We’re PRO Providencia!

Ok, get your maps out boys and girls because we are about to have a geography lesson.   Before this cruising life, we hadn’t even heard of many of the places we have visited and now we feel like we could at least win the $300 question in the “Where In the World?” category on Jeopardy Latin America.

That red marker is Providencia

That red marker is Providencia

Our latest stop was the Colombian island of Providencia.   Near Colombia?  Oh no, my friend it is 380 nautical miles west of Colombia in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.  It is actually closer to Nicaragua (140 nm off that barren coast) and a world away from the all-inclusive tropical resorts found throughout the Caribbean.

Neko anchored in Providencia

Neko anchored in Providencia with frigates circling

Neko way down there

This fantastic vista was our reward for hiking 360 meters to the top of”The Peak”, the island’s highest point.   One of those white dots out there, probably the one uppermost and furthest left, is Neko.

Tourism is very low-key here and the island is pleasantly geared toward merely sustaining the slow-paced lives of the locals.  This we’ve discovered is the common theme to our favorite stops.

Expert net throwing

Expert net throwing

Local children enjoying a swim

Local children enjoying a swim

Just out for his morning stroll

Just out for his morning stroll

With a population of just over 5,000 it is small enough where everyone seems to know each other and accordingly there is little crime.  Think of it, if everyone is going to know you did it and you live on an island hundreds of miles from any escape route, what kind of life of crime can you really lead?

Local house

House in the section of the island called “Bottom House”.

The locals speak Spanish but they seem more akin to Jamaicans than Colombians.  Their preferred mode of communication is a rhythmic patois with more English than Spanish but with words truncated making it very difficult for outsiders to comprehend.  In fact, one of the Mr. Bushes on the island (anonymity protected as certain names dominate on the island – there are more Bushes or Hawkinses than you can count) told us that its purpose was so pure Spanish or English speakers could not understand it.   But its rhythm makes it a delight to hear.   (double click photos to see full size)

There are only a handful of cars and trucks on the island and everyone seems to get around on a scooter, small motor bike or mule (sort of like a 4-wheel ATV).  They are world champions in carrying people and items on bikes – we never saw 5 to a bike, but 4 persons on one scooter is routine.

We arrived a week before Christmas planning to ring in the new year and be on our way, but Mother Nature is a tough travel agent and had a different schedule in mind.

Santa kids

The island started the holiday party the afternoon of Christmas Eve and kept going until well after the new year


Susan, Stella and I getting our groove back


Perfect view from Neko of the Christmas fireworks

Winds were blowing a steady 25-30 knots and seas outside were 10′-15′ so we hunkered down with fellow buddy boaters Pegasus, R&R Kedger, Second Wind and new pals Aphrodite and took to exploring Providencia from its high peeks to below its seas.

Since the island is surrounded by the 3rd largest reef in the world and we had the time, Peter and I took diving lessons and were able to get our open water PADI certificate.     I didn’t think I’d ever do this, but never say never and there I was down 60 feet with the rays, sharks and coral breathing air from a tank.

So after a fabulous month in Providencia, Mother Nature was satisfied we’d properly experienced the island and she calmed the winds and seas down just enough for us to head to the next esoteric locale “we’ll take Guanaja, Honduras for $500, Alex”.

Bogotá Bound

I’ve heard stories about Colombia all my life. Not the drug riddled danger zone of the 80’s & 90’s, but tales of living in a foreign land from my grandparents and aunt Lynn who lived there from 1959-1965.

My mom, aunt Lynn and grandfather in Bogotá 1959

My mom, aunt Lynn and Johnny Cash…um… I mean my grandfather… in Bogotá 1959

My grandfather was a manager at Owens Illinois Glass Company and went first to Bogotá and then to Medellín to build glass plants.   He was a captivating storyteller and would have us all in stitches about the crazy characters at work and their resourceful ways to fix almost anything.  I remember his story of the time he foiled the plan of a robber trying to steal their washing machine by hoisting it over their outer wall with a getaway cab waiting.  I lament that my grandfather isn’t alive to hear about our adventures on Neko, he would have loved it.   I find myself thinking about my grandparents a lot during our cruising and now relate to the obstacles they faced living in a foreign land.  Living in 1960’s Colombia without internet and with revolution always looming was definitely a greater hardship than traveling by sailboat with modern technology, but there are many similarities.   I remember my grandmother telling me how shopping for groceries became a whole day’s adventure and how she had to wash all the vegetables with bleach (Been there, done that).   And how she got by with only rudimentary Spanish thanks to the kindness and patience of the Colombian folks (hmmm…sounds familiar). They tried new foods, made new friends and turned what sometimes were difficult and frustrating times into positive lifelong memories. I cherish that example they set for me and I try to remember their great attitudes when we struggle with bureaucratic red tape, language barriers and improvised boat repairs.

My aunt, mom, family friends and grandmother up on Monserrate

My aunt, mom, family friends and grandmother up on Monserrate, 1959   Note everyone in skirts and dresses because it was forbidden for ladies to wear pants.


Enjoying the view up on Monserrate

56 years later, Peter and I enjoying the same view up on Monserrate, 10,000 feet above sea level (note the outerwear – our thin blood was not ready for this cold).

One of our objectives all along was to get to Colombia to honor their pioneering spirit. So as Peter and I found extra time during the rainy season, we decided to hop a plane to Bogotá.  Although it’s 50+ years from when my grandparents lived there, it was fun to see some of the things I had heard about. With great guidance from my Aunt Lynn and my Mom (who didn’t live there but visited enough to remember details), we set out to see what was still there and what had changed.

Grandparents house in 1960

Grandparents house in 1960

Their house is no longer there, but it seems they have kept the retaining walls

Their house is no longer there, but it seems they have kept the stone retaining walls

This is the spot where their house stood, now an apartment building

This is the spot where their house stood.


Sadly the house they lived in was torn down and replaced by a swank apartment building, but It does seem that the old stone retaining wall remains.  Peter and I had fun playing detective and finding their old, but much-changed neighborhood. I was hoping to see some 80 year old woman walking down the street who would have remembered them, but my life is not a movie, so off we went to explore the rest of of the city.   And what a vibrant city it is.



As always, click on a picture in the gallery below to rotate through the images.