The intriguing Pacific Coast of Colombia
January 1, 1970
by Carlijn Lenten
Ever heard of Buenaventura? I sure didn’t. Nevertheless, I will write this article about my adventure to the intriguing Pacific Coast of Colombia. Why? Because it was fun. And because I can.
Let me start at the beginning. My boyfriend and I had visited Bogotá and didn’t really know where to go next. So, we went to the bus station and asked for random tickets to a place with a beach, in the direction of Cali preferably. The result was: a ticket to Buenaventura. Like I said, we never heard of that name, but it was cheap and 14 hours in bus by night, so we wouldn’t have to pay a night in a hostel. At 7 o’clock that night we took the bus.
What we hadn’t foreseen was the driving style of the the busdriver. He was or really sadistic, or really suicidal. He took all the sharp turns of the small mountainroads with what seemed like a 1000 miles per hour. I was afraid of choking with oncoming traffic (that drove just as crazy) or the bus capsizing into the huge precipice that accompanied us all the way. The bus was a double-decker for if I hadn’t mentioned that before. Trying to sleep was impossible. Various times that night I told my boyfriend: “We are going to die, farewell, I love you.” Okay I admit that’s a little overdramatic, but that’s me. Anyway, we survived.
At dawn we arrived in Buenaventura. Buenaventura is a big city, the mayority existing of slums, and has the most important industrial port of Colombia. Almost all its population is of African descent. Due to all the cargo leaving the port, it’s a popular place for narcos to smuggle drugs out of Colombia. As a result, drug cartels are very active in Buenaventura. The gang violence and homicide rate in Buenaventura is said to be very high, just like the amount of poverty and unemployment. Despite the sight of so much poverty, we didn’t feel unsafe.
Our huge double-decker entered in what looked like neverending slums. It was a sharp and sad contrast with the surroundings. Only the street the bus was on was kind of paved, the rest of the streets were unpaved and matched the poor state of the houses. At last we arrived at the station, which itself was not much more than a hovel. The typical Colombian music, El Vallenato, sounded through speakers at the station. Maybe nice to mention: every public transportation in Colombia plays salsa, merengue, vallenato or reggaeton, even the tuk-tuks and motorbikes, I loooved that.
In Buenaventura we were the only foerigners. We saw only locals and Colombian tourists, mostly from Cali. Remember I said that we felt secure? That’s not entirely true. I didn’t the first 5 minutes after I got off the bus. I was tired and I felt the urge to hop back on the bus and go someplace with normal roads and normal houses and normal stations. Fortunately, my boyfriend has much more travelling experience than I have, and asked a woman who was on our bus if she could recommend us someplace. She told us she would accompany us to the port, where she knew someone that could take us in a ‘lancha’ (a small motorboat) to a hotel with a swimming pool next to a beach. Sounded good, so we went to the port in on of those the small yellow taxi‘s that are typical for Colombia.
The part of the port we went to was not so much a port, but more a big, very crowded, noisy, local market next to sea. While we were waiting to buy the tickets in a small office, a procession of some sort, for I have no idea what Saint, passed by with a lot of instruments. Really random, but nice.
We got a roundtrip ticket for the boat and one night in an hotel, dinner and breakfast included, for a really good price. We had literally no idea where we would end up, but it didn’t matter. The lancha’s took off from a big, round, floating platform which was again, very crowded there were people playing music and dancing. It was amazing. On the way to this platform we noticed a lot of militaries, inspecting the luggage of travelers.
After waiting 2 hours, instead of the 10 minutes they told us it would be – welcome to Latin-America – we could finally take off. Ofcourse, the boattrip came with a sadistic suicidal captain as well. We more or less flew half of the time. The water was wild, and every time the boat jumped up and smacked back on the water, we heard an unhealthy sounding BANG. It was quite dangerous. But it didn’t matter to me, being a Dutch viking, I loved every second of it.
After 40 minutes we arrived at Juanchaco. It’s a small fishing village next to the beach, that is just as poor as Buenaventura, but its quiet and relaxed atmosphere was a huge contrast with the craziness of Buenaventura. There was literally not one paved road in the village or its surroudings.
To get to the hotel on the other side of the peninsula we had to get on the back of a motorcicle or on the cart of a tractor. We chose the tractor. It was not very comfy, but it was cheap and I enjoyed having time to watch everything we passed by: the dilapidated houses, the jungle, the music coming from everywhere, the lifestyle so completely opposite from my own. I was intrigued. We also passed a military base in the middle of nowhere, which – so I read later – is situated there to control the port and the drug trade of Buenaventura. Hence, the militaries at the port.
After 20 minutes, the tractor stopped at the end of a road, from where we had to walk the final part until finally arriving at the hotel. It had wooden balconies with hammocks, really nice. Although I was sweating like a pig, I started jumping like a little girl when I finally saw the Pacific Ocean. The hotel was situated on top of a cliff and you could reach the beach, Playa Ladrilleros, descending a long narrow stairway in the rocks.
On the beach were a lot of people, but we were still the only foreigners. The water in the ocean was warm and cloudy. So for cooling down we had to use the swimming pool, the beach itself however was really impressive and beautiful. Cliffs with palms and jungle on top arose from the dark-coloured sand. There were a lot of stray dogs roaming around, some of them evil I can tell you. One of these creatures came running at me with crazy eyes, and attacked me. Well, not so much attacking me as wanting to play with the ruffles of my dress. But he had crazy eyes nevertheless. The branch I threw that I thought would distract him didn’t work, and all the locals laughed at me when he almost bit me. I admit, it must have been an amusing sight. Luckily after some time the crazy-eyed dog got bored and he pattered off to search for something more interesting. This little anecdote aside, we spent the whole afternoon relaxing at the beach and in and around the pool.
That night while brushing his teeth, my boyfriend discovered a huuuuuuge cockroach in the bathroom. I took a look and saw only it’s feelers, but those itself were immense. I know that we humans are a million times bigger than that poor thing, but both my boyfriend and me were too pussy to kill it. So I went down to fetch the guy at the reception. He brought a broom, killed the cockraoch and flushed it down the toilet. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you this part, doesn’t make me look adventurous does it? Well, it’s too late now.
In the middle of the night we woke up, it was storming and raining outside. At one point we heard a really loud noise. The next morning we found out half of our roof was blown off. The pool was filled with branches and dirt and the terrace was a mess, but nobody got hurt.
After breakfast we took a tuk-tuk back to Juanchaco. The driver played salsa music and I was enjoying every second of the ride. Didn’t even notice the rain.
In Juanchaco we waited for our lancha to arrive at the roofed terrace of a restaurant, and had the time to observe the quiet and relaxed pace of living in this small village. There were men fishing on the water, women selling stuff in front of their houses and chatting, children playing with coins. My boyfriend played soccer with two small boys, until the owner of the restuarant said they had to leave the terrace. They ignored him and came back, fascinated by our phones and photocameras.
The lancha came and it was time to leave. In the lancha everything and everyone got soaked, but still the rain couldn’t spoil my mood. I only spent only 2 days at the pacific coast, but it was an amazing experience. I loved the exotic vibe that surrounded everything there. If you visit Colombia and want to visit someplace exciting, but not only the standard backpackers destinations, I strongly recommend to spend a couple of days in Buenaventura en Juanchaco.