Our trip to San Andrés and Providencia in 2001 was our 14th trip to Caribbean islands. My wife and I enjoy the Caribbean very much, because every island has its own life, its own nature, something special and is unique of its kind.
My wife has already put up with the fact that I usually chose our vacation trips with the help of the number of QSOs in my ham radio log book. That means the less stations I have worked from a distinct island the bigger the chances to find us there.
San Andrés, HKŘ, was already a while on the top rank of my "most wanted list", but because one may hardly find any travel agency in Germany selling trips to San Andrés and Providencia, we haven't been there before.
So we took the opportunity to find out something about San Andrés at the Colombian booth at the "ITB", the International Travel Fair Berlin.
We had the good luck to meet Mrs. Bruni Kohlsdorf, a German lady, who has lived in Bogotá for many years.
She knows San Andrés well and recommended "Cocoplum Beach Hotel", a nice small hotel away from the big tourist fortresses of the city of San Andrés. It is located at the beach in San Luis halfway down the east coast.
It was a good decision !
Our travel agent, Mr Döhnert, booked our flights and we started our first trip to San Andrés November 8, 2001. We flew via Paris, and spent four days in Bogotá, where we met my good old friend Mario, HK3WGQ. We took a sightseeing tour and were robbed on open road the last day.
We arrived at San Andrés Airport November 13, late in the afternoon, in pouring rain.
Unfortunately it continued to rain for the next 12 days and the natives told us the weather was absolutely unusual for this season.
I erected my antenna in the pouring rain and for the first few days I had a good alibi to sit in front of my radio and work the tremendous pile ups.
But after a while it started to get boring (not the pile ups!). We did not fly from the muddy weather in good old Germany to sit in our hotel room, staring at the rain. At last the weather gods favoured us and we had some nice days before we left.
San Andrés y Providencia is a small archipelago in the western Caribbean off the coast of Nicaragua and belongs to Colombia.
San Andrés is about 14 km long and 3-4 km wide with nice people, beautiful vegetation and spectacular beaches in the north and east. 22.000 people live there. The island is a free-trading zone since the fifities and many Colombians go there for shopping. Full planes, crowded roads and shops in the city and pyramids of luggage on their way back are visible signs.
The native people are black and they declare to be the heirs of Captain Morgan, the wellknown pirate. They speak English.
San Andrés Airport
The staff of "Cocoplum Beach Hotel" does the best to make our stay in San Andrés an unforgettable experience. We have booked a two bedroom with breakfast and dinner for 28 $ per day per person. It is worth every cent. The meals are very good and fresh. We especially recommend the fresh fish and lobster - unbeatable !
Okay, I have to admit I was not able to eat eggs for a few weeks after that trip. Scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, fried eggs, eggs with ham and cheese, eggs with tomatoes and onions or "surprise" or omelette for breakfast was a little too much of the good - but it was served by Seńora Etty - the good soul of the restaurant - a real pearl. We never saw her in a bad temper.
We instantly were family with the staff members. Milena, the Manager of the Hotel was very helpful in any way. I needed a bigger table to install my radio and the laptop - I got it. Anything against mosquitoes - we got it. Help to install the antennas - no problem. "Mono" climbed the palm trees to get the dipole antenna up. Milena brought a 5m long steel tube from home with her car for my 6meter beam antenna. She has a big heart for her guests and is very helpful.
The Cocoplum Team 2001
It is very easy to make friends or find someone to talk about the bigger or smaller problems and talk about God and the world. One can find small restaurants and bars in the neighbourhood of the Cocoplum Beach Hotel in the street in San Luis and meet native people there. They are overwhelmingly friendly and it takes only a few minutes to make friends.
Ham radio shows its character again to be a bridge between peoples. After we met my good old friend Mario, HK3WGQ, in Bogotá, (whom I knew from countless short wave contacts) for the first time face to face, it did not take a long time and the first contact to a native ham was made. I met Abel, HKŘVGJ, during our second day on short wave and we arranged a meeting in our Hotel.
After his visit, and a thorough inspection of my working conditions, Abel invited us to his home.
His wife Edilma is a fabulous cook and we had an unforgettable dinner of baked breadfruit, conch and other delicious things from the native cuisine.
When we left we were good friends. We met each other several times and celebrated my 55th birthday together in our hotel.
San Andrés has become a free-trade zone by declaration of the Colombian government in the 1950s. You can see it immediately, when you visit the capitol city, San Andrés. Shops and more shops, jewellery, shoes, perfumes, liquors, cameras, electronic equipment and and and ... wherever you look. crowded and noisy roads. Many Colombians make a weekend trip to San Andrés for a shopping tour. Visible proof for that are full planes, a fussy pell-mell in the streets and shops, but most of all, pyramids of luggage at the airport, when they leave. The prices are really moderate, compared to other Caribbean islands also the prices for daily things are acceptable.
We are glad that our hotel is a little "up the road", away from the tourist mile.
A bus ride costs about 40 cents, and with about 80 cents one can get all around the Island. It takes not more than 10 or 15 minutes from "Cocoplum Beach Hotel" to the city of San Andrés. The bus stops wherever one wants to enter or leave.
For individualists: scooters, bikes or golf cars can be hired via the hotel or in one of the numerous hire services along the beach road in San Andrés.
The best way to become acquainted with the island and the islanders is to hire a taxi. We took an island tour for 13 € and our "taxista" Pepe turned out to be an excellent guide and showed us corners of the island we probably would not have found with a bike.
Cocoplum Beach Hotel
You will easily understand that such a small island is not even studded with remarkable places of interest. Here are some of them.
« Johnny Cay: A tiny island off the northern shore facing the Central Beach of San Andrés, covered with palm trees and surrounded by beautiful beaches. Here you should try the local cuisine. A must: "Coco Loco" - a Rum cocktail served in a coconut (our recommendation: not more than ONE !!)
« Haynes Cay/El Acuario: Islet a little off the eastern shore in the latitude of the city limit of San Luis. Natural aquarium, a beautiful snorkelling place.
« La Piscinita: Natural aquarium in the southwest of the island. Here you can feed fish and watch the swarming fish from the surface.
« Hoyo soplador ("Blowing hole"): A "Geyser", fed from the waves.
« Cueva de Morgan: There are rumours that in this cave the famous pirate Captain Morgan has buried a legendary treasure - we haven't found it, so you have a chance !!
« Iglesia Bautista: Located in La Loma, the oldest church on San Andrés. From the tower you have a magnificent view over the island.
« La Laguna: A fresh water lagoon near La Loma in the center of the island. There live some alligators, but we haven't seen any.
Good times always fly, but besides my ham radio activities, we take every chance to meet people and look for the natural beauty of the island. In small shops, bars and restaurants around our hotel in San Luis, where the isleńos meet, it doesn't take long to get in touch with them.
On our program we also have some SCUBA dives with Werner Köster, a German dive instructor who lives in San Andrés.
The reefs around San Andrés are of breathtaking beauty.
A visibility of 30 meters in crystal clear warm water is not an exaggeration.
The marine flora and fauna around San Andrés and Providencia is protected by the UNESCO as cultural heritage of the world.
By the way, around Providencia Island is the third biggest reef in the world, besides the Barrier Reef in Australia and the reefs off the coast of Belize. THE El Dorado for snorkelers and divers.
At our departure we had to promise our friends to come back to San Andrés soon. We did not know at that time that it would be SO soon.
In April 2002 my wife Erika had to change her job, and she had to take her vacation before her new entry - three weeks. But where to go in that short of time? I instantly nominated San Andrés. My amateur radio guest license is valid for ten years and for an application for a guest license for another Caribbean island time is too short. I don't have to beg long and the hotel is booked in an instant. We get the same room with ocean view.
Mr. Döhnert, the chief of our travel agency "Der Reiseprofi", where we book our trips regularly, offers us bargain flights for 620 US$ per person.
March 12, 2002. This time we fly with IBERIA, via Madrid to Bogotá, and the next morning with Avianca to San Andrés.
We stay over night in the Pension "Berlinesa", owned by Andreas Buchmann, a German emigrant. The pension is clean and really worth the money you have to pay. A room for two persons costs 26 US $ and breakfast 3 US $ per person. Upon request, Andreas meets his guests at the airport, and brings them back the next morning - 15 US $. He also helps you with the formalities, if the Spanish language seems to be a little too Spanish for you - 0 US $.
We are warmly welcomed as we arrive in our hotel "Cocoplum" the next morning after a two hours flight and a short taxi ride.
Seńora Etty serves us a welcome-drink and first of all we exchange the island gossip and news. The family is complete again.
My antenna is erected in an instant and the run on HKŘGU is tremendous again. The first contest, the WAEDC in RTTY begins the next evening at 19.00h. The contest is organized from the German Amateur Radio Club (DARC). One has to get as many contacts as possible with as many countries as possible into his log book in a distinct time. The conditions aren't too good, so after 36 hours I have only 516 QSOs (contacts) in my log.
That means "only" 10th place in the "Non Europe" category.
The weather is fantastic and this time it stays like it is. It just rains once or twice during night time.
Some days before Easter the hotel is fully booked, the Colombians go for a short vacation to San Andrés.
A welcomed occasion for us, to make a side trip to Providencia, the smaller island of the archipelago, some 80 km north of San Andrés and untouched from mass tourism. It is not so easy to find a hotel at the east coast of Providencia, but I need a free "shot" to Europe, Japan and the USA. Most of the hotels are located at the west coast behind the mountains.
The Hotel "Deep Blue" seems to satisfy my conditions. The flights are available for 65 US $ and the hotel for 30 US $ per day per person including breakfast and dinner.
Our plane to Providencia Island starts at 07.30h. We arrive at the airport at 06.00h and 10 minutes later we are checked in. We are only three passengers so the lady at the counter asks us to go to the gate because our island hopper would start earlier at 06.30h, heading north. After a 20 minute flight we arrive on Providencia Island. Kike, our host, of course does not know that we arrive one hour earlier, so we take a taxi.
The taxi driver explains, that we were wrong on that island, if we were looking for "high life". Here on Providencia Island they have only two things: nature and tranquility - exactly our taste.
Something he forgot to tell us or it is the most normal thing of the world to him: the overwhelming friendliness of the natives.
We leave the main road and the last kilometre, on a gravel road, the car is jumping like a horse over sticks und stones. Here is the end of the world.
We are heartily welcomed.
"El Profe", administrator and cook of the "Deep Blue" - in earlier times professor of philosophy in Calí/Colombia - prepares our breakfast: SCRAMBLED EGGS !!!
During the next few days he shows us his extraordinary art of cooking. "Kike", the owner of the "Deep Blue", catches fish and lobsters for his excellent cuisine in the reefs, so we always get real fresh meals.
The hotel consists of three houses with three or four apartments at a hill slope.
Our apartment is located in the upper house, that means a little climbing, but we have a breathtaking view to Cayo Cangrejo, the Crab Island, which lies about 1000 meters off the coast amidst coral reefs. Our hotel has no beach, but the first coral reef lies not more than 50 meters from the easy access to the sea.
We are fascinated by the colours of the sea. We have seldom seen such a turquoise. I can't recall how often I took photographs of Crab Cay within that multi coloured sea. But photographs really can't show those colours - we keep them in our minds.
It is great here !!
We seldom come out of the water. But "duty" is calling! The hotel is a great spot for ham radio activities. The only problem is, there is not enough space for wire antennas because of the thick wood on the slope, but sufficient for my Butternut ground plane.
Providencia Island is more rare in ham radio bosoms as San Andrés, because it is an extra IOTA group (IOTA = Islands On The Air) and was activated more seldom. I realize this already after a few minutes. After three or four QSOs (means in ham radio chinese: contacts) in relative quietness it overtakes me, huge pile ups from the first minutes until I leave the island the fourth day with 3675 QSOs in my log book.
During these days we take sightseeing trips or snorkel in the near reefs. A highlight of our stay is a roundtrip by boat. Our skipper Betito knows every corner of his island and shows us the best snorkeling sites and makes us familiar with the beauty of the island. I did not get much sleep - about 8 or 10 hours during four days is probably not too much. I'm tired but happy! We would like to stay here a little longer. But what are four days !? Before we turn twice we have to return to San Andrés. We visit our friends Abel and Edilma again and find us the next morning at the airport for our flight back to Europe. Via Bogotá and Madrid, where we spend one more night, we return to Berlin.
We are so enthusiastic about the relaxed atmosphere on Providencia Island, that we immediately decide to go back to that little paradise to celebrate our silver wedding (25th wedding anniversary) in April 2004 just in family ... with a "little" ham radio activity!
And in November 2006 you found me again on that nice little Island, celebrating my 60th birthday with my wife Erika and my radio.
To find more information, especially about our 2004/2006/2010 HKŘGU DXpedition, click to my special homepage www.qslnet.de/hk0gu or www.qsl.net/hk0gu.