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Divine Providence

Discussion in 'Member Trip Reports' started by Sushi Boy, Nov 17, 2016.

  1. Sushi Boy

    Sushi Boy DAM CHUMmer

    McLOT and I just returned from a trip to an island that few Americans have heard of, Providencia, also known to the locals as Old Providence. First off, where is it? Although it’s owned by Colombia, it’s located on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, a little east of the Corn Islands.

    It’s not easy to get to from the States. We left just before midnight Friday night, landed in Bogota about 5:30 in the morning for a 4 hour layover, took a two hour flight to San Andres Island for another 4 hour layover, then flew on a puddle jumper to Providencia, arriving about 4:30 in the afternoon. The return was just as long, leaving about noon on Saturday, arriving to IAH about 5:00 am on Sunday. McLOT was smart and broke up the return trip so he could spend a few days exploring around Bogota.

    The trip was worth the effort though. When we got there, we found a part of the Caribbean that doesn’t exist in many places anymore. It’s a volcanic island, with lush, rolling hills that rise up to 1200 feet. The hillsides are pleasantly undeveloped, covered in green foliage rather than McMansions. Our hotel, which had maybe 20 or 30 rooms, was one of the bigger ones on the island. There aren’t really any shops other than grocery stores, hardware stores and other small shops for the locals. We both left without tshirts simply because there were simply none to be found. It was much more like hanging out with the locals in their town rather than visiting a resort area.

    We went, of course, for the diving, which was really enjoyable. We chose to dive with Sirius Dive Center. Although it was a short ride away by car, we only had to make a trip to the dive center on our first and last days to shuttle gear and settle our bill. The rest of the time, they picked us up by boat at our hotel. The first day was an earlier start, but the rest of the time they came by to get us about 9:15, which gave us plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast before grabbing our stuff & heading to the beach. Another nice thing was that we left our BCs, regs and fins on the boat at the end of each day. The staff took them to the shop, rinsed and hung them, then had them waiting for us on the boat the next day, already geared up.

    Providencia boasts that they have the third largest barrier reef in the world. The dive sites were all close, typically a 10-15 minute boat ride. There was a nice combination of wall dives and reef dives. They also tossed in a wreck dive for us to keep things interesting. Typically we’d do a deep wall dive in the morning. Many of those dives were to well over 100 fsw, which made us keep a close eye on our NDLs since we were diving air. Nobody seems to pump nitrox on the island. There were usually some curious reef sharks on the walls, it wasn’t unusual for them to cut through our group, which make for some nice camera shots, and at the end of the dive we could look back and see 5 or 6 of them following along. Between the dives, we’d sometimes return to the dive shop to switch out tanks or, if there was a small enough group on the boat (basically an open fishing boat with tank holders in the middle), they’d bring extra tanks and we’d spend the surface interval on the water or at a nearby beach.

    The second dive of the day would be much shallower, usually about 50 fsw, sometimes as shallow at 35 fsw. These were frequently aquarium dives with quite a few yellow grunts and squirrelfish as well as angelfish, triggers, balloonfish, trumpetfish and boxfish.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2016
  2. Sushi Boy

    Sushi Boy DAM CHUMmer

    One day, when it was only McLOT, myself, and one other experience diver on the boat, they took us to the island’s wreck, El Planchon. It’s a WWII fuel barge that was abandoned by the Germans after the war. Locals cut into it to salvage the fuel. During a storm, it swamped and went to the bottom. When we heard we would be diving on a barge, we were picturing the ones we’ve been diving on in Florida and were shocked when we caught our first glimpse of it and realized it was HUGE! We swam along the bottom (actually the top of the vessel since it inverted when it sank) and caught our first glimpse of one of the resident green morays, out for a swim. About half-way through the dive we diverted a bit to check out a rubble pile alongside and McLOT spied a brass plaque on one of the pieces. As we swam over the bow, we found another moray, this one friendlier than the first. It made several runs straight at each of us, turning away what felt like only a couple of feet away. I can’t wait to see those pics and videos! We were running a little low on air at that point (ok, a LOT low) so we drifted up a bit and caught the fairly stiff current for a ride back to the anchor line for the dive boat.

    The diving schedule made this one of the most relaxing dive trips I’ve taken. One dive mid-morning, one dive late morning, afternoons open for naps, beers, sunsets, or wandering around.

    Most days the dive boat would drop us off at the hotel. A couple of times we went back to the dive shop instead and enjoyed some grilled seafood afterward next door at Nino Divino, a restaurant literally on the beach. They grilled their fish, lobster & conch to perfection, the Club Colombia and Aguila beers were nice and cold, and sitting under the palm trees watching the waves roll in couldn’t be beat! We also met a local reggae musician there one day who was wandering around selling CDs. He gave us some low-down on the island, including letting us know about the island’s “bush rum” distillery. Taxis were trickier to come by on that end of the island, but when we were walking back to the main road from the beach, some locals offered to give us rides to the hotel on the back of their motorbikes for a whopping dollar apiece. Probably not the safest ride I’ve taken, but definitely one of the more memorable.

    A couple of other restaurants were pretty good as well. The Caribbean Place was right down the street from Sol Caribe (our hotel) and was delicious. The crab claw appetizer was fantastic and the corn ice cream ranks as one of the most unusual flavors I’ve ever had. Don Olivo restaurant was on the smaller island of Santa Catalina and was absolutely charming. The Mauritanian owner and his wife run the restaurant out of their house and they get most of their staples either out of their garden or by freediving on the reef. We had delicious meals of octopus carpaccio and king crab, washed down by the finest imported Old Milwaukee beer. It’s definitely worth making the effort to find if you’re in Providencia.

    Pretty much all of the other restaurants on the island that we tried were very similar to each other, without much variation in the menus. They typically have grilled and fried fish, grilled chicken, grilled lobster, some pasta, rice mixed with either seafood or chicken, and ceviche. The restaurant at our hotel made a decent enough breakfast, which was included with the price of the room, but we typically opted for eating elsewhere for other meals. We lucked into being on the island at a really slow time of year. It wasn’t uncommon for there to be only one or two other tables of people in a restaurant with us and we were always able to walk in and get seated right away, even at the busiest places.

    On Friday, we rented a golf cart for our off-gas day to tour the island. At full-speed, you can drive all of the way around in less than an hour. We headed downtown a bit to poke around and found a small shop selling local crafts, including jewelry made out of lionfish fins and spines. After that, we walked across the bridge to Santa Catalina Island, which had once been home to Captain Henry Morgan’s pirate base, from which he sacked Panama City. There wasn’t a lot to see apart from a few old cannons and the small fishing village. That was where we found Don Olivo restaurant though and enjoyed a great meal with a lovely view of Providencia. After lunch, we decided to check out the local “bush rum”, so we headed off in our golf cart in search of Natty’s house, which apparently was just past the police station. The place was pretty rustic, but Natty’s wife welcomed us into their living room, gave us some samples and then gladly sold us each a few bottles to bring home with us.

    Saturday morning I couldn’t sleep, so I took the golf cart for one last spin around the island. I got to linger at a few spots we’d driven past before, hearing the croaking of hundreds of frogs echoing off a cliff wall by the beach just before sunrise, pulling up behind a guy driving a dozen or so cattle down the road, starting to get chased by those same cattle as I walked down a narrow path to the beach, and finding a small jetty made of discarded conch shells which made a really interesting sound as the waves lapped against it. All in all, a pretty nice way to wrap up a great week on the island.

    My pics from the trip are posted here.

    One thing I've noticed about the new platform is that it's far better to click into the pictures rather than glance at the thumbnails. You get way better detail and the thumbnails frequently chop off part of the photo. Once you click on the first pic in an album, you can scroll through the rest with the right & left arrows.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2016
    Seaagg05 likes this.
  3. Sushi Boy

    Sushi Boy DAM CHUMmer

    If you’re not going to visit Providencia, you can stop reading now. From here out are tips for people planning a trip to the island.

    Information about the island wasn’t easy to come by online (which was one of the appealing aspects to me) and we learned that some of the information we had found was outdated. We had read that most restaurants on the island took credit cards, but our experience was much different. Very few of them did and we quickly found the value of having cash on hand. We managed to talk one into taking US dollars as payment for two days of dinner tabs but that was definitely the exception rather than the rule.

    We had also read that a grocery store near our hotel had an ATM of sorts, where they would swipe your card and then give you cash out of the register, but it turned out that they would only do that for cards from Colombian banks. Our US cards could only be used at the ATMs at banks in town. Since those were a 10 minute drive away, and we didn’t have a car, we had to plan our trips to get cash.

    We also learned the value of telling your credit and debit cards that you’ll be travelling to Colombia before you leave, so the transactions don’t get flagged in their system, keeping you from getting cash when you need it. Even the dive shop was reluctant to take credit cards, so we made arrangements to pay them on Friday after we had a chance to run by the ATM to get cash.

    If you have a layover of several hours in San Andres on the way to Providencia, there’s a room where you can pay a small amount to leave your bags and take a taxi into town. Have the cab driver take you to an ATM to get some Colombian Pesos (take out as much as you can – the transaction limit was 600,000 {about $200} when we were there, but you could do two transactions a day, back to back. You’ll be glad you did when you get to Providencia). After that, go have a nice meal somewhere. We really enjoyed La Regata, which is right on the water and takes credit cards.

    Bug spray was worth bringing, I probably owe McLOT a few beers for mooching off of his. The bugs aren’t thick, but I found myself itching pretty regularly.

    Sunscreen is also good to have along. The dive boats weren’t covered and you spend quite a bit of time in the sun.

    Electrical outlets are the same as in the States, so no need for converters if you’re traveling from here. Wifi was pretty hard to come by though. It was spotty at the hotel if you weren’t close to the office. Even when we did get a signal, the wifi was really slow. Take the opportunity to disconnect from the real world for a bit.

    We were at one of the nicer hotels and had hot water only one or two days. I’m guessing it was from solar-heated in cisterns on the roof and once it was gone, it was gone. It’s the Caribbean, just something to be aware of.

    It was a wonderful island to visit, and I’m really glad know there are still places out there without KFC and Starbucks. Go see Providencia if you get the chance, just leave your tourist bags at home and bring your traveler’s shoes instead.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2016
  4. Ms KJenn Dives

    Ms KJenn Dives Tiger Shark

    Great pictures. I look forward to your trip report.
  5. Sushi Boy

    Sushi Boy DAM CHUMmer

    Got the trip report posted above.

    McLOT, I'm sure I skipped over a bunch of stuff, so please fill in the parts I left out.

    Now onto editing the videos!
  6. McLOT

    McLOT Tiger Shark

    Great report SB!
    You are way more organized than me; I'm still at the deleting stage for my photos and vids and have not started editing.

    Looks like we were lucky with the weather. This was the rainy season (which often just means 30 minutes of rain in the afternoon) but they are presently experiencing a late season hurricane, less than 10 days after we left. Hopefully no impact to San Andres or Providencia.


    Tuesday, November 22, 2016 03:58PM

    Late-season storm Otto has become a hurricane in the southwestern Caribbean.

    Right now, Otto is located about 245 miles east of Limon, Costa Rica. The storm is packing winds of 70 mph and nearly stationary.

    Watches and warnings are posted along the coast of Central America.

    Otto poses no threat to the United States.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm had top sustained winds of 50 mph as of 1 p.m. EST Monday and was nearly stationary about 305 miles (495 kilometers) east of Bluefields, Nicaragua. It also is about 175 miles (285 kilometers) east-southeast of San Andres Island.

    The center says Nicaragua, Costa Rica and some islands in the southwest Caribbean should monitor the storm's progress though no coastal watches or warnings are currently in effect.

    Forecasters say more strengthening is expected.
  7. PegLeg

    PegLeg Tiger Shark

    Sounds like a great trip off the beaten track.
  8. dutch

    dutch Active Member

    I love visiting this type of spot as it is the real Caribbean I grew to know and love in the early '70s. As Sushi says, this is a dying breed and you should make it one of your next destinations if you ever want to experience it.

    @Sushi Boy and @McLOT would you mind weighing in on about what this cost to put together and approx. what you were out overall?
  9. Sushi Boy

    Sushi Boy DAM CHUMmer

    Lemme sit down and think about that. I got divide everything by 3000.

    I can say we spent about $250 for 10 dives, before tip.
  10. Sushi Boy

    Sushi Boy DAM CHUMmer

    I still have much to learn about shooting and editing video, but here's what I pieced together from the Providencia trip. The soundtrack is a song by a musician from the island that we met while having lunch on the beach one day.

    Cajun Diver and wanderwoman like this.
  11. McLOT

    McLOT Tiger Shark

    Very good! :cool:

    I still have not completed my photos let alone started on video............... :oops:
    Sushi Boy likes this.
  12. wanderwoman

    wanderwoman Tiger Shark

    Nice video + music!
    Sushi Boy likes this.
  13. DeepGeek

    DeepGeek Tiger Shark

    Nice video. That shark at the beginning sure wasn't shy.
    Sushi Boy likes this.
  14. McLOT

    McLOT Tiger Shark

    I finally sorted and filed my photos from the trip here: :oops:

    I left out a load of similar and duplicated photos from what SB has posted earlier.

    It was a really interesting and fun trip and pretty laid back, although the flights were a bit of a slog.

    There are a few designated no-fishing zones around Providencia and San Andres and perhaps they should try and expand them to an extent. Some of the reefs could do with a few more fish, although maybe some of this is due to the lionfish. It could be tough to implement since fishing is the livelihood of the islanders and Providencia does not get the tourist money that San Andres receives.

    Otherwise, the reefs are in good condition and the dive sites are close to the shore and dive shop. :) Loads of sharks and a decent wreck too.

    What else - the local beers were good and really refreshing in the sunshine, but not that strong and a few rums were beneficial. This mattered a lot when I got tooth-ache. An old crown (which had been a problem molar on a previous trip to Egypt) erupted and caused a few sleepless nights. I was on one dive surrounded by sharks and struggled to focus on anything other than the pain in my jaw. I struggled to get some decent painkillers and was 18 hrs of flying time from Houston. This is now well on the way to being sorted once and for all, but is costing thousands for an implant. :eek:

    The two islands are small but have some good scenery and friendly folks, and are worth a visit for sure.

    To make best use of my flights, and long-overdue vacation time, I staying in Bogota for a couple of extra days. (My tooth had subsided and I was committed to completing this part of the trip.) The downtown is good during the day but not so recommended at night. I was advised to stay in one of the better suburb neighborhoods up around Calle 80 to 95. The property prices rise as you climb the hill. I also managed to use Uber several times which was considerably less expensive than the taxis (like $4 instead of $10 for a 30 minute commute). I used taxis from the hotel and airport but was advised not to hire a taxi from the street. Using Uber was a great solution and does not require any Spanish language skills! The city is worth 2 days to see the old Candelabria district, the main square, a few museums and a funicular up to the Monserratte monastery. Keep an eye on the weather or you won't see anything from the top. Since the city is at 9,000' and Monserratte is maybe 3,000' above that, I took it easy wandering around the sites (and bars) and left Monserratte to the final day.

    The peace process with FARC rebels had stalled during this trip which explains the peace camp in the main square. It was later resolved and hopefully will be concluded for good. I never saw any crime or issues but avoided the rougher neighborhoods visible from the taxi rides.

    Not sure when I will get round to trying to collate the video I took; maybe rush it thru by xmas! :rolleyes:

    cheers, :cool:
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2017
    Cajun Diver likes this.
  15. Sushi Boy

    Sushi Boy DAM CHUMmer

    Great photos McLOT! Makes me want to go back there now. I am jealous of your Bogota extension. Wish I could've fit that in.

    For anyone looking at the pics, it's definitely best to click into the pics rather than just looking at the thumbnails. You really get the full impact with the larger images.
    McLOT likes this.
  16. wanderwoman

    wanderwoman Tiger Shark

    Wow, what great pix.
    McLOT likes this.

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