I first saw San Andres and Providencia from the window of a small airplane. It was a Friday morning and I was on my way back to mainland Colombia. As we steamed by, I could almost hear a band playing reggae. I tingled as only a teenager can. I had been excited about San Andres since our orders were cut; the days at sea from San Diego were almost unbearably long, especially with the old-timers stoking our enthusiasm with tales rich in pirate plunder, glory-seeking conquerors and Captain Henry Morgan. The year was 1988, Archipelago was still much unknown and luxury San Andres Hotels were still only a dream.
My first visit wasn’t long and memory of it reminds me of a broken mirror whose shards catch random reflections; the bus into town, the dubious nightlife, my gawking at the people on Playa Sprat Bight Beach, my fascination with a particular tattoo. It never made it to my arm. I had the time, the money, and the courage but never all three at the same time. Lost in that jumble somewhere must be the moment I fell in love with San Andres, but I can’t find it. I do remember that when we left, I needed no lei to throw overboard to tell me if I was coming back.
Now I have visited San Andres and Providencia a number of times. One visit was particularly memorable. I flew in one of the AeroRepública flights to San Andres. I stayed in San Andres town, near the Playa Sprat Bight Beach, and when I wasn’t working I luxuriated. I took surfing lessons and cruised at sunset. I did everything a first-time tourist usually does and I revealed in it.
In subsequent visits, San Andres Island has revealed more and more of itself to me. I have discovered the neighbor island of Providencia and the rest of the other islands in the archipelago. I have seen San Andres’s wilderness. I have learned something about the people of San Andres and their culture and history. Like two lovers exchanging confidence, this has made the bond between San Andres and me even stronger.