Traveling 480km from the Colombian coast we landed on the neighbouring islands of Old Providence and Santa Catalina. These fertile mountainous islands are set in the emerald Caribbean sea, 180km from central America and 400km SW of Jamaica. Together they consist of an area of 20km sq. Surrounding the islands is an oceanic platform which stretches 100km sq. This contains patch, fringing and barrier reefs, along with marine grasses and mangroves. The tidal variation was small, up to 50cm, and the water temperature was around 26C. For the islanders their relationship with the sea is still a key part of daily life and island culture.
We booked a B&B or 'posada' on the eastern side of the larger island of Providence run by a wonderful lady called Carmeni. We arrived towards the end of April during the dry season. The rain was awaited by parched grasses and flowers and their domestic grazers of horses and cattle. Providence experiences a steady arid climate, at a near constant 28C, but it felt hotter in the sun. The next few paragraphs and future posts talk more about these tiny dots in the middle of the ocean, which was to be our home for three weeks.
We found out that there are no native mammals on the islands except for some bats. Driving on our rented moped around the one road which encircles Providence we could see that domestic cattle raising causes serious problems of erosion and contributes to the shortage of water. The dusty hills are parched dry and what little grass there was had been devoured by the cattle. We commonly spotted land Crabs, mosquitos, beetles, ants, iguanas, geckos, blue lizards and a myriad of bird life. Due to the islands location it is an important pit stop for migratory birds flying between North and South America. It was a relief to know that there are no venomous snakes on the islands, but we were told we might find the smallest snake in the world called the silver snake. We didn't find it, but it is really small!
This natural environment is yet to be heavily corrupted by 'progress'. Thankfully there are no big hotel chains, we saw no cruise ships swarm into dock and tourist or foreign access is strictly time limited, a maximum of 3 months per year for any non-native of the island.
Richer in ancient traditions than the neighbouring island of San Andres (90km to the south) Providence has a powerful identity and passionate history. The local people are termed Raizal whom have British, European and African heritages. Generations of Robinsons, Archbolds, Newballs, Britons, Taylors, Byrons and Howards have lived on Providence. It is clear they are proud of their mixed heritage and we heard many an explanation of an individual's linage being traced to a sailor from England, Scotland or Ireland. They speak a heavily accented clipped English, which has similarities to Jamaican Creole. Once we got our ear in, we could roughly follow 50% of a conversation.
The islanders we met during our stay were easy going. One example of this is not working more than necessary: “if paradise is lost when you have to work, the local doesn’t see why it cant be regained without too much effort, especially since he lives in it.”
Throughout the hamlets of Lazy Hill, Bottom House, Rocky Point, Old Town, to name a few, hammocks are hung on every veranda. In the afternoon, generally from 1 to 4 or 5 they sway to and fro following the measure of the breeze and in its absence inventing one itself. Relaxing with a book, listen to music, being with ones thoughts or dozing is a treat to be savoured as this pendulum brings a comforting and primeval rhythm.
Playing dominoes is a very popular islander pastime. We didn't partake but we certainly heard the games. They play it quietly at first but as the end approaches sounds of triumph and desperation are heard, whilst the slapping of domino pieces against table tops gets more vigorous and louder!
As the bananas flower the local birds feed
A magnified view of Providence's location in the Caribbean
A busy day at south west beach
The local dive boat returns and the horse gets taken for its afternoon bath to cool off
The fisherman gut their fish at the shore providing a feast for the swooping Man O Wars
The beautifully iridescent blue lizard prowls the garden of our Posada
The floating bridge that joins Providence to Santa Catalina
Safe anchorage off Santa Catalina sheltered from the easterly winds - the tree is not so fortunate
The north tip of Providence from Santa Catalina
The turquoise waters of Crab Cey a tiny island a few kilometres off shore
These little fellas are everywhere jumping from rock to rock
Hermit crabs emerge at night rustling through the leaf debris
Hummingbirds are everywhere and are regular visitors to our Posada garden
Home sweet home - the ground floor is ours and Carmini's family has upstairs