After picking up the American Vice-Consul from Barranquilla, Colombia our LST Navy Vessel anchored offshore of Providencia, Colombia. My job was to prepare a beach report for the Pentagon which gave me ample time to explore the island. The area consists of St. Andres, Providencia and several smaller islands. It is some 450 miles from Colombia and is very close to Nicaragua in the Caribbean.
Closer to Nicaragua and Jamaica, how the archipelago came to be a Colombian territory is the result of piracy, wars of independence, slavery, immigration, sugar, cotton and religion.
Originally settled by the Spanish in 1510, the islands were part of the Audiencia of Panama, then part of the Capitanía of Guatemala and Nicaragua. They attracted the attention of Dutch and English privateers, and reputedly Henry Morgan’s treasure trove is hidden in one of the island caves.
English Puritans and Jamaican woodcutters followed the pirates and it wasn’t until 1821 during the Wars of Independence that Francisco de Paula Santander took the islands and the Colombian flag was raised on June 23, 1822. Sugar and cotton plantations were the mainstays of the early economy and slaves were imported from Jamaica to work the fields.
Even after the islands became Colombian territory, the English influence remained in architecture, language, and religion.
The archipelago consists of two large islands, San Andrés and Providencia. San Andrés, at the southern end of the archipelago, is the largest island at 13 km long and 3 km wide. It is mostly flat, with the highest point being El Cliff overlooking El Centro, the local name for the town of San Andrés at the northern end of the island. Most of the tourism and commercial business are here. The island has duty free shops and is literally bustling with business botuiques. The island is walkable, but you can rent a scooter or moped to explore and you have your choice of many hotels to accomodate you for a dive trip, vacation, or shopping spree.
Providencia is the next largest island, at 7 km long and 4 km wide. Located 90 km north of San Andrés, it was for many years quieter and less affected by tourism. However, it is rapidly becoming extremely fashionable and expensive. It is still a lure to snorkelers and divers who come for the extensive coral reefs and clear water. The interior of the island is tropical palms and pleasant. A walk from Casabaja to the top of the highest point, El Pico provides good views of the island.
Making friends with the natives I rented a horse for the day’s outing. With one foot in the stirrup this high spirited Arabian beauty took off along the beach as if he was shot out of a cannon. Half hanging on at a high speed run I somehow steered him and me directly in the ocean where we both barely made it out of the surf alive.
Hearing the natives applaud and pop out of their huts was quite a site. The eldest man came over and told me that I was running on their Sunday afternoon racetrack, where the locals bet money and rum on these well cultivated horses. He assured me they gave me the fastest and most spirited horse of the lot.
With both feet in the stirrups my horse galloped straight up the side of the mountain until he reached the top, where you could see the turquoise blue waters in 360 degrees. I started praying that this was not some kind of a suicide horse who would run down the other side of the mountain at high speed carrying horse and rider on their last mission. At this point my new best friend “Horsey” decided to graze in the field and eat a few apples before he whinnied and started the next leg of our trek.
Heading down the mountain trail like a surefooted mountain goat we have somehow bonded enough to reach the other shore of the turquoise blue Caribbean. One small hotel surrounded with coconut trees swaying in the breeze made you think you had really done it this time– you have found Paraiso. After checking into my hotel one of the natives asked me “If I wanted fresh lobsters for dinner tonght?”
I couldn’t help but notice his toes were spread like a frogs and were almost webbed from years of living on the island. The lobsters, rice and rum set you up for the evenings sunset. Just then a man dressed in a white linen suit with a Panama hat ran out on the front porch and yelled there it is: “The Green Flash!” He asked me if I saw it and I definitely answered no! By this time the outdoor porch, which could have doubled for a Hemingway movie set, was full of colorful locals all toasting each other for seeing– The Green Flash!
Feeling like a tourista an English gentlemen walked over and said: “Don’t feel bad I was hear nearly one year before I saw my first Green Flash.” Then he slapped me on my back and said:”it might take that long for the rum to take effect.” He compared it to stunts in school where you stare at a spot through a piece of cardboard and see a large image. You are supposed to have a drink in hand and concentrate intensely on the sun disappearing into the ocean. Just at that instant the entire sky lights up with a sharp green flash. So there you have it— I have arrived just in time to watch the local natives celebrate another green flash.
So if you want off the beaten path and like to explore some beautiful tropical islands in the Caribbean you could set sail for Providencia, Colombia and maybe even come away with the pirates treasure, a good suntan and meet some interesting characters along the way.
QUOTE: “Much talking is the cause of danger. Silence is the means of avoiding misfortune. The talkative parrot is shut up in a cage. Other birds, without speech, fly freely about.”
——Saskya Pandita quotationpage.com
THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW: Bunyips – Bunyips haunt rivers, swamps, creeks and billabongs. Their main goal in life is to cause nocturnal terror by eating people or animals in their vicinity. They are renowned for their terrifying bellowing cries in the night and have been known to frighten Aborigines to the point where they would not approach any water source where a Bunyip might be waiting to devour them. Some scientists believe the Bunyip was a real animal, the diprotodon, extinct for some 20,000 years.
THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO SAVE: MEXICAN WOLF canis lupus baileyi
Mexican wolves are the smallest subspecies of North American gray wolves. They are also the most endangered. Commonly referred to as “El lobo,” the Mexican wolf is gray with light brown fur on its back. It has long legs and a sleek body to help it run fast.
ZENTRAVLER SAYS: Travel light! What do you need all of that stuff for anyway?