Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | April 16, 2013

The Other Face of San Andrés

N 12° 33.74′   W 81° 41.5′

San Andrés, Colombia.


By the rivers of Babylon
Where we sat down
And there we wept when we remembered Zion.

“Rivers of Babylon” blasts like clockwork from the party trimaran moored in front of us.  Once at the return of each cruise, often while boarding passengers.  We hear the popular Rastafarian song at least a dozen times a day, enough to know the lyrics by heart.  After learning more about the day-to-day issues on the island we have to wonder if the song’s prominence in the line-up is by choice and not the limitation of the tour operator’s CD resources. Behind the frenzy of tourism the island quietly struggles with its own issues:  political, cultural, economic and environmental. The reference to captive Israelites yearning for freedom from a repressive society may hold a deeper meaning for some of the San Andreans caught up in the many changes of the past 50 or so years.

Native islanders, the Creole-speaking Raizales, have become a minority with migration from the mainland.  Tensions increased as the population tripled, the newly arrived entrepreneurs developed tourism and the island’s natural resources were taxed.  There is a group here that would very much like to secede from Colombia and manage the island’s affairs autonomously.  Then there is the long-standing dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua over possession of the island archipelago and seas. The International Court of Justice ruled in November that Colombia would retain governance of the islands and cays, but much of Colombia’s prior territorial waters were awarded to Nicaragua. Fishing has been seriously curtailed.  We have yet to see a fishing boat leave port and saw none as we approached en route from Panama. They tell us the most plentiful catching is at the 82nd meridian where the deep waters meet the Nicaraguan banks.  Those seas are now Nicaraguan territory and the Colombian fishermen say they no longer feel safe venturing there even with the support of their government, which contests the Court’s decision. Lives and livelihoods have been changed and there is a hint of sadness behind the holiday facade.

Like many of the destinations we have visited, there are serious issues in what would otherwise seem to be beautiful, tranquil, tropical places.  Travel has allowed us a different perspective which is one of the privileges we have enjoyed on this trip. History, politics and complicated international relations become more vivid and meaningful with a first-hand glimpse.  We will continue to follow the news of San Andrés with special interest long after this voyage is concluded along with the news of so many other communities that now hold special places in our hearts.

On the Mar Azul we are catching up on repairs and enjoying the company of our boat neighbors while waiting for travel weather. We have been at anchor in the harbor for over three weeks now. We really like it here. Three months of remoteness in Panama has swayed the balance. We are definitely favoring anchorages with larger towns and more shore activities at the moment. We have acclimated to the floating night club moored nearby and we sleep just fine through the hoopla. There is pleasant swimming in the sparkling waters right off the boat. The harbor is mostly comfortable except for the frequent boat wakes that seem to peak in the late afternoon.

The town is still busy with tourists although the volume of visitors has settled down since the Easter holiday. We have found very adequate shops, restaurants and service providers to meet our needs.  A helpful optician repaired my broken glasses on the spot (was down to my last pair).  Bob was excited to locate American bacon in the Super Todo, our new favorite grocery store. Little finds make us so happy.  American bacon for $2.90 per pound in this part of the world is a big deal. The paved boardwalk along the waterfront is a lively evening destination and it is fun to stroll and people watch and see families together and kids frolicking on the playground. There is not great wealth here, but the local people seem better off than in many of the areas of Colombia and Panama we have visited.  We can’t always distinguish the native islanders from the Colombians from the tourists, but everyone is helpful and friendly and we don’t feel uncomfortable at all even though we definitely stand out here.

Bob has put in so many hot sweaty hours in the engine room lately that I feel sorry for him instead of the usual irritation that his share of the work most days seems less than mine. He installed the new hot water heater & accumulator (yeah – hot showers again!), repaired an engine oil leak and got Generator #2 running again. Bob is a big believer in having back-up systems and does a good job keeping up with essential repairs.  We couldn’t risk being without power! I consolidated frozen goods into the new, smaller freezer and we gave the old freezer to one of the marina workers. The deck no longer resembles a used appliance depot.

It looks like the 2 foot seas we enjoyed on our last passage are not going to be a repeat event any time soon. We might have to take something less tranquil to get out of here. There was a marginal opportunity with 5 foot seas that appeared all of a sudden last weekend.  Bob accused me of rushing him so we skipped that one. Maybe next week.  I am reading that the 2013 Hurricane season is forecast to be on the intense side and the days until summer are quickly ticking by. We are considering various options and prioritizing our stops in case we need to skip a port or two to make up time once the spring lighter weather pattern arrives. If it arrives.

The mini international community here in the anchorage is a delight. We have gotten to know John & Sue from Australia on Five Islands and Rene from France on Passim. We went on a sightseeing trip together via Mule (a golf-cart like vehicle, not an animal) around the island which was fun. Jens & Dani, the WeatherTrack folks from Germany on Arwen arrived a couple of days ago and it is great to see them again. We are getting a terrific education on world geography and history and the perspective of other people. We Americans are less well-rounded than our foreign friends in many aspects.  We know next to nothing about their countries and they know a great deal about ours.  We are learning quite a lot about Australia and Europe at the moment and I have felt the need to broaden my news sources beyond the American-slanted forums.

Our next post might be from Providencia or Honduras if we get the perfect long weather window. Or maybe we will still be in San Andrés, who knows. Whatever the weather will be, will be.


Golf carts are the vehicle of choice for sightseeing tourists here. The Mule is more powerful than the basic cart and can travel at speeds up to 25 mph or so. The island is small enough that you can make it around easily in a couple of hours including stops.


The Emmanual Baptist Church dates to 1844 and was the first church on the island. There are many more Protestants here than on mainland Colombia, a Catholic stronghold. The church is a prominent landmark, perched high on a hill, and we noticed it right away as we motored into the channel. For a small fee you can climb up to the bell tower for the bird’s-eye view. I made it as far as the rafters then whew – it seemed so high on the ladder-like stairs – had to descend. Guess I have spent too much time at sea level lately!


Rocky Cay is another gorgeous beach south of the main town


The Hoyo Soplador (blow-hole) on the south side of the island offered a pretty vista.


Lots of friendly locals operate bars, restaurants and tourist shops here and it was a fun stop. The blow-hole was pretty tame during our visit, but everyone acted surprised when it occasionally spewed a blast of air and water.


The Naval base occupies a tranquil cove on the west side of the island. All the ships were at sea. There are news reports of frequent busts trying to curtail drug-running boats that transit the area en route from South America to Central America and the US.


Tall Coconut Palms line the stunning beach on the north side of the island


North beach, along the boardwalk. Johnny Cay in the distance is a popular tour boat destination.


Most of the locals travel via scooters and the city streets can be hectic at certain hours


Happy Hour on S/V Passim with Rene, Sue & John


Fascinating mural gives an island history lesson. Sugar cane, cotton, coco, the harbor, music, religion and government depicted here. The most recent addition on the left shows the fish and seas, with a large eye on the seahorse-shaped island shedding tears.



  1. Thanks for sharing your journey!

    • Welcome! Wishing the smoothest seas and pleasant harbors to the Izzy R.

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