San Andres y Providencia
25.08.2014 - 05.08.2014 30 °C
I was so lucky to be able to spend two amazing nights with the families of Didier and Cindy in Santa Marta. It was so nice to be with them, it almost felt like I was with Didier and Cindy, something so comforting when so far away from home. I got to meet Didier's son Samuel who was so much fun to play with, I chased him around and wound him up in the way that I always do with kids I really like. I was very happy I could understand him and he could understand me too, I often find it very hard to speak with children in Spanish!
On one of the days, I went to the beach in Taganga with Cindy and Didi's parents. It was not the best beach day, but because the weather is always so totally hot, it really didn't matter at all about the clouds! If anything, they seemed to make it all look even prettier, somehow more magical. Not so much in the photos, but in real life it was spectacular. I could just imagine the days of the pirates, steering their ships through the mist as they fought the Spanish for the stolen Colombian gold!
We had to hike from Taganga around to the more secluded beach, where we spent the rest of the day. We had the most amazing lunch, fresh fish straight from the sea. One of my favourite things about the coast of Colombia is when you organise your lunch on the beach. The vendors come up to you with a tray full of freshly caught fish and ask you which one you want - the hard part is choosing!
After a wonderful day with them, teaching Cindy's father how to say "what's up bro", "Kia ora", and "all good", I boarded the 16 hour night bus to Medellin... I was not too impressed with the idea of this bus, infact I was dreading it. But I took 2 sleeping pills/ travel sickness pills and I slept in a coma for 14 hours - fantastic!
I got to Medellin, dropped my bag off at my hostel and then headed straight to the airport carrying not much more than 2 bikinis, a towel, tanning oil, and a couple of party dresses. I was so excited to get to San Andrés, a Colombian island that is located close to Nicaragua, right in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. San Andrés is famous for what is known as 'the sea of 7 colours' and I couldn't wait to see if it was able to live up to it's name!
I arrived quite late to the island (Airline Viva Colombia again did what it does best... get people to their destination in their own time, with their own strange rules, inadequate organisation, and just outright WRONG advice and directions!) so I wasn't able to get out and explore as I had hoped. I instead checked into the hostel (El viajero, nice enough) where I met a couple of girls who had been on the island for a while. They told me I had to do the day exploring to the Acuario and Johnny Cay islands. I booked in with the hostel to do this the very next day. Every person I met who knew I was going to San Andres, and everyone I met once I was there, told me that I had to go to Providencia, that it was very expensive to get there but just a waste of being in the region to not go.
Anyway, the next day I woke up really early and headed down to the wharf. As I got near, a group of boys were being really funny and trying to get my attention by sweeping the path of leaves in front of me and pretending I was a princess. I was laughing, talking and joking with them, when I managed to get the attention of a guy on the other side of the road. He called out, asking what I was looking for and it turned out I was right in front of it! He told me not to use my ticket, to sell it back to the hotel, and that he would take me out to the island on his boat for free! I was a little skeptical, but when he showed me the huge line of tourists queing to use their tickets that we could bypass, I was sold! Also, I could physically SEE the island we were heading to and there were a lot of other boats in the water so I knew I could get help if I did need it. As we headed out in his boat, I got my first glimpse of the most beautiful water, the prettiest blue, the sea of 7 billion colours, not just seven.
We arrived at a little island next to the Acuario, I can't remember it's name right now. There weren't many people there yet (all still back int he queue, suckers!) so we got to explore.
Because there were no people, the iguanas were out enjoying the sunshine! They are just so freaky and so cool all at once, like dinosaurs! We managed to count 8 at one point. I didn't realise that they actually live in the tops of the trees, I had always been searching for them in the scrub, when they actually live in nests way up high!
The little island and the acuario are very close to each other, basically the same place. The acuario is a sandspit surrounded by natural rock pools, reefs, and coves filled with fish. The sandspit has kiosks that sell food, alcohol, snorkelling gear and sun chairs. Where as the island is a bit bigger, but you can walk around the whole thing in about 10 minutes. It is possible to walk between the two but you would be up to your chest, so impossible when carrying towels and phones etc.
Unfortunately, the guy started to become a little weird and I just no longer felt comfortable with him. I asked him to take me to the Acuario and pretended I had a friend there waiting for me to arrive. Thankfully he complied, even though he tried to follow me. I managed to ditch him (enough) and that was when I met Brando...
You know sometimes, you see a guy, they see you, you look away, then you can't help but look again, you see that he is still looking. You look down, look back up to catch his waiting eye, and he winks... and it's the cutest god dam wink you ever saw in your whole entire life? Well, that's exactly what happened. We hadn't even spoken a word, yet I knew he had a beautiful energy to him, and that I would be safe with him. He worked at the Acuario, and was currently helping a friend with a giant sting ray, so I headed for a different spot. It wasn't long before the boy with the cutest wink in the world found me, and asked me if I would like to go snorkelling with him. What's a girl to say? Free boat ride, now free snorkelling? I felt a bit mean, this was supposed to be island hopping not man hopping!
However, I knew with Brando it was different to the first guy. The first was an elder man, not attractive AT ALL, and I had thought was just being kind. With Brando, I knew he was asking me because he wanted to get to know me...and I wanted to get to know him too. So.... I accepted the snorkel and mask (again, without the giant queue or the fee) and we headed out into the incredibly warm, crystal clear water hand in hand.
Brando showed me these amazing sea creatures, they are similar to kina from New Zealand. They are all spiky, but when you hold them on your hand, under the water, they suction onto you with this weird sticky glue stuff they produce to suction on. Once you have them on your hand, you can bring them out of the water and hold them up in the air!
After helping me get rid of the creepy guy, we left the acuario and headed back to the main island to go to the beach. We went to a lovely beach and swam for hours, played a bit of football (well he did, me not so much), tanned (I did, he not so much), and just had an awesome day looking out towards Johnny Cay island.
When Brando went to football training, I went back to my hostel. We met later that night to go dancing, and we ended up at a really cool beachside rasta bar in San Luis, a far less touristy side of San Andrés.
We spent the next few days out on his boat, going between the different islands. We went snorkelling again and this time I was not so scared, because I had learned how well he knew the sea. Before we went out to the area with no people, I found the courage to hold the stingray! I was sooooooo scared, I can't even explain! I just kept thinking of Steve Irwin! Plus, the texture of it is disgusting, and it tried to climb out of the water to be on top of me, and when it lifted it's body I saw it's freaky little face underneath - YIK!
Brando lead the way to a place with no people, where we could see 'tiburones.' For some reason, I thought that meant tiger fish - so I imagined little nemos or something. Imagine my surprise when I realised it meant a shark the size of my torso!
Brando kept touching this one, telling me that it didn't want anything to do with us because there are so many fish that we are just not tasty enough. But I wasn't brave enough to touch it, I was still recovering from the sting ray! I don't know what it is, I know that these things are in the sea...but in New Zealand, we can't actually see them, so it is almost like they aren't there. However, when the sea is clearer than bath water and you can see every single grain of sand, every single scale of every single fish, it suddenly makes things very very real.
Brando showed me how to break open the 'kina' and feed them to the fish. I loved doing this and then having all of the fish eat out of our hands.
There were fish of every single neon colour - purple, blue, orange, green, yellow, turquoise! I suddenly realised these were all the fish I had seen in New Zealand in fancy heated water aquariums in certain restaurants or reception areas - I was in their homeland!
For the next few days we swam, we snorkelled, we island hopped, and we just had a generally great time. I met his sister Elide and his gorgeous 4 year old (but super tiny) neice Danalyse, who (other than my Grace) is the happiest child I have ever known - she would literally throw herself into the ocean despite her tiny size, give me the best cuddles, laugh every single minute, sing along with movies, and just be a beautiful little princess. Somehow, I could understand her Spanish really well and she could understand me. She was introducing me to all of her little friends saying 'this is Aunty Katy" ... How can you tell a 4 year old otherwise?
As much as I was loving my time with Brando in San Andres, with the worlds best water, where every colour signifies the depth and the growth below, often forming very distinct lines in places,
I still really wanted to go to Providencia. Soooooo, we decided to go together. We had to wake up at 5am to make it onto the catamaran for the 3.5 hour trip to Providencia. I had been warned by other travellers that the sea was rough, that people were vomitting etc. I had only thought "chickens". But when the lady at the dock gave everyone on board a travel sickness pill and we were strapped into our seats, I started to get worried. And sure enough, the following three hours (in a drugged haze from whatever it was I had swallowed) were among the worst 3 hours of my entire life. The catamaran was fighting against open water, to get us to Providencia which lies just 50km north of San Andres. At one point, I remember I couldn't even handle Brando holding my hand. I was wrapped up in a sweater because of the freezing air con, face screwed up, arms wrapped around myself, and literally thinking death by jumping overboard would be nicer than continuing. I can't even explain, how high we bounced over the waves, often gaining air. Because the waves have their own rhythm, there was nothing you could do to prepare yourself for the next one, except try to let the little white pill float you into unconsciousness. Many people vomited, I had not eaten so I did not, but I was very very close. I will never take that trip again, in my entire life. It was so awful that I still can't look back and laugh about it, I just look back and want to throw up.
However, it was all worth it when we got to the beautiful paradise of Providencia. With just 5000 inhabitants and very very VERY strict immigration and tourism laws, the island has managed to keep it's unspoilt beauty. It almost stands still in time, a true Caribbean island. We had very little money between us, so the sickness continued from the catamaran onto the land when we were told the prices of the cheapest hostels. However, the universe played its amazing part once again and we met a wonderful guy Clinton on the side of the street.
He took us to meet his friend Roland, the owner of the coolest bar/ restaurant on the island.
Roland is one of those people who can see your soul when he looks at you, and you can see his. He knew we needed his help, and I knew I could help him in some way, I just didn't know what yet. He gave us not only a room, but our very own cottage in the hills above the beach and restaurant! Ok ok, cottage maybe not quite - cute little beach shack maybe a better word? Whatever the word, English or Spanish, it instantly felt like home.
By night we partied, we drank rum, we shared 'cigars' with the rastas (sorry, but it has to be done in the Caribbean), we danced by the fire, and made friends for life with the locals. Brando speaks only Spanish, but most of the locals in Providencia speak English and Creole. I am not sure if they are one and the same, but they sound like Pirates to my ears. They all thought I was hilarious, because I couldn't understand them and kept calling them all pirates - yet I was the one swigging the rum straight from the bottle! Despite a few conversations in English (where I persevered because I wanted to listen to the accents, it was mostly easier to just speak Spanish with most people even though they spoke English as a native language - because of the accents and the Creole, I just couldn't understand them!
I was fascinated by the freaky, giant crabs that would come and hang out near the fire, some Brando had to save from becoming roasted crab! They were easily the size of a small cat, some as big as Bob!
Having Brando there with me was amazing, because he is a local (as people from San Andres and Providencia identify with each other) he shared a lot of contacts and friends, so it was like being accepted into another family. We were able to use Roland's place as if it was our own and I will be forever grateful to him. He doesn't advertise for people to stay, you need to be invited in order to be able to do so, and from what I heard this is a very rare thing.
By day we swam, we explored, we tanned, we ran around like idiots, we ate fish fresh from the sea, and drank water from buckets that has fallen from the sky - the most delicious water I have ever drank.
On one of the days, Roland took us out to see the horse races on the beach. But before we got to the beach, we drove around on the back of his truck drinking cuba libres and visiting all of the horses in their homes before the race. I gave each a kiss for goodluck!
Being out and about with Roland in Providencia, was like being out and about with a celebrity in Hollywood. Everyone loves him as the guy who hosts the best parties on the island, respects his work as he helps out a LOT of people - lends his boat so people can make money from the fish the catch (in return for just one fish), lends his motorbikes/ truck/ horses so people can do work, he hires locals for the kitchen and bar. A very very good man with an amazing heart and soul.
We finally made it down to a neighbouring beach together, watched the race (Serena won, Muñeca did not), and then Brando and I wandered around for the rest of the afternoon while Roland went to help out with the horses.
The rest of our time in Providencia was more of the same... finding giant conch shells in the sea, resting in hammocks, swinging from coconut trees, drinking fresh coconut water straight from freshly chopped coconuts ... paradise
I spoke with Roland at length about the need for a kiosk of hammocks on Providencia. Not many, just 6 hammocks so not to ruin the vibe of his place, but 6 hammocks that are always available for travelers like me. Travelers with little money, but a love of life and adventure. People who aren't worried about the bugs or the dirt, who don't need a bed or air conditioning. People who just need somewhere safe to sleep and store belongings, and a place full of good energy and wicked vibes. I explained to Roland about the kiosks I had been staying in previously in my trip, and how we could find travelers willing to come and do free building work in exchange for food and a bed. He explained how he couldn't organise this, that he was still building his own dream down on the beach and had been doing so for the past 25 years. But that perhaps I needed to see that this was why I had come to Providencia, that this was MY project, and that I needed to help him to make it happen. And I feel as if I do, he helped me and now I want to help him. Not because he needs it, but because I want to. And I also want to be able to help future travellers like me, so they can afford to stay in paradise too.
Knowing that I would return to Providencia to work, without having the safety of Brando, was made a lot easier knowing I had my very own body guard - a GIANT ridgeback named Boxer who looked out for me like crazy. He slept outside our hut, he followed me around, and would always walk just 5 steps ahead, checking around and back at me to make sure I was safe. He gave the best cuddles, would play with me gently enough that he never hurt me, and was just my soul brother. I was not surprised when Roland told me that him and Boxer were so also, and that he had raised Boxer since a tiny puppy on a philosophy of love and respect.
I made other friends at Rolands, not so sure if they thought of me as one though... two tiny little chicks that Brando caught so I could give them a cuddle!
I saw a tee shirt on the island. The tag says 'hecho en Colombia' which means made in Colombia. It has the New Zealand flag and a ladies leg standing on the ground. I have always been one for signs, and as my amazing Cindy told me - this seems to be one that signals perhaps my destiny lies here in Colombia. At least for now, it is only one leg on the ground after all.
With a head half filled with rasta plaits , a mind full of ideas and promises to help create something new in the hills of Rolands bar, the handshake promise from my good friend Clinton for motorbike lessons and a bike to borrow for my stay when I go back, a beautiful dog waiting to hike the mountains with me, a camera full of pictures full of paradise, and a heart full of love for a local boy, sadly the time to leave approached. As easily as I could have stayed forever, I have an amazing family to see in the United States next week. Thankfully, the return trip home on the Catamaran was smooth like promised it always is - it's just going there, everyone needs to sacrifice something to get to paradise I suppose!
Brando understood, somehow, that what we had would not last forever. That if we tried to make it so, we would end up crushed and broken. Not only are we from different worlds, we have different dreams and motivations. And those who know me well, know that the one thing I respect and love more than anything else in a man is dreams and motivations. I do hope we can always be friends, that I can see him when I go back to San Andrés before I take the plane to Providencia (never again the catamaran, I swear it!), and that his heart is not too shattered right now.
Until next time paradise, hopefully it won't be too long until I am back in the sea of 7 colours x