Simon's demons needed exorcising. With his diving confidence still not up to par a destination for intense diving was needed. San Andres is a little known Caribbean island owned by Colombia and nestled next to Nicaragua. It offers a Caribbean vibe at backpacker budgets as well as some of the best diving at the most reasonable rates. It seemed too good and too close to be avoidable.
Landing in hectic San Andres town with its identical tax free shops, condo after condo followed by all inclusive resort was not the Caribbean vibe we had been expecting. Luckily for us Nevie and Isabella ran a Posada at the furtherst point away from town and so nestled in a quiet, local street was a pink and blue cladded house. Having not stayed anywhere longer than days, knowing we would be here for 10 meant we could really unpack, unwind, fill the fridge and settle in.
Simon had already told his diving woes to Christian, a German fellow of an unnaturally brown colour with a habit of smoking too much and ranting more so. He was however sympathetic to Simon's plight and had agreed to get him back into underwater comfort.
Day one and the journey into town took 40 minutes on a suspension free, three to a seat, bus where people greeted you with big smiles or sneaked looks over their shoulders. From the obscured windows the ride showed you a tri-coloured sea of aquamarine, turquoise and a deep royal blue. The ribbons of white sand were scattered with white sun stripped branches and only the occasional person drifting along the shore. The journey weaved through small villages where chattering groups huddled around small shops whilst scooters buzzed up and away making deliveries or passing the time. Outside of the town there was still noise and bussle from big laughs, gossip sharing, errand running. Once inside town however, we both quickly realised it wasn't where we wanted to spend time; our only incentive to meet Christian and get under the waves. Jet ski's, all inclusive resorts, cigarette end beaches, huddled paddling, sellers and condo's and over priced coffee. Definitely not our cup of tea.
Christian had ony very recently taken over the dive shop which accounted for the slightly dishevelled and chaotic manner in which it presented itself. WIlliam, with his thick caribbean twang got all the equipment sussed and the low down of town imparted. He was also our 'go-to' man for a motorbike. The first lumpy bus would not get us to town early enough for dives and despite our first experience not being terrible the thought of two journeys a day with bosoms and shopping bags, babies and fish all in very close proximity on a blistering day was not filling us with glee. Christian, whom had taken a particular shine to Simon, would distract him with rants on the state of the books, how much booties cost and how the effing locals were a little too laissez faire.
First day and first dive, Simon obviously had his anxieties and so Christian made a special effort to focus on him alone. With just the three of us on board we went to a shallow dive site which was calm, crystal clear and empty. The first dive went well and with Simon battling his irrationality he finally got down and actually enjoyed a DIVE!! With him on cloud (wave?) nine and a regained faith that all would be well we took to the road on our 125 scooter and away from package holiday mayhem and back home. Next day, next dive. All suited and booted and Simon plopped into the bath warm waters with relative ease. As I sunk a few metres I waited for the guys to join me. They were down a few metres, up a metre, down then up. again and again. I wasn't sure what the problem was, assumed Simon's demons were testing him but Christian signalled it was nothing awful, stay put and he was taking Simon back to the surface. After 40 minutes of bobbing about amongst corals, rock crevices, turtles and a couple of black tipped sharks we returned to a rather disgruntled and little sun-crisped Simon. Whilst the demons were caged, the body was now not behaving and no matter how hard he tried he could equalise. A dive later that day confirmed that Simon must have an ear infection. Having bought flights, arranged accommodation, hired motorbikes in order to dive there was little that coud be said as consolation. Where there is antibiotics there is always hope.
I had already booked a two night mini-break to Providencia, a neighbouring island just a simple four hour vomit comet (catamaran) to get there. The idea was that in order for Simon and I to resist the urge to plug each other's breathing apparatus it might be a great opportunity for a little healthy separation. Funny how the separate islands seemed to offer us the very different things we both sought. I found splendid isolation, unspoilt beaches, next to no tourists, authenticity, culture, seafood plucked from the ocean just moments before, no pollution, no crime, quietness. Simon on the other hand now had free reign to ride like a maniac putting the scooter through its paces through village roads, unmade paths. He indulged in an unhealthily large number of chocolate milkshakes, shopped for a Go Pro and Ray Bans and did guy stuff without a nagging 'wife!' With his ear not getting any better the diving was now a right off.
I on the other hand had caught the diving bug and so headed for a one man band on the beach where he and his mates had a reasonable operation which crammed divers and leaky equipment into a small skiff and headed to shark infested waters. I was in! I had oddly bumped into James on the boat to Providencia; a chap Simon and I voyaged around the Galapagos with. He and his friend Bryon made for great water buddies with dives involving seven 10 foot black tipped sharks circling us over bright corals teeming with lion fish and lobster. Other than hanging with sardines I spent a day with a local boy and his motorbike to see the hidden coves and isolated shack bars on marooned beaches. A day was spent with James and his wonderful crew on a perfect beach with glass like sea watching a more than perfect sunset, sharing beers, lobster and our stories. Providencia is a quintessential Caribbean island. The accents are broad, the vibe is chilled, the colours are vibrant starting with clothing to houses, boats and flora. The beaches have the classic palm tree photo. The sea is so calm and so clear you can watch the fish swim around your ankles. The nights are silent, the stars bright, roads empty. Leaving paradise was only consoled by the fact that even after only 2 nights I actually missed my silly sod and hoped he would remember to meet me at the dock.
I was greeted by a large grin and a hug that makes your knees go a bit wobbly. And then he told me about his breakneck speeds, his poorly ear and his fetish for unhealthy dairy products. His ear was proverbially but lovingly clipped. He drove me home far too fast and with my constant flinching, ooohing and hard pinching by the time we got back he was ready to book another catamaran.
Evenings were largely spent in doors taking advantage of a fully equipped kitchen and a cool breeze swinging through the wind chimes and bright tropical pink bougainvillea. Nights were spent with Simon putting air con on setting 'ice-station' and sleeping on top of the sheets whilst I adorned ski socks under a duvet and sleeping bag. Despite the lack of romance and glamour our Caribbean experience wasn't one to be knocked. We had lazy days on beaches humming with reggae music serving fried fish and coconuts full of headache making booze. We swam in bouncing tides whilst we watched families bury each other and couples hold hands. In the mean time I lathered myself in factor 70 and Simon replaced his lack of hair with an equally claustrophobic sun cream. A good day was one that hadn't resulted in blistering.
San Andres confirmed what we knew. The vibrant houses, mellow beats, fresh fish, laid back life, big smiles and nature left to do its thing all make for a slice of contentment. It was also very evident that neither of us were 'beach resort' people and having been blessed with the ginger gene I had been innately warned against beach holidays. This topped with the fact that a sun cream has not yet been invented that both incorporates lead but does not allow the freckle cursed individual to accumulate sand and beach debris. It can make beach life, at times, slightly uncomfortable. Those of you who are of fair complexion will know the perils of leaving just one small slither of skin baron of SPF; nights feeling like you're sleeping on sandpaper as well as a rather unfashionable patchwork effect. That said, the quieter (and shadier) the beach the more Simon and I fell into happy sloth-dom. Our last few days were spent admiring the view, appreciating the breeze, hurtling down back streets of rainbow wooden huts and passing the time with our hosts.
The flight back to real Colombia gave us time to reflect. Simon was hopeful of dives to come, proud that he had overcome his fears. I was rather proud of being beige.