During these turbulent colonial times the city only existed within these immense impenetrable walls. These days Cartagena is a sprawling modern city, with the old-town being the epicentre and cultural heart of the region. A short stroll out of the fortified walls is the monstrous and ever growing “skyscraper-city” Bocagrande sitting in stark contrast to the intimate and romantic streets of the old town. The ghastly tourist and hotel trap, sorry I meant strip, that is Bocagrande is more akin to Miami than Cartagena, and it seems to draw the tourists in just as well. What Bocagrande lacks though is any atmosphere and most importantly nice beaches.
There are many ways of getting to Playa Blanca, the most popular and easiest of which is on a day trip from Cartagena by boat. We had a few days to spare while we waited for our Sailboat to Panama to arrive so looked at visiting Playa Blanca overnight, staying in one of the many hammock hostels lining the beach. After travelling for 216 days we felt tired, tired of tackling public transport and trying to negotiate with pushy salespeople to get a good deal to take us somewhere. The complicated route to Playa Blanca by bus and motorbike just sounded too hard, and trying to organise a boat to take us just sounded like a disaster waiting to happen – with our exhausted Spanish skills we were likely to be left behind and short of a pretty penny. Thus, we opted for the easy way out and took the day tour.
After all of the shenanigans of the tour we really wished we had not been so lazy and tried to get to Playa Blanca on our own. We wasted half the day on the tour waiting for people and had such a brief visit to the beach it felt like a big waste of money. Despite this, the one hour that we did spend on Playa Blanca was beautiful; it truly is a spectacular slice of the Caribbean, made even better by the endless refreshing beers on offer. Just avoid the tour groups that flock here everyday. And unless you play dead sleeping on the sand you will not be spared from the peddlers.
It is easy to see why El Totumo is such a popular tourist attraction, it is so much fun! There is nothing as exhilarating as jumping into a massive pool of mud, a supposedly bottomless pit filled with delicious (yes we accidentally tried it) gooey mud oozing around you and a bunch of other strangers. The mud is so thick that it is impossible sink or try and touch the bottom, we tried and tried – it really must be bottomless. Once inside a very eager young Colombian will give a very soothing, almost too sensual, full body massage for the reasonable price of AUS$1.70. Moving around the dense mud is incredibly difficult resulting in everyone pushing and gliding around with feet, hands and limbs flying everywhere in an attempt to compose ourselves. The fun didn’t stop in the mud, after our time was up we were told to go and wash off in the lagoon. We slipped and slid our way down to the water laughing hysterically at how ridiculous we looked. In the water was an army of Colombian women armed with buckets and scrubbers pouncing on the mud-covered tourists ready to clean. We tried to fend off the women after seeing a few girls loose their tops and men rubbed up rather aggressively, but with mud in every orifice and so thick it was impossible to remove, we gave in and let the woman attack us, there was no escaping them, they were ruthless…they touched us everywhere.
We have had one hell of a journey on our superamble about South America. We have circumnavigated this great continent visiting more places than we could have ever imagined, exploring virtually every corner. At times it has been rough, frustrating and frightening, but more often than not it has been exhilarating and thrilling. We have met so many wonderful people, learned so much about some of the most fascinating cultures and traditional indigenous communities in the world. This has been the trip of a lifetime and we will treasure these memories forever. Thank you for joining us on this journey!
…you didn’t think it was over did you? We are not even half way.
Next stop we board a yacht and sail between two continents from Colombia to Panama…
Check out our photo gallery of Cartagena here.