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Entries about bocas

2017 FEB - PANAMA - MOUNTAINS TO THE BEACH

From the mountain town of Boquete to the Caribbean islands of Boca del Toro.

sunny 30 °C

DAY 17 WEDNESDAY 22ND FEBRUARY

We were up early this morning. Lyn was flipping pancakes onto plates by 7.15am. Today we are on a shuttle van that will take us from Boquete to the islands of Bocas del Toro in the Caribbean Sea. We have again opted for the easy, faster and slightly more expensive shuttle van rather than having to back track to David and get at least 2 buses to get us to our destination. Because we were staying at hostel Mamallena we received a US$5 discount so the transfer was only US$25 each.

Usually there is only one shuttle van per day, but due to high numbers the hostel managed to fill 2 vans. We travelled in the first one, while our luggage was stored on top of the second one. Both arrived at the same time so there was no problems with bag separation.

The journey was only 3.5 hours plus about a 20 minute toilet / snack stop about half way. We departed Boquete on time at 8am and arrived at the ferry terminal in Almirante just before 12 noon. The roads in the north seem to be less cared for than the roads we encountered in the south. Lots of pot holes and broken up tarmac made for a slower trip as our driver attempted to avoid a bumpy ride. I have to say the driving standard of these shuttle van drivers has been first class so far. They seem to stick to the speed limits and actually slow down to navigate around corners and bends in the road. Very impressed.

The road today was again hilly and windy, giving great views out over the very green countryside. Houses here are different to what we saw in the south also, here they are all little wooden boxes on stilts instead of ground level concrete block homes we saw a few days ago. Perhaps the different building material and structure type has something to do with the climate being warmer in the northern part of the country?

The vans drove us right up to the ferry dock in Almirante, where our luggage was loaded into long boats as well as all passengers from both vans. This was a load and a half I can tell you, but the boat did not seem to struggle in the least and as soon as we had cleared the docking area the captain gave it some stick and we were flying across the water towards Isla Colon. The boat trip took about 20 minutes, then we all unloaded, grabbed our respective luggage and went our separate ways. The price of the ferry was included in our shuttle ticket.

Home for the next four nights is pre booked Spanish on the Sea Hostel 4 nights @ US$30 per night in 2 bed dorm - which turned out to be a 4 bed dorm but we were assured no one else would be put in with us. So again we managed to score a bigger room which is nice. However this time shared facilities (shower and toilet) outside the room and shower is cold only. But I'm guessing that will not be a problem here as it is very hot, especially after our couple of days in the 'cooler' temps of the mountains. And we have a fan in our room. We are located a little bit away from the main part of town to be away from the night time party noise.

After settling in we went for a walk up the main drag to check things out. Must say Bocas Town looks a lot less 'developed' than I thought it would be. I had the impression that this was a real party spot, but it seems very sleepy and sedate during the day. It seemed that every 2nd shop in the main street was a supermarket so it looks like we will not have any problems getting any supplies for our self catering at the hostel.

As we had not yet had lunch we bought a snack of empanadas to try.

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An empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry baked or fried in many countries in Spain and Latin America. The name comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. Empanadas are made by folding dough over a stuffing, which may consist of meat, cheese, huitlacoche, or other ingredients.

We found Mamallena hostel, the sister hostel of the one we just stayed in and it has a fabulous location over the waterfront. We ran into an American guy we've been chatting with the last few days and he was staying there. He actually came to Bocas to go surfing, but just like on the Pacific side the surf was not happening here either. We noted their happy hour was at 4pm and as it was only just 3.30pm we decided to continue on our walk and stop in on the way back for a US$1.50 beer.

Up the road a little further we came to a lovely white sand beach that was practically deserted, only about 6 other people on the beach. We needed to kill time and it was pretty hot so good time to have our first dip in the Caribbean Sea. (Actually, I had swum in the Caribbean more than 20 years ago when I visited Mexico & Jamaica). The water was lovely and warm, unlike the icy river water we sat in a few days ago. But here we had to walk out a good 50 meters before the water was actually deep enough for us to crouch down and get wet. Beautiful, and the water was crystal clear.

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After our swim we meandered back to Mamallena and stopped for a happy hour beer while lounging on their deck furniture admiring the view. Hey we didn't have to pay the extra to stay here we can just come and enjoy there happy hour and suck up their view for free. We also found some ladies selling goodies on the side of the road, so we bought a couple more empanadas & cat fish cakes to enjoy with our beers.

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We continued our walk back down another street checking out the hostels and bars with views and happy hours we may want to attend in the next couple of days. We found another bar offering 2 for US$3 beer so stopped again to wet our whistle. Another nice view of the ferry side of town, lots of ferry boats, taxi boats, kayaks etc criss crossing each other across the water going to the other islands or dropping people off directly at their waterfront accommodation.

We bought some supplies from a supermarket and Lyn cooked spag bol back at the hostel while we each enjoyed a can of cuba libre which we were happy we found in the supermarkets.

Yep reckon the next couple of days we are going to enjoy it here!

DAY 18 THURSDAY 23RD FEBRUARY

We had a bit of a lie in this morning, no great rush to get up early. When we did we had breakfast at the hostel, left overs from last nights dinner on toast. No breakfast included here, and we are both a little over pancakes - although Lyn was becoming expert at making them.

Today we decided to head over to the over side of the island to Drago beach to have a look. I had read online it was supposed to be a nice beach and there was another beach nearby that we could walk to that was called Star Fish Beach, presumably because there were a lot of starfish. I also read online that the starfish had all but disappeared because of the crowds of people and boats upsetting their habitat. We thought we'd go have a look anyway.

Short walk into the main square in town where we were advised we'd be able to get a bus (aka minivan) to the other side of the island for US$2.50 each way. Sure enough there was a van just about to depart, but it looked like it was already full. The guy called us over saying Drago Drago and promptly evited a lady and a couple of kids out of the van to make room for us. Not quite sure what happened as we could not understand what he said to her, but she seemed happy to vacate the seat for us. Odd. Within minutes we were on our way through the interior of the island. The drive to the overside too about 20 minutes.

As soon as we stepped out of the vehicle we could see the crystal clear water and pristine white sandy beach. The beach was only narrow but enough room for us to set up under the shade of a palm tree.

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After our swim we walked along the beach / mangrove track that led to Star Fish Beach, this was about a 20 minute walk. Once at the beach we could tell why all the starfish had disappeared, due to the noise and crowding of this beach area. It was awful. Lots of boats had just pulled up onto the beach so surely the noise and movement from this would keep the starfish in deeper water out of sight. There was a row of shack type food places that were serving just about anything you want. Some of these restaurants even had live lobsters in cages sitting in the sea water so you could choose which one you wanted. I guess at least they were fresh. Some the shacks were playing loud annoying music which not only kept the starfish at a distance but worked to drive us away also. We did go in the water quickly and saw a handful of star fish so we were happy with that.

On the way back Drago we decided to walk along the waters edge instead of on the beach track. As we walked along the waters edge the further away we got from the actual starfish beach the more star fish we started to see in the water. See my facebook page for the video I took of the starfish in water.

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Before heading back in the bus we stopped at one of the beach side restaurants to have a cold beer, and I must say the beer is served cold here in Panama - everywhere we've had it. And drinking a icy coldie beachside is even better.

We had to wait 15 minutes for the next shuttle bus but the view was pleasant so we were happy to wait.

Back at the hostel I cooked an egg sandwich for us to have for lunch. (I think perhaps Lyn is already sick of cooking - not good this early in the trip!).

After 5 we headed out to Mamallenas for our happy hour beer and we wanted to book a boat trip for tomorrow. Again an icy cold beer to enjoy with the sunset. The shuttle transport we used to get from Boquete to Bocas gave us a 10% discount voucher on any trips booked with the same company. We only had enough cash to pay for one person, but after a trip to the ATM we were able to get some more cash. Relieved that the bank transfer I did yesterday had gone through to the right account already.

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Walking back down the main street we had decided to have dinner out tonight (Lyn seemed to jump at the chance a little too quickly when I suggested it lol). We stopped at a place where we picked up the empanadas yesterday and I had a huge plate of chow mien and Lyn had chicken, with rice and beans both for under US$8.00. Bellies full, we headed back to the hostel to shower and so another great day ends.

DAY 19 FRIDAY 24TH FEBRUARY

Today we have booked a snorkel tour: Zapatilla Adventure US$45 less 10% discount as it was with the same company we did the shuttle transfer, so ended up US$41.50 each.

Pick up point was just a short distance from the hostel at 9.30am so we had time to have breakfast before meeting the boat. It looked like it was going to be a good day weather wise, but it seemed everyday here looked good.

We were at the office at 9.15 as requested and another couple turned up for the tour also. It was almost 9.45 by the time they loaded us on the boat and we still had to go around to Mamallena Hostel to collect another 4 passengers. This only took about 10 minutes and soon we were on our way to the first stop of the tour.

Sloth island. This looked liked a mangrove island (which apparently sloths love eating) and we were assured there was a 95% chance of a sloth sighting. The tour guide offered a free beer to anyone who spotted one before he did and sure enough the German guy in front of us spotted one high up in a tree. Now I have to say, these animals were a lot smaller than I had imagined. The sloth we saw in the park in Panama City was a 3 toed sloth and it was approximately the size of a cocker spaniel dog. The sloth we was here was a 2 toed sloth and was the size of an average adult cat. The guide claimed this was an adult so the little critter is small to try and find in the tree. I was expecting an animal the size of a chimp, but live and learn. I could not get a very good photo but our guide did and said he was going to post on their facebook page but had not done it as yet.

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The sloths are apparently flourishing on this tiny island as there are no predators here to get them. Sloths main natural predators are jaguars, boa constrictor snakes and harpy eagles, however the biggest killers of these little fellas are dogs and humans. But, on this island they are safe from all these and apparently sloths are excellent swimmers. Who says we don't learn anything while on holidays?

Next stop was at the restaurant where we are having lunch so we could pre order for when we come back after snorkelling, we ordered a seafood medley and a whole fish, and also a toilet stop. Hello, like who doesn't just pee in the ocean??

Everyone overboard for a snorkelling tour. The water is amazingly clear but to tell the truth there was not much in the way of coral or not a lot of fish to be seen either. There was a huge lobster under a rock where we got off the boat but the tour guide was not up to collecting it for lunch, would have been a beauty. We snorkelled for about 30 - 45 minutes which was hard work considering they did not supply fins. We had our own snorkel and mask thinking we would get fins but no they did not supply so we had to kick like hell to keep up with the guide who by the way did have fins! We saw a few little coloured fish but not like a wow amount, but just before getting back into the boat there was a pretty big grey nurse shark that was hiding under a rock. By pretty big I mean not as big as me, but big enough that if it had moved from under the rock I would have done a Jesus impersonation and walked on water!

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It was during this little snorkelling jaunt that my underwater camera decided to shit itself and shop working. Unfortunately, I seem to be having a rough time with electronic equipment on this trip. Passion fingers - everything I touch fucks up!

So back in the boat and back to the lunch stop. You would have thought that since we pre-ordered that they would have out meals ready, but we still waited long enough for the fish to be caught and cooked. When the meals finally did come it was way too much, so Lyn & I shared one meal and we ended up taking the whole fish home and eating it for dinner. Sorry, no photos of the great food as camera was dead.

After lunch we boated out to Zapatilla Island - meaning shoe in Spanish due to the shape of the island apparently. The leatherback and the hawksbill turtles come to lay their eggs, in season, on these beaches. It is beautiful! It is also famous for being the location for the filming of one of the Survivor TV Series, which funnily enough our guide said was 50% true and 50% bullshit as there is always enough food as the island is in national park and there are fish and lobsters galore.

Anyway this island looked beautiful, but before we were to grace the snow white sandy beaches, included in the tour was a 15 minute Anfibia Board ride. What is anfibia board you ask?

Anfibia Board is the new way to enjoy and explore the underwater world through a semi-circular hydrodynamic board. It allows you to experience the sensation of flying effortlessly under the sea without the need of knowing how to swim. Bocas del Toro is one of the few places in the world where you can try this brand new aquatic sport.

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OMG this was the best fun, unfortunately Lyn could not do it due to her bent wing. But I had a go and it was awesome. (Lemons, when you are here you MUST do this activity.) Essentially, you are pulled behind the boat holding a perspex board that allows you to skim across the top of the water or with a downward tilt allows you to duck under the water to view the fishes and coral etc. The rider, wearing a dive mask, controls the board with a tilt up or down - it was awesome and I saw many more colourful fish than when we were snorkelling. Although, 15 minutes was way enough as the muscles in my arms knew I was doing something new.

After everyone had a go at the anfibia, we had a relaxing 2 hours on the beautiful beach on Zapatilla Island. I swam out to a rocky island about 100 meters offshore while Lyn sat on the beach and read a book. At about 5pm they served us tropical fruit: ie pineapple and pawpaw - nice. then it was just a quick 30 minute boat ride back to Bocas Town while the sun was setting. We arrived back just in time for a happy hour US$1 beer at a restaurant nearby the boat stop.

After the boat dropped us we realized we had left our cooked fish on board, so a quick phone call and it was brought back - lucky this was our dinner. While enjoying our happy hour beer we chatted with a Canadian couple from Vancouver (woman originally from Adelaide) who had been travelling on their yacht for the last 4 years. Amazing the people you meet! They said we are going to love the countries we are heading to. Nice to hear.

We returned to the hostel, ate our fish dinner. Another great day in Panama!

DAY 20 SATURDAY 25TH FEBRUARY

WOW, let me start by saying what an awesome last day in Panama!

Since we are travelling tomorrow we treated today as Sunday and had a sleep in. Well I had a sleep in and Lyn had a lay in reading a book.

Poached eggs on toast at the hostel then we headed out to the beach. We had considered hiring a kayak today but with my arms feeling the workout from yesterday decided a trip to the beach would be better. We hopped in a US$1 water taxi to the nearest island to Colon which is Carenero, we almost missed the stop having no idea where we were going.

It was 11.30 by the time we found a shady spot on the little sandy beach. Again the water was crystal clear and we went straight in to cool off after our 5 minute boat ride. The water is a lovely temperature that we like so much, tepid so you can sit in in all day. Which is what we pretty much did. Not long after our arrival lots of locals and familes were taking up position on the beach. We had a nice family next to us Mum, Dad, young Son and younger daughter. Mum and Dad lazed in the shade while the kids played in the water for hours. We noticed Dad had an esky fill of ice with a bottle of rum and a bottle of juice which he mixed drinks from into thermal cups. Happy family.

We spent a lovely last day in Panama lazing on the beach enjoying the sunshine, warm weather, beautiful sea water with some other tourists (who were mostly in the over the water restaurants) while the locals, us and a few choice tourists sat on the beach or in the shallows of the calm water.

We went for a bit of a walk around the island, saw just a few accommodation places ranging from hostel type to flash over the water bungalows. On our return to our little part of the beach, we thought it was time for a beer. to cool our insides. Lucky for us a hostel at the beach was selling Balboa (our pick of Panamanian beer) for just US$1.50. How awesome was this, sitting in the calm waters sipping cold beers, now this is a holiday.

At this price we decided to have a second as we had enjoyed the first so much. Lyn returned with the beers and we sat contemplating our last 3 weeks in Panama and also throwing around ideas for holidays in the future.

By this time Dad (from our family sitting next to us on the beach) was pretty well sauced from his many trips to his rum enclosed esky asked me if I spoke Spanish while Lyn was up getting beers. No, I answered, pequeno? (little) he asked, zero I said. He was happy to smile and said salute (cheers) to our drinks.

A little later Dad come walking up to us while we were still sitting in the water and handed us a couple of cold beers. Wow, how nice is that!

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We chatted with another family who's little girl was trying to talk to me in the water, but of course I told her I only spoke English, she relayed this to her parents to told her to say Welcome to Panama to us. So cute. We chatted a little with the parents and grandparents (who did speak) English and they were so happy to hear that we had enjoyed Panama so much.

Ferry boat back to Bocas Town at about 5pm we returned to the hostel to shower, relax a little then head out for dinner. We returned to the same restaurant that we visited the other night that had cheap local food. We had chicken (cooked in a yummy sauce) with vegetables, potatoes and pumpkin and we shared a soda bread roll to sop up the yummy sauce, US$9 for the both of us.

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It was a great day today and a great way to end our adventures in Panama on a high.

Tomorrow we take the ferry boat back to the mainland and shuttle van into Costa Rica to start our travels in a new country.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 19:04 Archived in Panama Tagged del bocas toro Comments (4)

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