This precious little jewel of an island is tiny, measuring 4 miles North to South and 2.5 miles East to West. There’s only one main road circling the 18-mile perimeter and it doesn‘t take long to cover it all.
Along with friends and fellow cruisers Lynn and Howard of the sailboat Swift Current we rent a “buggy” for a day, the perfect vehicle to roam around in style and discover the beauty of Providencia.
As I said, there’s only ONE road to follow, but Tom keeps taking abrupt turns into little alleys that invariably lead us nowhere specifically, usually ending in someone’s yard. Why? Because he’s curious, he says, let’s make things interesting… Besides, touring the island takes only a couple of hours, we have the whole day and an adventurous streak.
He’s got a point… To be honest, his diversions took us down some pretty interesting sights! Luckily, Lynn and Howard don’t mind being tossed around.
It is a very pretty island, and I particularly love the very low tourist presence. True, it is the off season, but I’m told that even in the high season Isla Providencia doesn’t see mass tourism. Sweet!
Tom’s erratic driving is often interrupted by my yelling “Photo Op!”, so we stop frequently to admire a church, investigate a colorful mural, buy a bottle of water or just generally nosy around.
We happen to take yet another detour – Tom is hell-bent on finding a beach access -, ending up once more in someone’s yard. There’s a small group of people sitting in plastic chairs, shooting the breeze with gusto, totally unfazed by our invasion. Actually, they’re very friendly and welcoming!
Tom and Howard get off the buggy to ask for directions, so we ladies stay aboard thinking this is going to take just a minute.
Wrong! It’s a good ten minutes before the men return, all giggles and smiles, enchanted by the people they just met; they apparently forged fast friendships and almost didn’t want to leave! We girls missed out…
In any case, the road to the beach is the next left turn. We find Manchaneel Beach, a nice place with a palapa where, oh joy, they have cold beer served by Ms Julia, sister to one of the people our guys met just a few minutes ago. Another fast friendship ensues.
Ms Julia, born and raised on this island, is a delightful lady in her mid-seventies with a vivacious spirit and a quick laugh.
We end up spending a couple of hours swapping stories and guzzling cold drinks. Tom is in heaven, having found his favorite beer available in seemingly endless supply. Eventually the conversation turns to the topic of food; we ask Ms Julia about the local island fare, and get some unusual answers…
“Well” she says “the typical local dish is Rondon, a fish stew with yucca, potatoes, plantain and dumplings, really tasty. Or,if you prefer, you can have Iguana”.
Noticing my horrified expression -I happen to love iguanas-, she quickly adds in her melodic Caribbean lilt “It’s really good, dear, tastes just like chicken !”
When I casually mention my penchant for coconut meat, she tells Tom to go pick one off the beach and then proceeds to skillfully crack it open with a Machete… I’m a happy camper now, and for the rest of our visit I’m busily chewing coconut, contributing very little to the conversation.
Before taking our leave we promise to return in two days to sample her Rondon, guaranteed to be the best on the island.
We wander about some more, stopping at South West Beach for a tasty lunch involving a lot of shrimp and an ungodly amount of garlic. After that, a long walk on the lovely beach is mandatory… Although a siesta in one of the hammocks nearby would be mightily tempting right now…
And so we carry on for the rest of the day: hop on the buggy, stop here and there for pictures, find more little roads heading to more beautiful beaches, having a jolly good ol’ time. Truly a spectacular day, one to remember.
In the end, we stay in Providencia exactly two weeks, longer than originally planned. The delay is officially attributed to the weather, the winds are too strong and the seas too angry to venture out… At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Some days go by in total relaxation, when we don’t even feel the need to leave the boat; other days we spend snorkeling, or taking lazy walks to the tiny neighboring Island of Santa Catalina, joined to Providencia by picturesque Lovers’ Bridge.
And yes, we did return to visit Ms Julia and sampled her incredible Rondon. That day is tucked away in my Most Precious Memories chest…
When we arrived, two pots were steaming on the live fires, manned by Mr Alfonso and Ms Julia’s sister, Ms Anisse.
Ms Anisse, five years younger than Ms Julia, is possibly even feistier, with a rumbling belly laugh that can be heard for miles. She wouldn’t stand still one second, constantly fluttering around like a hurried hummingbird, making it impossible for me to take her picture…
While waiting for the food to be ready, the two sisters were trying out a couple of new songs to be sang in church the following Sunday. Accompanying music was not necessary and probably would have been too much: just their two beautiful voices, so different and so perfectly complementary, sounded heavenly. What an unexpected treat!
After one of the best lunches to date, we sat around listening to their stories. The sisters reminiscing the days when, as very young children, their Mother would send them up the hill to get water before going to school, a good hour’s walk on little rocky paths with no shoes… The days when electricity finally came to the island, not more than twenty years ago, how it changed life for everyone, and so on and so forth.
It sounds like a hard life to me, but they feel blessed about every minute of it…
Ms Anisse said: “It doesn’t matter how poor you are on this island, if you’ve got friends you’ll never go hungry. We got fish in the sea, we grow things in our gardens. God looks after us. There’s always enough to go around”.
Somehow, at some point, out of the blue and right in front of me Ms Julia asked Tom if he is a faithful man, or if he plays the field… My usually chatty husband was caught speechless and sputtering, so Ms Julia prompted him by further asking “What I mean, young man, is: can you keep your pecker in your pants?”
Roaring laughter followed for long minutes before Tom could answer. “Ms Julia”, he said “I’ve got plenty of woman here to keep me busy until I die! I’m not sure I could play the field even if I wanted to…”
I guess the answer pleased her, as she cackled loudly for a while, slapping her thigh and Tom’s with some force.
Oh, what a memorable day! It was painful to leave our island family, especially knowing we’ll never see those wonderful people again…
Just when we’re starting to know the islanders by name, a favorable weather window approaches and we have the choice of taking advantage or be stuck here another couple of weeks until the next one… It’s a tough decision!
Eventually our wanderlust prevails. We’re planning to head for Roatan, another beautiful island off the coast of Honduras.
Apparently most of the other cruisers in the anchorage are planning to leave as well, scattering in different directions and dispersing within a couple of days.
But I’m sure the anchorage won’t be deserted for long: the lure of Isla Providencia is strong, soon other boats will arrive.
As we prepare to leave, we ask each other… What was our favorite attraction, what did we especially like of Providencia?
For me it was mostly the colors, the dramatic contrast and the vivid colors.
For Tom, unquestionably, the people.
Ah, yes, the wonderful people of Isla Providencia with their musically accented English, their rapid-fire Spanish and their incomprehensible (to us) Patois language. Unforgettable.
Stop by, if you ever have a chance. It’ll be one of the most enriching experiences of your life.
I know it certainly was for us!