16 January, 2011

A little island with a big heart

Date: January 10, 2011
Position: N 13 22.717 W 081 22.420
Location: Providencia, Columbia

The island of Providencia is Columbian but it's located many miles away from Columbia in the middle of the SW Caribbean Sea. The island is only 4 miles long and 2 miles wide with a population of just a few thousand all living around the waters edge. The centre of the island is full of high peaks covered in jungle greenery.

The first thing we noticed here, when we went to check in, was that there was no necessity to lock the dinghy, or anything else for that matter. Mr. Bush, the agent we used to clear in, said there is no crime on this island, "Where would they hide if they committed a crime?" He asks. Good point we're about 100 miles from Nicaragua and 45 miles from San Andres, another Columbian island to the South.

The town on Providencia

The second thing we noticed was how friendly everyone was. We were greeted by smiles and "welcome to our island" wherever we went. Even the usually surly teenage boys standing around would break off their conversation and smile and say hello. We got a warm fuzzy feeling about this place from beginning to end.

Twice a week cargo boats arrived from San Andres bringing everything the islanders need. On these days there was much hustle and bustle as food, furniture, appliances, motor bikes, anything imaginable was removed from the ship and placed on the pier. The vehicle of choice here is the motor bike/scooter. Due to the small size of the island there are never great distances to travel, the vehicles have to be shipped in and gas is expensive. We saw families of 4 all riding on one scooter (no helmets or child seats). Therefore, on supply day you will see people carrying all manner of things home on their scooters. Just as a couple of examples: we saw 10 metal re-bar rods about 15 feet long being dragged behind, a mirror or picture probably 5 feet by 7 feet being held by a girl on the back of a scooter with her arms out as wide as she could - good job it wasn't a windy day she'd have been blown off.

View of El Pico from the anchorage
We met a lovely lady here on Providencia. Luceli is a high school science teacher here on the island. She liked to hike and took us on 2 wonderful walks during our visit, one up to El Pico (The Peak) the highest place on the island, about 1,000 ft elevation. The views from there were incredible we could see all the reefs around the island and the different shades of Caribbean waters.

Luceli and her cute niece before we hiked up El Pico

Luceli also invited us to a cultural event the 29th anniversary of the
Providencia Cultural Centre. This centre promotes the musical and cultural heritage of the island. We were treated to dances by adults and children, a local traditional band playing, amongst other instruments, a washtub bass and a jaw bone(the jaw of a horse played with a bone as percussion), and 2 young boys playing french horn and a coronet. During the evening food and drinks were also passed around for us to enjoy. What a lovely evening and we were welcomed by everyone.

The hikers at the top of El Pico

This island is our first stop in the Caribbean where we've encountered the lilting Caribbean accent. Musical and wondrous. The local language is both 'English' and Spanish, seemingly used about same amount. We say 'English' because we can only pick out maybe one word out of a sentence when listening to the locals talking amongst themselves. One of our favourite pastimes was to sit on a park bench listening, trying to retrieve some English words from the conversation. We decided it wasn't so much different words but the emphasis or stress is put in a different place in the words and the sentences are structured differently. Whatever it is, we loved to listen to the lilting cadence of local conversations.

We could be an ad for Presidente beer

One day several of us cruisers rented scooters for the day and toured the island. Being only 11 miles around the perimeter we had plenty of time to meander and stop and chat with people. The highlight of the day was our lunch stop at El Divino Nino (The Divine Child), a restaurant that Luceli had recommended to us, right on the beach at Southwest Bay. The fish mixed platter was their specialty and, although a little pricey for us, $20 for a platter for 2, it was well worth it. A huge platter emerged from the kitchen displaying a whole red snapper, a hog fish, 2 lobster tails, huge butterflied grilled shrimp, crab, conch, plantain cakes, rice and salad. Wow!!!

The 'bikers' outside El Divino Nino

We managed to devour the whole thing leaving only a scattering of bone and shell and needless to say we were not hungry again until the next day. What a feast and absolutely delicious!

Spotted Eagle Ray

Impromptu Regatta.

When asked how often they have a regatta, we were told "some guys start talking trash, pretty soon there's a regatta!!"

We spent almost 3 weeks in Providencia and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. We look forward to visiting this little island with a big heart again.

14 January, 2011

San Blas

Position: N 09 35.059 W 078 41.092
Location: Ogoppiriadup, East Holandes, San Blas, Panama

We leave Providencia in company with our long time sailing buddies on Diva. Diva and Rachel are almost the same length, sail at about the same speed, and both crews have a similar (relatively low) tolerance for foul weather and boisterous seas, making us good traveling companions.

Rachel sails wonderfully. We have about 20 knots on the beam and are making 6, sometimes 7 knots through the water. We are relaxed and happy. Unfortunately, we also have a pretty strong current against us for much of the trip, slowing our progress to only 4 to 5 knots toward our destination. This lengthens our planned 48 hour trip just enough that we arrive off the San Blas after sunset.

Not wanting to enter these reef-strewn waters in the dark, we opt to spend the night "noodling around" about five miles off until the morning when we'll have sufficient daylight to enter safely. The seas build a bit and the wind dies a bit, there are a few showers, a lot of cloud-to-cloud lightening, and lots of big ships heading to or from the Panama Canal, so our night involves a lot of rolling and not much sleep. But our spirits are high as we look forward to the daylight and our first sight of land.

In the morning as we approach Porvenir (where we will "clear in" to Panama), our friends on Osprey (who have already been here for almost a month) hail us on the VHF radio to tell us they're going to meet us. They offer Mark a ride to immigration and the port captain's office, so we don't even have to take our dinghy off the deck!

After clearing in Diva opts to head for the nearby West Lemmons while Osprey and Rachel haul anchor and motor-sail into the wind heading straight for the East Hollandes, about 12 miles East. We drop anchor at 3:15 in the afternoon, tidy up, have a wonderful dinner on Osprey, get to bed early, and sleep hard.

We awake in paradise. Surrounded by small islands complete with sandy beaches and palm trees, crystal clear water, and protected from the ocean swells by the barrier reef, our anchorage is stunningly beautiful. Rachel sits calm and flat while we watch 10' seas crash and spew on the reefs. All the hatches and ports are open allowing the cool air to refresh our living space. We finally made it! Cruising the San Blas Islands has been a goal of ours for several years and we're thrilled to be here.