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Western Caribbean Cruising, Part 3:  Guanaja, Honduras to Providencia, Columbia  

Rose at anchor by Sharon Kratz, s/v Rose of Sharon

We utilized DMA Chart 28150, Reed’s Nautical Almanac and Calder’s Cruising Guide to the Northwest Caribbean and Cruising Ports: Florida to California via Panama for information regarding anchorages on the Islands of Guanaja and Vivorillos, Honduras; Providencia, Columbia.

We were relaxing, enjoying the cruising experience more than ever before, because of our increased confidence in our abilities and our boat. The day we left the island of Roatan, Honduras was a perfect example of beautiful tropical weather and I was cheerful as I perched in the cockpit, following Joe’s instructions while he weighed anchor. Joe had recently observed that our anchor was getting “heavier every year,” so we did our best to let the boat do some of the work of getting the anchor off the bottom.

Joe followed our waypoints out of Port Royal and we were chatting happily when both of us paused. “Something sounds funny,” I said. He nodded and looked over the starboard side where he expected to see that small stream of water from the engine, but it wasn’t there. He shut off the engine and we bobbed around in the Caribbean. It was a breezy but not overwhelmingly brisk day, so we weren’t in immediate danger. I kept a close watch on Roatan’s reef – it wasn’t moving but we were drifting its way – while Joe worked down below in the engine room.

“We have a broken hose,” he reported. It was the water coolant line. He tried to effect a fix but it was too bouncy so he returned to the cockpit and we began a slow retreat back to Port Royal. After a few minutes, he shut down the engine again. “There’s no sense in risking overheating if we don’t have to,” he said, and we raised the jib.

We have never entered an anchorage under sail. It always looked good when other boats did it, but we never thought it was a safe thing to do. This time, we decided to risk it and it worked beautifully! Joe stood on the bow of the boat while I steered between the two buoys marking the reef opening to the harbor of Port Royal. I was doing so well, I wanted to try to steer to and grab a mooring ball under sail, but Joe said we shouldn’t press our luck and we dropped anchor. It took him almost two hours to repair the hose.

There was a time when that would have been enough stress to call it quits for the day but with our new-found enthusiasm for the cruising life, we were eager to get “back out there” again, so we did. The passage to the island of Guanaja, Honduras took approximately 2 hours, and we had winds about 10 knots on the nose.

The Guanaja anchorage is very small, and there is a great deal of working vessel traffic and water taxi traffic between the town and the main island. I’ve never seen anything like the small settlement of Guanaja! The entire town is perched on a tiny island near the larger island of Guanaja, and there are no streets, just walkways and docks! It is charming, and so much fun to wander up and down and in and out the maze that is Guanaja Settlement. Many of the cruisers to this area refer to the Settlement as “Waterworld.”

Port CaptainOur first stop was at the Port Captain’s office. He took our zarpe and sent us to Immigration. At Immigration, the official requested a Tripulante, or Crew List, and no one had requested that document from us since we’d sailed to Isla Mujeres, Mexico in 2005. There is a sample of a Crew List in Freya Rauscher’s Cruising Guide but I did not have it with me and it’s best if you make your own based on the guidebook’s example. I was stumped.

“How much did you pay to Immigration in Roatan?” the officer asked me. “Nothing,” I said. “But we paid a $25 Cruiser Fee.” I was hoping he’d appreciate that we might have been shaken down a bit in Roatan, because I was feeling a document processing fee was in the works. He flipped through Joe’s passport reflectively, then he opened my passport. “What is this?” he asked me. “It’s a St. Christopher medal,” I said. He pointed to the next item taped inside my passport. “That’s a St. Catherine medal,” I said. I’m not Catholic. Let’s just say I am extremely ecumenical, but my passport has impressed more than one Customs and/or Immigration official in third world Latin American countries. They understand the kind of person who would scotch-tape a Chinese good luck piece and saints’ medals in their passports because they would too.

He nodded slowly then said, “You can write tripulante. Here is example.” He handed me a sample crew list and I copied it, word-for-word, painstakingly trying to duplicate the verbiage. He glanced at what I wrote, then took another sheet of notebook paper and wrote a simpler version of my elaborate document: 1. Nombre de Barco (Boat Name), 2. Numeral (Registration Number) . . . and completed it with the information we gave him from our U.S. vessel Certificate of Documentation.

Joe talks fast He was a very kind man and what is important for cruisers to remember is this: NEVER act impatient, or rushed, because that attitude will be met with resistance in Central America. Just lean back in your chair and let it flow, which is what Joe and I did. We sat in the Immigration office for over an hour, and we acted as if there was no place else we’d rather be.

Speaking of documentation, apparently cruisers to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, are being asked for notarized copies of their crew lists. Some overly zealous cruiser recently provided a notarized crew list, and the Immigration official liked it so much that he is now requiring it or a penalty of some sort will be imposed on the cruiser. I have a hard time dealing with the logistics of a notarized crew list, but if you can – for Isla Mujeres, Mexico, anyway – do so before departing the U.S. And remember that whatever the rules are as I write this will probably change before you get there, anyway.

Also, another reminder: the Immigration official at the Bay Island of Utila, Honduras, is not usually in his office, so check-in at Coxen’s Hole, Roatan is the best way to go. The port captain and the immigration office are within feet of each other. And there’s a Bojangles Fried Chicken in Coxen’s Hole. What more do you need?

There is an Atlantico bank on the Settlement of Guanaja, but no ATM machines. For the first time, we got money on our credit card, which Joe was not happy about, but we’d been in ATM crisis the entire time we were in Honduras. The card we wanted to use never worked and the card we didn’t want to use usually worked, but the ATM machines themselves seldom worked, period. I emailed our children that we were saving a lot of money as cruisers in Honduras, mainly because we couldn’t get to our money.

Joshs CayeWe spent two days in Guanaja Settlement, then departed for Josh’s Cay. We motored on the inside of the reef from the island of Guanaja to the small caye, and we had 25 knots of wind on the nose. It was a rough ride, and when we entered the anchorage, we needed to snag a mooring ball. Three other boats were pitching and bucking in the anchorage, their mooring lines strained. A voice came over the VHF, “Rose of Sharon this is Sanderling. Do you need help with your mooring?”

I replied, “No, we don’t think so, but if you see me doing wheelies in the anchorage . . . well, maybe.”

Joe’s luck snaring mooring balls so far was 0-6. I was 1-1. “Do you want ME to go up there while you drive?” I asked sweetly.

He replied with an answer that is meaningful only to us: “You drive the truck, I’ll pick the corn.” It was his way of telling me to shut my mouth, and it always makes me smile and remember Indiana.

I motored slowly and carefully as I could but I’m telling you, it was rough! I came so close to the mooring ball I could count the barnacles, but Joe missed. He shouted for me to try again, I made a u-turn and when I did, the captain of S/V Sanderling of Bath, Maine, jumped into his dinghy and was at the bow of our boat before I completed my turn.

Joe handed him the line, he secured it and we chatted with him a bit before he returned to his boat. Mainly, we discussed the troublesome trade winds, which were consistently in the 20-knot range, even behind the reef. Bob departed and Joe got in the dinghy to attempt a double-line to the mooring ball for better security. I went down below to post a position report. Shortly, he called for me to join him topside to help with the lines.

I entered the cockpit and as he explained what he wanted me to do, I glanced around the boat and noticed I couldn’t see the dinghy. “Joe, where’s the dinghy?” I asked, expecting him to say it was nestled under the bow, he was using it to secure the mooring lines . . . but instead, he looked panic-stricken.

Joe rushed to the stern and said, “It’s gone!”

We scanned the horizon, and he spotted our dinghy about a mile away, bobbling back to the mainland of Guanaja Island. Joe rushed to the mooring ball, pulled the lines loose and yelled, “Head for the dinghy!”

I motored carefully toward the runaway dink while Joe explained The Plan. I was to ease our boat next to the dinghy and he would slide off the deck and into the dinghy. It sounded easy. I motored slowly closer to her and she was moving at quite a clip, so I increased my speed. I had 20 knots of wind behind me, and the combination of my increased speed and the push from behind caused me to overshoot. I nearly ran over the dinghy. Joe left the bow, rushed to the back of the boat and did a Tarzan-like dive into the raging sea. He swam to the dinghy and I motored away, curious to see if his increased weight would prevent him from being able to get into the dinghy from the water.

I saw him struggle out of the whitecaps and collapse across the dinghy with his shorts half-down so I could see just how white he used to be, then I motored alongside to see if he was dead or dying. He wasn’t, so we both steered our respective boats back to the mooring ball, where Joe double tied Rose of Sharon. Then he double-tied the dinghy to the davits. He climbed aboard, dripping wet, got a cold beer out of the cooler and collapsed in the cockpit.

“You should never jump head-first into unfamiliar water,” I said. “You should do the lifeguard-type jump and . . .” He leveled me with one look.

“Great job, Captain Joe!” I finished. Then I went below and issued the following VHF announcement: “For anyone who was watching, that was Rose of Sharon conducting a simulation of a field exercise on how to retrieve a runaway dinghy.”

Bob came on the radio and said, “We thought you didn't like it here and were leaving.”

“No, we like it here just fine,” I returned. “But the dinghy wanted to go back to Roatan! She’s a frisky dinghy.”

Bob and his wife Diane were a kind, helpful couple who had been cruising for several years and planned to return to the Rio Dulce, Guatemala for the hurricane season. Their Maine accents were delightful and they had written a feature and had been mentioned in the Maine yachting magazine, “Points East.” They invited us to a birthday party at Graham’s Place, a one-of-a-kind resort at Josh’s Cay and we accepted. We eagerly looked forward to the barbecue and “real meat,” because we’d been eating out of cans for a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, our friends Art and Darlene of S/V Wayward Wind had indicated they might want to buddy-boat for the passages to the Vivorillos and Providencia; both passages are considered a bit risky because of their proximity to the coast of Nicaragua, which is heavily patrolled by the Nicaraguan Navy, U.S. Navy, and Bad Guys. An encounter with the navy is scary enough, but no one wanted to encounter any Bad Guys off the coast of Nicaragua.

Joe and I were happy to buddy-boat for that passage.

But first, there was the matter of Graham’s Birthday Party, a renowned two-day festival in which free barbecue and drinks are served and a band plays almost non-stop for over 24 hours. I emailed S/V Wayward Wind, which hails out of New Orleans. Art has a Creole-tinged accent that is a pleasure to hear. “Come join us, ma friens,” I invited.

Tropical ParadiseGraham’s Place is the only reason to visit Josh’s Cay, and it’s an excellent place to drop anchor! The property is nestled on a white-sand beach behind the reef. There are guest rooms, a friendly outdoor bar and the best, absolutely best fish fingers I’ve ever tasted.

About ten cruising vessels moored or anchored in Josh’s Cay for Graham’s birthday party. During the party, Darlene, who is has Creole-Italian features and gorgeous dark, curly hair was the object of many male surreptitious glances, but one man named Manuel from the Cayman Islands found her irresistible and would not leave her side. They danced to several Zydeco music renditions before she was able to lose him and hide behind her husband.

The next morning, as I walked from the dinghy onto the beach, a man – another visitor from the Caymans – approached me and, weaving drunkenly at 9:00 a.m., announced I was “the prettiest thing “he’d ever seen” on a beach. He wanted to dance to the now-Reggae music. “You must have me confused with Darlene,” I laughed. No, my new friend Philip stated he only had eyes for me and my blue eyes. “Well, Darlene will be here soon,” I said as I eased away from my suitor. “I know she would LOVE to dance with you!” This could explain why I can count my close female friends on one hand.

ParTay It was quite a party. And Graham himself is a one-of-a-kind host. Seventy years young, Graham drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney and can dance up a storm! Watching Graham bust a move while the band played almost any style of music you’d want to hear was incentive to all of us. If I could look that good at 70 . . . well, heck, most people don’t look that good at thirty! Graham is strong and fit, and has a heart of gold. He likes cruisers, too. Their website is http://www.grahamsplacehonduras.com/ and this resort is a no-frills, non-touristy diamond in the rough.

The day after the two-day party, Graham’s Place ran out of Alka-Seltzer® and headache medicine. Bartender Larry – a relatively young man who had been awake for 48 hours, tending to the needs of drunken revelers – was a walking zombie, who finally had to leave the bar and go to bed. He was completely exhausted. Graham, the 70-years-young party boy was busily working around the property, checking out the Graham’s Place fleet of boats, and he looked completely refreshed after the two-day fiesta.

It was difficult to leave such a fun anchorage, but it was time to leave the Bay Islands and continue to Panama. We had planned to depart at approximately 3:00 a.m. January 22, 2008. On January 21, a single-hander left Josh’s Cay before daybreak, passaging through a small opening in the reef, and crashed into the reef. He issued a mayday on the Northwest Caribbean Net, SSB 6.209. It should have been a pan-pan-pan, but those who heard it said it was a very heartbreaking plea for help. Days later, the boat was lifted off the reef by a local barge. It was a total loss.

Joe then decided 3:00 a.m. was not a good departure time. He bumped it up to 7:00 a.m. and on Wednesday, January 23, 2008 we thought we had a good window to make the “jump” from the Bay Islands to the Vivorillos Cayes en route to Panama. The passage is approximately 163 miles.

We carefully watched the weather and timed our departure accordingly. We weighed anchor at 7:00 a.m., made it out the reef safely, and then raised both sails by 8:00 a.m. We got hit with the first squall at 10:00 a.m.

Joe, who had scorned wearing his harness, scrambled into his inflatable life vest and harness before the storm hit but had to lower the sails in 30-knot winds and 6-8′ angry seas. While I was strapping into my harness and pulling whatever line he handed me, I said, “I thought we were going to get winds 10 knots out of the northeast and seas 3-4 today!”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” he responded.

Our passage from Guanaja took 32 hours; we were fighting headwinds and a strong current most of the way. The Vivorillos were nothing like I had imagined. Basically, the cayes are made up of low-lying beachy islands, deserted except for some coconut trees and Frigate birds. The passage from Guanaja puts you sailing at about a 103° angle and when you get to the small reef between the tiny islands, the water depth drops to about 12 feet and you drop anchor. It’s an easy approach and could be done safely in the dark. We arrived about 3:00 p.m. and anchored at 15°50.02N, 083°18.30W.

The anchorage itself is rolly and windy; it provides some, but not much, protection from the elements. Any port in a storm, though, and we rested there from January 24-27, 2008.

There’s another facet of that particular anchorage we’d been warned about: there are too many flies at the Vivorillos Cayes. The shrimp boats use one of the deserted islands as a dumping ground, and it is busy with Frigate birds and flies enjoying the non-stop seafood buffet. The flies are larger than houseflies and smaller than horseflies; they have beautiful, shiny red or chrome-blue heads and they are aggressive. We could see them, pounding against our mosquito nets trying to break into the boat, and we feared for our lives. In a thousand years or so, the Vivorillos flies will have arms and legs and will carry rolled-up newspapers with which to hit us.

I walked in on a radio conversation between Art and Joe. I heard Art completing his statement with, “. . .  so I was wondering if you have any cigarettes onboard, any amount.”

As Joe was telling him no, we had no smokes, I was prancing around, tugging at Joe’s sleeve. “Tell him we have Valium!” I urged. “We have lots of Valium!” I figured Darlene was suffering from some kind of emotional meltdown.

Joe hung up the microphone and turned to me, laughing. “They need cigarettes to trade for lobster,” he explained. Oh.

A small boat had visited Wayward Wind and the young man bartered lobsters with them for rum and a sweatshirt, since no cigarettes were available. That night we had our own pitch-in, with their lobsters as the main course. The next morning, I cooked a big-o breakfast because I had something fellow-southerners Art and Darlene had been craving: grits. I fried canned Spam® to a crisp (so it would least resemble what it was – Spam®), toasted bread on the stovetop, cooked eggs to order and made pear-flavored Tang®.

We had two pieces of fruit Joe had bought for pennies from a cayuco vendor and we didn’t know what they were. Joe cut them into bite-size pieces and all of us tried them and we still don’t know what they were. One of the fruits was the size of a cantaloupe, had a lumpy, yellow-green rind, smelled like lime and its pulp looked like grapefruit but tasted like very sour lemon. The second fruit was the size of a coconut and had a hard, brown rind. The fruit looked and tasted a bit like papaya but had a woody, bitter bite to it.

Darlene and I discussed how, when we first began cruising, we planned for meals underway. Now, no matter how long the passage, we don’t cook and would like to spread the word to first mates and galley slaves worldwide: forget about cooking underway, period. I make a pot of beans and rice or vegetable soup the night before a passage and put the entire pressure cooker in the sink. Joe has cold beans and rice when he’s hungry, alternated with crackers, peanut butter and honey sandwiches. If I can find them, I stock up on granola bars. There were no granola bars in Guanaja but I did find a box of moon pies, which were wonderful-tasting, 15 hours into the passage.

I do meal-plan carefully though, because we do not use refrigeration at anchor. Here are some of the meals on my “menu,” using canned foods and dried beans, grains and pasta:

Beans, rice, corn, chili, tamales, rice, yams, spinach, cornbread, turkey, fried rice, macaroni and cheese with green beans, spaghetti with tomato sauce, corned beef, crushed tomatoes.

As you can see, our low-carb diet goes out the window when we are passage making. Fresh produce is available at every port, but you have to be creative, using the vegetables they have. Darlene made a wonderful vinaigrette salad with beets, a bit of green pepper and onion. When lettuce is hard to find, salads of broccoli, tomatoes, onions and a bit of olive oil are very tasty.

Our dinghy was deflated and secured on the bow of the boat, with our 15 hp Mercury® outboard stowed in the v-berth. Our 4 hp Johnson® was mounted at the stern, and Joe used it when we arrived at ports because it was easier to lift up and down. Art’s dinghy was mounted on davits but his engine was a 15 hp Nissan®, and he too did not want to have to lift it up and down at every anchorage. We put the smaller Johnson® on Art’s dinghy and he provided taxi service between the two boats at the Vivorillos. He was able to leave the small motor on the dinghy and secure both on his davits for the next passage.

We departed the Vivorillos about 6:00 a.m. Sunday, January 27. It was a perfect day, so we cut the engine and were making 6.5 knots under sail. Wayward Wind was about 3 miles ahead of us when I heard Art’s voice over the VHF radio. “Rose of Sharon, we are passing a lancha with a motor and three men onboard. They’re on our starboard, so keep an eye out for them. They have a black flag, and I don’t know what that means.”

Neither did we.

When we passed them, we decided they were fishermen, not Pirates of the Caribbean. Later, as I studied the radar, I saw a blip just a few miles to our port side. It moved closer . . . and closer . . . when it was within 4 miles I called Joe to have a look. “It’s probably a rain squall, but keep an eye on it,” he said and returned to the cockpit.

I studied that neon green blip with complete concentration, trying to figure out which way it was going, and it was coming right at us! I gave Joe a running commentary. “It’s just off the port bow, now it’s just off the port, omigosh it’s practically on top of us!”

Then it started to rain.

At 2:00 a.m. the next morning, two radar blips off our port side were undoubtedly boats and we came within a quarter-mile of them. All we could see were their spotlights and we assumed they were shrimpers. If it had been daylight, no problem. You can see the other boats’ bows, sterns, sizes and what directional path they appear to be following. At night, you try to anticipate where they are going – and shrimpers troll back and forth anyway – then, make adjustments accordingly. Rules we followed in Texas, like, working vessels have the right-of-way vs. pleasure craft and vessels under sail have the right-of-way vs. power boats . . . well, those rules you can toss overboard in Central America, where the object of the game is not to be right, but to be safe.

The entire journey from the Honduran Vivorillos to Providencia, Columbia, about 192 miles, was completed under sail. We turned on the engine to recharge batteries because our generator had a clogged fuel filter, and by 4:00 a.m. the next morning, our engine had a clogged fuel filter too.

We were rocking and rolling and heeling and the inside of the boat looked like the Flying Toasters screensaver. Whenever we couldn’t find a pencil, a water bottle, a book . . . we dropped to the floor and began searching because the floors were cluttered with the items that had fallen from the sea berth and other stowage sites.

Joe shoved debris away from the engine room door and within 15 minutes had made the filter exchange and the engine was purring again.

The entire passage took just over 31 hours, and it’s a good thing Joe didn’t tell me, but our fuel filter was clogging up again even as we entered the anchorage, which was crowded with cruisers from every country. When we lost engine power, we simply dropped the anchor. It wasn’t set, but it was holding. Our anchorage was 13°22.79N, 081°22.387W.

When Joe replaced the fuel filter, he discovered a broken clip where the solenoid hooks onto the battery and fixed that too. Have I mentioned lately that cruising is practically impossible unless someone on board can fix stuff?

Charming TownProvidencia, Columbia is heaven! The anchorage itself is nestled in an island cove, and quaint churches (one has a shiny, fire-engine red roof) with tall spires are visible on one side, while a large statue of Virgin Mary overlooks the entrance to the anchorage. There is a Spanish fort mentioned in the guidebooks, but it is the site where a fort once was and is no longer. Basically, it is now a cannon perched on a hill. A footbridge with an upscale tropical design links one part of the island to the other. Once ashore, the tiled plaza near the dock has an interesting wave pattern that, if you look down while walking, appears to be three dimensional.

Dutch colonists were the first settlers of Providencia, but in 1631 the British ousted them, colonizing the island and bringing in slaves from Jamaica to grow tobacco and cotton. The Spanish tried and did not succeed at invading Providencia in 1635. Pirate Henry Morgan established his base of operations on Providencia in 1670 and some treasure-hunters believe there may still be some pirate booty hidden somewhere on the island. Spain finally established control in the 1800s and later, when Columbia and Nicaragua both tried to incorporate the islands as part of their respective countries, a 1928 treaty declared Providencia and San Andres (located geographically closer to Nicaragua) to be Columbian islands.

Boat check-ins and outs must be handled by Bernardo B. Bush of the Howard Agencia Maritima, who monitors VHF 16. There was no cost for check-in, but our check-out from Providencia was $90 USD and we were told that same rate would be charged upon check-out from San Andres.

The islands of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina are surrounded by three significant marine ecosystems which were declared the Sunflower Biosphere Reserve in November 2000 by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Program (MAB). Identified reef species include 45 corals, 163 algae, 118 sponges and 273 fish.

The people of Providencia are happy and appear to be untouched by some of the stark poverty we’d seen in Guatemala and Honduras. Because of the strong influence of Black Caribe, English was spoken almost everywhere, intermixed with Spanish and Patua. We were entranced by the cleanliness and charm of this small island.

Sailing boats and tall ships have always been tied to the history of Old Providence and Catalina (islands). They are part of our origin. In them, some Maya Indians came, then Spaniards, English pirates, Italians, French, and Dutch; also merchants of Central and South America in different moments and in different sorts of transportation, but all by sailing with the same wind . . .

Old Providence and Santa Catalina, Alcadía Municipal de Providencia

There were two banks with ATM machines and neither would accept our ATM cards, but one would accept our visa credit card, which we’d never used in an ATM machine. When it asked for a password, Joe typed in one of about five passwords we use and it took it! “I didn’t even know we had a password for the credit card,” he told me later. I just guessed at one.” Meanwhile, Art was becoming increasingly frustrated that his ATM card would not work and each time it was rejected, he returned to the bank’s helpdesk. This would be his last time “or we’re outta here.” He returned to us and said, “She told me to select the Spanish, not the English option!” He snorted. “Now how could that make a difference?”

Five minutes later, Art had a handful of Colombian pesos. “Who woulda thunk it?” we mused, as Joe rushed back to the ATM to try his cards in Spanish (it did not work for us). The exchange rate at that time was 20,000 pesos for one U.S. dollar, which confounded us with all the zeros on our bills. Most of the shopkeepers simply took the necessary bills from our hands, but one gift shop owner was very concerned that we were overpaying her. She did not have change for a 50,000 pesos bill, so I added 4,000 pesos to make the money-back work out, then I had to do the math twice – on paper – to convince her that we did indeed owe her what we were trying to pay her! She thought we were shorting ourselves.

There were some taxis on the island, but the primary means of transportation for tourists were the “collectivo” pickup trucks. They were not identified by any signage and the drivers did not have identification cards, they simply stopped and people climbed aboard, so we did too. Luckily, Darlene and I were able to ride in the cab with the driver while Joe and Art rode in the back.

Where were we going? Well, we weren’t too sure. We wanted information about renting golf carts, and information about scooters, and what to see . . . the driver stopped at the first golf cart rental site and we were stunned that the rental would be $50 USD for one day. At the next golf cart rental place, they quoted us $50 for all day too. “We can get an Enterprise® rental car for less than that!” I said.

“Not here,” Joe replied.

RolandsSince we were undecided about our plans, the driver said we must visit “Roland’s,” so we said sure. He said we were near the hotel district. The main road became less defined and then the driver took a turnoff that put us on a road that did not exist in some spots. “Golf carts cannot go here,” he informed us. His English was about as good as our Spanish, but we were able to communicate well enough. We were still amazed that even the back-ways and side-roads were un-littered and clean, and the people appeared well-kept and contented.

If this is “third world,” then it is what third world countries should aspire to be.

Roland’s was a beachfront restaurant and bar with well-constructed tables and chairs of interesting designs, some covered, and many hammocks were strung between the strong trees, some of which were cashew trees. Two rope swings were available for the young at heart, and the bar itself was empty.

Coconut DelightThen we met Roland. He had a wide smile, welcoming eyes, dredlocks, and a sense of excitement about the day. He told us he would have a big party that night, live entertainment, and that we must return for dinner and dancing. He said the party would begin at 9:00 p.m.

Nine p.m.? That was at least an hour after we went to bed. Since we’d begun cruising, when the sun went down, we went to bed. When the sun came up, Joe got up (sleeping late is what I do best).

So we decided to stay at Roland’s rather than leave and return. We ordered beers and Darlene got a lovely but deadly coconut drink, and we spent the next few hours chatting and watching the sun go down. We ate dinner; fish for them, chicken for me, and then two military men appeared. We wondered why they were required, but soon figured it out: a busload of teens arrived. The youth were visiting from Bogota and Jamaica, were staying at a nearby hotel, and had come to Roland’s to enjoy the celebration.

Militia and SharonaThe entertainment was a trio of dancers who moved to the calypso/salsa music in a triple-time beat, their hips moving faster than hula dancers’ with sensual, sometimes suggestive movement. They danced around the wood fire, weaving in and out of the smoke in a mesmerizing performance that elicited whoops and screams of excitement from the young people. The militia men guarded the perimeter of the site near the beach, where party-goers congregated to dance and swing on one of the rope swings. Boys being boys, a group of young men tried to spin themselves silly on one of the swings.

We stayed at the party until midnight, which is better than we usually do on New Year’s Eve. We realized that none of us had turned on our anchor lights because we planned to return to our boats before dark, but we needn’t have been concerned. The Providencia, Columbia anchorage is about the safest spot Joe and I had seen for quite some time. Our driver took us back to the pier and we tiredly scrambled into Wayward Wind’s dinghy, Dart.

Roland’s Restaurant and Bar is located at Playa Manzanillo and is a must-visit on the island of Providencia. I read several favorable restaurant reviews for Roland’s, and if you have any questions, email rolandsbeach@hotmail.com.

The next day we reprovisioned at the island’s largest supermarket and the following day we spent relaxing and readying the boat for our next passage from Providencia to San Andres, Columbia.

Interestingly enough, we learned that the $25 fee we had paid at our Port Royal, Honduras anchorage was now no longer in effect. As it turns out, the Hondurans did not have enough money in 2007 to pay the usual Christmas bonuses to its officials, so they enacted the $25 cruiser’s fee for 2008, which they had every right to do. In exchange for the new fee, they offered additional protection and free garbage pick-up to boaters. Apparently they gathered enough money to pay the officials’ bonuses and several weeks later, declared that the boaters had “too much trash” and discontinued garbage pick-up. They then suspended the cruiser’s fee altogether.

Which is Central America to the nines. Though they tried, in 2006, to put Daylight Savings Time into effect throughout Central America, some countries did, some did not, and within each country, some areas did and some did not, and within each area . . . some businesses went to Daylight Savings Time and some did not. I can only imagine the confusion at the airports!

I officially signed off the Northwest Caribbean Net and told them I would begin my check-ins with the Southwest Caribbean Net, 6.209 at 0715 central time.

February 1, 2008 we departed the lovely island of Providencia and made passage to San Andres, Columbia.

Read Part 4:  Providencia, Colombia to Bocas Del Toro, Panama




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