Picture yourself as Jack Sparrow with a harpoon driving around GTA: San Andreas in a golf cart and you're pretty close to daily life on Providencia. This Colombian island just off the coast of Nicaragua is home to the native Raizal people, huge crabs and few tourists. It was formed by volcanic activity and is encircled by sandbanks and a colossal reef: the third largest in the world. And unlike its big brother San Andres, there's more to do than drinking cheap rum on your jetski.
Flying to the island is the easiest and fastest way. Of course us cheapo's took the slower but more affordable catamaran from San Andres, but the trip was horrendous. The boat was constantly going up, down, left and right in very irregular and sharp turns. Meanwhile the airco was freezing your socks off and they were showing an awful horror movie on three big screens with the volume turned up Colombian style. You could say we were relieved once we arrived.
The island isn't particularly made for backpackers, so we had a hard time finding cheap accommodation. Our Posada had some issues with WiFi, cockroaches and huge crabs migrating to your shower when you leave the door open. Apart from that we had our own kitchen, which gave us the opportunity to save some money.
While touring around on a scooter, we quickly fell in love with Providencia's pirate ambiance. Henry Morgan, the infamous captain, used this island as a base to attack the Spanish. It's complete with a fort, cannons and treasure in a submarine cave. There's even a giant rock supposedly resembling Morgan's head. Important places are called Black Sands Bay, Fort Point, Freetown, Goat Hill and Aligator Point. You get the picture.
Just 1km off the coast is Crab Cay, a little island with a hill, perfect for snorkeling. We were looking around for someone to take us there, and stumbled upon the joyful fisherman Haky. He brought us with a smile and infinite enthusiasm
Yeaaah maan I gonna take you a there no problem yeaaah you gonna sie die fish man
And fish we saw. Lots of them. There were lovely squid swimming around and huge stingrays trying to hide in the sand. On top of the island's hill we could see the famous Seven Colours of the sea, caused by different kinds of sand and sea grass.
Two days later Haky took us out in his boat again for some fishing near a reef 2km off the coast. None of the fish on this island are caught with regular nets or rods, but with harpoons instead. Haky's friend Thomas explained the working of such an underwater weapon and handed one to me. We were to follow him into the deep to see how it's done. Haky remained on the boat, navigating around the coral maze that this reef was.
Thomas had clearly done this before. He was swimming down to the bottom in such a relaxed way that he could stay underwater for a very long time. They told us they sometimes hunt for lobster at a depth of 32m with no problems, nor additional oxygen(!). Now he was looking underneath huge structures of coral for some Red Snapper or Parrot Fish. After catching his first, it was time for me to try it out. It was harder than you'd think. Finding a big fish is one thing, but actually getting close enough, holding the harpoon steady and shooting it is another. This is with big waves breaking over the sand bank and current trying to smash you against the coral.
After a couple of tries I caught my first Parrot Fish. Proudly I showed it to Haky, but I judged from his face that I needed to catch something bigger. While Thomas was catching tons of giant fish, it took me half an hour to get another Parrot Fish of decent size. Of course it started bleeding and withing seconds the blood spread around us. Jil and I were swimming at the surface, while calling Haky and his boat in the distance. He turned around and started moving towards us. Meanwhile we were looking around in the water and at my fish.
All of a sudden a reef shark appeared just below us. Of course he was attracted by the blood. We had no idea what to do, but luckily Haky had already arrived. The shark was getting very close to us and wanted that fish. He was getting aggressive. Adrenaline was flowing through our veins. Haky commanded us to get aboard as fast as we could. He lifted Jil out of the water and took my harpoon and fish. While I climbed aboard the Parrot Fish slipped off the hook and got back into the water. We were very relieved to be safe.
Back on shore Thomas cleaned our fish. The catch of the day was a gigantic Pargo Pluma, which we gave to a nearby restaurant. They grilled it for us with some garlic and butter, and we ate the best fish of our lives. We could barely eat half of it and took the rest home for next day's dinner.
Two days later we continued exploring the underwater world. Our dive master told us there would be sharks. He reassured us that they have a lot of experience diving with them and sharks rarely become aggressive. Despite our earlier experience we were going into the water confidently.
Suddenly at a depth of 24m about seven reef sharks started circling around us. Panicking is out of the question here, so we stayed as cool as possible. They came really close, but seemed friendly and just curious. There were lots of other things to see, like morays, fish and canyons, but we were mostly occupied by the sharks.
Halfway through our dive master told us to stay put, while he swam down 5m to the bottom of a canyon. He took off his BCD and crawled inside a small coral cave with a harpoon. When he came out he had a beautiful Lion Fish on his hook. That attracted the attention of five sharks. Quickly one of them took the fish straight off his harpoon and it was gone. I'm not sure if this is proper sustainable diving, but it was spectacular.
Back ashore we hung out at Roland Roots Bar on the southernmost beach of the island. It is ridiculously atmospheric with reggae music, camp fires, dancing rastafari's and palm trees with swings hanging above the ocean. Fishing nets hang in the trees and old red buoys serve as lamps. The sand is perfectly white and the water is perfect for snorkeling. We were only concerned by lethal coconuts falling out of the trees. Meanwhile Roland lies in his hammock behind the bar, serving you ice cold beers and dazzling cocolocos. Yeaaah maaan!