Around the World With a Vagabond

Almost Picture Perfect Playa Blanca December 21, 2009

I know.  I need to post pictures.  The almost perfect ones.

The day after the mudbath and football game, we rose  early to catch a fishing boat to Playa Blanca. We thought we had to be there super early, but we hadn’t yet caught on to the notion of Colombian time.  It was a fairly lax concept throughout the country, and especially so on the coast.

So we arrived at the designated fishing harbor. It was overrun with vendors set up selling and gutting fish.  The smell was horrendous.  Cartagena’s streets are covered with litter, and the harbor was the same.  Flies buzzed over rotting guts of fish, pelicans crouched on top of sheds and boat sides.  We were herded into a fishing boat that held about 3 other locals and mounds of food and supplies.  The locals were at the back of the boat, us four and 5th Wheel Phil were squished up front with the bags of rice, cartons of eggs, and god knows what else.  The flies were still buzzing. The fish were still smelling.  Men and women walked by selling us every kind of thing you could imagine. Apples. Mangoes. CDs. Belts. Jewelry.  We shooed everyone away, except for the apple man I think.

And we sat. And sat. And waited for I don’t know how long cramped onto the wooden plank that was our seat in the boat, but I think it was for the better part of an hour.

Turns out the fishermen won’t leave until the boat is filled, so we had to wait for other locals to join the ranks.

At long last the fishermen passed out the life jackets, and we were on our way.  Half an hour later, the boat beached itself at Playa Blanca – an absolutely pristine paradise of a beach.  Chris jumped out without his shoes, and never even noticed he didn’t have them until a few days later when we had to board another boat to return, and he couldn’t find his orange flip flops anywhere.

We slept in hammocks on the beach. Layered in bug spray and Deet, our hammocks draped over with mosquito nets, we slept a salty, sticky sleep along the water – it was so very secluded, and gorgeous! There was warm, clear, and blue water as far as we could see! Very few tourists. A full moon lit up the beach each night! Postcard perfect purple sunsets.

5th Wheel Phil

This tropical paradise was plagued by two things: mosquitoes, and 5th Wheel Phil. We had spray for the mosquitoes. 5th Wheel Phil was a nice enough guy from New Mexico traveling solo throughout South America. Solo until he attached himself to us, that is. I learned long ago to never do any extensive traveling with more than 3 people. The four of us were made up of two couples, and so balanced out into 2, really. 5th Wheel Phil clung on for far too long, and really became an annoyance, and broke the rule of 3.

He followed us from Medellin.  Then from Medellin to Cartagena.  Then to Playa Blanca,  and back to Cartagena, and later on to Santa Marta, where we were finally able to successfully ditch him.

I don’t intend for any of this to sound mean, but there is such a thing as outwearing your welcome.  Playa Blanca was gorgeous. Beautiful beaches, palm trees, huts and hammocks, fresh mangoes and fresh fish, warm water and a full moon! It was such a romantic setting for Morgan and Meg, for me and Chris . .. . and 5th Wheel Phil just wasn’t a selling point.

I think my irritation with 5th Wheel became apparent when he kept asking me to rub OUR sunscreen on HIS back. I couldn’t help but glare as I did it, and it was all I could do to resist doing a piss-poor job of applying the lotion so that he’d get sunburnt. Evil, I know. I have an evil heart sometimes. I was a thorough applicator in the end.  The good angel won that one. Wasn’t happy about it thought.

Despite the mosquitoes and the 5th Wheel, we completely lost ourselves in Playa Blanca.  Swimming and snorkeling in the warm sea, eating fresh mangoes, and bartering for a dinner of fresh fish – it was lovely. And cheap.

However, even as cheap as the overnight hammocks and the fish dinners were, neither Chris, myself, or 5th Wheel Phil had brought enough cash to last us the 3 days we were there.  Granted, we’d only planned on staying one night, and Morgan could loan us a little, the cash flow had pretty much stopped.

On the last afternoon, we did a little math to determine how much we owed for our hammocks, our meals, and our return boat trip to the mainland.  With all of the cash all five of us had, we didn’t have enough.  In an instant we’d gone from luxuriating in a paradise, to practically becoming beggars and contemplated selling our belongings.

There turned out to be a cashpoint in the town nearest Playa Blanca. However, to get there required a motorcycle taxi to the dock, a ferry ride across the water, and a cab to drive to the nearest bank.  After much deliberation with motorcycle taxis regarding cost and time it would take, it would be best if only one of us goes. Chris was okay for coin, and it was really only myself and 5th Wheel Phil that was in dire need of money.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) we couldn’t afford to send two of us on the motorcycle taxis, and I didn’t want to be alone with the locals I couldn’t communicate with while on a motorbike. Yes, I pulled the “I’m a girl” card.  I don’t care.

It would take 5th Wheel Phil an hour, but he agreed to pull out enough cash to see us through the night and send us home on the boat.  We agreed to pay him back once we could all access cash machines back in Cartagena.

With 5th Wheel Phil temporarily out of the picture, I relaxed even more.  The four of us chilled out, and decided to buy a bottle of rum.  Why not? We would soon have plenty of cash. Enjoying the sun, the sand, and the water, we let the games begin.

The Great Pee-lay

Drinking rum has plenty of consequences.  We four sat at a table, playing card games and chatting, when Meg declared she had to pee.  There were toilets, but these toilets were really just smaller huts, usually without toilet paper. Flies buzzed, the smell was heated – it just wasn’t pleasant.  Peeing in the gorgeous blue water was far more appealing.

I also had to pee, and said I would join her. Then the boys also decided they had to pee, and thus began the idea for the Great Pee-lay.  Meg was always coming up with ideas for games, and this was by far her best one yet.

We paired off into teams of couples. Chris drew a line in the sand with his foot.  On the count of three, Meg and I would race each other down the beach and into the water.  Here we had to pee in the waves.  When we were done, we had to race back up the beach, high-five our partner, who then had to race down to the beach and relieve himself.  The first couple back across the line won.

Ready, set, go! Meg and I were off in a flash of bikini’s and flying hair, kicking up sand all the way to the water.  When we had squatted in the waves, we were both laughing. Meg shouted that she had stage fright, and couldn’t pee! I was laughing already, but this made me laugh harder.  When I laugh, I pee. Easy win.  Often,  I laugh so hard I pee my pants.  But that’s another story. In this story, it was better to pee my pants.

Leaving Meg to squat in the waves, I raced back and tagged Chris.  He was down in the water and back again long before Morgan. We rock at Pee-lay.

Trouble in Paradise

The sunset that evening was gorgeous.  Yes, we had rum in our bellies, but I can’t accurately describe how beautiful it was.  The sun set orange-red then deepened into a purple indigo. On the other side of the empty, palm-treed beach, a full bright moon was taking over the sky.  I’ve never seen a postcard this beautiful.

Anyway, we sat down at a place called Hugo’s – just another hut with hammocks and fresh fish.  After an hour had passed since 5th Wheel left, we thought nothing of it. Then another hour passed, and the sun dropped behind the water. Kind of strange it was taking so long for him to return, but hey. It got darker, and another hour passed.  We then wondered if anyone knew his last name, and really began to worry.

By the time we set down for dinner, it had been hours.  Just before our fish arrived, a bedraggled looking 5th Wheel Phil loafed across the sand towards our hut. He was fine, but his mission to get us all more cash had been a failure.

He’d ridden a motorcycle taxi, taken a ferry, and was cabbed to six different ATMs – none which would accept his bank card. He’d been gone for hours, was $25 down, and hungry. We were a bottle of rum down, had ordered 4 meals, and had no way to pay for them, our hammocks, or the boat trip home.

I felt really bad for 5th Wheel at this point. We all did.  I gave him all of my fish and some rice and plantains. Poor 5th Wheel Phil.

How It All Ended

The next morning, using both Colombian pesos and American dollars, we managed to pay for our hammocks, and our meals. I think we have Morgan’s Spanish and bargaining skills to thank for that.  But we had no money for lunch, or to pay for a boat home.

Money was not my biggest concern though. I had been devoured in the night by mosquitoes. There were little black ants that were just as hungry, and also helped themselves to generous portions of my skin.  I counted over 40 bites on each leg, and they were torturous. They burned and stung and ached. It was awful.

Then, to add to the intense discomfort, I had an allergic reaction to the plant life. My nose had started running, and there was no toilet paper, or napkins for that matter. We walked along the beach towards the fishing boats, trying to decide what to do about our financial situation. I absently reached up and pulled a leaf off a tree we were passing, and blew my nose into it.  Then I scraped the inside of my nostril out with this leaf, and threw it to the sand, my mind still on money and scratching at my bug bites.

Seconds later, my nose was in flames. It was running profusely, and it stung worse than any of the bites! It burned and stung all the way up, and I couldn’t bear it! I ran to the water and started to splash the salty water up my nose.  I splashed and choked and snorted and snotted. It still stung like hell. Chris was surely impressed by all this.

I then remembered I had brought some Neosporin with me, so I left the water and reached for my bag.  I applied the cream inside my right nostril, hoping for relief.  Then I read the outside label that warns against applying the stuff internally. Shit. So now, I had leaf poison, sea salt, and anti-biotic cream all screaming and burning inside my nostril! It was agonizing and it lasted hours.  I flung myself on the sand, killed little black ants that started to crawl on me, and waited for Morgan to bargain some more with the fishermen and try to get us away from the Paradise that had devoured our skin and taken all our money.

In the end, Morgan’s bargaining (pleading) worked. The fishermen gave us a ride in the good faith we would pay once we reached a cashpoint on the mainland. We withdrew, we paid, then returned to the hostel to plan our next trip to a tropical paradise.