2018 began and so did work and my son’s school routine. However, I am still on a mental vacation somewhere in a paradise of the Colombian Caribbean Sea.
For the first time in almost 13 years of my self-exile in the U.S. and sponsored by my beloved Granny, I had the privilege to welcome the new year surrounded by my entire maternal family in the city known as The Heroic, Cartagena de Indias.
From December 30th until last Saturday, January 6th, I took deep breaths of warm air and ate fish until I developed fins. I danced, sang, and enjoyed the unique smell of the Colombian Atlantic Coast, which is a mix of fried food, salt, sweat, and rum.
I was amused by the visitors walking with selfie-sticks every where, and felt an immense pride looking at countless foreigners marvel at the six-hundred-year-old walls and architecture. To give you an idea, Cartagena’s Old City is at least 10 times bigger than the famed city Saint Augustine in Florida.
Now, although Cartagena has taken advantage of its explosive growth and international touristic appeal–reaching almost 500 thousand visitors a year–the local government is still in its adolescence due to the lack of control policies to ensure the sustainability of the city and nearby islands’ beaches.
I’ll give you my personal experience. My family rented a private boat to visit the archipelago of the Rosary Islands. The first stop was about 10:30 a.m. at the Aquarium, which we didn’t visit because the majority of the group chose to snorkel around the coral reef.
I stayed on board, but as I mentioned above I ate a lot, so my stomach went on a strike. I walked towards the reception and asked for directions to the restroom and the lady by the window surprised me saying: “It’s $5,000 pesos” ($1.6 dollars.)
The second stop was before noon at the island Playa Azul, which was promoted as paradise on earth. The only problem is that it looked like a busy market, full of locals sitting in plastic chairs, selling merchandise and beverages blocking the path for the tourists.
As I searched for a place to sit on the beach, my gut sent me another S.O.S. warning. I walked towards a porta-potty next to a palm tree, but before I could grab the door handle, a young woman reached out to me with a piece of toilet paper in her hand and said: “It’s $3,000 pesos.” So, because I had to go twice, I had to pay $6,000 ($2 dollars.)
An hour later, we left Playa Azul for the third and last stop of the tour at the island of the resort Sport Baru where we had lunch. There, I assumed the cost of the bathroom was included in the bill because nobody jumped to charge me.
Colombians are known for their work ethic and being “innovative” in finding ways to make money. Nonetheless, the cleverness of the local citizens in these touristic places evidences the government’s negligence and incompetence in providing basic sanitation.
Our natural parks and reserves are at the mercy of illegal scavengers, who profit from tourists, and just a few conscious natives who care and protect their patrimony and the balance of these delicate ecosystems.
Politicians in the Atlantic Coast of Colombia are known to be as some of the most corrupt in the country. Therefore, instead of respecting the environment, they promote uncontrolled tourism practices as long as the treasure chests overflow.
Should things continue like this, the goose that laid golden eggs will end up in a cauldron.
If there is anything Colombia and other developing countries could learn from the United States is the efficient administration of their natural parks and beaches. Waste management, public bathrooms, showers, and law enforcement presence on land as well as maritime, guarantee the equilibrium between people and nature.
Colombia’s biodiversity is unique on planet Earth and it is home to millions of endemic species of the animal and plant kingdoms. It is an immense responsibility taking for granted. Let’s take care of our natural parks.
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