Having just enjoyed or perhaps better said, participated in a truly Cachaco experience of the Plan Playa in Santa Marta, it almost feels that my targeting this Bogotá Stereotype No.6 is akin to shooting fish in a barrel.
I suppose since I was in the company of my Colombian family and we fancied a day out at the beach that it made perfect sense to enjoy this trip, not as I would ordinarily – seeking out a less-visited beach to reconnect with nature and switch off from the rigours city living – but to do it as the locals do. This means fitting every possible beach activity into the time available without pausing for breath.
Plan Playa is not dissimilar to the popular Colombian movie, El Paseo.
This meant, a short ride from downtown Santa Marta over the hill to Taganga and then a boat trip round the point to Playa Grande. I should have known what to expect when the boat driver cut the engine in alta mar to address the issue of commissions to the touts for each family group on the boat. Until this was resolved we would drift motorless in open waters.
There was to be no relaxation on this beach with its child-friendly ripple of water ideal for paddling. There was precious little space on the beach itself to take stroll since every inch had been occupied by restaurants and then in front of them, umbrellas and deck chairs.
“If you eat at the restaurant you get the shade and chair at no additional cost!” Hollered one tout as our boat pulled in.
“For you I’ll do a special deal,” I heard on more than one occasion.
And the noise only grew from here on in as family after family alighted from further boats. Young girls sporting Millonarios shirts and blue threaded corn rolls or Chaquiras in their hair yelling impishly running back and forth from the water’s edge to where their parents were, then to one side a jet ski would cut through a group of swimmers who now were looking to avoid the flailing arms and legs of the hapless cachacos being flung horizontally at them as the speed boat towing the banana deliberately turned a sharp corner.
And on it went.
Did we want a kayak (yes), a colouring book for the baby (no), a massage (no), a freshly cooked fish (yes), ceviche (no), anything to drink (later), ice creams (no), a bucket and spade (no) a pedalo (no)…? If I sound unreasonable, take this and then multiply it by five and put it into a time frame of about four hours. How many peaceful minutes is one granted on a Plan Playa?
Behind us, the family from Bogotá tucked in to their tamales which, they may or may not have actually brought with them to the Caribbean from the Altiplano. Beside them were buckets and spades, the drinks cooler, inflatable items and the detritus associated with a beach trip. The father had opted for a massage, the mother a ceviche.
Perhaps, if we could avoid the family clambering over the rocks to the left of us having rented masks and snorkels from another tout, and position ourselves in the water to provide a natural barrier between us and the vendors, we’d find some respite…alas no. Even the Caribbean waters were no longer sacred for here women would wander up and down offering everyone there inflatable inner tubes.
In short, Plan Playa is exhausting.
You know it’s bad when upon arriving at our hotel in downtown Santa Marta, the receptionist commented that I looked more fatigued after a “relaxing trip” to the beach than beforehand.
The Plan Playa is not for the faint of heart.