The setting was just as I remembered it, unspoiled, mercifully bereft of other tourists, reggae beats lilting in the background partially drowned out by the telltale rustle of palm fronds, five years later on my return to the Colombian Caribbean isla de Providencia, I found it to be unchanged and perfect.
Of course, there had been some modifications. After a disastrous winter spell there was continual work taking place on the island’s road, and, some people had seen fit to paint their homes since 2007. The most resounding change was the arrival of luxury tourism to the island in the form of the Deep Blue Hotel in the sector of Maracaibo. I had a nose around and was impressed. There were cadres of locally employed people tending to this immaculate setting.
The slow pace of life here suggests there is little to ruffle the island aside from the distant tail end of seasonal hurricanes but, as any internationalist or resident of Colombia or Central America will know, there has been an ill wind buffeting in from the West in the shape of President Ortega’s Nicaraguan expansionist strategy. We can argue until we are blue in the face regarding the technicalities of the ownership of San Andres and Providencia, but the simple fact remains that they are in Colombian hands. This may eventually change if President Ortega gets his way, but don’t expect this to happen without Colombia actually reviewing their political strategy this time around.
Just as I did in 2007, Alba and I rented a moped and zipped around the island dropping in on favourite beaches, checking out new places and trying out new restaurants. Up on Santa Catalina – the tiny island connected to Providencia by a brightly coloured wooden bridge – I clambered up once again on to the ruins of Fort Warwick. A gentle breeze cut the humidity somewhat and looking down from this vantage point I gazed upon catamarans in the channel and the littoral community of Old Town.
Here, whilst on the rubble of Fort Warwick, I tried to imagine Old Providence as it was called then, as the infamous pirate Henry Morgan’s lair. It was from here that he planned the sacking of Panama. It took no stretch of the imagination to erase the buildings from my line of sight and envision Providencia without this contemporary settlement. With a 360 degree view of nothing but Caribbean waters – like balsamic into oil depending on the density of seaweed and blues – it must have been a hard task maintaining lucidity here at that time. This brings a new meaning to “cabin fever”.
Selfishly I was pleased to see few other tourists and when I encountered others at the aptly named “Richard’s Place” on Southwest Bay, it peeved me. I felt they were intruding upon my holiday on my island. After all, I had only had to share my hotel with one other couple over three days, and on Playa Manzanillo – arguably Colombia’s best beach – we only encountered two other couples, not counting the pairing off of some contractors working on the road who quite obviously were using the northern end of the beach as a makeshift motel.
Thinking of all the hours and time the Colombian tourism board has spent thinking up appropriate slogans for destinations here; you could easily use “Providencia is for Parejas.”
After this trip, I am even more certain that I wish not to return to San Andres. I will use it only as a stepping stone to my favourite Caribbean island (thus far, I hit Aruba in August). I cannot stand the endless duty free stores stacked high with an otherworldly amount of celebrity inspired perfumes and knock-off whisky.
Long live Old Providence.
But, just don’t go telling anyone else about the island.