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Cruising with Vida Dulce
San Andres Anchorage
Susan /mostly sunny, few light showers, 86 degrees F
01/28/2013, Isla San Andres, Colombia

Isla San Andres (san ahn-DRAYZ) is to Colombia as Waikiki is to the States; a warm, sunny vacation mecca. One end of San Andres is filled with hotels, restaurants, name brand shops for clothing and swim wear, and shops carrying electronics, perfume, liquor, cosmetics, house goods, etc. ala Free Trade Zone. A nicely maintained walking path separates commerce from a long white sand beach packed with people enjoying the sun and warm water. Party barges and large lanchas ferry people to the very popular Cayo Rosa and Cayo Cordoba on the outer reef for more snorkeling and beach time. Car (really electric golf carts), moto and jet skis rental is very popular. As is diving; there are more than two dozen principal diving sites in the reef that surround San Andres. And as if Colombians need yet another reason to fly here, we're told its hospitals are famous for a particular kind of cosmetic surgery.

With this focus on tourist money, cruisers are largely ignored. The anchorage is between the commercial pier and the tourist area, close enough for a good walk, far enough for the music to drop to an acceptable level for sleeping. The anchorage is filled with anchored working boats, no longer working but still floating, and a few boats left where they ran aground. Perhaps to point out the shallow spots. The surrounding shore is lined with party barges / water taxis and lanchas of various sizes, and short docks filled with small fishing boats. Boats compete with jet skis on speed criss-crossing the anchorage. The most popular cruising guide says Nene's marina has a dingy dock. Wellll, the small, crowded marina, water side of a busy gas station, does have short dock section parallel to land that can be used to land and tie-up a dingy but it's a long high step from dingy to it, and there's space for only a couple of dingys at a time. A signs says we're suppose to pay but we've not seen the office open nor anyone acting in charge or interested. It's not a great spot so we've been scouting out other options. One day we left the dingy at a busy lancha spot where they watched her for a couple of hours while we walked into the tourist area. The good news is bottom is sand and seagrass, great holding, and the water is very clear.

In our walks we located two grocery stores, a mini-Rey, and one without a sign that carries fresh produce. The Mini-Rey has a well stocked deli counter. Both are outside the main tourist area toward the anchorage. While here we plan to check out dive options and perhaps a kite board lesson for Jerry, rent a "car" or moto to see the rest of the island, hopefully watch a Saturday beach horse race, finish some critical projects, get diesel (jerry jug from Nene's), and depending on weather we may stay for Carnival, which is reportedly a big party.

Passage To Isla San Andres
Susan / mostly sunny, 86 degrees F
01/23/2013, Isla San Andres, Colombia

We raise the anchor at 5am and cautiously make our way to and through the Isla Providencia channel under starlight. We're clear of the lee-side reefs and this mountainous island as the sun rises. Beautiful. From there until 4nm from the Isla San Andres sea buoy we sail in mostly 10-15kt winds just port tack of dead downwind. Seas were a bit lumpy but for the most part aft of beam, so all in all, a nice day of sailing.

We hail the San Andres clearing-in agent on VHF several times as we are abeam the island and a few minutes later, then again just before we enter the channel and are not surprised at the lack of acknowledgement. Jerry calls again just after we anchor and the agent answers, telling Jerry where to meet him at 4:30pm. The clearing process is unusually efficient; the appropriate official looks at the zarpe: we cleared into Colombia at Isla Providencia, so all ok. Immigration looks at both passports, stamped and also good. The agent quotes a fee of $50 USD in and out if we leave when Jerry said was our plan, the next weather window in a week or two, and if we give him one previous day notice during week days and on Friday morning if planning to leave over the weekend. Jerry's back on Vida Dulce before 5pm. No other fees mentioned so we're happy. We'll wait out the next round of weather here, exploring the island and hopefully Jerry going on a dive trip or perhaps two in. But before that happens.... the generator needs TLC. Jerry found sea water in the bottom of in the case when he changed the oil yesterday, and today while underway the generator quit twice with a "no raw water" failure. Tomorrow's boat project.

This is a very busy commercial & tourist destination island and anchorage, a bit of a shock of activity after the quiet of Isla Providencia, and Portobelo and Kuna Yala, Panama. More on this in the days ahead, as it is now happy hour.

More Money Please
Susan / mostly sunny, 86 degrees F
01/22/2013, Isla Providencia, Colombia

Our agent, Mr Bush hails us on the VHF and asks us to see him in his office. We quickly get ready, drop the dingy and head to town. He has two things for us, our temporary importation paperwork, something we'll need for arrival and processing in Isla San Andres, and a DIAN bill for 150,500 COP (approx $90 USD) to remain in Isla Providencia. We've been here a month. There's nothing he can do about it. We decide to leave for San Andres tomorrow morning. He takes back the bill and says he'll have our exit zarpe for us at 5pm.

I'd checked the weather forecast this morning even though we're not ready to leave. Jerry hasn't taken time out from work to snorkel or dive and the reefs off this island are reportedly fantastic for both, and there are two or three recommended restaurants we have yet to visit for the meal they serve mid-day. The good news is that conditions look good for a journey to the southwest for the next day or two. Then winds and seas build Friday and over the weekend with the next good weather window late next week or the following week. That's when we'd loosely planned to make the passage we will now make tomorrow.

At 5kts the passage to San Andres will take 12 hours, at 6kts, it's 10 hours. Like Isla Providencia, Isla San Andres is protected by extensive reefs with a single entrance into the anchorage. We'll be up very early tomorrow, before dawn, to make sure we arrive before dark.

From Two To Twelve
Susan / mostly sunny, 86 degrees F
01/20/2013, Isla Providencia, Colombia

There's been just two of us cruisers in the anchorage for several days. Nice and quiet. This changed rather dramatically today as one boat after another arrived an hour or so apart. By the end of the day there are twelve boats in the anchorage. From their VHF traffic we learn that they took the recent weather window for a southbound voyage from the Honduran Bay Islands / Roatan where they'd waited a month. The passage must have had some rough moments; one boat blew out a sail, another lost a spreader, and one of the catamarans lost both engines. At first they all anchored on the other side of the channel but then surrounded Vida Dulce when the Port Captain told them they had to anchor on the south side of the shipping channel. It may be possible to get one or two more boats in here but we're a very short swim from each other now. Finger's crossed the winds remain the current direction and velocity!

El Reserva Natural El Pico
Susan / mostly sunny, 86 degrees F
01/16/2013, Isla Providencia, Colombia

Yesterday we rented a moto for a second self-guided see-the-Isla tour. We saw sights we'd seen the last time and new ones as we moto'd nearly every road and path on the island. One of our goals was to find the starting point for the hike to the highest peak on the island, in El Reserva Natural El Pico. We found the turn-off yet despite going down every neighborhood road in the area, came up empty on the path entrance. It wasn't a total loss though as on our last trip around the main turnoff road we're hailed by a local man, a gentleman about our age I'd guess, shouting "El Pico" to us. We stop. He tells us his name is Tony and he guides people to El Pico. He'll take us now. We don't want to go just then so we ask for his phone number. Instead he asks us for the name of our hotel, "where are you staying?". We tell him we're in Santa Isabela, which is close to being on the other end of the island. He tells us to take the local bus tomorrow, they start running early and he'll wait for us at the stop nearby where we're standing starting at 7:30am tomorrow morning. Jerry nods, but I say, that sounds early; we'd have to take a 7am bus. We talk a little more and then Tony says he'll meet us at the front of Hotel Old Providencia tomorrow at 10am and the three of us will take the bus to the stop where we can begin the hike. He then gives us his cell phone number. I'm not sure we need to pay for a guide for this trip but do know the walk into and around Parque Nacional McBean Lagoon requires a local guide in addition to the 20,000 COP/ person admission fee. I assume he'll add knowledge of the local flora, fauna, and keep us safe from snakes and iguanas, hungry poor, etc. so we agree to his price, 30,000 COP / person.

Tony meets us at the dingy dock a little before 10am and we get seats on the 10am-ish 12-person mini-bus. By half-past we're walking the path. The first part slops easily upward on what looks like a former river bed. This gives away to steep sections, sometimes with wood handrails to assist, and large bouldered sections. I wore Keens, Jerry wore laced hiking shoes; his was the better choice. The peak is the highest point on the island, 360 meters above sea level. It takes us an hour and 45 minutes to reach it. Well worth the effort, gorgeous views of the surrounding sea. When we arrive, there's a party of 9 people (8 vacationing Bogatians and their guide) enjoying lunch and a bottle of wine. There's just enough room for us to rest, enjoying our cans of beer, for 15 minutes or so. Here's the view of the anchorage from the peak.

El Pico View

We take care with our footing on the decent, which takes us an hour. Along the way, the outer most layer of sole from one of Jerry's shoes peals off. Man, it you have foot, ankle, knee or hip issues, this is not your hike. As for Tony the guide, we basically just followed him. There were painted signs along the way showing the lizards, iguanas, flora & fauna and he didn't elaborate. In addition to his guiding fee, we paid for his bus ride and a post hike beer as we waited for the bus. When there was no sign of a bus 30 minutes later he arranged for us to take a moto - yes, 3 adults on a moto! - back to town for slightly more than the cost of a bus ride. After purchasing a few grocery items we're back on Vida Dulce, totally exhausted.

Christmas Trades Ease
Susan / mostly sunny, 88 degrees F
01/14/2013, Isla Providencia, Colombia

There's no better sound than the quiet when the annual change-of-year - aka Christmas Trades - ease. The standing rigging stops singing, the tug on the anchor bridle no longer presents a walking-around-the-boat hazard, white caps in the anchorage disappear, birds (along with flys and other flying bugs sadly) reappear in flocks. I can put laundry out to dry on the lifelines without fear they'll blow away. Aahhhh..

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