While some places in the world are currently experiencing the cold of winter, December on the coast of Colombia continues to have sunny days and balmy nights, perfect for a weekend getaway. With the sheer beauty and natural abundance found on Playa Blanca in Isla Barú, each visit to this white-sand, clear-water beach near Cartagena de Indias brings new adventure and discoveries, as well as a few lessons in people and life.
Getting There, Going Local
A late morning start on the bus from Centro to Barú meant passing Bazurto fish market at it’s peak hour, and outlying barrios Bosque and Ceballos, before arriving about an hour later in the puebla of Pasacaballos. The usual hustling moto taxistas swarmed the bus. One, named Edgar David, used a friendly, quieter approach, calmly offering a clean helmet and newer-model bike, as well as a recommendation for an overnight stay.
Arriving to the parquedero, Edgar David led the way to his friends Wilfriedo and Ana’s hostal, La Locura del Pote, a structure typical of those that have sprung up on the beach in the last two years. The large, two-story wood building with a peaked thatched palm roof offering several private rooms and a balcony of hammocks loomed over a sizable restaurant. $15,000 COP secured a locker and hammock for the evening and, within minutes, the mask and tube were on, ready for snorkel heaven in the pool-like Caribbean seas.
Snorkeling revealed a wide selection of fish including big, pillow-sized silver ones, bright blue and yellow flats, black and yellow striped, and schools of yellowy-orange mottled skin variety, as well as tumbled white coral, hollowed sea urchins and multicolored shells. Being among this natural beauty was like meditation, but, after a few hours, it was time to surface and catch the gorgeous sunset over the ocean, as open-front restaurants and cafés set up for the evening dinner hours.
Following a humble bucket shower and fresh change of clothes, seeking a tasty dinner was the evening’s one adventure, after an entire day of exploring the waters. Night fell quickly as dimly-lit establishments offering food and drink blasted reggae, reggaeton and champeta from oversized speakers powered by gas-fueled generators. After devouring a delicious pizza cooked in a wood oven and a few cold Aguilas, it was lights out: time to settle down for a night of swaying in a hammock.
While the hammock was slightly stiff and salty smelling, the tranquil night breezes blew gently enough to eliminate the discomfort (and the scent). Waking to the sound of tropical birds whooping and anxious roosters crowing, the sun lit up the beach slowly, creeping over abundant palm trees and vine-laden brush.
Breakfast of Champions
A much-anticipated simple breakfast of aromatic tinto, golden brown buñuelos with quesillo and a chilled bag of carrot juice was just the fuel needed for another three hours of snorkeling along the beach. Before heading out to snorkel, several beachgoers paid witness to an argument that ensued between two weekend tourists and a hostal owner. The guests had paid for two nights and stayed one but decided to leave early, which prompted them to request a refund of the second night.
The owner responded he had explained the terms of cancellation and non-refundable inclusions before they paid. This argument, enhanced by a language barrier and cultural differences on the meaning of compromise, continued in circles for about half an hour. It seemed the more the tourist yelled, the more calm the owner became, simply taking in the comments about how he was a crook, and standing like a rock on his principle.
If you’ve never encountered a person who is in need of money, living hand-to-mouth and depending on advance cash payments for purchasing business amenities, be prepared. You may see someone argue their point to infinity, interjecting innuendos and even scrambling details to guarantee confusion of the original agreement. With most situations, what matters most is how it ends.
Decide on How to Be Happy
After involving a nearby business owner as a translator, the guests left very dissatisfied, and the owner with a tight grip on their (already spent) cash, minus about $10,000 COP that he reluctantly returned. The final declaration on this trouble in paradise from those watching? Stay clear and try not to interject. While “not getting involved” may seem cowardly or selfish from an outsider’s point of view, it is also wise advice in some processes of personal negotiation.
With the heated confrontation over, swimming and snorkeling among large dark-purple rocks dotted with spiny plants, feeling scaly coral catch on bare feet and narrowly mistaking a horseshoe crab for a discarded paper plate, it seemed like ocean had its own jabs and sharpness of two people disagreeing.
While the afternoon ended on this weekend visit to Playa Blanca, there was a feeling that even the clear waters of paradise have their rough side. As everyone heads into the holidays — a stressful time for some and, for others, simply more time to relax — there is a remembrance to practice what Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it, that matters.”