The obscure route to Playa Blanca
01.09.2010 - 02.09.2010 32 °C
Four gringos on the bus to Pasacaballos. Final destination: Playa Blanca, the rumoured picturesque beach north of Cartagena. Each of us picked a window seat to get a glance at the chaotic Mercado Central. Avocado, mandarines, passion fruit, limes, pineapples... you could pretty much buy any fruit you could think of at this place. Old men hauled wagons down the street, taxis dodged pedestrians left and right, and the few women present sold cell phone 'minutos' for 150 pesos. The rain from the night before left some streets 1 meter deep in muddy water. After 20 minutes in this mayhem, we finally barrelled past the market place into the outskirts of the city, close to where I had been the day I got lost coming from the airport. We passed a giant oil refinery and pulled into Pasacaballos, a tiny town with ferrys to Playa Blanca.
The ferry was not at all what I expected. It was a cement dock. A young guy, probably about 18, told us he'd charge us 2.000 each to get across the river (...only about 15 meters across), and that afterward we could hop into the back of a pickup truck that was also on the ferry to a small town called Santana. From there, we'd have to take motobikes. We had been told there would be several modes of transportation involved, but we didn't expect it to be quite like this...
The ferry docked on the far shore, we paid the fee, and then climbed into the back of the truck. '10.000 pesos cada uno', the guys said, holding his hand out to us. We told him we'd rather pay the driver directly. He acquiesced. The driver started the engine and we were off, down what was probably the muddiest road I had ever seen. A local who climbed on board a bit down the road told us it had been raining every day, and so the road was such a disaster that only motobikes and trucks could get by. Maybe 10k later, we slid through a small shanty town, Santana. The driver stopped, stepped out of the car, and told us this was as far as he could take us. We looked around: there were about a dozen people around, a few on motobikes waiting for tourist, a group of children gringo-watching, and a woman sitting on the porch of a rundown hut preparing some sort of meal. There was one bus in the street, but it didn't look promising : it was covered in dust and mud, and there was no driver.
But we were lucky. Our driver told us he had taken us this far for free, that he knew we were foreigners and wanted to help us out so we didn't get ripped off. He would call us a colectivo to take us to the beach, and apologized for not being able to take us all the way. We were speechless. After arguing with some locals, he told us a colectivo was coming but that the best price he could get us was 50.000 pesos for all of us. We had no choice but to accept. It took the colectivo a while to get to us, finally a 4x4 Jeep pulled up and we piled in, excited to be at the beach in less than 10km. We drove through more mud, past construction sites and motobicyclists on the side of the road. I glanced at the gas tank dial. The arrow pointed to empty. And sure enough, as we inched up a muddy hill, the engine started revving, and although the driver pumped the gas peddle, the car refused to go any further. He killed the engine and we sat there, stuck in the mud. Terrific.
A bunch of guys drove up on motobikes, having seen our car stall while the driver funneled gasoline into the car from a waterbottle in the trunk. With the engine restarted, the motocyclists tried to push the 4x4, put rocks behind the wheels, anything they could think of, but it was no use. Finally we decided to ditch the colectivo and hop on the back of 3 motobikes for the remaining 8km. What a thrill. Weaving through the mud, a warm wind blowing dust in our faces, we stopped and hopped off. 20 minutes of mud trekking later, we stumbled onto a white sand beach. We had arrived at Playa Blanca... 4 hours later.
The rest of the trip was smooth. We spent the next 24 hours swimming whenever we wanted, napping on the beach, finishing our books (so we could book swap back in Cartagena), and sleeping in our hammocks. For the ride back to the city, we opted to take a boat. A friendly costeno told us we could go on his superfast speedboat (only 20 minutes to downtown Cartagena) for 10.000 each. What a deal. We got on his boat this afternoon around 3pm, and there were no surprises this time.
Tomorrow I'm going back to Bogota. Goodbye, Cartagena. It's been real.