This entry will recapitulate the trip to "Playa Blanca" this sunday (24th May). Playa Blanca is Cartagena´s most famous beach, which has won much recognition on the travelling-related websites and amongst the Cartageneros themselves.
The trick is in that the beach is located not in Cartagena, but about one hours trip out of Cartagena (the time depends on guts of your driver:). But, being in this accessible distance, it truly is a weekend hangout of Cartageneros, and not only for wealthy tourist, thereby perserving quite genuine atmosphere, which would be best described as a feeling of suddenly finding oneself in a video of Dr. Alban:) or perhaps Bob Marley.
Anyways, our epic journey began on early sunday morning when we (that is me, co-AIESECer Caroline and her coleague Lucia) took a taxi to "Bomba Lamparo", which is one of Cartagenas natural transport junctions, as arteries from several direction meet there. We were about to meet Caroline and Lucias other coleague, Hilmer, who had organised the trip. That was at 6 (!) AM.
Now here comes the funny stuff. As "Bomba Lamparo" (Bomba = pump, i.e. gas station) is an informal bus terminal, there were many people waiting there (it also gave me opportunity to collect a few more bus photos and thus gain a reputation of the groups madman straight from the beginning). We indeed met Hilmer, but noone else was there, and so the bus was said to have left, no-one knowing where it went or when it returns. But that presented no problem to Hilmer, who assumed that we are more then happy to wake up early in order to have 40 minutes to shop for refreshments and alcohol. Hilmer then persuaded us to buy the larger bottle of Medellin Anejo ron, with the argument that we will stay twelve hours and will be bored. We suspected that amount to be too much, and it proved to be too much for Hilmer, as will be developped further:)
After this shopping period, we changed places few times, untill we finally met Hilmers friends, who organised the trip. These were a few women, probably from Hilmers neighbourhood, in ages ranging from twenty to sixty. Eventually, the bus arrived and we got on board.
The bus is a chapter for itself, as it often happens to local busses. What was clear was that regular "line" buses and their drivers make thus additional income on weekends by driving Cartageneros to the Playa. Our bus so happened to be "Olaya - Centro" and had much decoration and other features including soundsystem a tuned passenger car would not be ashamed off. We sat all the way in the back and by accident straight above the subwoofer box, so we could enjoy the "good vibration". While dance hits were blasting all around us, ordinery Cartageneros were getting on board with their children, grandparents, coolers and picnic baskets.
Then we set off. The bus was one of the newer GMC products based on the "KODIAK" heavy truck line (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Kodiak), and was dubbed "the caporal" which means the leader,or the captain. It was acompanied by a vivid picture of a beast with bloody claws. On the rear side panel, there was a picture of motorcycle racer and on the side window a picture of an airplane with the words "express jet" - the driver tried to live up to so expressed aspirations, thereby shaking and ruttling us all along the way, and especially trying to overtake the other buses.
We were soon to learn why, as we left the paved road eventually to drift into a humble municipality where all the buses had to take a ferry. Therefor, our driver strived to be the first in the line. While waiting for the ferry we again had chance to walk around a bit, take some pictures, and see a local attraction - three small monkeys kept in a cage. The passengers swarmed the cage to feed or tease the animals to their great amusement.
After crossing the water we continued for about 15 minutes in an incredidle wilderness, all on a gravel dusty road, through several villages that evoked Africa, and even through a stone-quarry or something quite similar. Our driver was not scared by unpaved road, bravely keeping the average speed at above sixty kmph,while being cheered and sworn by the passengers, as again the journey closely resembled rally, and as there were clouds of dust entering thorough the back door, that covered passengers there with a fair layer of this matter. Nevertheless, we took this as a part of the experience and kept our spirit high.
Eventually we came to an area of parking, much in the middle of bushes, were offered some mussles and shells by the locals which we for the sake of our health refused, and descended to the beach.
The beach truly fitted the image of Carribean paradise in every aspect, as it featured light beige (not really white:) sand, incredibly clear water and a coast lined by palms and simple shacks that provided refreshments and other services. We then rented a shade with several seats from a local woman for a price of eight thousand pesos and accepted the offered lunch for another eight, which consisted of the delicious fried fish (it is called MOJARA) with coconut rice, some banana and salad - a meal truly favourable.
Offcourse, there is not much to be said of the beach traffic, as we kept on going in and out of the water and altered that with sunbathing for next several hours. Perhaps the noticeable phenomenon was the slowly falling level of ron in the bottle, which we drunk with coke or a local tropical soda in cocktails. Right before lunch the aggregated effects of alcohol and sun became visible on most of us, with Hilmer (who studied history) turning into fierce defender of Stalin and his politics against Julia, who is from Russia:) and who came in another bus with some AIESECers.
We also found out, much to our surprise, that perhaps the majority of "costenos" (i.e. "coast people") do not know how to swim! That includes the above mentioned AIESECer, whom we thus gave initial swimming lessons with Caroline and Lucia, drawing focused attention of other local non-swimmers as well:) We even considered briefly the opportunities of offering "swimming courses" which none westerner of a sound mind would have expected!
Eventually as the day was passing, we kind of lost sight of Hilmer, whom I suspect to have taken numerous trips to the beer stance. Before our scheduled arrival I visited a nearby shack where loud music begun to be played. Well, if I ever had the "Dr. Alban / Bob Marley" feeling, it was there. Young people of incredibly sophisitcated appearances, that would instantly qualify them to be featured in the mentioned music videos, where slowly dancing to the rythm of the music of afro-carribean descent, with african and dancehall roots being cleraly visible, perdon, audible. Also the atmosphere was authentic, as the people seemed to find themselves in some timeless setting while dancing, or watching, or getting drunk, many with slightly blunt or absentminded, but clearly contented expressions on their faces.
Then, we set off on the journey back, again being shaken by the bus. This time, though, the bus happened to be full of drunken people, who were loudly cheering and chatting and joking to the silent distress and disaproval of the families with children. There were coolers with beer that continued to be sold during the way, even though many had really hard times to keep the liquid in the can over bumps. Again,we were covered by a thick layer of dust, and we overtook even more buses and busetas this time.
The race was justified by a long line of buses waiting for the ferry. At this point, everybody stoped, and crowds of sober and drunken people left the buses to mingle and roam up and down the road, while local villagers were selling them more alcohol and fritos prepared in oil over the open fire (the fireplace constructed of stones found along the road). Me, too, I made new acquaintances there, as after judging the odds I decided to stroll down the queue to make documentation of the buses, and I had to explain the whole idea several times. Caroline and Lucia meanwhile befriended a group of school children whit whom they insisted to be photographed. I befriended some random people, and got invitation for more shots of ron, which nevertheless did not present a problem for a czech digestation, unlike that of Hilmer, who by that time had only a very blurred concept what he was doing, and at times we were worried he could get lost or fall out of the bus.
After the ferry, I was already acquainted with good deal of passengers, as well as they were acquainted with my obsession with buses, and so the whole bus urged me to take pictures when the driver opened the elaborated "altar" above the front windshield to reveal the "heart of the soundsystem" hidden there. After our arrival to Cartagena, we woke Hilmer up and send him off with his friends, then took a taxi home. I still had the bottle Hilmer lost in the bus, when we arrived home.
and thats all for our trip to "La Playa Blanca"...