You're probably sick to death of hearing me wax poetic about my time at Playa Manglares but it was the cherry that topped off the indulgent sundae that was my trip to Cartagena. Every memory on Isla Baru was on the list of my best moments in Colombia, along with all the eating in the Centro Historico District and flopping around in El Totumo Mud Volcano.
It was brimming with everything that I love about travelling – natural beauty of our surroundings, meeting new people, delicious food, and experiencing new things.
The morning after Kelly and I arrived at the jungle-situated B&B, we met Steve and Marcel at breakfast, who we ended up spending the rest of our trip with. The former was a wisdom tooth surgeon from New York who had spent a couple years in Venezuela and could speak Spanish fluently. The later was a 20-year old Venezuelan who lived in Bogota and knew about as much English as I knew Spanish.
So...very, very little.
My Spanish is limited to ordering cheese (queso!) and beer (cerveza!) and knowing if someone is yelling that there is a shark in the water and to book it out of there (tiburón!). The important things. Luckily I had Kelly to translate more complicated questions, requests, and to decline sketchy salsa partners on my behalf.
The score was one person only spoke Spanish, one only spoke English, and two spoke both languages. This meant that whatever language the conversation was in, someone was left out, smiling vaguely and pretending we had an inkling of what was being discussed. The four of us usually hung out in a group, but when Marcel and I were alone, we gamely attempted to practice our linguistic skills.
At the National Aviary looking at birds
Me : *points at bird* Lindo!
Marcel: Si! Bueno Espanol.
Marcel: *point at another bird* So cute!
Me: Si! Bueno Inglés.
Marcel : Thank you.
Despite the language barriers, our group had so much fun, snorkelling, exploring Islas del Rosario, drinking mojitos, and devouring amazing seafood on deserted beaches.
Our last day together, we planned to visit the National Aviary and Playa Blanca. We hadn't anticipated that the aviary would be as cool as it was and spent longer than we had allotted for. The guys had to return to Playa Manglares to catch their ride back to the city in the early evening which left us a mere 2.5 hours to enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches in South America.
Our driver dropped us off at the steps that led down to the beach at the edge of the chaotic parking lot. We removed our sandals and walked barefoot in the fine, white sand through the colourful maze of stalls, covered in beautiful, hand-painted typography advertising rum drinks, coconut oil for sun tanning, and grilled seafood. Every inch of the beach was buzzing with frenetic energy from kids squealing as they built sand castles to locals calling out to draw attention to their services and products.
At Olga's suggestion, we found Maria's Kiosk for lunch and we were seated at a plastic table under an awning that protected us from the harsh, midday sun. Maria came over with a tray of freshly caught lobster and cojinua and pargo fish for us to inspect while we sipped exotic, fruity cocktails in coconuts and hollowed out pineapples, topped off with rum and colourful paper umbrellas
I also ordered a bowl of a thick yellow broth that I saw some locals eating and despite all the amazing cuisine I ate in Cartagena, that mystery soup was the best thing I had. I call it "mystery soup" because I couldn't get a straight (English) answer as to what it actually was. The locals said it was a beef soup but it tasted like seafood but there were chicken bones in it. Huh.
The rest of our time on Playa Blanca was blur as we tried to do as much as possible. The beach was a feast for the senses, making me as hyper and over-stimulated as a sugar high toddler as I alternated between going for a dip in the clear, turquoise waters and laying out on the shore to tan.
^ Obviously we did a little photoshoot haha
Masseurs found us and laid out large blankets to give us heavenly, full body massages, rinsing our limbs with a bucket of water before rubbing coconut-scented lotion into our skin.
Kelly and Steve decided to take a jetski ride, leaving Marcel and me to watch the bags. We sat on the beach, tanning and employing our limited vocabulary of English (him) and Spanish (me) to attempt conversation. We managed about a minute of blurting out random words before lapsing into an inevitable but companionable silence.
We weren't alone for long. One of the local men selling hand-crafted bracelets crouched down beside me, trying to tempt me into a purchase by laying several on my arm for me to see, accompanied by a stream of Spanish.
I greeted every foreign assault of words with a helpless shrug accompanied by the only phrase I managed to master:
“Lo siento, no Espanol. Solamente Inglés."
Sorry, no Spanish. Only English.
He then directed his commentary to Marcel, assuming that as my companion that he'd be able to translate on his behalf. Marcel was just as lost as the bracelet salesman, searching for the relevant English words as I sat there as confused as ever.
Luckily Kelly and Steve returned just in time to hear the bracelet salesman repeat the last half of his pitch, gesturing to my arm before standing up and starting to walk away. I asked them what he had been so determined for me to understand, hoping it was a good deal on the bracelets.
“He said that you should stay here and marry him so your skin can get as dark as his.”
The grin that he threw back at me as he was walking away confirmed her translation and made me glad hadn't been able to understand what he was saying at the time.
By the time we left Playa Blanca, we were exhaused and had sand in every crevice but satisfied with the knowledge that we had crammed as much of the experience into 2.5 hours as possible.
Car service arranged through Playa Manglares, less than 15 minutes.
Maria's Kiosk (ask around if you can't find it)
She'll bring out a tray of the pescados del dia (fish of the day) that's grilled and served with arroz con coco (coconut rice), pataones (fried, pressed plantains), and salad: COP$60,000 (approx. $20 CAD)
Also ask for the Sopa de res (beef soup) with a splash of lime. Best thing ever.
- Bathing Suit (I wore mine)
- Your phone or camera
- Cash, just what you need
- Bring cash, preferably in small bills
- Bring a lot of sunscreen
- Don't leave your things unattended as it'll easily get stolen
- Go early to avoid the hottest time of day and to stake out a good spot