By Jamarr Black
Despite the quarantine being lifted in June, Cali remained somewhat on lockdown until September. “Pica y cedula” controlled visits to public buildings based on the last digit of an individual’s ID card. “Ley seca” or dry law was put into effect in order eliminate recurring spikes in Covid cases from large gatherings involving alcohol. Therefore, no alcohol sales would be permitted from 6pm on select Thursdays or Fridays until 5am on the following Monday.
Little by little, pica y cedula let up, Cali began to open up restaurants, bus routes and eventually, domestic and international flights. After being locked down in Cali for months, I was naturally enticed when Colombia opened its borders. The reactivation of tourism meant air travel would be permitted, beginning with domestic flights. I played with the idea of finally being able to travel to a beach and searched for flights to Cartagena, Santa Marta and Montería. However, I decided that I still not quite comfortable boarding a plane during the high season of travel. Following the first six weeks of classes, Colombia gives students and teachers a week of recess. That means that many more people can be expected to travel in the first weeks of October.
One thing about dating someone who is extremely meticulous and judicious is that are their tendencies sometimes rub off on you. I constantly buy new tapabocas (face masks), disinfect the products I bring home from the grocery store and carry a spray bottle of alcohol with me everywhere I go. So it was a no-brainer to maintain biosecurity protocol whilst traveling. We opted to travel at night to avoid traffic at the bus terminal. We did so without realizing that bus prices had doubled from Cali-Buenaventura since bus companies are supposed to be operating at half occupancy in accordance to government restrictions. It was annoying to watch our bus driver pull a slick one and fill the bus beyond half occupancy – but money seems to always talk.
The route to Buenaventura is a two-lane highway though the Andes mountains. It can be quite a bumpy ride and I definitely had a couple “oh shit” moments that kept me awake most of the ride. Nonetheless, we made it to Buenaventura in one piece. Having been to Buenaventura a handful of times, I knew it would be wise to stay along the first street for convenience. From there, we found easy access to the food along the boulevard and were walking distance to the boat docks (muelles). Locals of Cali have generally warned foreigners [me] that Buenaventura is a place you visit only if you know someone who lives there or have business there. Upon entering the city limits, the grim buildings and overall city infrastructure give you a sense of why folks say that.
The Olympica grocery store marks the beginning of a line of tourism centers that offer different packages and motorboat transportation (lanchas) to different points along the Pacific coast. We followed the instructions in our reservation details and picked up our round-trip tickets to Bocana island. Shortly after, we set off for yet another turbulent ride, 20 minutes into the mouth of the Pacific Ocean.
We had a reservation at Hotel La Bocana which I had heard was an economical ocean-front resort. Our package included roundtrip motorboat tickets, lodging, meals and snacks for two people – all for under 400,000 COP (100 USD). All it took was visiting their Instagram and calling them for the details. La Bocana means the oceans mouth and unfortunately that mouth has spit much pollution back onto the shore. However, the local population and hotel do their best to maintain the washed up garbage. In fact, the beach was mostly clear of on the beachfront of the low-budget resort.
Still, I arrived with low expectations, wanting only to be able to relax on the beach during my first baecation. It was not so bothersome not having television and free snacks function without calling attention to [because they were still included in the price]. Hotel La Bocana actually stood out because of the hospitality and overall friendliness they showed us. Being two firm-looking black men, at first glance, perhaps folks wouldn’t have suspected we are a couple.
Iván had no shame showing public displays of affection. I’m not particularly big on PDA but I grew more comfortable with it after one of the concierge guys casually asked if we were ‘esposos’ or husbands. Whether the staff knew or not, I didn’t even feel judged nor that anyone’s behavior towards us had changed for the poorer. Considering that they were in their first week operating since March and were still tying up loose ends, I’d say it was an excellent stay.
There was fresh coffee provided throughout the day. There was also a poolside bar with beer and cocktails that could be charged to the room or paid in cash. The good thing was that the resort is currently only operating at 33% occupancy, by protocol. There were several sitting areas including beachfront and poolside seating, lobby, dining and a game room. Therefore, no area seemed so overwhelmed with guests that one could not maintain their distance comfortably.
While watching waves crash upon the shore, there is a constant view of international sea traffic arriving to and departing from one of the most important ports in South America. It is ironic to me that the port obviously brings large profits to Colombia however it is not evident that any of the communities from Buenaventura has been invested in.
For me the highlight of our trip was being able to come in contact with the community outside of the resort. Although, we are similar in appearance to the locals of the small island, it was obvious that we were tourists. Still the essence of this mangrove community spoke to us through the energy of its children. They were playful and joyful, happy to be outside playing. It was the perfect contrast for me a school teacher, always witnessing children as minions of tech.
By night, the resort sets up light-infused seating and palm trees, portable speakers and a bonfire for guests to enjoy under the moonlight on the beach. On our second and final night, I connected my phone to one of the speakers and played RITMO by The Black Eyed Peas and J Balvin. Almost out of nowhere a small mob of happy black kids appeared dancing in front of us. One of whom I predicted to be a professional dancer in his lifetime.
Iván happens to be a professional folk dancer and had recently taught me an African dance move that I felt compelled to practice on our beachfront dance circle. Since I couldn’t stay seated, I pulled Iván up to show us the move and the moment was magical as their eyes lit up watching him dance. It reminded us both of our childhood and the joy that we had performing in front of adults.
We were told that check-out is at 10:00 am or 1:00 pm for catching the lancha back to Buenaventura shortly after. We opted for 1 pm so we could take advantage of the morning sun. From Buenaventura there are buses leaving almost every 15 minutes for the two to four-hour trip (depending on traffic) back to Cali. If you are interested in itinerary planning services please contact me via www.squribe.com.
Jamarr is a communication, cultural studies and professional writing scholar who offers language training, itinerary planning and writing services. You can read more about Jamarr online at Squribe.com.