Te echaré de menos, Colombia

by Jacqui

I’m back from Providencia with a few more tan lines, a lot more mosquito bites, and runaway granules of sand hiding in pocket crevices, the biggest giveaway that we’d spent the better part of the last week at the beach.  We were in San Andres, an island off the coast of Nicaragua (but still part of Colombia) when we found out about the tsunami in Japan.  We’d let the sun bake us to a deeper color before we took a small boat to a neighboring island to swim with sting rays.  On the ride back to San Andres, the rain came and rinsed us clean.  The captain passed each of the passengers a plastic cup of rum to ease our chattering teeth.  As we sat down to dinner, video of the catastrophe played on a big screen.  It didn’t seem real.  How could it be?  The image of the water gushing past the coastline, obliterating everything in its path, replayed again and again.  We ate without enthusiasm, and we left, and it was the last of any coverage we saw for the next five days.  There was no easy access to internet or t.v. in Providencia to give us further idea of just how horrible the situation was.  And so I didn’t really think about it.  It just didn’t seem real.

Now that I’m back and am catching up on the latest threats as a result of this sad occurrence, it makes this whole trip seem less important and more personally important at the same time.  Less important for obvious reasons.  More important because again, in an instant, I am snapped back to the reality of how fragile one day of life really is.

So what can I tell you about Providencia that can accurately convey its effects?  I could tell you about the sea, and how it stretches for miles in gradations of blue and green:  at the brightest part of the day, from cyan to cobalt to the color of freshly spilled ink.  To gold and periwinkle as the sun sneaks closer to eye level and finally slips snugly below the horizon.  If you’ve been to the Caribbean, you know what I’m saying.  I hadn’t before this.  I had no idea that water came in so many colors.

I could tell you about the catamaran we took for a three hour trip from San Andres to Providencia.  The boat  that rocked us from our seats as it bounced over the waves, splashing water aboard and caking our skin with a good layer of salt.  Schools of flying fish  that seemed to want to race the boat, and tried to, before disappearing swiftly back below the surface.

And the man and the car he drove to deliver us from the arrival dock to our Posada, a trip we shared with a wonderfully fun couple from Warsaw, whom we bonded with first over our shared awe of the exceptional interior decor of the cab itself.  Pinned to the entire inside perimeter of his car was a wide strand of lavender fringe, like what you might find hanging from the bottom of an antique lamp shade inside the office of a gypsy fortune teller.  A taxi cab with class, if I’ve ever seen one.  And later, over a card game, coconut pie from a favorite local restaurant, and reggae.

I should mention the horses that roam freely about the beach, and the men that train them and bathe them just after sunrise.  The beaches were nearly bare, save for a horse or two.  It felt magical.

The crabs that scuttle across the roads and hide out in the corners of bathrooms.  The prized peacock that struts across the lawn near the Sirius dive shop of Southwest Bay, where we spent most of our time.  The roosters that lift a person from deep sleep each morning, like clockwork.  The fishing boats that dot the water near the shore and the owners who, without a thought, offer rides to the neighboring beaches, or to Cayo Congrejo for snorkeling, swimming, and a 360 degree view of that mesmerizing sea.

About the mixed seafood platters of white fish caught the same day, lightly fried and served whole, the sweetly tender black crab meat, delicately shredded and tossed with garlic, black pepper and red spices, all served next to flattened green plantains, fluffy, grainy coconut rice and halves of fruit that resemble orange in color but lime in taste.  Or the sweets of Cafe Studio, namely: the pies.  Coconut covered by a meringue blanket.  Lemon.  Chocolate that resembled more of a bread.  Cappuccino pudding.  The sweet mangoes native to the island which, once ripe, fall from the trees with a light swat of a stick.  The local beer of choice that is, I kid you not, Milwaukee’s Best.  I resisted it until 12 hours before our departure, and then I drank three in a row.

Providencia is the kind of island that will throw an unforeseen fork in a person’s road map.  The kind of place people visit, fall in love with, and decide to relocate to because they can’t imagine living anywhere else in the world.  We met two such people on our short trip.  I’ve got a feeling that it had a bit to do with the picturesque setting and a lot to do with the people who inhabit it.

What I want to remember most keenly from the five days in Providencia, and really from my whole trip to Colombia, are the people I met and the ways in which they lived, some so different from how I live, yet, when stripped down to the basics, are in fact very much the same.  There’s a resiliency, a connection of the human spirit, one we’ve used to survive since the beginning, that seems to be most recognized whenever disaster strikes.  Imagine if that human connection was felt a little more strongly, a little more often, all around the world.

Colombia, I’ll miss you.  Your kindness, your culture, your salsa, your passion, your people.  I’ll miss it all.

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