Santa Catalina

Santa Catalina (St. Catherine) is a small island nestled at the northern end of Providencia. Our anchorage is actually located between the two islands.

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The two islands are connected by a foot-bridge, “Lovers Bridge.”

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There is a lovely walking path on Santa Catalina; it was here that we began our land explorations. There are homes on the island, but the undeveloped land is an ecological preserve and so most of the inhabitants are iguanas, lizards, birds, boa constrictors, bats, and birds.

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We crossed the bridge and walked the path towards the east and were followed by one of the local dogs. We certainly don’t miss pets on these islands! There are stray dogs everywhere, but this one actually wore a collar. He (the black dog) took a liking to us. When we reached the dead-end we were greeted by a puppy (the yellow dog). The puppy wanted to play with the dog but the dog was not interested. The dog brought Brian into the play-or-not-to-play debate by charging into Brian’s legs attempting to position Brian in the center of the conflict. Brian was not in harm’s way, the dogs really were playing and they soon circled around Brian and padded down the path.

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MILTA POINT – Area where pirates were hung and protestants burned habitat of mangroves and seagulls.

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We walked the path towards the west. Along the muddy edges of the path where mangroves grew there were tiny crabs poking in and out of holes. Santa Catalina and Providencia are home to land crabs also, however we’ve spotted few of them along our walks. We passed several homes in various states of repair. Along the shoreline we passed several docks, also in various states of repair, most of which had skiff-type motorboats tied to them.

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A long stairway led us to the top of the western end of Santa Catalina.

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FORT WARWICK – Its original name is Warwick, later called Fuerte de la Libertad by Spaniards. It was built to defend pirate colony and channel. The fort structure consisted of barracks, cannons, gun powder storage, official’s quarters, sea toilet, mission, castle door, road to city, and space for ships. Our research tells us that Fort Warwick was constructed in the 1600’s when a pirate by the name of Henry Morgan had overtaken Providencia and Santa Catalina. Below the fort, another stairway leads to a beach and to a trail which leads to “Morgan’s Head” a rock formation on the western end of Santa Catalina.

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More to come of Santa Catalina and Morgan’s Head…for now we are enjoying the view.

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Buenas! Hola! Isla de Providencia!

We’d arrived! That was the easy part. Now, to get cleared into a foreign country and start getting acclimated to our new surroundings. Through previous research, by accessing www.noonsite.com and picking the brains of fellow cruisers, we anticipated a very laid-back clearance process at Providencia. We knew we had to get in touch with Mr. Bush…

Once anchored, we hailed Mr. Bush on the VHF and received a prompt response. This was a bonus, as we were cautioned that he does not always monitor the VHF. Mr. Bush told us he’d be waiting at his office; not yet accustomed to this island’s accent, we interpreted less than half of his directions. We put the dinghy into the water, put all of our documents into a dry bag secured in a backpack, and headed to the dock.

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We easily located the dinghy dock at the northeast end of the anchorage beside the government dock. There did not seem to be concern for security, none of the visiting dinghies were locked. We tied the dink and turned east to walk through town.

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This is the town of Santa Isabel. We peeked around a corner, which would soon become all too familiar, and Brian said, “This way…” All of the signage was in Spanish and we worried that we might walk past Mr. Bush’s office without knowing.

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We’d begun to exit what seemed to be the center of Santa Isabel. “I’ll just ask someone,” I said. A very friendly woman who spoke English, took me by the hand and led me back up the street on the corner we’d bypassed. She pointed ahead and explained, “…see dat red roof, Mr. Bush is above dat.” We walked through town all the while using that red roof as a waypoint.

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Brian spotted Mr. Bush’s sign on the second floor of the building directly across the street from the red roof.

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Mr. Bush, Agencia Maritima, welcomed us into his office; as an agent, he facilitates the clearance process for all arriving and departing cruisers at Providencia. There was another cruising couple at the office, s/v Kokopeli, who had arrived the day prior. Mr. Bush requested our paperwork; boat documentation, crew list, and clearance papers (Zarpe) from the previous country. We did not have clearance papers from the Bahamas, which puzzled Mr. Bush. “No one ever come here from dare,” he told us. I explained that the Bahamas does not require we clear out, they do not necessarily provide a Zarpe unless we seek it. Mr. Bush remedied the situation by taking our Bahamas cruising permit and in addition he requested Brian write a statement detailing our arrival and departure dates from the Bahamas and stating that we do not have clearance papers because they are not required. Another cruising couple, s/v Eva Marie, arrived at the office and presented their papers as well. Mr. Bush explained that he is our liaison with the Columbian government and that he would provide us with Tourist Cards and Cruising Permits after submitting our information directly to Columbia. He had already coordinated with the officials at Providencia, and we all sat with Mr. Bush while we waited for the Port Captain and the Immigration Officer to arrive. Mr. Bush presented us with tourist information; a CD, a map, and some postcards. He and his assistant suggested sights worth seeing and restaurants to try. He asked how long we would be staying to which I responded, “How long can we stay?” Brian and I had thought about one month would suffice. Mr. Bush replied, “You can stay as long as you want, we are happy people here, nobody worries here.” The Port Captain arrived and completed paperwork pertaining to each of the three boats. The Immigration Officer arrived, took everyone’s passports, and departed. Mr. Bush assured us that our passports would be returned that day to his office at 3:00pm. He instructed us to pick up our passports that afternoon and then reconvene at his office on Sunday morning to complete the clearance process; it was Thursday so this was a drawn-out affair. In the meantime we could access the entire island.

Brian and I had some lunch back at the boat and then ventured into Santa Isabel once again to exchange money. The currency at Providencia is a Peso. The exchange rate is 2,000:1. All of the ATMs were out of order, so we did an exchange at the bank where we were able to show Brian’s driver license as ID since our passports were in the hands of Immigration. The bank would not change cash although the cashier told us that the grocery store would. We were able to use a Visa card to exchange so that we had Pesos until the ATMs were back in working order.

Our passports were returned to Mr. Bush’s office, just not at 3:00pm. Another cruiser, s/v Kelly Rae, whom had also arrived promptly at 3:00pm joined our group and we all got acquainted while we sat in Mr. Bush’s air conditioned store below the office and awaited Immigration’s arrival (sometime well after 4:00pm). We moved the “newly arrived cruisers” party just down the street afterwards. We stopped in the grocery store for cold, $1 beers and enjoyed refreshments while sitting in the park among new friends.

To complete this clearance process, we did reconvene at Mr. Bush’s office that Sunday. He faxed all of our paperwork to Columbia; we had to wait several days to actually obtain our Tourist Card and Cruising Permit. The grand total for clearance documents and Mr. Bush’s services was $150 USD. Well worth it! Mr. Bush has continued to be extremely helpful and hospitable throughout our stay at Providencia.