Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Back in Providencia, Colombia (2010)

Ten years after making an overnight trip to Providencia, a remote island in the Caribbean belonging to Colombia, in 2000, I had the opportunity to return and stay for three days. Providencia, according to what I heard during my stay, only attracts 11,000 tourists a year (compare the Dominican Republic at about 4 million), but those who go there never forget the place because of its isolation, the beauty of its landscape and the warmth of its people. My impression is that it is sought out by a small group of travelers representing a cross-section of the whole world, based on the tourists I met during my brief stay who were from Colombia, the United States, the Netherlands, England, Argentina, Malaysia, and Switzerland. On my first trip I had also met a tourist from France.

The photo of Providencia, with the well-known Split Hill or Loma Partida in the background, was taken from the smaller island of Santa Catalina, which is connected to Providencia by a small floating bridge for pedestrians. Speaking of Santa Catalina, biologist Germán Márquez Calle notes in the booklet A Guide to the Environment of Old Providence and Santa Catalina (a gift from Javier Archbold Hawkins, one of my gracious hosts on this trip) that there is a striking resemblance between Providencia and the map of the fictional island from Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel "Treasure Island," in that the map of the island in Stevenson's novel includes a small island with roughly the same proportions to the larger island as Santa Catalina has to Providencia. Though the association between the real island and the fictional one has not been proven conclusively, to my knowledge, it's still fun to speculate. What we do know about Providencia is that pirates did inhabit the island at certain times in its history, most notably Henry Morgan, who used Providencia as a base to invade Panama and other Spanish possessions. Looking at certain parts of the island, you definitely can imagine a pirate movie being filmed there.