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