Monday, January 17, 2011

Old Providence

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Arriving in a new place is, for me, an almost sensual experience. If I had antennae, flared nostrils and whiskers, a flicking tongue, you'd see 'em all working. What I've got to work with is mostly visual, however (hence the camera?)

Coming in by boat, I like daybreak best. It's beautiful, often calm, maybe the aids to navigation are still lit - the best of all possible worlds, and it's all still fresh and new to all my receptors!

At Providencia's nicely sheltered harbour, Doug went ashore to do the captain business, while I re-feathered the nest ( it involves lots of wiping and putting away; talk about routine! Only sometimes do we break the pink-blue barriers).

To enter Colombia, an agent is required; otherwise we'd both be tramping from office to office making the best of a sometimes uneven cultural experience. Here all we had to do was pay Mr. Bernardo Bush. Doug came home from the ATM with a fistful of pesos, denominations in the thousands(roughly 2000 pesos per dollar, falling ever since we arrived), but hadn't a clue what it was worth. Despite the big numbers, it of course didn't last long.
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A few things we noticed right away.
First, lots of color, lots of art, lots of small things done with care, tidy. Mosaic signs, patterned sidewalks, nice street lights, decorative cutouts and gingerbread trim on buildings, and did I mention the colors?
PHOTOScooter sunset
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Sturdy houses, many of them wood, in that nice island style you can still see in places like Carriacou.
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Second, no guns. In Honduras every cell phone store and tortilla chip truck comes with an under-employed starch-uniformed private-security armed guard with a shotgun on his shoulder. Here it was just civilians in t-shirts and flimsy shoes.

Third, clean swept streets, trash cans, recycling bins! Later we saw the...hmmm, on Kent Island we used to call it the dump, but now it's the Sanitary Landfill/Waste Transfer station. All the Providencia trash is sorted, into giant bags made of feed sack cloth with handles. They look like my grocery bag writ large, but are small enough to be moved by forklift or small crane. Organized trash collection has a lot to recommend it.

And finally, largely English-speaking or English/Creole.

According to Wikipedia,
the population of the Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina uses three languages (Creole, English and Spanish). English was kept in the Baptist churches for liturgy, but the coming of satellite television and growth of foreign tourism has revived the use of the English in the islands. The presence of migrants from continental Colombia and the travel of young islanders to cities like Barranquilla, Cartagena de Indias and Bogotá for superior studies, has contributed to the presence of Spanish. However, the interest in preserving the Native Creole has become a very important element for locals and Colombians in general. Island creole is very similar to the English creole spoken in the Moskito coast of Nicaragua, and the Anglophone Caribbean.Like the Bay Islands of Honduras, the English presence was historically stronger than the Hispanic.

Those Englishmen may have been 'pirates' - Providencia uses Henry Morgan to descrbe physical features, Morgan's Crack is matched by Morgan's Head on the west side, but Morgan's gold is nowhere to be found.

Well offshore of the continent, geographically closer to Nicaragua or Honduras than to Colombia, even now Providencia still has strong ties to the Cayman Islands. The modern diaspora has also taken many Providencians to places like Tampa, FL and New Orleans LA. I was told this, but saw the evidence myself as the ship unloaded before Christmas.
Not just anyone can move here, not even just any Colombian; a permit needed for more than a six-month stay. This seems to be because the the 'indigenous culture", the Raizal, is protected, with other language groups, by the Colombian Constitution of 1991. That's what Mr. Bush was talking about when he emphasized the strictness of the immigration laws and our need for an expensive tourist card. I thought he meant the likes of us boat people, but apparently we're known to be short term and there's other game.

Providencia has less than 20km of road circling the coast, and a population of maybe 4 or 5 thousand people. The town is about 3 square blocks in area, and then there's another small island attached by a bridge/causeway, for pedestrians only. Nearly every one seems to own a motor scooter. It would be fun to record all the various things we saw being done on or carried by scooter, but I'm having enough fun already.
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Unlike its more thoroughly developed sister island of San Andreas, Providencia is 'unspoilt' by tourism. Or, rather, the tourism is at a very modest level, low and mellow. One of my friends called it a 'rustic rock'. I love rustic! There are no highrise hotels; in fact there is barely anything that you'd associate with a 'tourist mecca' except the handful of yachts at anchor and some tourists at Catalina Island, FreshWater Bay and Southwest Bay, in a few small hotels.

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The main road, which encircles an old (small) volcanic plug of the type you'd see in the Marquesas, just begged to be explored on our little folding bikes. I'm happy to report that Providencia can be successfully circumnavigated in an afternoon.

This allows for a few tourist/beer stops.
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These are the local beers. For 'imported beers' where we're used to seeing Heineken, St Pauli Girl, etc, here it's Old Milwaukee, in cans.

There are a couple push-the-bike-up-the-hill hills as well. Despite them, we made it back home before dark.
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At least, after another day of binge exercise, we didn't end up here, at the Sunshine Funeral Home.
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Previous versions of this blog post may have suffered from the operator falling asleep while waiting for things to upload. Sorry!

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