Listen to that while you read, because to put it simply (cornily, sorry guys)... Panamá rocks. Not so much in a 70/80s rock way (no skin tight bedazzled pants, no haggar, and a lot less hairspray), but more along the lines of white sand beaches & coral reefs, more bicycles than cars, and a healthy helping of reggae to coincide with the laid back attitude.
Bocas del Toro is the archipelago (cluster of islands formed tectonically) located in the caribbean just off the Costa Rica/Panamá border. The shake n' bake action of the tectonic plates expediated the collision of the Central American Volcano arc with Northwestern South America. This collision closed the Isthmus of Panamá, gave rise to the Great American Biotic Interchange, and caused ocean circulation to go all helter-skelter and generate a striking contrast between what is now the Atlantic and Pacific (fun facto! The Caribbean is warmer, more saline, and less nutrified than the Pacific - but hey, who needs nutrients when you can have Corona Commercial worthy beaches??). Then within the past 1,000-10,000 years a whole bunch of geographical magic happened to form one fantastic cluster of Caribbean islands!
Check out that island in the right corner!
oh wait, that's just a coconut.
With the "Rocks for Jocks" lesson outta the way lets get down to business. A few friends still don't have their visas (the visa process is about as fun/efficient/fast as moving a beached whale with a red rider wagon) so we decided to use our 3day weekend to travel out of the country to fulfill their "72 hours out of country" -without a visa you can have up to 90 days in country, then 3 days out, then back for 90 days, rinse/repeat.
We arrived via water taxi to Isla Colon thursday afternoon to a swarm of Panamanians offering tours in broken english (is a group of 5 gringos and 1 ecuadorian that obvious?). We chatted with a couple maes who assured us that they'd show us around for free (apparently Bocas pays 'tour guides' to help people find hostels and tours). After checking out 4 or so hostels (filled, no kitchen, or stoned owner) we found a sweet hotel smack dab in the center of the town for $7 a night - thanks in great part to Felicitas ! - Austrians don't play games when it comes to finding a nice place to sleep.
- The beds were legitimately the most comfortable I've ever slept on
We checked out the market downstairs to get some grub (Every market in Bocas is owned by 'Chinos') and found a sight for sore eyes... ridiculously cheap prices! To put it into perspective, Costa Rica prices are essentially the same as that States (dang infrastructure and tourism...) while Panamá prices are 1/3 or less.
The next day we went on one of the boat tours- 9am-6pm, $15 pp, dolphins, 2 snorkeling stops, and one sweet beach. The dolphins were pretty cool, though it was comical seeing 4 or 5 different boats filled with camera ready tourists circling 'dolphin bay' waiting for the optimal shot of flipper.
Snorkeling was sweet! (more so salty)
1st spot was about 3m deep and had some sweet fish and coral
2nd spot, Hospital Point, was much better. The 'point' is the tip of a small island and drops quite quickly and deeply which allowed for some sweet diversity. While swimming against the waves to avoid crashing into the rocks, and juking out ridiculously abundant jellyfish, I saw a giant pufferfish! 4' foot! Even with my swimming up to it face-to-face I was unable to get this sucker to puff up... bummer.
Lest I forget, before we were admitted to Hospital Point.... we stopped by Red Frog Beach:
Located on Isla Bastimentos, Red Frog Beach is a ridiculously beautiful & picturesque which, thanks to boat-only access had only a handfull of people. Unfortunately, I was far too busy looking for the Bastimentos color morph of Oophaga pumilio to snap photos of the beach in it's entirety... I mean, who wants beautiful beach and surf when there are frogs to be found? The logical answer to that question is this cute little guy:
This is one of the ~15 color morphs of Oophaga pumilio found on Bocas del Toro. As I stumbled through the jungle barefoot with only my swim trunks to protect me from the carnivorous black flies (think a mosquito but 10x more painful with bites that itch for a week) I managed to find a few of these guys. I apparently looked somewhat ridiculous, as an indigenous woman and her son stared at me like I was crazy... After a quick chat she and her son saw my logic and decided to help out in my search.
Unfortunately, these little guys amongst a plethora of plant, animal, and coral species are at risk due to large scale development of the "Red Frog Beach Club". It is an entirely unnecessary resort which, besides it's environmentally detrimental development, diminishes the secretive/deserted feel of the beach. The Panamanian government has denied the construction of a golf course on the island and is currently fining the RFBC with a $130,000 fine and an order to establish a 25-hectare forest buffer due to uncontrolled erosion from construction which covered mangrove swamps and the surrounding sea floor with mud. Hopefully Panamá, and ANAM (the environmental agency) will keep a close eye on the development of this eyesore.
- Before leaving the beach I had to throw in a shout out to all my taekwondo friends back in the states
The next day it was time for some more beach action.
From the central park we took a bus to the other side of the island known as 'Bocas del Drago'. The bus ride was great and allowed me to get nice and nostalgic (Panamá bus drivers make sure the tires squeel around every curve and the fact that Panamanian roads are smooth and underpopulated means plenty of speed).
More beautiful beach (even with the clouds blanketing the sun) awaited us
To arrive at starfish beach we had to walk for a few kilometers along the beach...
...and spot some vultures...
...until we found a shallow sandbar which contained wave sculpted sands, and of course starfish!
We spent the afternoon hanging out on the beach, checking out the underwater constellations, and getting overwhelmed by angry ants. Not too shabby. For the night, after the French took their fine time dining on their slow cooked food, USA & Austria teamed up to cook some delicious and super cheap spaghetti n' sauce with some delicious veggies. After some reggae/salsa/back flips into the carribean, we headed back to the hotel in the wee hours of the morning where Nikki & I ran into a Scottish bloke eager to chat it up. While we conversed about the plagues of society and other ridiculous topics, we were surprised to find the sun illuminate our third floor balcony. A quick look at the time showed 6:14am. Luckily for Nikki she didn't need to worry about waking up for the 7am water taxi back!
The next day we decided to rent some bikes to scope out the island via a leisurely pace. The result:
the coolest method of island transportation (other than riding a manatee... still waiting on that one)
The smooth roads gave way to sand paths which followed the curvature of the
coast all the way to bluff beach
Bluff Beach was epic.
A gargantuan beach about a mile long with a total of 6 people, crazy waves,
and coconuts ready for consumption.
- here's one of Felicitas' pic
And another added bonus...
Oophaga pumilo !!! Isla Colon
You could hear the males calling everywhere
The ride back from the beach took some interesting turns as Monica wiped out in a mud puddle and my back tire popped.... 7km away from downtown Bocas...
Nevertheless, we managed to make it back via some interesting maneuvering (I sat on the back of Jen's bike and held the dilapidated bike for the entire ride back - props to Jen!). That night we got some cheap cheeseburgers with what little change we had left and spent the remainder of the night soaking up the last of the carribean vibes before taking the water taxis back to the real world...
As we crossed the bridge back to Costa Rica with heads low (not cuz we had to leave, but due to the fact that the gaping holes and flimsy boards were entirely ready to be fallen through) we understood the next stop was San Jose and a rough jolt back to reality... classes...
yeah it's a hard knock life in paradise.
Pura Vida !