Feelin’ It in San Andres

Oh my Lovers… today I’m treating you to a special post, a recent memory accounting of an island adventure, something I haven’t provided for months. You’ve been subjected to past adventures, hustled through previous experiences, and denied recounts all together. But today I’ll provide all access in real time. Adventures as they happen. My steam of consciousness, as live as it gets.

Back in Medellin, Sarabear and I arrived at city preview, late, sweaty and out of breath – but just in time to hear Juan pitch his Feelin experience in San Andres, a Colombian island adventure that drew my attention from the get. After some mental debating, a fat commission check and a need to do something for myself, I booked a spot and a flight, and was headed to and island I’d never heard of with people I had never met for the experience of a lifetime (sounds like RY, right?).

I arrived at the airport with minimal time to spare, an experience I had designed over my many early morning airport trips over the past year. An extra 15 minutes of sleep, or a cushion to grab a coffee and a croissant? I’ll take the sleep any day. Not by design was my check-in bag, something I desperately tried to avoid on side trips, but these budget airlines and their stingy overhead space…..

When it was my turn, I stepped up to the counter, flashed my biggest por-favor-discuple-mi-mal-espanol smile and handed her my passport. Everything was going as per usual until she asked me for a return flight, something I had been waiting to get to the island to decide on. She made my decision for me when she told me I had to have confirmation of departure from the island if I wanted to go to the island. Thank god for cell phone technology. I stepped out of line, and within a few moments had booked my flight back to Bogota for Tuesday the next week. Now we were cooking with gas. Or so I thought…

I hit the ATM before going through security, and I was still left with a few moments before boarding, just enough time to get that passport insta-post in {“Island bound bitches!!!”}. They called my flight, and I watched as the line dwindled to a manageable length before jumping in – only to be denied because I didn’t have a customs form. Customs forms? Wasn’t San Andres Colombia? Was I not in Colombia? I was sent to the back of a much longer line, where I waited to get my form – and pay my island fee. Another item I hadn’t factored into my travels. Good thing I hit that ATM. Also, mental note to do more research on reaching my intended destinations.

A quick hour later, we’re touching down in San Andres. After a short stop for airplane crossing (these tarmac flights tho), I find myself in an actual customs line… talking to a customs agent. In the same country I flew from. But as far as customs experiences go this one is relatively painless, so I’m spit out on the other side to wait for that damned check-in bag. Now, I’ve stood at 20+ luggage belts over the past year, but I am not above the panic that sets in the longer it takes for my bag to peep its purple head out on the belt. My only solace is that several other passengers from my flight are standing around with the exact same look. After 20 minutes, a fresh set of luggage emerges, including my trusty duffel, still adorned with the Tigger given to me by JDC prior to my States departure. Another long line for customs X-ray and I catch sight of Juan on the other side (after being asked 7 times if I needed a taxi – gotta love the hustle these drivers put out).

After a stop at our <AIR CONDITIONED!> accoms for a quick change, Cata, Juan and I hop in the back of scooters and are off to our first adventure, a lunch spot directly on a beach that’s as empty as it is gorgeous. I dig my toes into the soft sand as I gaze out over the waves crashing in, and I can see at least 4 shades of breathtaking blue. To my right is a small rowboat with an ancient trolley motor bobbing in the waves. Off to the left is Johnny Cay, an island covered in palm trees, and just in front of it is the remains of a shipwreck that has been abandoned, a relic that help sets the tone of this scene. If Norman Rockwell painted the perfect beach, this would be it.

With Aguila Lights in hand, Juan recounts the history and politics of the island to me while we soak up the sun. San Andres is closer to Nicaragua than Colombia by far, and the Colombian government has considered it an afterthought for far too long, causing a difficult economic strain on the island. Once a tax haven, put out of business when Colombia opened its customs border, the island turned to fishing until the Nicaraguan government commandeered the waters they depended on. Left with little to work with, narco traffic became the big business of the island as cartels took advantage of its proximity to Miami. As I look around at the beauty of the island, dotted with obvious signs of poverty, Juan confirms the thought I am having that tourism, done right, could have a much needed positive impact on the island.

After lunch, we’re whisked into the center of the island to the national park that houses Big Pond Lagoon, a fresh water lake that sits in front of a compound of houses inhabited by native islanders – Rastas. We start our walk around the lake by feeding the alligators that live in the pond, and as we circle, our guide tells us about each plant, each tree, and how they use them – cedar wood for furniture, gourds for plates, medicinal plants for anxiety, cholesterol, gastritis, diabetes, cancer – there’s mango tress, guava trees, cottonwood. His family has been on this land for generations. I learn that while this area of San Andres sits between two mountains, the bedrock is coral reef, not volcanic, and the coral filters the water from the sea, making the lake a source of “sweet water” as they call it – a “mystic place” he calls it in his heavy Caribbean accent. The natives here speak Criolla, an island English adapted back in slave times – there are forms of this all over the Caribbean – here in San Andres it is derived from English, Jamaican having a more French influence, and the Dominican Republic heavy in Spanish.

Seeing that this is the “Native Experience” portion of the trip, our guide and his family are preparing Rondon, a traditional island stew in which fish, conch, pork, plantains, yucca and local potatoes (all locally grown) are all cooked down in coconut milk {which itself is made from coconuts macheted open, grated and soaked in water}. As the stew cooked down, we once again wander in the the jungle, and it occurs to me that I’m following a machete wielding Rasta into the San Andres nowhere, something that when my step mother reads this will give her a heart attack, but this is my #newnormal, and fear is merely excitement at the adventures ahead.

Our return from the jungle trek, where we find more trees and plants used for shampoo, rope, ties, ship masts and more, is greeted by the delectable aroma of the Rondon, almost ready for us to eat. Truth time: I am FAMISHED, but leery of the hodgepodge stew – 1) I’m not a huge fan of dishes where everything is thrown together – I usually deconstruct burgers, I don’t assemble my fajitas, and bread is a side dish, not a vessel for whatever was meant to go on it. *side note, I make exceptions for pho – load it up with the goods. 2) As my father, step mother, and most recently Marky, will tell you, I’m a grazer. Big meals are not my forte, and I’m aptly served up with a HEAPING plate of this stew. But it smells heavenly, so here goes nothing.

To say it was delicious gives it no justice. If I call it delectable, mouthwatering, savory, or any other food related adjective that I can think of, I’m not even coming CLOSE to accurately describing how amazing this dish tastes. Knowing that even in my ravenous state I don’t have the capacity to eat this entire dish, I quickly isolate the components that will be the focus of my attack – 1) The conch. Dear Key West – please STOP frying this. Yes, your signature fritters are good, but sans deep frying, conch is one of the best creatures from the sea I’ve ever had. 2) The fish. A local fish, white and flaky that falls from the skeleton (sans bones, gracias) in the most delicious fashion. 3) The pork – fall off the bone, flavorful – only to be eaten with hands, gnawing at it to get every last bit *interesting aside, the islanders only eat pork from the States – they aren’t fans of the Colombian swine. 4) Everything else – the plantain and yucca make the top of the list, and there is a dumpling that I want to eat all of, but strategy dictates that carbs will inhibit my goal to eat as much of this as my tiny tummy will handle. Just when I think it can’t get any better, I’m asked if I like spicy (YES) and handed a pepper sauce that ups the ante to mind blowing. I made myself absolutely MISERABLE trying to eat as much of this as I could. Although I wasn’t able to finish it, I’d still say my dad and Marky would have been proud that all that remained was half a dumpling and two Irish potatoes.

Satiated and sun worn, we headed back to the accoms for showers and a wardrobe change. I have a lengthy convo with Latam after a survey of the local wifi proved to be insufficient for a Monday client meeting. Once my flight is rebooked, we head to the main beach walk. As we walked along, I found myself with a sense of deja vu. My surrounding reminded me of my time spent with Ariela in Koh Samui. Or with Duff in Gili. Kiwi in Krabi. Even back to my pre RY days in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and St. Croix. I began to wonder if this cookie cutter island experience was by design. Had someone scripted what a beach feel was, patented the color scheme, filled it with white plastic chairs, stuck some palm trees in the ground (always at least one sideways) and sold it to every tourist destination? A fully functioning island experience, just insert your own music! Whatever the implementation method, this place is vibrant and beautiful, and as we walk the promenade, a warm Caribbean breeze blows in from the sea giving my lions mane an island wind blown look that I’m not opposed to. We settle in for a beer and talk about travel. Juan asks for advice, as someone who would like to see the world. My only advice to give: Do it.

Saturday morning I wake up to a feeling… an odd one only to be described as my skin BEGGING for a day not exposed to the Caribbean rays, but day two is White Wata, or as I like to call it, BOAT DAY! I concede to the adornment of sunscreen, a usual afterthought in my life, and despite the protests of my dermis, we head out. After some breakfast at a local cafe where I horribly mispronounce “revultos” {scrambled} we’re picked up on island time {read, 45 minutes after planned} and head to the marina. Our vessel properly loaded with sub wings, snorkels, and {of course} whiskey and beer, we head out into the Caribbean blue. History first, we cruise by San Andres’s only port before heading to the mangroves. On our way, we pass a graveyard of shipwrecked boats, just sitting in the water, no one caring to remove them. It’s eerily majestic, and Juan tells us that they are narco boats that the government has left to deteriorate on their own. Into the mangroves we go, and Juancho recounts their importance for the eco system and the economy, as the fish and shellfish feed on the algae that grows on the roots. We grab our snorkels and head in search of sea life – I’m looking for lobsters {er, dinner}, but they must know my intentions, because we can’t seem to find any. Lobsters – 1 Pino – 0. I’ll get you next time…..

Onto the White Wata {Criolla}, a breathtaking area of the ocean where the coral reef produced an island of white sand about three feet into the water that reflects the clearest aqua water you can imagine. It’s sub wing time, but my shoulder is still nagging from Lisbon-New Zealand-Cordoba and most recently attempted pull up at Casa en el Agua, so I pass on this adventure and play photog for Cata and Juan. As we’re slowly treading through the water, I look over and there’s this random guy swimming through the ocean – no boat in sight, and we are pretty far off shore. Juancho tells me he’s conch hunting, and his crazy ass had absolutely swam in from shore, with nothing but a snorkel and mask. He tosses one up to the boat, and overshoots his landing – before I can say go, Juan Pablo has dived off the boat after it, surfacing a few moments later with a victorious grab.

After everyone has had their dolphin like experience, we park the boat and hop in for some snorkeling. I dive off the boat sans snorkel, so I swim back to the boat so Juan can toss me a setup. These waters are intense, but I consider myself a strong person, and I’ve faced rough seas a few times this year. Note about a snorkeling mask – put it on before getting in the water. Note about snorkeling in rough waters – use flippers. I’m getting pounded by waves at I try to get set up, and Juan Pablo swims over to help me – something even my stubborn self accepts. Once I’m ready to go, I start swimming towards calmer waters, but I’m already out of breath from my adorning adventure. I tell myself it’s ok, just swim slowly and take some deep breaths, but the waves are crashing over my snorkel, making this difficult. I consider its time to go back to the boat, but I have a destination in mind, and well, like I said, I’m stubborn. It’s not long before I briefly consider the possibility that I might drown out here, as I’m terribly winded and making no progress. About that time, all three Juans are waving Cata and I in, with Juan Pablo sticking close by as we head back to the boat. Yep, those waters were rougher than any of us suspected, which makes me feel better about my own struggle. And let’s be honest, it was easy to push the bounds of my limits knowing full well I was never in any real danger with the boat and boys nearby. Although I have probably once again scared my stepmother. Sorry Bettejo.

It’s time for another island meal, so we pull up to Johnny Cay, anchor off and wade to shore. Lunch is served up at a Rasta run hut, and I have immediate order envy – my shrimp rice was delicious, but the island fish the boys were tearing into looked so much better. We’d been watching the storm clouds roll in for a bit now, and the sky opened up halfway through lunch. We trudged back to the boat, and slowly headed out in the rough waters to yet another abandoned ship – this one a tanker sitting on a reef that divided the rough seas from the calmer waters inside the reef. A quick jaunt over to Rose Cay, but when the sky opens up this time, it’s dumping buckets, so once it lets up, we call it a day and head to shore.

After and absurdly long sun nap (seriously why does this orb take so much outta me?), Juan, Cata and I head to La Regatta for dinner, a restaurant perched on the dock beside the marina. I’m beside myself with wine joy when I see a Sancerre on the menu, and it pairs beautifully with the fish I ordered. *Happy girl*. On our walk home, we run into the boys headed out for the night, so we decide to join and end up at Coco Loco, one of the three or four clubs on the island. Everyone told me the music in Latin America was an acquired taste and it has taken this moment to to make me realize its true. A bottle of whiskey is ordered and we dance to the Latin beats… but I know I’m at home when the beat slows and a remix of Sweet Dreams vibrates across the crowd.

The next morning my alarm blares way too early and I can feel the night before pulsating in my temples. I rouse from my super soft bed with super soft sheets to throw my bag together for our departure. We’re scheduled to fly out at 11:11, and by way of island time, we arrive at the airport at 10:35, and still make it to our flight with a few moments to spare despite Juan being placed on the standby list.

I’m not ready for Bogota… the cold, the rain… but I land in manageable temperatures, albiet without data. Thank goodness or my developed taxi skills, and its not long before I’m headed back to my Harts.

To quote my beloved Dre, home is where the Harts are, and I’m home. San Andres was an incredible adventure, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I can’t contain the joy at being back where I belong, with my tram by my side. <Insert sappy ending….or don’t>

Specifically yours,

SR

Want to Feel It for yourself? Get in touch with my man Juan here.  Tell him I sent you 🙂

Lisbon > Lagos {And Every Beach In Between}

Olá, meus Amantes. I’m coming to you today from my perch atop a small cliff at Praia do Figueira along the southern coast of Portugal, somewhere between Lagos and Sagres. I’m watching waves of the prettiest blue green water crash in as the sun bakes the salt from my dip in the icy Atlantic into my already darkened skin. I’m rolling solo today as my cohort has been bed down with the wine flu, but that’s ok with me. I have you, my Lovers, the ocean, the waves, and a handful of naked Europeans to keep me company.

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In each of our cities, we have a group of two or three locals deemed our City Team who run our local experiences, give recommendations for everything you can think of and just make sure we have a good experience in general. This month’s team provided us with 3×5 cards in the first week with a few local recommendations. At the bottom of mine was suggestions for an epic west coast road trip. Never one to turn down a local recommendation, when Starbucks Lightning messaged me last week and said he just felt like he had to get out of Lisbon, I knew just the trip. When I told one of the team we were going, he lit up and gave me another (two) handful of beach recs and a pizza place that he said was the best he’d ever had. We rented a Panda, mapped it out, and planned to head south via the west coat of this gorgeous country.

I had previously stated that one of my goals this year was not to drive at all, but this itinerary was epic and worth it, and SL’s Brit ass is incapable of driving on the correct side of the road, so I slipped into the driver’s seat, got my stick shift skills in gear (see what I did there?) and we headed out. Over the next 11 or so hours, we wound through a national park, stopping at every beach the city team threw at us. From Sines we hit Porto Covo, where we hit the cliffs and took in the views. From there we would down to Praia do Tonel and Porto das Bracas where we pulled into a fishing cove and the locals were not impressed. Onto Zambujeria, where SL napped on the beach – exhausted from a long day of riding passenger – and we got lunch, and I ordered way too much shrimp because I don’t understand the metric system. From there it was Odeceixe. We hiked down to the beach waded across a makeshift river, and trekked across the black cliffs that were laced with marble to get the best ‘gram photos. By this point we are torn between hitting all the beaches and conserving daylight, so we hightail it back up the cliffs (after I asked and SL said “fuck the stairs”) to hit Arrafina, where other remotes are, but we are up on the cliffs and they are down on the beach. Time for just one more, we park it at Praia do Amado until I drag us back up because my old ass doesn’t see well in the dark and the sun is going down.

Despite my irresponsibly large shrimp lunch, I’m famished shortly after arriving at our hotel, so I put on a pretty dress, invite my British travel companion, and descend to the restaurant alone after he declines. I wasn’t that way long though, as they had mushroom truffle risotto on the menu, and SL loves his truffle. We wine and dine (well, I martini’d) and decide to check out the Lagos bar scene after gathering some recommendations from the hotel bartenders and some regulars at the bar. None of the bars are particularly impressive, so we spend our evening hopping from one to the next before attempting to grab a cab home…. thing is, there are no cabs. The hotel is 3 miles out, so I vehemently oppose SL’s poorly crafted plan to walk, stubbornly plop down on the sidewalk and pull out my phone to call Hey Jude, my virtual assistant app. In my slightly inebriated and full on tantrum state, I instruct my VA to get us home. Where are you going? I don’t know, but you made the reservations for me, so look it up. Where are you? I don’t know. Pinpoint my location. And they did. 15 minutes later, a taxi shows up and whisks us home. Hey Jude FTW.

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The next morning, a full fledged hangover and a full English breakfast take SL down for the count, so I’m left to go beach exploring by myself. A little me time never hurt anyone, and when you’re rolling 47 deep at all times, it’s actually a refreshing change of pace. I take off in the Panda, park at Praia Cabana Velhas, and before I can get out, four fellow Earharts on scooters pass me by. We exchange pleasantries and they scoot off while I head up to the top of a cliff. The beach itself is neat, with bean bags and straw umbrellas, but I’m not feeling it, so I load up and move on to the next, where I find myself now. This beach is by far my favorite despite the 15-20 minute hike to get it it. When you approach the beach, to the left is a cliff with the ruins of an old fort at the top (which is where I run into my fellow remotes again), a lagoon straight on, and to the right, a neat rock laden bridge across a tiny stream that leads to a small, not so crowded beach with cliffs that wrap around to tinier and more private beaches. This is where you find the naked people. And my perch. I don’t want to leave this place. Ever. There is no cell service. The waves are perfect and the sky is clear. Alas, there are more beaches to see, so we will pick this up later.

I’m now finishing this post from the Lisbon airport on travel day. I should have stayed on that beach. I carried on to two more beaches, Zavial and Ingrina, but my love for Figueira was too great, so after being as disappointed as one can be in South Portugal beaches, I check back in with SL to see if he has rejoined the land of the living. He has, so I circle back to get him and we head to a tiny little village in the hills of Portugal to have what Tomas called “the best pizza he’s ever had”. The village itself is quaint and quiet, with Pizza Pazza very obviously being the focal point of 80% of visitors. We both gaze out at the hills while each devouring our own pizza (Tomas did not steer us wrong). Before we make our way back to civilization, we climb up a hill to investigate an abandoned house where all you can hear is the bells on the cows in the pasture below.

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After our adventure in the hills, we drive down into Sagres to catch the sunset across the cliffs. SL uses his nerd brain to explain deep space matters to me, including what kind of eclipse is coming and why we can’t look directly at it. Hey, I may be able to talk taxes and numbers backwards and forwards, but science is just not my jam. After the sun dips below the cliffs, we leave the beaches and head into town to meet other remotes for some good wine, good food, great convos and even better theatrics regarding a lonely bar patron that we stalk across multiple bars.
Monday we are ready to head home, but not before one last trip to Figueira, one last climb up a hill, one last dip in the Atlantic, and one more bask in the sun. Our drive home is relatively uneventful, although SL does take us on a few “adventurous detours” and we get a taste of Lisbon rush hour traffic. Luckily our workspace has a shower, so when I slide in nearly two hours after planned, I’m able to go straight there and rinse off the sand that’s still clinging to my legs, thereby officially ending our west coat adventure.

Stay tuned for Sintra and Lisbon my lovers.

Specifically yours,

SR