Exploring Santa Catalina, Providencia

At Anchor, Catalina Harbor, Providencia

We’ve been here a week, and three days of it were “boat bound,” due to some pretty brisk winds that threatened to drag us (again). Friday evening, after a great day of scootering around the island, we went over to Attitude for happy hour. As soon as we stepped aboard, Neil and Dale (s/v Orangi) pointed and shouted simultaneously “You’re dragging!” which prompted a hasty three-man rescue attempt to try to prevent Emma Jo from blowing into Attitude. Cathy, Dillis and I sat and enjoyed the show, but the wind continued upwards of 20-30 knots through Monday and we didn’t’ feel comfortable leaving the boat to go into town.

Ole did make it to town yesterday morning, though, to pick up the repaired heat exchanger for the port engine. Cost was 200,000 pesos (more or less $100), and the leak was small – the repairman only had to plug about 3 of the little tubes. That was the good news.

The bad news is that yesterday afternoon we had planned to go ashore to stretch our legs, and as Ole stepped from the shower, he noticed the shower pump was not working. A hasty inspection found the bilge full of gray water. No telling how long the pump had been out. Fortunately he had a spare pump and float switch, and by 4:00 we were pretty much back in business.

We dinghied into town to find that all satellite services to Providencia have been down for 9 days, so there is no telephone or internet to be had. So we stopped in at the bakery and had fresh lemon pie and coffee, swapped some books at the exchange in the bakery, and browsed the general store for Christmas cards. It felt good to walk a bit.

In the early evening after the sun went down, we noticed the locals were out and about, in the tradition of an evening paseo – young men and women, families, grandmas and grandpas just strolling or sitting along the brightly painted little malecon. It’s worth pondering what life could be like when what you do in the evening is just go for a walk with your friends or family and talk to your neighbors, instead of being shut in with the television or the computer. The agent, Bernardo Bush, told us that crime is virtually unheard of here, even though there is a marine base and small police presence (or maybe because of it). We noticed that there is no undercurrent of hostility or danger here, unlike some of the other Caribbean islands we’ve visited, maybe due to the island’s history. The cruising guides we’ve read remark that here in Providencia people are actually glad to welcome you, and everyone we’ve passed on the street has been pleasant and openly friendly.

This afternoon we decided to go ashore for lunch, to a place on Isla Santa Catalina called Bambu. The architecture was pretty remarkable – just a framework of huge bamboo assembled as posts and beams around a paved courtyard, with a little outbuilding that served as bar/kitchen. The proprietor, an energetic 40-ish man asked if he could just “drive” our lunch, by which we figured he meant just decide and cook for us. We happily agreed. Our first course was “crab toes” – the small minor claws of land crabs, which are abundant here, prepared in butter and garlic. Olivier, the chef/proprietor, giggled as he watched us wolfing them down, saying “they are addictive – I could eat a couple of hundred at a time.” He was right. This first course was accompanied by some salmon (!) ceviche, marinated in olive oil, herbs and lime, and homemade bread with a spread we think was crab roe. The main course was a beautiful array of perfectly fried sprats, little fishes looking like art displayed on a plain wooden slab with a large leaf and bougainvillea flower, with amazingly crisp plantains, rice and salad. All happily washed down with a cold Aguila. Olivier and his wife, a former journalist from Bogota, moved here two years ago and seemed insanely happy. I think I would be too.

We went to town to check out with Mr. Bush, then took a little walk around Isla Santa Catalina which is connected by a bright floating footbridge from the main town. About 200 people live here, very simply. The island is tidy, well-groomed, and fringed with a malecon, or walkway, along the water. We strolled by folks just sitting on their porches talking, and little kids out fishing for sprats with what looked like mom’s tablecloth. The end of the malecon leads upward to the remains of a 17th century fort which we think was used by pirates to repel the more lawful ships in the area.

After a light dinner on deck, we left at 2:00 a.m. for the 73 mile trip to the Albuquerque Cays — about a third of the way to Bocas del Toro.

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