We threw ourselves in the bed, completely exhausted. Our flight to San Andrés Island had been delayed and we’d gotten to our inn, Posada Caribbean Refuge, at midnight. We were starving so the lady who owned the house made us a delicious ham and cheese sandwich with natural fruit juice.
As we ate, my sister and I started speaking: How were we going to make it to Providencia? We’d heard awful stuff about San Andres: It was touristy, inauthentic, and uninteresting. Our real destination was Providencia, a place we had wanted to visit ever since we had memory. Our plan has been to spend a night in San Andres and leave the next day to get to Providencia, but the sea was upset, and the high tides weren’t allowing boats to leave. We were disappointed, but mostly we were just tired. So we decided to leave the worrying for the next day.
As soon as we woke up, we got that fresh island smell. The wind was blowing strong, whistling secrets into our dreams. We decided to go to the airport before anything, and the owner of the house drove us there. At the airport we were directed to the Decameron office, one of two airlines that fly into Providencia. My best friend’s family, which was meeting us that night, had bought tickets for 280,000 COP, more than the ticket from Bogotá to San Andrés had been. We got there, expecting to hear what everyone had been telling us, “There’s no plane tickets for a week.” Would we have to stay here the entire week? That’s what one of my co-workers, who was also going to Providencia, had been told the day before. The lady at the office kept typing, the suspense kept building, she looked up…”there’s only two tickets for tomorrow, there’s a tourist discount for today so it’ll be 90,000 COP each one.”
Holy shit, luck was our side! We were ecstatic! Not only had we found tickets to Providencia, we’d found them at less than half the price!! Now we had to resolve our other issue: We had no place to stay that day. Our friends were staying at Posada Nativa Miss Joyce, which hadn’t answered our calls for weeks, so we decided to see if we could find it and ask them in person whether they had a room. We took a cab, and had a hard time finding the house that was hidden in a small street, in a residential neighborhood. Miss Joyce and her family were surprised to see us, and laughed when we told them we’d come all the way there to see if they had a room available. Yes, they said, we do, still laughing at the thought that we’d improvise something like this.
With all our problems solved, we were now free to explore and see if what people said about this Caribbean island was true. Since we were in a residential neighborhood, and the island is pretty small, we decided to simply walk around aimlessly and see where we’d end up. We walked around in awe of all the beautiful houses, my sister taking pictures of chairs for a photography project she was doing. We came upon a house where there were a group of women braiding each other’s hair. On the second floor balcony, there was a sofa, and chairs were abundant on the first floor. We came up to them and asked if they minded us taking a picture. They accented happily and smiled.
As my sister was taking a picture, a man came out of the frame of a window from the neighboring house, which was under construction. He said something, but Island English was difficult for us to understand. He repeated it again, “you girls wanna see something? Come up to the roof!” He came down and directed us to an oxidized staircase outside of the house. Now I may very likely have a phobia of heights, so I stood there while my sister jumped at the chance, and watched with a gulp in my throat as the man helped her get to the building. “Ok ok,” I thought, “it’s the perfect opportunity to conquer fears, right?” I grabbed on to dear life as I climbed the staircase. On the last step the man took my arm and pulled me up, as I hesitatingly let go. I stood in solid surface and saw my sister’s knee bleeding, a nail that had been sticking out of the construction had hurt her, but she’s a tough cookie. We walked across the construction and into another wooden staircase which led to the roof. We stood there in awe. It was beautiful. We could see the entire island, the sea of seven colors, the center, the keys. The man was happy we liked the view, and said he wanted us to like the island and to know that the islanders were good people. When we were finally done taking it all in, he helped us down. As we said goodbye we asked him his name, “Carlos!” he yelled and waived at us while he smiled.
We continued walking along beautiful neighborhoods, wondering how people could be so wrong about the island. We ate food at a local restaurant, saw the fishing boats bobbing up and down with the tide, and the fishermen relaxing in the shade of palm trees. We walked and walked and walked and took it all in, happy to have had the fortunate misfortune of being stuck on this island.
Then finally, we got to the city center…and then we understood. We were in Miami Beach! How could the beauty of the island been ruined and turned into this awful, ugly, plastic place that is Downtown San Andrés?
We were in shock. We walked around, drank some cocktails, went to the beach, and enjoyed fresh mangoes. Eventually we met up with my co-worker and her family, and spend some time drinking beer and laughing.
We left early to go back to the inn, where we had to meet Miss Joyce’s son in law to go pick up Cata and her family from the airport. We got to the inn and realized he was waiting for us with his bike….have I mentioned that besides heights I’m afraid of motorcycles? I had already conquered one fear that day so I threw all caution to the island wind and decided to go with him. I told him I was scared and that I was going to hold on tight. I braced myself, closed my eyes, grinded my teeth and… it was amazing! It was the most liberating, peaceful, delicious feeling! Now I don’t know if it’s because it was an island, and bikes are more common than cars, but I was not afraid at any point. I just enjoyed the fresh wind in my face and felt pure bliss. We got to the airport, found them, and told them to follow us. On our way back, a light rain started to fall and I couldn’t help but think: “What am I in a movie?! How is everything so perfect?!?!”
Life, it seems, was on my side on this trip.
The next day we explored a little bit, going to the first baptist church on the island, and walking around. And then we hopped on the smallest plane I have ever seen. I looked at the other 15 passengers, looked at the window, and prepared myself to finally see the place I have heard about all my life.
But that’s a story for another day…