The most popular day trip out of Cartagena is an hour away by boat to the island of Playa Blanca…emphasis on “most popular!” It was a mob scene with what had to be 300 people crowded at the dock waiting for their number to be called, herded through the loading pen and wedged into the small boats so tightly there was no chance of hitting a wave and bouncing out. Fortunately Playa Blanca has a really long beach, so it wasn´t too crowded, and when it was, at least it made for interesting people-watching.
About half way there, the muddy brown water turned to green, and by the time we were within sight of the island, the water had finally turned that gorgeous aquamarine blue that we have come to associate with the Caribbean — giving rise to my earlier question, ¨Can we really screw the ocean up that much in 30 years?¨ After seeing the difference in the water just an hour offshore versus the brown murky water along the coastline, I think the answer is ¨Probably.¨
The boat made two stops, first at Playa Blanca to let anyone off who did not want to continue on to El Rosario to visit the aquarium and dolphin show. Since I have an aversion to dolphins in captivity, I opted get off the boat at Playa for a nice quiet swim before the masses returned for the tour lunch. This was really a gift, as the beach was calm, quiet, and perfect!! I just kept walking down the beach thinking about my wish list made back home in the chill of winter, ¨Barefoot? Check! Sand between my toes? Check!! Nice refreshing swim in warm, Caribbean water? CHECK!!!¨
Lunch was included in the tour, which consisted of some kind of boney but tasty fried fish, plantains, and rice. Pina coladas were for sale along the beach from a guy pushing a wheel barrow full of fresh coconuts. He pulled out a machete, wacked off the top, and poured in a little rum, sweetened coconut milk, and ice. It was yummy, offering a nice buzz while lying on the beach.
By the afternoon, a gale started blowing and the sea had gotten very rough. There was a group of nine Cardiologists from Ecuador on my boat going out, one of which spoke English. They did not want to take the same boat back that we came out on, because it was too small, overcrowded, and a spine-crusher, so they negotiated a ride back on a bigger boat. Having observed my frustrations with my limited Spanish throughout the day, the Cardiologists had taken me into protective custody. They asked if I wanted in at a cost of $10,000 pesos, a little over five bucks. I jumped on it, just to save my spine!! You could hear those smaller boats hitting bottom…WHOP! WHOP! WHOP!! as they whirled around and took off across the waves.
The bigger boat ended up being the slow boat to China, but I was still grateful not to have to hoist myself over the bow of a small boat in 5 foot waves! At least I got in a few good winks on the way back. As I was shaking hands and saying my goodbyes to the Cardiologists, one of them who I thought spoke only Spanish pulled me close, looked me straight in the eye, and said in a really deep, low voice, ´YOU COME TO ECUADOR! YOU WILL BE WELCOME!¨ Si Senor!!!