So remember that 3am stumbling home to bed part? Probably not the best idea. I had a 5:30am wake-up call at the hostel because I had signed up to tour the Rosario Islands. I got my tired and still slightly drunk ass out of bed, put on my swimsuit and grabbed the sack breakfast the chef of the hostel had made me the night before. I’m telling you, Casa del Pozo is the bomb! Four other girls were also on the tour from the hostel, but they didn’t look as rough as me. In fact, I must have looked a sight because the tour guide put me up front with the driver when we ran out of room in the back. Gracias, amigo because I clunked out up there. I’m talking head rolling around and drool coming out of my mouth. The drive to the first island is about an hour and I used every last minute to catch up on some much needed z’s.
When we got of the bus, I was disoriented and a little put off. The entrance to Playa Blanca is dirty and smelly and not great after a party bus night. Locals immediately thrust goods in your face to buy them and women walk around touching your shoulders telling you that you need a massage. Thankfully, we started walking to catch out boat, so my irritation was short lived. Once I had some sunscreen on and some water in me, I was much better. Plus, the beach is exactly what I was needing – Chartreuse water glistens in the early morning sunshine and the smell of salt wafts through the air. Taking a deep breath, I realized that I was completely content and not as hurting as I thought I was going to be. And the boat ride to the first island was really nice. It was still pretty early so we were all silent enjoying the wind in our hair and the sight of the crystal-clear ocean.
Our guide took us around a few of the private islands owned by drug lords and celebrities. He told us stories, some wildly exaggerated but exciting nonetheless. The boat dropped us in the middle of a reef where we enjoyed an hour of snorkeling. I have seen some awesome reefs in my time, but this place was one of the coolest! The first were exotic and so close to the surface, you could reach out and touch them. Fish with iridescent colors whizzed by while big round yellow fish swayed in the current. I love putting the goggles on and mouth piece in. I love to dive among the sea-life pretending that I am in a completely different world. Indeed, I am. There is nothing like listening to the sparking of the water. It sounds like a gas stove trying to light. It’s electric! And the fish are such funny creatures. I could watch them for hours. I give them all little voices and dialogues in my head making me laugh, which fills my mouth with salty water. I surface and spit the water rejoining the world of air.
The hour goes by quickly and I am a little disappointed to have to swim back to the boat. Several women on the boat cannot swim. It made me sad that they didn’t get to experience the world under the sea. Our next stop was the party beach. Little cabanas are set up in the water. The tables sway under the shade, dancing with the warm water. A man comes by on a sea kayak. He has a mound of oysters and asks if I want to try. In Colombian fashion, the first is free and then they ask for money for more. Although I love oysters, I must say warm they are very strange. I did not take him up on more. I got to know some of the people on the boat. They were from all walks of life – several from New York, several from Bogota, and one from Poland. The guide and I had a lovely conversation and I felt like my Spanish was really coming along. I was drinking a cold beer, I was in warm salty water under a shade so my leg wasn’t exposed to the sun, and I was at my happiest. It just reaffirms that I need to live by the sea.
We traveled to two more islands, one where we had some yummy fruit and seafood cocktail, and then headed back to Playa Blanca. Playa Blanca is the public beach and can get very crowded, but because we were on the tour, we had our own little private section. Lunch was amazing, as was the enormous pina colada I had. I stayed in the shade as long as I could, but my body yearned for the sun. So I wrapped my leg in a towel, sunscreened up and headed to a lounge chair. I had a lovely little sun nap. Then it was time to head out. Our little transfer boat only needed to take us from the far end of the beach to the enterance – a ten minute trip. I was sitting at the front of the boat and this gigantic wave from one of the bigger transfer boats hits us. And WHOOOSH! I am covered with salt water. And this was when I knew for sure that I was in a good place. I was soaking wet and I didn’t even care. I belly laughed, shrugged my shoulders, and carried on soaking up the view of the beautiful sea one last time.
I highly recommend doing the Rosario Islands. They are beautiful and the tour gives you a splendid taste of everything without feeling rushed. I bought my tour through the hostel. They should be all the same, but if you are in doubt, my tour company was backpackers. The whole thing cost about $58 plus any alcohol or trinkets you want to buy.
I got back to the hostel, had a splendid cold shower (it is bloody hot in Cartagena), talked with some of the people at the pool and then headed to a super cute coffee shop for some quiet and wifi to check in with the fam. I got a message from my friend Katie, whom I work with in Uruguay. She was in Cartagena with her friend and we decided to meet up for some food and drinks.
It was lovely to see Katie after so many weeks. It was also lovely to be in the familiar for a bit. Seeing Katie in Cartagena just solidified that Colombia is much more fun with people. We went to the amazingly weird tourist restaurant. It was a bit pricey but has a super cool atmosphere. We were serenaded. We got to honk some horns. And who should darken our doorstep but the Swed! Of all the gin joints in all the Cartagena, he walked into ours and spent the whole evening with us. We went on a goose chase to find a bar Katie’s friend’s friend had told her about. We walked on the wall. We joined the street party. It was a wonderful evening filled with laugher and great friendship both new and old.
Most people see Cartagena as touristy and expensive. However, I was absolutely in love with it. It is beautiful. It has beaches and culture and history. There is plenty to do during both the day and night. I highly highly highly recommend this place. I didn’t get up into any of the other coast towns, but I can honestly say that I wouldn’t mind calling Cartagena home if I had to live in Colombia. It was the place I felt the most comfortable and myself.