At 3:00AM, in a club in Cartagena, the opening notes of Despacito blasting around us, I looked over at my friend Theresa.
“We should probably go home! We have a boat tour leaving at 8:00AM!” I yelled half-heartedly.
But we both just shrugged at eachother, silently agreeing to push through, and I refocused my attention on the Australian boy smiling down at me.
Many blurry hours and barely any sleep later, I awoke in my dorm bed that was so high off the ground it left blisters on my hand from climbing up.
I hadn’t plugged my phone in, obviously, and the air conditioning in the room had just shut off for the day, and my head hurt. I crawled over to Theresa’s bed to shake her awake. After a few minutes of giggling about the horrible shape we were in and trying to piece together the hazy, Luis Fonsi-soundtracked progression of the night, we simultaneously realized that if the air conditioning in the room was off, it was late enough that we had missed our boat tour.
Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, we dragged ourselves to the tour office where we had booked our day trip, embarrassed grins on our faces, and begged to swap to another day. We were in luck, or so we thought – we were off to the Rosario Islands the very next day, and we even went to bed before midnight AND set alarms, because we are conscientious and prepared adults.
So, on to the tour. We booked through an agency called Backpackers (creative) and I’m not sure if I’d recommend them or not even though we had the most amazing day ever – you’ll see why. The tour is 170,000COP per person ($75 Canadian) which seems pricey, but it is a jam-packed day.
We got free transport to the boat at Playa Blanca, snorkelled at Isla Grande, had beach time at Cholon, Playa Azul and Playa Blanca, and an included lunch. Honestly our favorite part was that nobody else really spoke English: The other travellers on our boat were either Spanish or Portuguese speaking, which was a nice change from the other backpackers we were always around.
The Lionfish Incident
So we both speak very basic Spanish, not really much more than asking for directions and ordering for food. This is why we were quite concerned when our guide reached into the ocean to catch a terrifying looking fish, screamed as it bit him, and then immediately dove off the boat and swam to land, abandoning us in the boat.
I am not exaggerating. We literally sat there gaping at the other passengers as they tried to figure out how to explain what was happening to the little white girls.
Apparently, our guide was trying to catch a lionfish (for lunch?? still not sure if this was a joke). He did in fact succeed, and it stayed, dead and creepy, on the bottom of the boat for the rest of the day. We also learned that lionfish bites are actually very deadly and you need to seek medical attention. So our guide was swimming to land to….seek medical attention…on a barely inhabited island. This is all I know. He came back with a bandaged hand, no further explanation, and we jetted off. Sure.
Our Adopted Miami Family
At the first beach stop of the day, we decided to wander around and see if we could make any friends. There were tons of boats, including some crazy expensive yachts, moored around this little beach blasting rap music. One family waved at us and we chatted with them for the whole time. They were from Miami, and there were at least 3 generations of them, all partying and laughing on their chartered boat!
We ended up hanging out with them at other stops, going on their banana boat with them, and holding our boat up because we were busy drinking beer with our new awesome friends. My favourite fact is that one of the guys went to high school with Pitbull. I am, unironically, a huge Pitbull fan, so this was thrilling to me. Honestly at this point all of the beach stops start to blur together, both because I didn’t pay attention to the names and because I had more than a few beers. I do remember, however, that every stop was more beautiful than the last, and I equally enjoyed the blissful intervals on the boat, speeding through the crystal clear Caribbean water.
The Weird Part
So the tour finished, we went out in Cartagena again that night, tanned and happy and with hair still full of salt and tangles. We sang the praises of our tour to everyone we met, talking about how nice they were to let us switch our dates when we missed the first one.
Then, on my last day in Cartagena, I was sitting in my hostel lobby before I left for the airport. Theresa had already gone. Someone came in and asked the receptionist for me and Theresa, as I looked up suspiciously from behind my book to see who could possibly be looking for us.
It turns out that the travel agency was expecting us to pay again for the whole trip, which we had already taken. Apparently they didn’t feel the need to inform us of this fact while we were ON the trip, which still boggles my mind. I get why we deserved to pay, but it felt a little extortionate that it was so last minute. I argued him down to paying for half, only to realize he actually wanted me to pay for Theresa too since she wasn’t there!!! Not a chance. I ended up paying him for half of just my portion, which was pretty fair, but it was just a really awkward situation.
Moral of this long-winded (as always) story: go on the Islas de Rosario tour with Backpackers, you’ll have the time of your life. Just make sure you wake up for your pickup!