The venga (chiva) bus is coming

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The day didn't get off to the best start as we really couldn’t decide what to do. The whole intention of spending a while here in Cartagena was to 1. Either do the shortened version (4 day trek) to Ciudad Perdida 'The Lost City’ of the Maya’s (although we now find out this apparently isn’t possible and we didnt have time for the 6 day) or 2. Do a PADI diving course in Taganga (the cheapest place in the world to learn apparently $180 US) – due to an annoying mix of time constraints and no availability we had ended up doing neither so having explored the ‘Old City’ and visited the mud volcano we were left with no other option but to while away a few days on the beach (I know that I’ll be struggling to get sympathy for that one).  I had also had my fill of empanadas so when Andrew suggested the usual for breakfast I looked at him as if to say "you have got to be kidding" and this didn’t go down well either so while Andrew ate I went hungry (Andrew Edit – To be fair I had a cup of watermelon from a street vendor for 30p so it wasn’t that extravagant).  Our first stop was the city to take the three underwater cameras that we had used in the Galapagos Islands to be developed at a shop we had seen that had been closed on Sunday – however we got there and they said they couldn’t do it.  Shame, we couldn’t wait to see if our underwater camera skills had improved from our Great Barrier Reef shambolic effort, so they went back in the bag. 

After the constant hassling on the beach at the Old City we decided to head over to Boca Grande the tourist suburb where the expensive high rise hotels are to see what the beaches were like there.  It took about 15 minutes to walk there from Getsemani and on the way we stumbled upon the dock area where the boat trips leave from to visit Isla del Rosario, an archipelago off the coast and Playa Blanca, a beach considered to be the best that Colombia has to offer.  We had been considering doing the trip as it was offered in our hostel but we had heard mixed reviews so we just enquired about the price with a couple of the many ticket touts loitering around the harbour.  Apparently, we had read, the trips can wildly vary so we asked a few people who were offering trips on different sized boats – the hostel had quoted us 45,000 Peso on a big 200 person boat and it wasn’t much cheaper for the same boat at the harbour, but we could get a small boat for 30,000 Peso each (10) it turned out.  The first guy we asked ended up being really quite aggressive and I almost walked straight away but we persevered and it gave us something to think about doing for the time we had left here.

Finally in Boca Grande we had a wander around and luckily found a camera shop that would process the films for us for 3 pounds each and within 90 minutes, great.  We found the only McDonalds in Cartagena and escaped from the stifling heat (it was blisteringly hot before noon) in to the cool and welcoming air conditioning and sat there eating a Soft Serve Cone (my breakfast) which cost about 30p (well it was a nice change from empanadas for me anyway – and not a deep fat fryer in sight). (Andrew Edit – I’m ashamed to say I was in there as well however was ranting about multinational corporations taking over the world).  We finally made it to the beach, which actually was much nicer than the one we had been to a few days ago and after wandering along the sand for a while we chose a quieter spot away from the main hotels and got a tarpaulin for 5,000 Peso for the day – which came along with a very helpful guy who kept trying to get us to buy food and drink off him (oh well here we go again).  It’s true to say that the hawkers weren’t any less annoying over this side of the bay either, the masseuses were still eager to grab my legs and rub them until I had to almost kick them to get them to leave me alone.  There were some strange things being ‘hawked’ on the beach too, everything from children’s clothes, musical instruments, sarongs, ceviche, crabs, oysters, henna tattoos, rubber rings through to of course Cocaine was all offered to us within the first hour of us being there.  We managed to hold on to our funds this time though (Andrew!)  One funny (and painfully embarrassing) thing was that there are ‘photographers’ who trawl the beaches with laminated sample photos showing how you can be mocked up to be in the picture with sharks or dolphins or god knows what else.  Others were actually almost doing photo shoots with women queuing up to get their pictures taken in all manner of ridiculous poses (check out the pictures) – the guys then returns in about an hour with your ‘portfolio’. (Andrew Edit – there were also some other things for sale... like services... ahem .... cough cough, essentially like Russia Colombian women have embraced a culture of being available for a price, this ranges from pop stars and movie stars to the local girls in nightclubs. It differs slightly from normal prostitution in the fact girls only do it when they are out for a night and if they are interested. It started apparently among the poorer classes of society however is now accepted throughout all social classes, rather than this being a hand to mouth need this is done to pay for boob jobs and various other bits of cosmetic surgery rather than as a profession. So the girls in tiny thongs with huge boobs miles apart from each other pointing in opposite directions, who went over and sat with some American guys arranging to meet up later that night were probably involved then. I’m sure not everyone is at it, we really don’t want to offend any Colombians as they are awesome people, but the word ‘rife’ has been used a few times, there is a specific word but as normal we have forgotten it. Even with Erica clutching to my arm we have been offered quite a lot regardless).

As the afternoon went on we had had enough sun, Andrew’s tanned stomach and chest were a testament to this, so we went and collected the discs from the camera shop where the guy inside started to give us smiles and knowing looks – we immediately started to wonder if there were any naked photos of either of us on there (not that we make a habit of taking any either) but he just kept on smiling and nodding and saying things to us (in Spanish) – we paid and hailed a taxi – we had to see what was on these discs quick!  Thankfully it was just marine life not still life so our blushes were saved.  He was obviously just as keen on turtles, sea-lions, sharks and fish as we are – a closet aquaphile.  I managed to speak to my mum to find out that the package that we had sent from Peru had actually arrived safely and all our back- up copies of our photographs were still in one piece, hallelujah.  My dad, unsurprisingly, had already had the wrestling masks on (a souvenir from Bolivia) and worn one for a day out at the club (Andrew Edit - that is a working mans club not a night club those not from our neck of the woods!) – can you actually inherit a love of fancy dress?

After an invigorating cold shower which gave us a new lease of life we decided that tonight we would board the Venga bus, no sorry, the Chiva bus for a night of lively entertainment.  The Chiva bus is essentially a bus that by day is a typical bus like any other but by night turns in to a travelling party bus which tours the city– in with the price of the ticket (30,000 Peso) you get given a bottle of spirit, mixer and bucket of ice to drink while the bus works its way around the streets and the bus ‘band’ (one guy with a guitar, one with an accordion and one with a cheese grater, yes, cheese grater) play extremely loud music.  The ‘dj’ who also doubles as the driver – multi tasking at its best – also gets everyone up dancing – although I’m not too sure how safe that is on a moving vehicle with no doors, with copious amounts of alcohol being consumed.  We booked our ticket through an agency up the road from the hostel for 15,000 Peso less than the hostel wanted and were told to be at Boca Grande (which is where all the buses leave from) at 8pm, this gave us a bit of time to relax and eat before it was time to go.  We made another trip to the Australian Fusion restaurant and had calamari salad which was delicious and shared a banana cake again.  I can resist anything but temptation.  We couldn’t fault it.

We got a taxi to the meeting point (the driver could not stop the car without stalling it or kangaroo jumping – it was like he had just stolen it and didn’t really know how to drive) and were immediately approached by an animated guy who seemed intent on signing us up for something so Andrew quickly, in true Andrew style started flailing arms, yelling “no, not interested” and horsing off in the direction of the dark and empty Chiva bus parked across the road.  I kind of gave the man a chance but then carried on after Andrew but the man was adamant he grabbed Andrew saying “Eric, Eric” to which Andrew exclaimed “we aren’t Eric” to which we realised that he meant Erica and that he was indeed the dj on the bus – feeling terrible Andrew tried to appease the situation by giving the man a back rub – I’m not sure it worked but it certainly drew some funny looks. (Andrew edit – Almost back in India mode everyone is selling you something and you rarely get any peace at all, he did start off by saying something about Rosario which is another tour). We boarded the bus and there was one other couple on there who were about 65 yrs old – well they say that this is a family friendly experience though by the amounts of alcohol that we were encouraged to consume I’m not convinced.  We were joined by another lady from Buenos Aires (who bore a striking resemblance to Evita) who was about 70 too.  This was shaping up to be my type of night out.  Over the next half hour the bus was filled to capacity (approx 70 people, mixed ages including kids) and we must have circled the same block at least 7 times.  Eventually the drinks were flowing and we were on to our proper route and the dj making everyone stand up and shake their booty bench by bench – all the while the whole thing was being filmed which we could later purchase for 30,000 Peso each.

After driving around for a good hour we were taken to a corner of the city walls were an impromptu party started as more and more buses arrived to join in the merriment.  The band were performing and everyone was dancing and singing, there were barbecues and hawkers all over the place.  We haggled a beer seller down to half his original price for a couple of beers which he kept conveniently forgetting when we went back for more.  It was here we got chatting to the other people at the end of our row of seats on the bus, George and Nancy from Bogota.  They were lovely and were on honeymoon in Cartagena and they kind of befriended us for the rest of the night – fortunately George could speak English (Andrew Edit - well some English, it wasn’t as flowing a conversation as you may think but they were really lovely) so we could communicate and have the craic.  We all ended up in a club which was also in with the ticket price.  The bar was just within the walls of the old city close to the bar that we had sat outside on our first night here.  It was absolutely packed with people dancing everywhere – we had finally found the party - so we joined in knowing that we were probably looked like proper dicks not knowing what we were doing but at this stage after all the neat Aguardiente that we had been drinking we didn’t really care.  At 11.30pm George and Nancy disappeared back on the bus to get back to Boca Grande but as we were already near home we stayed for a while longer trying to get to grips with the salsa rhythm and attempting to look as good as everyone else doing it.  It didn’t work.  We sloped home a few hours later adamant that we would get back to the dancing lessons when we got home. All in all we really enjoyed the night out again, yes its cheesy, tacky and very touristy just let your hair down and have a good time, at one point I was stood on my bus seat shaking my arse with the whole bus cheering and shouting stuff in Spanish.. probably abusive to be fair "oh lard arse sit the f*** down or something".
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