Getting on the Wrong Tour


“Get up! My alarm didn’t go off!”, I whisper-yell, shaking Diego.

2 guys laughing


We were supposed to leave at 7 am but it’s almost that now. I’m cursing my stupid broken smartphone as i’m throwing clothes on, remembering I still have to make sandwiches for the 3 of us.  Jorge is just getting up to, and has confiscated one of the Styrofoam coolers from the patio and filled them with the drinks we had the foresight to freeze overnight, so they will stay cold longer.

We all scramble, half awake to get ready, brush teeth, make sure I grab our tickets, sunscreen, towels, the whole lot. Finally, around 7:15 or so we head out for the marina, without coffee. Ugh.

As we speed-walk down to the marina, we see the crowd.

“Dammit!…The marina is already packed with people.”

The tout last night warned us to show up at least an hour before the boat is scheduled to leave (show up, wake up, same thing, right?). We see a large boat full of passengers, go “Ugh” again, and keep going, until we notice the smaller, almost empty boat next to the big full one.  Awesome!  That’s our boat, the one that takes 45 minutes to Playa Blanca, where we get a whole day at the beach! And there is plenty of seats still available on that boat.

We get through ticketing, pay the marina fee of $12.000COP (about $7.00USD), and excited, start heading towards the empty, small, speed boat.

“NO!” a guy says, and points to the giant, mini-cruise style ship that is already full of people.

What the hell do you mean ‘NO’ guy? Wait…

“We’re on the big boat?”, I exclaim in disbelief, and dammit-ness.
“Looks like it”, Diego replies.

boat in harbour, boat on water, industry and boat,

Well, maybe this big boat is the one that goes to Playa Blanca. I guess a lot of people really do go there for the day! On the bright side, this boat is bigger, and fancier.

 We can ride to Playa Blanca in style, because we are fancy people, and fancy people take fancy boats.

(thinking this does make us feel better)

We rush ahead of the crowd, as politely as you can trying to get through a slow moving crowd, and climb the plank onto the boat.

“Top!  Top!” Diego says behind me, and we run up the steps to the upper deck with outdoor-ish seating  (instead of the lower, inside the boat seats. I can’t do those anyway. I like to get sick every other time I’m on a boat, and I can’t remember what happened last time. )

We make our way up the stairs to the top-level. These seats are hard, uncomfortable looking, wooden benches, and a cloth-covered roof with open sides, allowing for fresh sea breezes, protection from the sun, and blocking half the view. This sucks. All the ‘window’ seats are taken. Diego finds the only space where all 3 of us can sit together.

All I am thinking is , “Oh god we are in tourist hell” and “How am I supposed to get photos with all these tourists in my way?”

I don’t want to be smushed with all these strangers, unable to really see the water, take photos, and get fresh air. Sitting up here is not my idea of fun.

“I want to sit down in the front”, I demand, pointing towards the bow of the boat. “Its open in the front. I saw it. Let’s go there!”
“I don’t think we can sit there”, Diego says.
“Well, why don’t we ask?”, I sarcastically suggest.

Me personally, want to just go sit up front and see what happens, but of course, the point is made, if we aren’t allowed to sit in the bow, and get kicked out, we lose these seats on the top level. So Diego goes to get permission, and I stand over the seats, refusing to sit down.

“WE CAN!” Diego exclaims upon return. We grab our stuff and make our way down a ladder and rush to the bow to discover…NO ONE! We are the only people here! The seats have cushions! We are completely open to the atmosphere. It is awesome. I can get great photos from here!

 guy in boat captians chair, boat captain, behind the wheel, steering, sailing,

As the boat fills up, a few more inquisitive folk discover our secret hidden front seats, (damn them) but there is no crowdyness. I can easily walk all around the bow and get photos without people’s heads and arms in my way. We have fresh air, sun, and if I get sick I can easily stick my head over the side. I’m happy.

While we wait for our boat to set sail, we goof off. Jorge wanders around the boat. I take photos of the harbour and Diego is the captain’s chair. Diego sneaks off the boat last-minute to run and buy a hat from a tout (while Jorge and I watch in anticipation if Diego will make it back in time). He does, with a ridiculously awesome hat, which of course, I photograph him wearing too.

diego in hat, man in hat and yellow shirt, man on boat, looking silly

During all this, we see the small, high-velocity moving boat, the one we thought we were on, leave. At 8. When we thought this boat is supposed to leave. But hey this is Colombia and things happen on Colombian time here. We’ll be off to Playa Caribe for the afternoon soon!

Finally after about an hour on the boat, about half an hour after our ticket says we leave, our crew pulls anchor and sets off. Very quickly, the bright sunny sky disappears, replaced by a very overcast and ominous looking sky. ‘I hope it doesn’t rain’, we are all saying to each other, as fog rolls in. “Whatever, I’ll take photos in the rain” I say, trying to be strong but really hoping this burns off.

We pass the massive Cartagenian shipping industry docks. We pass some giant military vessels, to which our fellow Colombian passengers semi-cheer. Large shipping vessels line the coast, while the real, non-touristy area of Cartagena comes into view and shows off a coastline which looks eerily similar Miami with its massive skyscrapers. You don’t realize just how modern parts of Cartagena, outside the antiquated and protected historic area.

We are all still looking at the sky, also worrying it will rain during our beach day, but it is still early, and I know from living near the coast, that the gray can still burn off. Luckily, as we reach the open waters, it does just this, and as the sun burns off the haze, and the clouds open to blue skies, everyone sighs in relief and starts to relax. This is going to be a good day at the beach.

 shipping industry, harbour, waTER, CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA, shipping vessels

Suddenly announcements come over a PA. A DJ, hired to get the crowd on the top deck going with audience participation games and loud dance music, comes over the speakers and announces the typical ‘welcomes’ and ‘thank yous’ and information about today’s boat ride.

“Wait, did he just say it is 2 hours to Playa Blanca?” I ask?
The announcements are in Spanish, and my Spanish sucks, so I’m wrong, right?

“No”, Diego mutters. “It’s two hours to Isla de Rosario!”
“Huh? Why are we going to a Isla de Rosario? What is on Isla de Rosario?”
“It’s a tiny island, with a tiny aquarium?”

An aquarium that costs $20.000COP MORE to go inside of. I thought we were going to Playa Blanca for the afternoon. Why are we going to Isla de Rosario first?

And that’s when we realize – we booked the wrong tour. Instead of getting on the fast boat and spending an entire relaxing afternoon on the bewitching beach of Playa Blanca, wandering the white sands, and photographing the beautiful landscape, we are on a ‘Let’s-See-This-Real-Quick-Then-Leave-To-See-This-Next-Thing-Super-Fast’ tourist hell tour!

The specific kind of tour I HATE ABHOR. But while we are here, we might as well make the best of it. I mean, we’re stuck on this stupid boat now….