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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Providence – the island of surprises


At first glance, Providencia didn’t offer much and so, when our overnight stop looked like turning into a week due to bad weather we were incredibly frustrated.  I mean just exactly what were we to do on this tiny (17 sq km) island, population 5000, for a week?  Hmmm..


First up – an unbroken night’s sleep.  We dropped anchor around 4pm Saturday after a good three day/night sail up from Santa Marta…..but no matter how well we sleep on passage, we are always tired afterwards and a solid night’s sleep is much anticipated.

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The first day out of Santa Marta was a bit torrid with winds gusting up to 35knots but after that it settled down and we had some magical sailing.  Best of all – David caught a good sized wahoo on day two.


Sunday morning we were summoned urgently to “Mr Bush”….the local customs/immigration agent.  He’d been trying to call us on VHF but we had it switched off (we were sleeping!!!) so he sent over a local fishing boat….the island version of the bush telegraph.  Hastily downing breakfast we headed into the deserted town where Mr Bush was waiting.  He and his staff were our first introduction to Providencia and what a wonderful first taste it was – so friendly and welcoming.


David (Captain Morgan) was extra popular as Providencia was once home to the legendary pirate Henry Morgan who raided Spanish galleons laden with gold and riches.  Rumour has it those treasures are still buried on the island.  When David told Mr Bush he is a relative of Henry’s (he’s not) the welcome became even more boisterous.  There are reminders of pirate Morgan all around the island.

DSC_0773  The other cruisers in the anchorage were overwhelmingly friendly.  There were 16 boats here – mostly American.  They told us about happy hour at a nearby waterfront bar and along we went and were swept into the fold.  It was a fantastic opportunity to get information about places north of here – Guatemala and Honduras in particular. DSC_0673DSC_0686

At Tuesday night’s happy hour we met an American couple who were keen to share a mule to tour the island - our enforced stay in Providencia was becoming more and more interesting by the minute.

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Next day we headed into town with Janet and John – a lovely couple from the Seattle area.  We headed south and after a few kilometres came to a roadblock manned by three armed policemen.  These guys looked about 15 yet one had a machine gun and the other two pistols. 


And what were they guarding?  Crabs, yes black crabs.  These crabs are native to Providencia and every year at this time begin their annual migration from the mountains to the sea to spawn. 


The road (the only one on the island) is closed to allow these crustaceans to crawl across the concrete without being squished (although a few who missed the road block did get squished).


We went back and had a coffee at a house where we’d seen a sign and it turned out to be just that – someone’s house.  We only discovered that after bowling on in…..beating a hasty retreat to sit on the quickly produced plastic chairs and table outside.  After an excellent coffee we headed off but the road was still closed so we went the other way and did a loop (twice) around the entire island.

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Providencia is beautiful.  Tourism is not encouraged as locals don’t want the island to become like San Andres (90km south) which is apparently overrun with tourists.  The tourism that is in place here is very low key, no high rise, in fact hardly any hotels just a few cabanas.

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There are no direct flights or ferries here so it’s really only adventurous types or lost yachties who get here and the island is so much better for it.  It must be what the entire Caribbean was like before the tourists arrived en masse.


The handful of stunning white sandy beaches were magically deserted.  The beach bars and restaurants were quiet and we only saw a handful of other tourists and few locals fishing, shelling conch, cleaning their boats or just sitting in the shade and enjoying their beautiful island.

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At one place locals were cooking up crab and fish in huge pots while the rasta bars blasted our reggae music along with a certain waft.


Most islanders keep their houses/bars and shops beautifully painted in bright colours – there are always exceptions and we did see a few shabby sights but it all adds to the flavour.

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At Thursday night’s happy hour, the bar owner announced he was cooking crab soup for us the following night.  I couldn’t help but ask if the crabs in the said crab soup were the very same crabs that caused long road closures and had an armed police guard?  Sure enough……they were.   The soup was absolutely delicious.

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So….after a week the weather finally looked kind enough for us to head north.  It was with much reluctance as we’d become very fond of beautiful Providencia and the anchorage of friendly cruisers.  We’d spent our days snorkelling, walking, doing numerous chores on Bandit and exploring this gorgeous piece of paradise.



 It’s one of those places where first impressions are definitely not the right ones. From the anchorage it appeared a bit ordinary – but what a surprise the island has in store. An absolute gem and one we feel lucky to have visited. There’s always a silver lining in grey clouds! 


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The flip side of Colombia


Our recent blogs have talked about and shown the wonderful places in Colombia we’ve visited including the stunning UNESCO city of Cartagena – Colombia’s jewel in the crown.  But it would not be fair to show you only the airbrushed Colombia and not the nitty gritty.  Those visiting beautiful Cartagena alone risk getting a sanitised view.

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Colombia is the world’s leading producer of cocaine and where there are drugs there is corruption, crime and incredible disparity between rich and poor. There are lots of slums on the outskirts of Cartagena and Santa Marta which surprised us.


The rubbish was often unbelievable – we figured we’d left that behind in India but not so.  It’s always shocking to see rubbish so casually discarded and as clean, green Kiwis it frustrates us. 

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Some of the villages we passed through en route from Santa Marta to Cartagena appeared very poor with horses/donkeys and carts, cycle rickshaws and bicycles used for transport.  There was the usual array of street sellers hawking anything from cigarettes to candy and stands of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables for sale.  Houses were often basic but many were immaculately painted, clean and well tended.

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Despite the travel warnings out for Colombia (due to crime and risk of guerilla activity) we felt incredibly safe the entire time and were never threatened or intimidated in any way.  There is a huge police presence – most of the police we saw carried weapons of some sort, either pistols, semi automatic rifles or batons.  We loved our time here and hope to return one day to head to some of the inland areas.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hot and sweaty in Santa Marta


Our first port of call in Colombia was Santa Marta – a coastal city of nearly half a million people sitting at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas. 


Amazingly it’s South America’s oldest surviving city. There’s a new and cheap marina here so fantastic to be tied up to a dock and best of all……no wet dinghy rides!   There’s a great laundry and spotlessly clean shower blocks and when the mercury hit the mid 30s, which it does most days, that’s where you’ll find us….having long cold showers.

DSC_0322 Santa Marta was an intriguing first glimpse into Colombia. We’d had this image of a Spanish country – I guess because that’s the language – but from the minute we set foot ashore it oozed South America. It was Brazil all over again – crowded, bustling and full of atmosphere! DSC_0302 DSC_0306

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We enjoyed wandering the streets on foot and by bike, exploring the rabbit warren of a market, visiting the gold museum, soaking up the holiday atmosphere on the waterfront and getting constantly hassled by street sellers….it never ceases to amaze us how many people there are trying to flog off stuff in these countries!


Santa Marta is shabby compared to airbrushed Cartagena but we liked it.  It’s easy to get around and everything is close to the marina.  There are some seedy backstreets which we found quite by accident one day on a bike ride……needless to say, a hasty exit was made. 


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It’s stifling hot here – up to 35degress and very humid.  The afternoon breeze that gets up is warm so there are two ways to cool down – cold showers or a refreshing lime juice – freshly squeezed and mixed with ice, sugar and water – divine!

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We ended up staying in Santa Marta longer than we planned waiting for weather for our three day/night sail to Providencia Island.  The winds have been gusting up to 35knots….a little too much for us!

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We enjoyed the luxury of being in a marina, provisioning at the fantastically cheap supermarket (ribeye steak $10 a kg) and just wandering the streets and absorbing the sights and scenes.


We felt very safe while in Santa Marta but did notice a heavy police presence on the streets – all armed with either semi automatic rifles, machine guns or pistols.  This is cocaine country after all.  Colombia is the world’s leading producer of cocaine and much of it comes from the area around Santa Marta.  It pays not to wander off the beaten track.

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One day we took a crowded local bus over the hill to Taganga, a sleepy fishing village turned backpacker and hippy hangout, where we had our best Colombian coffee yet.  So good we had two!


Local boats ferry hot and bothered tourists to a nearby beach and as it was hot and we were bothered we went along and enjoyed a few hours at Playa Grande. 

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We reckoned it was one of the hottest days we’ve had and we were pleased to be able to cool off in the sea.


The winds are finally starting to ease so it’s looking good for us to head up to Providencia tomorrow, then onto the Bay Islands in Honduras.  Colombia has been a fantastic stopover and we’re delighted we’ve been able to get out and see a little of this intriguing country.


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