There is a popular day trip from Cartagena. It involves taking a boat from the Tourist Pier to the Islas del Rosario 42 kilometres away and stopping at one island which I think was San Martin and stopping a second time at Playa Blanca.
We thought this sounded great. The cost was about $20 per person, it included lunch and the day started at 7:30 and and finished with the return at around 6:00pm. Again we thought this sounded great and more particularly, sounded great value. We booked for the four of us to go on the Alcatraz one Sunday, a boat mentioned in our Lonely Planet book.
It all sounded too good to be true. As with things that sound too good to be true it was too good to be true. With the benefit of experience, the trip is cheap, because its rubbish.
While the trip may have been rubbish, I’m really pleased we did it for the things we saw in, and from, our fellow passengers. First let me explain the rubbishy bits.
The boat didn’t leave at 7:30, it left at 8:30 and we waited for…….not sure what , maybe the sale of more tickets, maybe late passengers.
When the Alcatraz left, it listed to the right. It listed all day long and when it turned right it listed even more. I made sure we were each in grabbing distance of a life vest. None of the crew seemed concerned about the tilt. I tried not to be concerned as well. The spot near our seat had “160 Passenger Maximum” painted upon the structure in english. I counted the number of passengers. There were 250 passengers. I made sure we were each in grabbing distance of a life vest. We were in grabbing distance of a life vest, and so was every person on the boat, yes there were life vests for all 250, which made me feel a little more relaxed. None of the crew seemed concerned about the numbers on board. I tried not to be concerned as well and convinced myself that 160 was the upstairs maximum. I saw no similar limit painted on the downstairs structure, but that was because I did not search hard enough.
Our day on the boat was ten and a half hours, from 7:30to 6:00pm. Of these 10.5 hours, 3.5 were spent on land and the rest were spent on the boat. Of the 3.5 hours on (is)land, one hour was spent queueing for, and eating, lunch, but mostly queuing for lunch. One hour was spent on the island with the aquarium which is tiny and boring, unless you go to the aquarium……..we didn’t, because, we’ve seen aquariums before, lots of them. We hadn’t realised there would be no other land on the tiny island. The aquarium had consumed all the free space.
We had sixty minutes on Playa Blanca. A beach filled to bursting with tourists who occupied all of the narrow strip of sand that lay between the sea and the rubbish tip/swampland. The sea was lovely and warm, but all swimming was restricted to the first ten metres of the water. After that ten metres, there were boats and jet skis patrolling to crack the skull of anyone daring to crawl beyond the unmarked frontier. It had been marketed to us as a location to snorkel. With all those propellers and fibreglass hulls, only a very foolish person would concentrate their vision at the sea bed.
The Alcatraz was our prison ship. After ten and a half hours we finally escaped it.
The seats on the Alcatraz had been manufactured to designs seen at the Cartagena Inquisition museum. The denounced souls were made to sit on such chairs by the Inquisition as yet another means of breaking their spirit and causing them to confess their sins of witchcraft. We sat on these for seven and a half of our ten and a half hours . They were torture, and we did confess our sins of witchcraft.
The Isla of the aquarium. So many people, such a small patch of coral. Many were forced into the sea as there was no land left free for them. Pleasingly, most were able to swim and the majority of these swimmers survived the island.
Playa Blanca. Tarps and a few sticks create protection from the sun.
For ten dollars we secured an umbrella and five plastic Bunnings chairs. It was the most comfortable part of our day.
In summary, the respite from the Alcatraz was 90 minutes at a tiny, tedious island and an hour at an ordinary, overcrowded beach where it was dangerous to swim. How is it possible for me to state that I was pleased I endured this lengthy day of discomfort on the prison ship Alcatraz?
The answer is the insight into our fellow passengers. They were almost entirely Colombian, we found only one other foreigner on board. The insight started immediately, at 8:00 am and what better way to start the day than with a few tinnies of beer. This was odd because the Colombians seemed to have one or two for breakfast and then stopped and drank no more for the rest of the day.
Opposite us were a family of three, mum , dad and a toddler aged about three. The parents shared their beer between the whole family. The three year old had a taste for beer, seemingly not the first bottle she had enjoyed. Another Colombian family did quiz them on a three year old drinking beer….so not only odd to our non latino eyes. Perhaps it was meant to pacify the three year old child. Instead she seemed more alert and keen to fight everyone on board, she was an obnoxious drunk. This was accepted with good humour for a while. But she was kicking people. Eventually one man tired of being kicked around the ankles and lower leg. He picked up the three year old and threw her overboard. Problem solved. I want to make it clear that I wasn’t the only person who applauded in appreciation.
Oh , the last seven sentences are not entirely accurate! The operators of the Alcatraz recognise that they run a rubbish cruise. True the boat visits crap destinations, provides ordinary food and risks passenger spinal issues from its seating arrangements. Yet, everyone leaves happy . Why? The entertainment. And such entertainment. We were astonished at how well our fellow travellers embraced it, because they surely did, whole heartedly , with gusto and it made for a jolly trip.
There were party games. Left side of boat versus right side of boat, girls versus boys. How many towels can you collect? How many ladies bathers? How many T shirts? Now ladies; turn your volunteer man into a beautiful lady using all these things you have collected. Catwalk. Applause , applause and winners declared.
Trivial pursuits based upon the guides commentary…….even though the guide spoke spanish and the questions were in spanish I managed some of the answers better than the Colombians. Then again, I hadn’t had a beer breakfast which I think gave me an edge.
Karaoke was next. This was by far the most popular aspect of the day. The songs were clear favourites. They were all dance songs and everyone sang and danced. It was fabulous. Those Colombians know how to party.
Our captain/MC also did a line in comedy that went down very well. Not with me as I had no idea what he was talking about.
The return trip more of the same. More of the same was building to a grand finale.The MC had changed for the final two hours. He was now suited and it was slightly disconcerting to me that it was a full hour into the second half of his act before he realised that his trouser fly was not zipped. Still no one missed a karaoke beat. Wardrobe malfunction attended to, he launched his final five minutes. Five minutes where I, for one, sincerely believed myself to be in the company of Michael Jackson. What a great trip. Book it, but make sure you sit upstairs and in the shade…..it is not to be missed. I repeat…..Those Colombians know how to party. And it was for this reason that the boat trip was fabulous.
Michael Jackson. Even I was moved to place a financial token of appreciation into that very hat when it later was passed amongst the passengers.