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South America » Colombia » Cartagena
July 16th 2015
Published: October 28th 2015
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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." I spent 4 days and 3 nights on a real-life version of Total Drama Island, Isla Baru. Our stay was replete with scandal, scams, new friends, calling the authorities, men who workout, and sleeping with no door. Oh, and a crab in the toilet! Can't forget Mr. Crabs... At least on Total Drama Island the contestants have to sign up for it. My friends and I did not sign up but we found ourselves inundated in drama anyway!

Carolina, Picha and I checked out of our hostel, bought a TON of groceries, and headed for Isla Baru. We missed the speedboat but thankfully they recently built a bridge connecting the island to the mainland so we took a taxi. An hour later we arrived, arms full of groceries and ready to locate our lodgings. The island was teeming with people who came on speedboats and were only staying a few hours THANK GOD! Colombians selling fruit, water, and other goods solicited the crowds. I carried my purse, backpack and two large 6 liter containers of water. My friends were loaded down with bags of groceries plus their own
Playa BlancaPlaya BlancaPlaya Blanca

A.K.A. "Drama-landia" Haha
belongings. The sun's intense rays beamed overhead and the sand slowed down our gait. Heavy bags and water jugs dug into our flesh, cutting off circulation in our fingers. Besides that struggle, the island was long and expansive. There was no way we could make it to our lodgings in that heat and with that load.

I offered to stay with the bags while the girls walked to find somewhere for us to stay. I hunkered down, awkwardly crouching underneath my umbrella to block the scorching sun and waited. Just then, a middle aged lady waved me over. Her name was Maria and she had a makeshift stand where she sold things. She invited me underneath her tent with her family and I said no thank you. I'm ashamed to say, I didn't want to accept her generosity because I thought she'd expect me to buy something! But no. She left her tent to talk to me. She was so friendly. Maria is black like the majority of the people on the island. She warmly called me "de mi color", "of my color", and there was instant camaraderie. There was pride and affection in the way she said it. She beamed with a deep appreciation of our shared African ancestry. Maria is Colombian and her native language is Spanish. I am American and my native language is English. However, we are both women of color and share a history. Our lives were altered by the slave trade, and we grew up on different continents; yet we are still sisters and we marveled over how much we have in common! We talked about our hairstyles and how Afro-Colombians like to sing and dance just like African Americans do.

I told her about racism in the United States and she was appalled. She could hardly believe a man in North Carolina shot and killed people in a church just because they were black. Maria told me that type of thing doesn't happen in Colombia. People don't hate over skin color; it's stupid. It truly doesn't matter here. She said "if anything, other Colombians are envious of us because we look good and dance so well!" Haha!

After a while it started to rain. Maria helped me carry the groceries to her tent and again invited me inside. I was touched by her hospitality. Sitting with her family, under their tent, I was moved by how much they felt like family to me. I was also saddened by how little the United States has progressed racially. Both countries experienced slavery around the same time, yet Colombia has progressed far beyond the U.S. in that aspect. It's heartbreaking and ironic for a country that has advanced in so many other ways.

Picha and Carolina returned an hour later and said the walk to the hostel was long. I believed them; it felt like they'd been gone forever! But really, they only locked their bags in the storage bin and walked back to fetch me. The problem was now those blasted groceries! My fingers were still throbbing from our previous trek with the waters and I couldn't imagine doing that again. Thank GOD I had made a friend in the meantime! Maria asked two men to carry our groceries to the hostel for us! *Thumbs up* The sun was blazing yet they carried ALL the heavy bags AND the waters down that long stretch of beach. Every single one. We were very thankful damsels in distress! We gave them a tip which was worth every cent.

So, enough of the
heartwarming moments...let's get to the drama, shall we? We didn't have to wait long and neither shall you! When we got to Hostel Pacho Lay, someone had destroyed our lock and broken into our lock box. And they did it in the short time it took Priscilla and Carolina to walk back and fetch me! Don't get me wrong. Our hostel was so enchanting it was ridiculous. Colorful, thatched huts on stilts, directly in front of a crystalline, turquoise ocean, on a white sand beach, and cheap TOO?!?! It don't get better than THAT. But we were less than enchanted by the apparent thievery of the housekeeping ladies. Credit cards and other important documents were in there. An uneasy feeling settled over us, rage mixed with feeling vulnerable and violated. We didn't notice anything missing but we stormed the office anyway. Our quaint, thatched hut didn't have a door. It was not an option to not be able to lock our stuff up either. But did locking our stuff up even matter if the people who worked there would just break into the lock box?

The guy who worked there said the ladies broke the lock because they thought the previous people had left it and they needed to clean the room. This sounded suspicious but there really didn't seem to be anything missing. Because we had already paid for that night, we decided to give it a chance and stayed.

It seemed to be a great choice. As the sun set, the hostel lit lanterns and the island was covered in a blanket of calm. Some cool Canadians and Colombian girls (Natalie and Camila), sat at the table with us. We laughed and talked while listening to ocean waves lapping. So many stars were visible and it was beautiful. I couldn't believe we were actually there; I was so happy to be staying the night when all the day tourists had gone. Then the music started. The whole island was tranquil and sleepy except for our hostel. Somehow we picked the one party hostel on the island. All they had to do was play "Como yo le doy" loudly by Don Miguelo, and people started coming over from all directions! It was like a beacon to all those looking for a little more diversion, a nightlife anthem. We saw some familiar faces approaching among the crowd. It
was none other than the Argentinians from our previous hostel with Barack Obama Jr.! Haha! What are the chances they'd come to Isla Baru too, on the same day? I danced on that white sand beach for hours, alive in a mixture of foreigners and native Colombians, old friends and new. My Chilean friends got worn out first. They crept up to bed. I stayed at the party and danced with this good looking Afro-Colombian guy who was tearin' up that salsa. Those island men were cute, brown, and in shape. No complaints! Afterwards, I crept up the ladder to our hut and drifted to sleep as rhythmic beats reverberated into the starlit atmosphere.

The next morning I woke up and immediately went swimming with Picha. No shower, no teeth-brushing, no eating. We craved the ocean and we swam our fill until we were starved for actual food. While walking back to the hostel, it was confirmed how forward Colombian men are. I feel like I say this every time I go to another Latin American country. At the risk of this sounding vaguely familiar, I'll say it again. These men really like black women. This is real. I
by no means think that I am "all that". This is no conceit or an overactive imagination. It is indeed real... I am again blown away by the attention received ESPECIALLY since this time, I am not a minority. Almost everyone here is black and I don't get why I'm still standing out and garnering so much attention. It's like some inexplicable South American affect. My Chilean friends noticed it in Cartagena when I was trying not to acknowledge it. When walking along the beach, a group of men asked me how I was, I replied "Fine. How are you?" Casual. Then one of the same guys who works at our hostel replied, "In love with YOU!" The response was so clever, I had to laugh. Who thinks of that? Someone too experienced. Haha!

The next day was more eventful than the previous. And that wasn't a good thing! We got scammed. Long story short, a guy came offering a ride back to Cartagena on a speedboat. It sounded like a good price and we wanted to go back to Cartagena on a speedboat for sure. Our new Canadian and Colombian friends were leaving the island that day. My
Chilean friends and I weren't leaving until two days later. To make sure it was safe to pay this man, we all asked the guy who worked at the hostel. Let's call him Young Punk. Young Punk was like "Yeah, he's totally trustworthy. He comes by here every day. It's safe to pay him. He's my cousin." Therefore, the Canadians and the Colombian girls paid in full, packed their bags and waited. Picha, Carolina and I only paid a third of the price in advance and agreed to give him the rest in a couple of days when we actually left. He said he'd be back in a couple of hours.

Guess what? He never came! The next hour happened in a blur. Natalie and Camila found the hostel guy and asked him to call his cousin because he hadn't arrived. Suddenly Young Punk got amnesia. He was like, "I said he comes by here every day. I didn't say I knew him.", totally lying. To which the Colombian girls got angry and asked to speak to the owner of the hostel. Suddenly there was no owner of the hostel and no one who had attended us the night before appeared to work there anymore. They shot out excuses, pointing the finger and blaming the next, saying "Oh I don't work here. I just hang around here." It made no sense. The Canadians didn't speak Spanish so they listened to the slowly escalating chaos in silence. Then Picha lost it. She yelled at Young Punk because we had lost our money too. Young Punk knew Supposed-Speedboat-Guy was a sham and it was obvious that he was getting a piece of the pie. The bad thing is, the Colombian girls had a flight to catch THAT NIGHT but there were no more boats leaving the island until the next day!

Then it got worse. Supposed-Speedboat-Guy showed up with no boat of course. He said the speedboat had left and offered to take the Canadians and the Colombian girls back on his motorbike. Maybe he missed that day in school? Last time I checked motorcycles only seat two people. How in the world he thought he was going to take four people with luggage back to Cartagena on his motorcycle, I do not know. Natalie and Camila, enraged about their impending flight, demanded that he get a speedboat and take them to Cartagena immediately or return their money. He said he didn't have the money to return and took off running behind the hostel! Natalie and Camila chased him. Then Supposed-Speedboat-Guy stopped, picked up rocks, and HURLED them at the girls while Young Punk stood by watching!

That was the last straw. We got the cops involved. Some of us walked to the other side of the island to get them since we didn't have working cell phones. A huge crowd of people formed. If people weren't previously in the drama, they were then! Some of the island men yelled at Young Punk and demanded that he give us our money back. The Colombian girls yelled at everyone that this was an embarrassment to their country and if they didn't fix it, we were going to take complaints about Colombia to our countries. Picha yelled at the hostel staff for conspiring against tourist. Everyone got their yell-on.

Unfortunately, it was evident that the police were accustomed to tourist scams. They listened with a sympathetic ear and glanced at the picture one girl had snapped of Supposed-Speedboat-Guy. They vowed they would look for him and said he would be jailed if caught. But when we pointed the way he had run, they literally strolled in the other direction! I swear I heard one of the officers whistling. It was obvious they were more concerned about drugs and bigger crimes. I couldn't blame them.

However, what I COULD do was get the heck out of that hostel! And we did just that. The cook, (seriously. Where was the owner??) came out and tried to convince us to stay. Thank goodness we had only paid for one night. We hightailed it to a hostel two places down called Hugo's Place. It was awesome. The owner was actually in existence, which was great improvement from Pacho Lay, and they had a bona fide manager who watched over our things in a large lock box. The hostel said that they would personally take responsibility if anything came up missing, which no other hostel offered. We felt good there. We knew this was going to be great.

That first night we played cards with some South Africans and an Italian guy. At around 9:00 we heard the music playing at Pacho Lay and subsequently witnessed the mass exodus in that direction. As
much as we wanted to dance, there was no way we were going back over there. No way! Abel, the manager sat down with us while we played karioka. Correction, he nearly sat on my hip; his chair was so close to mine. He didn't want to play cards at all. He simply pulled up a chair to stare at me overtly. That was weird. And the next day both him and the owner repeatedly called my name. When I answered, thinking they wanted something, they just called me "bella" or another random term of endearment.

Besides thirsty men, drama, and scams we really did have a good time. The greatest moments were as great as the horrible moments were horrible. Again, we slept in an elevated hut with no door. The breeze at night was glorious and each night, I awoke briefly to the sound of ocean waves and a smooth breeze. I felt safe on the island. That's very ironic considering the fact that all day we hung out in swimming suits in the company of hungry-looking males and slept every night with no door. Anyone could have come into our hut in the middle of the
night, at any time. We were three, unaccompanied, foreign women amidst strangers. That third night, Picha had a vivid dream that two large angels stayed in our hut all night protecting us. I'm inclined to believe that it was more than a dream. I feel like we were indeed protected.

Although traveling to Colombia seemed risky, I'm glad I did it. Staying on Isla Baru was even more risky but I'm glad I did that too. I don't want to act CRAZY or unsafe but so many people get stuck in a rut and I believe it's good to challenge yourself, do something new, and step out of your comfort zone from time to time. We all have one life to live and we should live it to the fullest!

Hasta luego,

~Until the next adventure!

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