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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!