Providencia, Colombia

In the faint morning light, I unclipped from the tether in the cockpit and removed my lifevest. I crept down into the cabin, seeing the boys both fast asleep. I had taken a three hour shift, instead of the usual two, because Josh had been up all night adjusting sails through changing conditions. He needed some rest.

I had been knackered by about 0400, but as soon as the sun came up at 0500, with the sight of land just ahead, excitement pumped through me and I forgot about the cumulative lack of sleep I had been pushing for the last four days.

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I mapped our location on the chart and went over to Josh’s bed. I tapped him on the top of his head gently, smiling as I said,

“Josh…wake up. Land ho.”

Like a good captain, he scrambled out of bed without wasting another second and followed me out to the cockpit. He turned around as he came up out of the cabin, surprised to see that Providencia was much closer on the horizon than he had imagined.

“Woah!” he said, reving down the engine. We were maintaining about 4.7 knots, with motor and two reefs in the mainsail and although there was no danger of hitting land, we really had made such good time in the past three hours that we were hours ahead of schedule.

We both marveled in the sight for many minutes, neither of us able to hide our smiles. In the backdrop of the sunrise ahead was Providencia–a marvelously plush green, hilly island–the island we’ve been dreaming of since we last set foot on land five days earlier. No longer was the scenery blue on blue with a ever tilting straight line as the horizon; the sight was exciting.

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I prepared some coffee and grabbed my teddy. I’d drink the coffee to stay awake and help bring us into the harbor, and read A Voyage for Madmen on my kindle with my teddy as my pillow. This was standard, on the boat, and the boys started teasing me about it: I never took out my kindle without also bringing Teddy. It’s a package deal. I got comfortable, hooked my coffee onto the helm to let it cool, and started reading. Then, I promptly passed out, entirely out of steam.

When I awoke, we were coming into the harbor, radioing in to a Mr. Bush, Providencia harbor master.

“Sailing vessel Khuela to Providencia Harbor Master Mr. Bush,” Josh repeated several times into the radio.

No response.

We’re in the Caribbean…normal business hours don’t apply.

Mr. Bush finally replied about 10 minutes later, but I could only understand a handful of words spoken by him, as his accent was wildly foreign to me. Josh, interestingly, also became largely unintelligible, as having grown up in Trinidad and Tobago, his accent comes back in the right context.

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We threw down the anchor and cleaned up boat before heading into town on the dinghy. When we reached the dock, my legs didn’t quite know how to manage the solid, unmoving surface below them. I turned to Jason as we walked up the hill with Harbormaster Mr. Bush,

“Man…I’m having trouble walking!” I was swaying, either in my imagination or actually, I can’t be sure.

Jason and I sat outside Mr. Bush’s house, while Josh went over paperwork and customs with the officials. Up on the balcony, we looked down at the people of Providencia. Everyone was shockingly large–both overweight and tall, the women and men. The island smelled like delicious food, and compared to Utila there were so many cars! Everyone had very dark skin and spoke like Mr. Bush, the impossible to understand Caribbean English that sounded so lovely albeit confusing.

The day before, on the boat mid arvo, we turned on the radio as we approached what looked like two military ships. On the horizon, they looked just like the small plastic figures from the game Battleship. Josh wanted to make sure they weren’t peeved by our passing them, so he turned on the radio.

But instead of hearing a message for us, we had the unique pleasure of overhearing a heated verbal exchange between the Colombian and United States governments:

“This is Colombian Warship 51, calling U.S.S. Pathfinder, please provide documentation authorizing your presence in this region, over.”

“U.S.S. Pathfinder to Colombian Warship 51, we have sent the documents to your government. Please standby for confirmation, over.”

“Colombian Warship 51 to U.S.S. Pathfinder, we have not received any documents regarding your activities in this area, we advise that you cease all survey activity in the area immediately.”

“U.S.S. Pathfinder to Colombian Warship 51, please wait while we obtain authorization.”

“Colombian Warship 51 to U.S.S. Pathfinder, we repeat: leave the area immediately.”

And so it went, back and forth.

It was better than late-night television, really. The suspense of it all was magnificent! The Colombian Warship was clearly not pleased with the U.S. Navy floatin’ through their turf, and although we imagined this would all be settled with some bazookahs and good old fashioned canon firings, alas in the end the U.S.S. Pathfinder turned away and sped off away from the Colombian warship; diplomacy prevailed.

As I sat listening to the customs officers up on that balcony, I had the sense that–like the Colombian Navy–they don’t mess around. The customs officer asked to keep our passports for the weekend.  He didn’t want to go all the way home and back on this beautiful Friday afternoon.  He was pretty persuasive; we had really no choice but to comply.

That first night, we were useless.  We went into town around sunset to eat a meal cooked by someone else.  Pizza.

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After a short exploration of the town, we were knackered.  Stomachs full, we headed back to Kuhela.  We slept 12 hours to make up for those lost hours of sleep, and woke up refreshed.

It was Friday when we arrived. Our plan was to set sail on Monday, after a nice relaxing weekend on the island, of course weather permitting. See, the mind of the sailor is dominated by weather, and the weather can change at the drop of a hat. As we listened to the reports throughout the weekend, I could tell by Josh’s facial expression that he wasn’t pleased; it wasn’t looking ideal.  But we kept an eye on it, and hoped for the best.

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It was clear and sunny on the island of Providencia.

The first day was spent wandering aimlessly around the island as any wide eyed travelers would. We rented an off-road golf cart and traveled the main loop of the island, stopping here and there to gawk at the crystal clear blue waters and walk along the beaches. By chance, we stopped at a beach around lunchtime to eat a “mixto platter,” as recommended by Mr. Bush.

As we were waiting for our plate of conch, shrimp, fish, lobster and crabmeat, we headed into the crystal clear water to cool off.  It was like a bathtub.  Sublime.

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Sitting in the water, we noticed that pretty much the entire population of Providencia was arriving on the beach just in front of us. I found a local boy swimming around, maybe 14 years old, and asked him about the crowd.  He came over and joined our group.

“Big horse race!” he said with a happy smile coming across his face.

I’ve never seen a horse race before, so of course this was exciting news.  I played in the water a bit longer, holding (for the first time ever) a sea urchin that my local friend found snorkeling.

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It was so lovely!  I watched it’s spines move back and forth, responding to the faintest touch.  What a lovely creature.  Before giving it back to him, I made him promise that he’d put it back on the rock where he found it.

I went back to the restaurant to eat my plate of mixed seafood goodness. We were told it would be a huge portion, big enough for two to share, but when it came out we were shocked at how meager the portions were. We were spending the day with a girl I had met in the internet cafe, Courtney, and her and I split one of the “2 person” meals while the boys shared the other.

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We went to pay and gave the woman $50. It was $25 for each plate, which, we thought was pretty steep, but when in Rome, eh? As we walked away, the lady from the restaurant ran after us, giving us back $25. Apparently, we had ordered 1 plate, and she thought we wanted it split on 2 plates. So it had been meant to be shared with 2 people, not 4. That explained why we were so hungry. And made me realize that I really need to work on my Spanish.  We walked away warmed by the woman’s honesty. That kind of refund-for-overpaying would certainly not have happened in the vast majority of places I’ve traveled.

Then, the horse race.

Two muscular horses with their two skinny jockeys, made an epic sprint down the beach as the locals went crazy.

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They flew past, kicking sand on everyone and nearly running down the not-so-prudent onlookers in the horse’s path.  There was just one run, and all bets were on that.

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It was a very exciting spectacle. We stood in the water watching the events unravel, the people cheer and quarrel, and the horses canter back.

The boy we met told us he would take us to Elijah’s house, a man who’s brother is friends with Josh. Providencia is so small that everyone knows everyone and where they live. We went to Elijah’s house and played music together while sharing life stories.

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I was not surprised to see why everyone was so relaxed…

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He invited us to a bar later, and of course we agreed.

So that night, at the bar, a sincerely beautiful revelation occurred to me. As I ordered a beer–a most delicious local beer–I handed my purse, camera, and sweater to the owner, who delicately placed them on the back bar.  No need to worry about stolen property here, it doesn’t even occur to these people.  But this wasn’t the revelation.  Wait.

I meandered through the tire swings, swinging along peacefully to the reggae music, in my own little world.  I felt content beyond my imagination.  And there it was, the revelation:

I belong in the Caribbean. 

Something about the energy, the people, the physical environment, and the simplicity of life draws me so strongly to this place.  When it was time to go, I mosied back to the bar and struck up a conversation in Spanish.  Confidence was high, understanding was intermediate.  I asked for my things back.

“No hay problema, amor, vuelve pronto.”

I will be back soon.  I know it.  I just love this place.  Maybe I’d just live in a little place like this and live the easy life.

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As Mr. Bush says,  ”Ain’t no one ever died on this island from stress.”

 

4 Responses to Providencia, Colombia

  1. Tabs

    Mr. Bush sounds like my kind of people ;)
    Xoxo

  2. Rachel Levitin

    “I belong in the Caribbean.” … I could see it :)

  3. Deniz

    I really enjoy reading your blog.

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