Playa Blanca, Puente de Barú, and the March of Progress

February 21, 2017

There’s a new bridge in Colombia. It’s called the Puente de Barú. It services Isla Baru which is really more of a peninsula, but because there’s a canal completely cutting it off from the area around Cartagena, I guess it gets island status. It’s construction has been planned since early 2014–about the same time I was first there.

The only reason I’m aware of this construction is because I remember the time without it. Playa Blanca true to its name is a sprawling white beach that extends for miles. At that time, there were only a few cabanitas with thin branches for structure and wooden boards for floors. I mean two. There were other structures like these further down the beach, but there were only two sets of cabanas taking guests. There was enough room.
The vacancies weren’t due to lack of natural beauty but by the shear difficulty in reaching the place. There’s a tour boat that leaves Cartagena every so often. It cruises around the local islands and kids swim up to the boat asking for money. The second “stop” is Playa Blanca, and if you’re uninterested in the rest of the tour, you may simply jump into the Caribbean here to exit.
 
Parche de Alex, the set of cabanas which I called home for three days was run by a paisa (Colombian from Medellín) who was perhaps in his early fifties. He was a man of very few words and marked by an absence of hurry in his life. When he needed something strenuous performed, he’d apparently call up his young local lover who would drop by from time to time with his tools or motorcycle.
After three days you’d get tired of this place. All the available food was fried, and there was only bottled soda, water or beer to drink. There’s no place to shower so you’d be covered in salt and insect repellent for days at a time. There was really nothing here–just beach, sea, sun, and wind. To leave you’d pay a tiny amount to be shuttled into town by a tiny motorcycle and pennies to cross the aforementioned canal by a motorized wooden canoe before reaching the buses that service Cartagena.
Technically you could have used the reverse to reach the beach, but you would have had to know where it was. “Playa Blanca” wasn’t in the known to the locals back then. Really, you could ask people and no one would know what you were talking about. I imagine the working locals wouldn’t have need for such a place, but even then there was a fair amount of domestic tourism in Colombia–which I’d always extol in my stories of the country–, and they didn’t know of the place either. During my short time at the beach, there were only two Australians and an English kid who came and went.
The bridge is finished now. It’s completion was televised yesterday. It’s enormous; it not only crosses the canal–which would be a very modest construction project–, but it also bypasses the entire community there. Today you may take a shuttle from Cartegena to Playa Blanca and arrive in half an hour. Photos on the internet show tons of half-dressed tourists in the spirit of spring break.
Back in 2014, though the beach was virgin, you could see a massive hotel in the distance that seemed to be serviced by nothing. I daydreamed on the beach that the super rich were flown in by helicopter because its existence seemed strange there. Now I’m daydreaming that whoever constructed the thing had insider knowledge that the bridge would be built someday or had enough political clout to see that it would be built.
The latter thought isn’t that ridiculous when you consider the fact that the bridge skips around the existing community and the fact that no additional roads were built between the new construction and the would-be workers in the area. I read an article that says that the whole area there is a playground for land-grabbing lawyers and politically connected and some of the tax revenue in the area is destined for Bogota rather than the Bolivar department in which Cartagena resides.
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