If you're ever in Cartagena, there's a great little creperie you should visit for breakfast called El Gato Negro. It's run by a nice German woman named Elke who's a good source of local information. We'd decided to head for the beaches that afternoon, and over my blackberry crepe and coffee, she gave me details of how to get there and exactly how much to pay for the rides.
Cartagena's local beaches are nothing to write home about, so I won't. Suffice to say they're plagued by hawkers and lads trying to sell you space under shaded awnings at the water's edge. They follow you up and down the beach, and were so insistent that I saw Jocky nearly lose his temper for the first time since I've been away with him.
Myself, Speckled and Garfield (hereafter to be known as El Gato, as everyone in Colombia laughs when they hear his name, and it seems the cartoon cat is far more popular here than back at home) caught a cab to the canal which separates the "island" from the mainland. A short skip across in a paddle-less canoe with two local kids, and a hairy motorbike ride later...we were wandering down Playa Blanca.
Despite what I'd heard, the place wasn't that beautiful. After Tayrona Beach, I thought the place was a let-down. The few places you can eat here cost a fortune, too...a meal and a couple of beers will set you back the best part of a tenner. Scandalous. We made the best of it, though...helped by a nice bag of grass we'd bought in Cartagena before leaving. It was a good job we did, as there is nothing to do in Playa Blanca at night; and I do mean nothing. No bars. The place is dead.
Elke had advised us to stay at Wittenberg, a small hostel and hammock stand run by a friendly Frenchman named Gilbert. We took the dorm, as Jocky had told us he'd been eaten alive by mosquitos when he was here. Gilbert was a nice chap, and we got talking amongst ourselves. I'd seen him with two young lads, all taking turns reading in French. I asked if he was teaching them the language, but he told me they were his nephews...and that they were reading the Bible. He then proceeded to tell us all about the Lutheran religion and how Calvinism had been based in England and we were, therefore, blessed. My usual tactic of avoiding a religious conversation, that of saying my religion is football, did not deter our lecturer any. Speckled, El Gato and myself exchanged glances as the sermon went on. Luckily we escaped after 15 minutes further attempted indoctrination. The other funny comment he made concerned languages; I told him I was studying Spanish, and regretted giving up French at school. He said "Why yes, with English, Spanish and French...you can travel anywhere." Of course...Spain, Latin America, most of the English-speaking world. And France.
After a dull evening, and due to rapidly evaporating funds, we decided to grab a speedboat back to Cartagena the next afternoon. It was worth heading out here just for that ride back; smashing through the swells, cascades of salty water soaking us to the skin. I couldn't see a thing from my seat, I was placed right where the boat was smashing into the waves...even had to remove my sunglasses before they were ripped off by the water.
Before leaving, Gilbert had asked us about our next few destinations. When we mentioned Tolu, he simply told us not to go: the town was dirty and dull, and the beach awful. He'd given us a business card for the hostel, which I tucked in my pocket as we had to dash for the boat. It was only when we got back to Cartagena that I had chance to look at it; more a brainwashing pamphlet on how god supposedly created the world, and that anyone who believed otherwise was a fool who would eventually burn in Hell. Whatever. The hostel owner looked at what I was reading to make the lads chuckle, and said "Ahhh...Wittenberg". News travels fast, eh?
Over yet another crepe the morning we left, I mentioned the booklet to Elke. She nodded and said "You know...the longer he stays out there..."
"...the stranger he gets?" I offered.
She smiled knowingly, refilled my mug of coffee and headed back to the kitchen.