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Published: June 18th 2016
Cartagena was my first stop in my 2016 summer trip. The only worthy read in this section is the section titled "The Long Way to Baru"; the rest is just my amateur travel reviews.
Like I've done with other "14 Places You Need to Visit Now" travel destinations, I visited Cartagena 10 years too late. While the city is still worth a day or two, and while the walled city has been impressively well maintained, the tourist hordes have gotten a hold of this information as well. There are hundreds of worthy restaurants and plenty of picturesque streets, but gentrification has eliminated most of the Colombian ambience, especially in the tourist center. The nearby beaches would be a perfect escape from the stifling heat (index of 44/111 when I was there), but they're just not that nice.
That being said, I really enjoyed my little corner of Getsemani (Het-sem-an-EE), which is the main backpacker area. I stayed at a place I found on airbnb and the location was ideal- right by the relatively culturally authentic Plaza de la Trinidad, along the muralla (city wall), which is nice to walk or run in the mornings. Every night there
1982 Renault... Stopping for Gas
I expected that he might tell me with pride what year his car is, and I was right.
was something to watch at this plaza- street vendors, locals' dance and exercise routines, vespers services, kids playing soccer, etc. I also recommend Babel language school there, where I took conversation classes for a week.
It's worth it to cross the bridge and leave the walled area to Castillo de San Felipe, an enormous fort that protected the city from land attacks. Walking around the top of the fort and climbing through the endless narrow passageways is worth an afternoon.
I had a free weekend, so I decided to go to Baru, the nearest of the Islas Rosario. A friend I traveled with years ago told me that Playa Blanca is worth checking out, but three years ago a bridge was built between the mainland and the island, and now the beach looks like the photos you'd see on a list of "11 Most Crowded Beaches in the World."
Hostal Media Luna is one of the most popular hostels in Getsameni, so in December 2015 they opened a hostel 30 minutes past Playa Blanca, on a private beach. The hostel provides transport for only 60,000 round trip, but it never showed up, so I decided to try
Alley in Getsameni
This was part of the free street art tour that meets at Plaza de la Trinidad every day at 10 AM.
to get there myself, even though the hostel said it would be very difficult.
The Long Way to Media Luna Baru-
I rushed with my pack through the oppressive heat to talk to one of the rebusques (touts) at the pier. During the high season, there would be lanchas to take me to the nearer islands quickly and cheaply, but the only way to get there for a reasonable price (except for the bus, which would have been even more complicated) was to hop in a jalopy with a guy wearing patterned pajama capris and gobbling down a blue snow cone. This thing reminded me of a car I hitched a ride with in Cuba- it had no business being on the road. We crept along at 30 miles per hour, the driver adjusting the powerless steering to keep us on the road, shouting insults out the window at glaring police, flagging down and giving advice to other drivers on the highway about their slightly deflated tires, trying to get me to buy his useless land that he claims to own, trying to sell me pot and cocaine, while I watched the map on my phone to make
sure he was at least taking me somewhere in the general vicinity of my destination.
At Playa Blanca I knew I had to switch to a moto-taxi, which I assumed meant a tuk-tuk, with seats in a cart behind the driver, but ended up being 30 minutes on the back of a motobike. I didn't have much of a choice, so I hopped on, full pack and all, and we meandered our way along steep, eroded trails, tiny beaches that he needed to use his legs to push through the deep sand, and between two lines of a platoon of military, with full gear and weapons, combing the jungle on the sides of the road. I asked why there were so many troops there, and the guy just said, "Don't worry, it's very safe." I later found out that the area is commonly used by narcotraficantes because it's a direct sea route to Panama.
When we passed the town of Baru and its enormous dirt and mud plaza (see photo), a shady-as-hell opportunist pulled a Uturn on his bike and started following us, claiming that after taking a lancha across a bay, I would need a guide to
direct me 20 minutes through the jungle. My driver didn't know where the hostel was, so at the pier I asked him if this hombre was safe and honest... he nodded almost imperceptibly and not convincingly. But there were no other options and it didn't seem like this guy would let me refuse his services.
On the other side of the bay I walked about 20 feet behind him, sizing up rocks in case I needed one, while he sniffed and twitched and rubbed his nose. Maybe he was allergic to my sweater (sueter, the word here for T shirt- perhaps you get the allusion).
In the end, he got me there without incident and since there was a manager, a cook, five helpers, and two bodyguards for only two guests, I had a relaxing weekend kayaking, paddle boarding, and eating delicious food at the hostel. I opted for a 4X4 truck back to Cartagena, at about 1/4 the cost, since the hostel arranged it.
There are more photos below.
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