galápagos were an absolute joy… and the flights from Ecuador to Cartagena in Colombia were no different.
We arrived in Cartagena at lunchtime, the first time in a long time that we’d arrived anywhere at a decent hour of the day. I was reminded of the last time we stepped out of the plane into the thick wall of tropical heat and humidity – back in April at Kuala Terrenganu in Malaysia. The fleece went firmly into the bottom of my back pack and we took a taxi to our hostel.
We spent a few days getting to know the city. The old town section is a beautiful area full of historic public squares, cobbled streets and brightly-coloured colonial buildings with ornate overhanging balconies. It has a relaxed feel with lots of great bars and restaurants, galleries and museums. Our path was usually dictated by our hunt for the next cocktail to cool us down (because for some reason, water just wasn’t cutting it). Our location of choice for a few evening sunsets was Café del Mar which is situated on the old city walls, with an uninterrupted view west out into the Caribbean Sea… just perfect.
After a few days in Cartagena checking out most of the city, the lure of nearby beaches was too much and we took a boat for the 45min trip to Playa Blanca where we stayed for a couple of nights. It’s a beautiful long stretch of white beach in a bay on the island of Barú. Once we’d arrived we walked the length of the beach and quickly noticed that there were less tourists at the northern end, and consequently much less hassle there from hawkers selling knick knacks and massages. So that’s where we decided to stay. On this beach acommodation was down to basics, with three options: hammocks, tents and small wooden dorms with thatched roofs. On this occasion we decided to treat ourselves and go midrange! We ended up staying in a tiny tent that barely fit both of us with our day packs. Not so luxurious inside, but being 20 metres from beautifully clear Caribbean water meant that it wasn’t so bad on the outside.
Our new neighbour for the next two nights was an Argentine called Nico who was spending a full month living in a tent on the beach. It was he who helped persuade us to stay where we did. Not simply because he’d already been there for about 3 straight weeks – not a bad advertisement in itself – but he’d also rated the food pretty highly. We had a great couple of days and evenings lazing around, reading and cooling off in the sea. The only problem were the insects! They came out in force during the still evenings and didn’t adhere to the rule that if someone is wearing repellent containing 80% DEET then you’re supposed to move along and bite someone else.
We seemed to have decided to stay at the only place on the beach that had a generator, and therefore light and music. It attracted people from other parts of the beach and we spent the evening chatting to locals and a few other tourists over a few beers. It was a great atmosphere, although the almost rhythmic slapping of hands onto arms, legs and necks was a constant reminder that we weren’t the only living things on the beach.
After an uncomfortable first night sleeping in the tent, Alexandra woke (very early, annoyed and scratching her legs furiously) to find the results of the insect party that had happened the night before. She stopped counting the bites at 200, and we estimated that there were over 500 in total.
I tried to count the bites on me… and stopped at 0. I must’ve dodged them or something.
During the 2nd evening Alexandra spent most of it tightly wrapped in a sarong to protect her from the insects, so it wasn’t quite as bad as the 1st. We sat on the beach, put on some Beatles from Alexandra’s iPod and enjoyed some more beer and a bit of coco loco – piña colada served in a fresh coconut – while watching the entertainment for the evening, some huge spectacular tropical storms on the horizon. Then I had a surprisingly comfortable night sleeping in one of the hammocks so that Alexandra had a little more room in our (barely fits 1 but is called a) 2 person tent.
We returned to Cartagena the following afternoon after another morning of doing not very much at all and arrived at the same hostal we were at a few days before. Having been travelling for a while we’re now able to plan ahead and cleverly reserved a room before we left. Unfortunately the receptionist responded to us informing her that we had a reservation by telling us that they hadn’t had any cancellations so there was no room for us. Our names and the date were in a notebook but that meant nothing. As we hadn’t pre-paid, the reservation didn’t exist. We tried to explain that we hadn’t been asked to pay anything when we made the reservation, but our frustrated words got no reaction other than a roll of the eyes. Hot, sweaty and in need of a shower we grabbed our bags and found another place to stay. We decided that evening that rather than moving on the next day, we’d stay for another to allow Alexandra’s bites to heal in the heaven that was a room with air conditioning.
After another relaxed day enjoying the city (and it’s food, coffee and of course cocktails) we took a bus northeast along the coast the following morning to the city of Santa Marta, where we intended to continue the beach hunt.
Here are some pictures from Cartagena and Playa Blanca.