Monday, January 12, 2015

Panama - Bocas del Toro

Aaaaahhhhh the beaches...

Still amazingly not sun burned

So we decided to go to Panama for our R&R trip (R&R in State Dept speak is Rest and Relaxation to get away from the hardship of living in Guatemala, they pay for a trip back to the US or to another country if it's less than the value of the ticket to the US). Panama is the last Central American country to check off on my list and we were meeting friends from there. Two weeks to see the country? Sure should be plenty of time. We were right. Panama is gorgeous and interesting but it's a lot like Guatemala, a lot like a big Rio Dulce in fact: hot, humid and jungly. The best part were the gorgeous beaches, both on the Caribbean side and the Pacific side.

 The Girls, we made friends in the '90s

The Guys, tagging along with the girls...

We started our vacation in the northern part of the country with a quick internal flight on Air Panama to Bocas del Toro. A tiny little one-goat airport on Isla Colon welcomed us and we walked from the airport into town to grab lunch. We also did some grocery shopping for our stay at the hostel and bought some umbrellas as we were warned it had been raining everyday since our friends arrived a few days earlier.

After a quick lancha ride over to Isla Bastimientos we were in full vacation mode, catching up with our friends, getting settled in the hostel and swimming at Red Frog Beach. Named for the thunbnail-sized brilliantly red poison dart frogs that live there.

Bocas del Toro boasts white sand beaches, snorkeling, coconut chopping, wildlife spotting, bat cave exploring, beach walking and seafood eating.

 Jungle hiking

A sloth! Known as a mono perezoso in Spanish which means lazy monkey

We stayed at Bocas Island Lodge Hostel which wasn't our favorite. It was run by a bunch of stony backpackers doing a work/stay trade so it was a total Mickey Mouse show. No one knew what was going on. We messed up the dates when we made a reservation and booked an extra night, when we tried to get our $50 back for the one night extra we were told no refunds under any circumstances, which seemed a little harsh coming from this poorly run place. The room we stayed in had a shared bathroom and was tiny but they charged a pretty steep $50 for it. In Guate that room would have been $20. Our friends were told breakfast was included but no one at the kitchen knew anything about it and tried to ignore them when they sat down to eat. We got booted out of our room for a day so they could install a fan but instead they just ripped out the lighting and left us with a tiny desk lamp which wasn't even close to being bright enough to see so we had to use our headlamps at night. Pretty weak all around.

Anyways... back to the good stuff. We toured the bat cave on the island - swimming and jumping and climbing and squeezing our way through the cave for about an hour. We stopped at a gorgeous island named Isla Zapatilla that had so many palms dropping coconuts it looked like the island was actually made entirely of coconuts except for the gorgeous white sand beaches with warm aqua blue water perfect for swimming. It rained, which sucked, but at least we were already wet from the swimming.

Rocky islands near Zapatilla

 Beach hiking

More beach hiking

Hermit crabs everywhere!

One day we hiked down the beaches exploring as far as we could go and found a local named Polo who lived at Polo's beach and sold beans and rice and fried potatoes to anyone who came to visit him. He spoke a crazy creole mix of English, Spanish and who knows what else with a Caribbean accent. Each sentence was punctuated with an enthusiastic, "Wooooooaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!" Couldn't understand hardly anything he said but his favorite pastimes seemed to be drinking, cooking and hanging up homemade signs on all the coconut palms on the beach saying, "NO TOCA LOS FUKIN COCOS". He was quite the excitable fellow and walked back to our hostel with us where he then proceeded to ask a few staffers if they would buy him a boat ride to the big island so he could buy more groceries, beer and pussy. That part we understood just fine after a few repetitions.

Our new friend Polo

Chops gets his mean face on before chopping the coco

Coco gets chopped!

We tried to take surf lessons but were told the surf shack that used to be on the beach washed away a few days ago and no one had seen the dude since then. We tried to go to a yoga class but the instructor was a no-call-no-show so we did some yoga ourselves overlooking the waves on a slick rain-soaked wooden deck. Panama was shaping up to be a lot of talk but not a lot of action. For as developed as they like to think they are, it was feeling a lot like the banana republic we just came from. We took it slow and did a lot of reading and relaxing.

Little flower by our private yoga deck

Early morning yoga - Warrior I

Bocas del Toro was lovely but after 3 days were were ready for the next stage of the trip: the mountains!

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