A Winterlude Update from our return trip up from Panama back to SW Florida – another stop in one of my favorite cruising locales, Providencia, Colombia!
I love Providencia! Especially after the 53 hour passage from Colon to here. The weather forecast was for winds 5-10 and waves 3-5. Perfect. Last Tuesday morning a squall came through Shelter Bay and we opted to delay one day for better weather … three different forecasts agreed that departing Wednesday would give us the best passage. I guess no one told the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone)… anyway, 2 days and nights of the tilta-whirl on steroids left both David & I were ready to sell the boat & forget about cruising, IF we lived through the passage. Needless to say, after some sleep, we’ve reconsidered.
Reaching the south end of Providencia – a tiny Columbian island off the Nicaraguan coast – gave us much needed relief from the huge swells. Immediately the sun shone brightly, the mountainous island blocked the waves and some wind … and pods of dolphins came out to play alongside the boat. Frigatebirds soared overhead and soon we were anchored between two other US boats, the only boats in the anchorage. Last time we were here there were easily 15 boats. Nice to have the place to ourselves. Squalls continued to come through, but now, in flat water safe with the anchor secure, we were happy to have a good boat wash. Winterlude was so covered with salt that you took your life in your hands ice skating on the decks above. A fresh water rinse is always good after an ocean passage.
Two hours after we had the anchor down, Mr Bush, the local self-designated yacht clearance official arrived at the boat with 4 “real” officials. The first official came aboard, introduced himself as from the Health Department and asked to come below. While the others sat in the boat alongside, he came aboard and just talked to us for a few minutes, making sure we weren’t sick or otherwise contaminated. After he gave the clearance, the other officials boarded and quickly dispensed with the formalities and paperwork. The only part about this process we don’t like is the Colombians always take your passports. They are very informal and relaxed and don’t understand why US citizens always want their passports back by no later than the next day. In our case, the next day was Saturday, then it’s a holiday All Saints Day, we think, which means everything’s closed on Monday. We were able to convince Mr Bush to follow the Immigration guy back to his office & get our passports so we could pick them up on Saturday instead of next Tuesday or Wednesday! Turns out, the couple on the boat, Memory Maker, beside us, still hadn’t gotten their passports back after 5 days! We were just lucky again, I guess!
Providencia is actually two islands connected by a colorful footbridge. Santa Catalina was a pirates haven and the cannons still overlook the channel entrance from sea. Today there are no more executions on Pirate Beach, but there’s a nice hike and good scenery. One of the reasons I love this island is it’s topography – very few Caribbean islands are mountainous and Providencia is one of the most scenic … right up there with St John in the US Virgin Islands. Also like St John, large parts of the island and reef are designated either a national park or the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Last time we were here, we didn’t get a chance to explore it fully and we’re hoping this time we can
circumnavigate via the local bus and then rent a scooter to explore on our own. There are waterfalls to be discovered and out of the way beaches waiting for our footprints – the only footprints! The island has a land area of 18 km’s and a population of somewhere between 1,400 and 4,000 depending on who you ask. The economy depends on eco-tourism, government employment, cottage industries and artisanal fishing and farming. The official language is Spanish, but when you walk down the street and say “Buenas Dias”, faces light up in big grins and they respond “Good Morning to you”! It is a status symbol to speak English and people do it proudly.
All the faces here are friendly and open, helpful and inquisitive. We enjoy the Colombian people as much or more than any others we’ve met anywhere – especially here, far away from the mainland influences. One thing different from our last visit is the US dollar … very strange that people prefer pesos to the US dollar – previously they were always happy to take US dollars at a fair exchange rate. We don’t remember the exact exchange rate last time we were here, but it was somewhere around 2,500 pesos for $1 US. Now the bank gives 2,000 for $1 US and the supermarket and money changers only give 1,500. Mr Bush last time happily took US cash for his services, but this time requested pesos – he explained that the US dollar isn’t so stable currently & he’d rather have his own currency. Interesting!
We’ll wait here for a better weather window to head on north to the Vivorillos Cayes – “only” a 185 mile voyage, versus 265 from Colon to here. Chris Parker (the weather “guru”) that we subscribe to is saying the unsettled weather may last through mid-November – if so, we should have plenty of time to explore and fix the casualty list from our recent passage. More Providencia photos:
If a good forecast comes before mid-November we may consider it, but a prerequisite will be NO SQUALLS in the forecast – difficult in the tropics where every day’s forecast is a 60% chance of thunderstorms or squalls.
That’s it from paradise! Enjoy the next two weeks & we’ll let you know where we are and what we’re doing from where-ever we are!
Providencia, Colombia 13 22.780N 81 22.460W