San Andres Island and Saying So Long For Now
I had time for one last stop in Colombia, and outside of the US for that matter. The choice was clear, as clear as the multi-hued waters of San Andres island. Located off the coast of Nicaragua, San Andres is situated in the Caribbean and is known as the island of seven colors. In order to see why you just need to reach a slight elevation that provides a panorama of the pristine water all around. Water so clear that it fluctuates between being transparent, turquoise, navy blue, and everything in between. 8 days to spend in island paradise and wind down before returning back to the states (for the craziness that would be my really close friend Kalvin’s bachelor party in Vegas).
My original plan was to split my time between San Andres and the neighboring island of Providencia. Providencia is much less developed with only 5,000 inhabitants, the majority of which are raizal and have maintained their Caribbean culture. Unfortunately I had a stroke of bad luck, which luckily has been rare this trip, and the government imposed a law doubling the transportation costs between the islands. Effective the exact day I tried to buy my ticket, but oh well, I guess I’ll have to ‘settle’ for staying on San Andres and use that money towards scuba diving.
Each morning as I looked out upon the water while eating breakfast on the 5th story of the El Viajero hostel I started to dream about getting under the surface and taking advantage of the great visibility. The weather was too rough to dive on the east side of the island where some of the more advanced dive spots are. 9ft swells usually bully around small skiffs. But that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some pretty sweet diving going on in the shallower sites along the west coast.
It is amazing how ecosystems change from one area of the world to another. Here lionfish are invasive assholes with no main predator. They are gorgeous with their brown markings and intricate fins, but still the assholes of the Caribbean ecosystem. My favorite moment was when we encountered a group of three fish swimming along the sand floor. Their streamlined bodies with lateral fins extending orthagonally outwards seem unimpressive at first. As they sensed us getting closer, their fins expanded outwards like a fan, revealing intricate markings and making the fish look much bigger and more imposing than they actually are. I’ve seen a lot of pufferfish (including some sweet little ones on the dives), but never a defense mechanism quite like this one.
Scuba diving isn’t the only thing to do on the island. Trips to see manta rays and the popular island areas of Johnny Cay and Acuario are on most people’s to-do lists. At the south end of the island is a famous blowhole area, El Hoyo Soplador, where water gets compressed through a natural tunnel in the rocks, exploding upwards with surprising force. Watching people peer into the blowhole expectantly, underestimating the power of nature, and getting blasted in the face is entertaining for a few minutes. Relaxing on one of the many beaches is a popular way to spend the day, especially after a night of salsa dancing in one of the salsateques. Thirty minutes of shaking what your momma gave ya calls for a fresh air break. And the salsateque had its own private dock area, providing that oh-so-good feeling of the ocean breeze against perspiring skin.
Some of the raizal people know all about cultivating that oh-so-good feeling with their rasta lifestyle. In the middle of the island lies a pond with small caimans lurking about and a very friendly rastaman. His house is built in accordance with nature and he possesses a strong knowledge of herblore, allowing him to use all of the plants around him to great effect. His wife is a German medical doctor so between the two of them they have a great knowledge of healing and respect for the power of the natural world.
One raizal who I spent a few days with was Angelle, a girl who I met on Couchsurfing. Angelle had completed her training in Cuba to become a doctor and work at the local San Andres hospital when she was involved in a motorcycle accident. She is slowly regaining her memory and picking up the basic abilities that she possessed prior to her accident. Speaking with her was very refreshing. The preciousness of every moment is not lost on her and things she used to take for granted she has come to find as a source of gratitude and humility. A very spiritual woman, she finds expression through her poetry and her simple words have an underlying power to them because they are genuine.
This being the last stop on a life changing journey I will try to emulate Angelle and keep my parting words simple and genuine. In every corner of the world there are lessons to be learned and adventures to experience. No two places are the same just like no two people are the same. Every place is filled with people who bring you into their countries, their homes, and their hearts, and find a place in yours