Thursday, September 7, 2017

Merman and Mermaid Explore San Andres!

Hello friends! Norbert and I just spent 4 days in a glorious place called San Andres Island, part of a Colombian archipelago in the Caribbean Sea around 230 miles off the coast of Nicaragua. From the air, Norbert and I gazed down at the crystalline blue waters and I thought--THIS is what the Caribbean looks like! I know Cartagena is on the Caribbean coast, but the gorgeous beaches and clear warm waters give Cartagena's coast a run for its money. (The sea in Cartagena is indeed warm, but it's color is more on the muddier side...)

 The minute we landed, Norbert and I jumped into a taxi and headed for the marina where a boat was waiting to take us on a snorkeling tour around the island. And four the next 4 days, we only got out of the water to eat and sleep (in hammocks). Our first stop was a shallow sandbar that was teeming with sting rays that couldn't have cared less about our intrusive presence. While we gazed at them through our masked, they glided through the water like underwater birds and fought one another for food. I was in awe of their gracefulness and beauty, and I didn't want to get back onto the boat! (I was a bit more willing after seeing a GIANT barracuda nearby.)

Click PLAY to watch Norbert's awesome video!

The next stops were pretty cool: an underwater sculpture garden, a sunken ship, and a coral formation called The Pyramide where Norbert and I had a great time admiring a gorgeous spotted eagle ray.

Click on the Map for more info!

 Back on land, we had a lunch of local specialties, including conch, which we later found out was in "veda," meaning restaurants aren't supposed to serve it because it's currently closed for the season to let the conch repopulate. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the island on a local bus, trying to make it to our apartment rental. We eventually made it and quickly found our way to the beach next door. From the shore, you can walk across a long sandbank and reach a tiny island called Rocky Cay, which was cool to explore. It was late afternoon and the only people on Rocky Cay besides us were 3 boys from the nearby village, fishing for the dinner. It's always impressive to see a child do something with such expertise--such as scaling a fish--that I wouldn't know how to do myself.

 We woke up feeling very excited the following morning because WE WERE GOING DIVING! And Norbert and I love any opportunity to pretend we're little fishies that live under the sea. The first dive of the morning was a rather deep one (we went down to about 80 feet) along a wall of coral that dropped into the deep blue sea. We saw lots of amazing and colorful fish and coral, but the most interesting fish we came across was the bat fish--a fish with wings and HANDS! It was my first time getting acquainted with this strange species, and luckily, we saw several of them on all 4 dives, so I had lots of chances to admire them and their awesome strangeness.

The second dive was a bit shallower, and we actually started at the underwater statue garden that we'd seen the day before. On this dive, we saw another eagle ray (so majestic!) and swam through several caves. I can't even describe all the many species that we saw, but Norbert took many underwater videos to capture some of the magic.

 That afternoon, we went back to Rocky Cay and saw several local boys jumping off a halfway submerged shipwreck in the distance. So of course, we had to swim over and explore for ourselves. I won't go to much into it because, again, my mother reads this blog, but suffice to say that exploring a half-submerged cargo ship that's been sitting in the surf for 45 years was insanely cool. I didn't jump from the highest deck like the local boys, but I did jump from the lower one! And watching the afternoon sun from the shipwreck as it set on the island was one of my favorite moments of all time, as well as swimming back to the shore with the nearly full moon rising behind us. What a magical afternoon! AND we saw a HUGE HUGE and I mean HUGE sting ray on the swim back! So big I thought it was a rock!

We awoke with excitement yet again the next day--MORE DIVING! We did two dives off a boat this time (the others had been from the shore), and the set up was somewhat similar to the day before. One deep dive and a shallower one. On the shallow dive, we went through many extensive cave systems (where you go in and come out the other side). Some of them were quite narrow so the Brazilian who was with us didn't make it through them all. At one point, we thought we'd lost him, which is a freaky feeling when you've got an oxygen tank strapped to you and 35 ft of water above your head. But our guide found our Brazilian friend and onward we went, exploring more gorgeous coral and admiring more magical sea life. Norbert saw a sea spider and caught it wriggling about on camera! We saw more bat fish (!!) and plenty of crazy colorful fishies that just make me smile. Of course, we saw a few more eagle rays along the way and I was content... 

That afternoon, we headed back to the shipwreck, this time wielding our cameras to attempt to capture its awesomeness. (Yes, Norbert swam with our Canon SLR over his head--it was in a plastic bag, don't worry!) It was just as amazing as the previous day, and this time I was even able to jump off a higher deck! (but still not the highest.. I'm a chicken and I won't deny it!) I'm not sure if the photos can do this place justice, but we gave it a try. Something about that place really inspired me, and I'm already working on an essay about the experience. I'm a sucker for dilapidated, run-down places, what can I say.

The following day, we rented a scooter and went swimming at all the beaches we hadn't visited yet (because let's be honest, we were pretty obsessed with Rocky Cay). More snorkeling, more cool fish (and more bat fish!), and more good food. This place was a breadfruit paradise. If you're not familiar with it, you gotta try it! Soo delicious and nutritious!

We're definitely going to come back to San Andres Island for more exploring, but also to check out it's neighbor, Providencia, where we've heard the diving is even more spectacular! The locals were friendly and spoke a really interesting creole language that reminded me of Jamaican creole. We also witnessed a traditional funeral on our last day and learned about the islands connection to Mobile, Alabama.

View of San Andres on our way back home - it's just 8x2 miles!

I'm sure I'm missing a lot but that's all I've got for now. Also, if you can, please send prayers to my hometown of Miami and all the people being affected by Hurricane Irma. Here's hoping that everyone stays safe and dry.