There was a 5 day period in the middle of our stay in Cartagena when the apartment was booked (I totally dragged my feet on the reservation – whoops!). We figured we would just use the time to explore someplace nearby that we would otherwise have not seen. The Rosario Islands got my attention while doing research online. Beautiful, secluded, white sand beaches – a true tropical paradise with all inclusive resorts, snorkeling, diving, boat trips, etc. YES PLEASE! There were a lot of different options, none of which were exactly cheap plus it was secluded (aka in the middle of no where) so it was not a simple cab ride to get there. One of the places we wanted to book would have involved waking up at 4am to take a 30 minute Uber ride to the bus terminal, then a 3 hour bus ride to a small town on the coast, then a 90 minute boat ride to the island. Not exactly a relaxing start to a get away. I suppose we are getting used to the slower pace of life here because the thought of waking up at 4am and all that travel was no bueno! Enter Mario, our awesome Spanish teacher, craft beer brewer/bar owner, and chef from last weeks post who apparently can add travel guide to his resume. He told us about his friend who owns a hostel on the coast just off the Rosario Islands in Rincon Del Mar. The Chill Octopus Hostel is off the beaten track and allows you to "get to know an unspoiled fisherman’s village" for a quarter of the price of staying on the islands and the best part – show up whenever you want. Sold!
We still had the travel but we could do it on our time frame and save a ton of money. We left around noon for the bus station but not too long into the drive Shane started to feel off. By the time we got to the bus station he was definitely not feeling well but with no where to stay here we decided to just keep going. The second we got out of the Uber we were lead by an eager hombre to a van mixed in with all the buses. The van was clearly by a company but between his determination to get us in the van and to pay cash without purchasing a ticket I was slightly hesitant. I pieced together that it was "directo" meaning you pay a little more than a standard bus fair but you get there much faster and with no stops. With the way Shane was looking I figured quicker was better. The driver was so, shall we say, animated that he kept trying to take the money out of my wallet because he didn’t think I understood the pricing. A solid back off look put him in his place and we were loaded into the van. We finally hit the road 30 minutes later and at this point words are not enough. Driving in this country (as in most Latin countries) is truly taking your life in your hands. Lanes- who needs em’? Traffic signals and stop signs – what are those? Speed limits – that’s a joke! In the city it is a complete cluster f*** to say the least. You have a mix of buses, vans, trucks, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, donkeys, and pedestrians who all firmly believe that they need to get where they are going now and you just need to get out of the way. About 20 minutes in, the van door actually slid open as we were driving… The driver just calmly pulled over and closed it, then continued on his way. The guy that was sitting next to the door apparently decided it was prudent to buckle up at that point, as if the weaving in and out of traffic wasn’t indication enough. Another 15 minutes down the road and we stop for gas. Apparently filling up prior to a trip isn’t standard here. The van was instantly surrounded by people selling drinks and snacks. We all quietly sat in the van while they knocked on the windows, peaked under the tint, and called from outside. Shane was going down hill fast, he had broken out in a sweat and was doing everything he could to hold it together. An hour later we pulled into another gas station. Both of us looked at each other like you have got to be kidding me, but apparently this was our stop. The driver said Rincon Del Mar, took our bags out of the back, and took off. We were instantly bombarded by a bunch of guys on motorcycles shouting moto taxi just inches from our face. Shane was ready to keel over and I was going to have to try to carry a 40lb back pack – moto taxi wasn’t really an option for us at this point. A calm gentleman at the back of the crowd calmly said "carro" then waited patiently. We grabbed our stuff and followed him to the taxi. He had to fill up with gas before we left but he got us there. It was another 30 minute drive to The Chill Octopus and at this point I felt anything but chill. The hostel had misunderstood me when I had made the reservation and didn’t have us scheduled until the following night. In broken Spanish, I secured us a non AC room for the night and Shane was instantly down until the next day. No reason to stay worked up about the misadventures though so I took the time to bury my feet in the sand and let out a sigh of relief. This was the first time in almost 2 weeks that my feet had touched earth, that’s saying a lot for me when I walk daily in the garden barefoot.
The next few days meandered on by. We spent the days taking walks on the beach, swinging in hammocks, and cooking fresh caught seafood in an open air kitchen. The book, In Praise of Slowness, could not have been a better fit. We took our time and relaxed into the rythum of this small fishing village. I got a one hour massage on the beach for $20 and we bought fresh caught lobster off the boat for $6 a piece. Half way through we decided to take a day trip to the Rosario Islands so at 8:30 in the morning we loaded up into one of the local fisherman’s boat’s and headed off. We first went to a tiny uninhabited island that had a reef to snorkel. It wasn’t pristine but it was still full of fish and beautiful. Shane and I were loving it but 15 minutes later everyone else had loaded back into the boats so we grudgingly followed. The next stop was Isla de Santa Cruz, as we pulled up a little girl walked out her back door, dumped her trash into the water, and walked back inside. We could tell this would be a real reality check. Santa Cruz is a 2.4 acre island with a population of 1,200 people (four times as dense as Manhattan)! The houses are literally built up to the seawall and you can walk every "road" on the island in under 5 minutes. When you get off the boat they make you pay $5,000 COP or $1.75 for a "tour". They took us to a tiny open water "aquarium" where they showed us a ton of tarpon and various other fish from the area. They also had a juvenile sea turtle, several goliath grouper, and two gigantic nurse sharks whose enclosure was just a little bigger than they were. My first reaction was dismay but I had to remind myself that when people are trying to make ends meet, environmental awareness isn’t a reality.
We went to the two neighboring islands after that – Mucura and Titipan. Both islands were the picturesque tropical paradises that were described online. And they were just a stones throw away from Santa Cruz. It was a stark reminder of what the tourism industry generally exposes us to versus the economic reality for many of the people in the area. The rest of the day was spent floating in crystal clear waters and relaxing in the shade as people brought us frozen concoctions and fresh cooked fish dishes. As I lay in my air conditioned room that night, I couldn’t help but think of the people of Santa Cruz and even the fisherman across the street from our hostel. Two completely different worlds to say the least. Our Spanish teacher had told us there are 6 different economic classes in Colombia and where you lived dictated your class. I was beginning to get the picture.
Awhile ago, a yoga teacher I was practicing with was guiding us through a meditation. She was discussing how she when she lived in the Bahamas she had vowed she would forever be grateful for electricity. After moving back to the U.S. she found that rather quickly all those things she thought she would never take for granted again, started to have less meaning to her. They were expected and normal once again. Then she asked us all a question… "What if the only things you had in your life tomorrow, were the things that you were grateful for today?" What if indeed…