Planes, Autos, and Boats Pt. 1

Posted by: on Apr 1, 2014 | 2 Comments

Before traveling to Isla Providencia and Guanaja, I had never been offshore on a boat with no land in sight, I had never been to the Caribbean, and I hadn’t left the United States in almost ten years. I talk travel. I feel envious of friends recounting their foreign adventures. But I continuously talked myself out of travel. So, when my husband’s family friends, Greg and Laura, who own Yorktown Sailing Charters, headed south to Panama for the winter on their schooner, we got on board. Also, to keep my sanity through this cold, wet, dark winter, I needed sunshine and warmth.

San Andres

San Andres

As it turns out, getting to a boat moored at a teensy Caribbean island, is a lot harder than it sounds. You can fly anywhere, right? Isla Providencia is, as a friend of my mother-in-law put it, politically Colombian and geographically Central American. It lies off the coast of Nicaragua. So, the closest flights are through countries other than Colombia, but the cheapest flights are through Bogota, Colombia. My husband, his father and step-mom, and I scheduled two flights on Colombian airlines we’d never heard of to island hop our way to Isla Providencia.

On March 5th, we flew to Bogota, which was merely a stopping point in our travels. Our most adventurous act in Bogota was drinking the hotel tap water. Except for Steve, my father-in-law, he wouldn’t drink the water. But the hotel left cups by the sink and the water smelled and tasted strongly of chlorine (No regrets, none of us were sick). The next morning, Thursday, we left Bogota for San Andres, the first island. From San Andres we planned on a second flight to Isla Providencia. Somehow, Steve had managed to get a fishing pole, which was sticking out of both ends of his bag, to Bogota the day before. Although he had a fully collapsible pole in his luggage, he had also insisted on bringing the larger pole. He was not allowed to check the bag. So, we hauled it along with us to security. Where, despite his attempts to explain es plastico (it’s plastic), the guards confiscated it. Hoping it wouldn’t go to waste, he offered it to the guard saying, para usted (for you). But she just shook her head and plopped it into a bin with other confiscated items, probably pocket knives. Thankfully, they didn’t take that as an inappropriate bribe.

In San Andres, we had several hours before our next flight to Providencia. The airport was small and almost open air. The doors were wide open and, other than the room where they check documents, mostly empty. Men sat around the entrance waiting to take passengers around the island. So, we grabbed a cab and went to lunch. Cabs on the islands are just people with their cars, trucks, or vans. They aren’t yellow. They don’t say taxi. Forget everything your mom ever told you about not getting in cars with strangers. We asked our driver to take us to a lunch spot of his choosing. At first the island seemed deserted and then we realized it was the siesta. All the shops were closed and people were at lunch. He dropped us at Celia’s and promised to return in an hour. We’d dressed for airports so, we traded our shoes for sandals and removed our long sleeves. We had cold beers and shared plates of red snapper, lobster, crab, coconut rice, yucca fries, and plantain chips. This was the first of many platos mixtos (mixed plates). Also, rice should always be coconut rice. Always.

Plato mixto: crab, lobster, conch, plantains, yucca, coconut rice

Plato mixto: crab, lobster, conch, plantains, yucca, coconut rice

When we returned to the airport to check-in, the ticket agent told us our tickets were cancelado (canceled). Apparently, on Satena airlines, you book online, enter your credit card information, receive a confirmation, and then have to call the company and pay again or your tickets will be cancelled without any notification. Our confirmation meant nothing. The next available flights were the following Thursday and a charter flight cost $1200. After a moment of panic, thinking we’d be stuck in San Andres, we remembered seeing something on the internet about a catamaran that runs between San Andres and Providencia daily. Our trip was starting to feel a little like the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles only boats and no trains. It’s a 3-4 hour boat ride instead of a 30 minute flight. But it also cost $35. We booked tickets on the catamaran for the next morning.

Then we found a nice hotel on the beach for the night. The building was white, clean inside, had a pool, a bar, a restaurant, and internet (once it started working again). We managed to finagle discounted rooms. The cost of which was twin beds. We didn’t see a lot of San Andres. What we saw were beautiful spots juxtaposed with vacant lots full of trash. The hotel had trash and recycling bins inside yet the lot next to it was littered with bottles and papers. Our balcony overlooked this lot and then panned over to the brilliant blue ocean. We lost no time changing into bathing suits and beelined for the beach and the bar. The water was warm and significantly saltier than our coast. After talking about coco locos and pineapple rum drinks all day, Steve ordered what turned out to be a bright pink cocktail that tasted unfortunately like chicle (bubblegum) because of the maraschino cherries in it. The mojito was much tastier.

Max, me, Steve, Merri on the catamaran shuttle boat

Max, me, Steve, Merri on the catamaran shuttle boat

We rose before dawn Friday morning to catch the catamaran. The taxi dropped us at a vacant looking (except for the small crowd) lot on the water. Our driver blessed our travels adding that he hoped the Lord would carry us safely home. We really hoped that meant safely to Providencia and then home as in Virginia. The ground was covered in broken concrete and patches of grass. There were ropes designating the area for passengers. Inside the rope were two tables with policia checking bags. Ahead of us in the security line was a man with a three foot cubed cardboard box which he was taping shut. Both the policia stood stoically behind the tables. So, we waited and waited while the man taped and taped some more. After maybe 15 minutes, the second officer noticed us and waved us around the man still taping his package. The concrete lot led out to a covered loading dock. The water was so shallow that we had to shuttle to the catamaran moored in deeper waters. We piled onto the shuttle with the man and his box, which he was still taping. No one seemed to think this weird except for us. The ride lasted 3 hours over calm waters. When I started to feel a little sick, I looked at the horizon and practiced deep meditative breathing. Still it was a relief to disembark at the warm, sunny, protected harbor in Isla Providencia. After two eventful days of travel, we had two glorious days of sun ahead of us.

2 Comments

  1. Beth
    April 2, 2014

    What an adventure and I learned a few things! That information about the airlines was really useful. It’s amazing what kinds of problems you can have when traveling that are totally unexpected and unusual compared to here in the US. We hear a lot of griping about regulations, but the airline canceling like that would not happen here in the US because of regulations. Wonderful to read!

    Reply
  2. Harriet
    April 2, 2014

    Wow, Hali, what an adventure!
    You missed a whole day of your vacation, and Steve lost a fishing pole. I think you were brave to venture into the unknown, almost, reality of the far, far Caribbean!
    At least you had a couple of lovely, sunny days – well deserved after the kind of winter you’ve had.
    Lots of love,
    Grandma

    Reply

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