Published: May 1st 2012May 1st 2012
Mom and Dad Kemmerer Visit & Boquete – Erin
After an overnight stay in Panama City, my parents finally arrived to Bocas landing strip via Air Panama! We were so excited to see them, and also very excited to get checked in to the house they rented for ten days Old Bank on Isla Bastimentos. We were not disappointed with my mom’s choice of Casa Roca! The property was a 5 minute walk along the ocean’s edge outside of Old Bank, and overlooked the water, private beach area, and rock jetty. The best part of the house was that the large doors lining the kitchen and living room area opened up to the big deck equipped with a hammock and comfy sitting chairs. We all immediately felt very at home J
Our first priority was to have a beach day and enjoy the sand and crystal clear blue water at Red Frog Beach. After a boat taxi ride to Red Frog Marina, we hopped in the back of a truck shuttle with 6 other beachgoers to head to the ocean. The water was completely calm, warm, and we enjoyed every minute of that day! We also enjoyed some Rum Punch cocktails, Panama & Balboas (the local Panamanian brews,) and appetizers at Punta Lava, our favorite beach bar at Red Frog. We would spend another two days here throughout the trip doing the exact same thing.
Another top priority of ours was to get out and do some good fishing. Our local guides from Bastimentos, Carl and his brother Bossy (yes, that is how he introduced himself to us,) picked us up in their boat the “Shanice” outside our house on the rock jetty early in the morning, and we were off to catch some Spanish Mackerel. First stop, a shallow area close to Red Frog beach where Bossy would throw out a net to catch our bait, small minnows. After multiple casts, we had enough bait for the entire day and we sped off to our fishing spot which was just off a beautiful small uninhabited island called “Bird Island” due to the large amounts of birds that live there. My Dad and Jeff took to the poles first and immediately were bringing in very large Spanish mackerel. If you didn’t have a fish on almost immediately after you casted, they must have taken your bait! Next my mom and I gave it a go, but we did not last long due to how hard it is to reel the fish in and get them in the boat. I think all of us had sore arm and back muscles the next day! Jeff also took a try at “hand lining” which he had first done in Nicaragua, and is the preferred method of the locals. It is essentially fishing line with a hook on the end, and you pull in the fish by hand. He had enough after multiple fish on, and some fine cuts on his fingers. Once we had over 100 pounds of fish, our guides took us to Bocas Del Drago beach where we had lunch and celebratory drinks. They took that time to gut our fish for us, and they also caught a very large jack fish which they sold to the beach restaurant we were sitting at. That night, of course, we had a fish fry and ate like kings!!
Another highlight of the trip was the snorkel/ sightseeing tour we took with our local guide, Ricky. After filling a cooler with Panama’s, Balboa’s, and snacks, we were off to another island in the archipelago to look for dolphins. The boat ride was beautiful and the weather was perfect, but sadly we were not able to spy a single dolphin in Dolphin Cay. Ricky then took us to Cayo Corral where we donned our snorkel masks and spent the next hour seeing amazing reef fish and the most beautiful coral Jeff and I have seen on our entire trip so far! Next stop was Cayo Zapatilla, a gorgeous uninhabited island that has white sand beaches and the brightest blue waters. We were able to swim for a little bit, and walk the shores of the island. Our last stop was our lunch “hut” right over the water, where we all indulged in shrimp with a spicy sauce while watching more reef fish swim below us underneath the restaurant. After a slow cruise back we stopped in Bocas Town for some groceries and spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the deck and making lobster mac and cheese. Great day for us all!
The rest of my parents visit was occupied with more Red Frog Beach visits, relaxing at Casa Roca, and many nights watching the sunset on the deck, and talking over some drinks and great meals. Such an amazing visit!! Jeff and I really enjoyed the entire 10 days, and loved the “vacation” from our vacation that my parents provided us ha-ha! Sadly the fun had to come to an end, and let’s just say it was another VERY teary goodbye for me at the Bocas airport. I know we will all cherish those memories at Casa Roca in Bastimentos forever!! We were so happy both of our parents made the effort to visit us down here during our travels!
After the departure of my parents, Jeff and I went to stay at the El Jaguar’s for another night before making our way to Palmar Tent Lodge on Red Frog Beach, where we were supposed to begin a 5 week volunteer opportunity with them. Unfortunately our expectations of Palmar were a little different than what was presented to us. Upon arrival we were showed to our new accommodations, which was simply a tent out in the Jungle where the 10 other volunteers were also camping. We were told eventually we may be offered a room upstairs in the house on the property, but the decision was still up in the air. Jeff and I would also have to provide our own meals, so essentially we were required to volunteer 30 hours per week between us JUST to sleep in the tent. I think I should also mention I have never slept two consecutive nights in a row in a tent in my entire life, not even in Girl Scout camp growing up. Nevertheless we decided to give Palmar a solid try because the location on Red Frog is amazing, and the other volunteers/guests were also a great group of people that would be fun to share the next 5 weeks with. Unfortunately, a huge thunderstorm started right after we went to bed on our second evening that lasted throughout the night and the following morning. We managed to stay dry while sleeping, but early in the a.m. our tent started to flood and ended up soaking all of our belongings. At this point, we were exhausted from lack of sleep in the dark, scary, jungle during a thunderstorm, and we made the final decision that we were not a good fit for Palmar. After scrambling to pack our wet things as quick as possible and saying a brief goodbye, we caught the next boat taxi back to Bastimentos and went straight back to the Jaguar’s. Nana, Jaguar’s wife, greeted us and said “Welcome Home! Your room is ready for you!” We have never been so relieved to have a bed and a roof over our heads. We were both sad that Palmar Tent Lodge did not work out, but happy that we would be on the move again soon to continue our travels. We are still open to volunteer opportunities, but we are going to be a lot more “choosey” the next time we commit to a long stay.
After almost 4 weeks in Bocas Del Toro, we decided to make the move to Boquete, a small town in central Panama up in the mountains. Leaving Bocas was very hard on the both of us because we have such happy memories there! Not to mention it is such an amazing place, it is hard for anyone to tear themselves away from it. Leaving our “home” at Jaguar’s was also especially difficult; we had made such good friends there! After a morning of goodbyes and a last open aired kitchen breakfast over the water, we were off on a boat taxi to Almirante where we would hop on a bus to David, switch buses again, and arrive in Boquete 4 hours later.
We arrived in Boquete, and were cold and hungry from the bus ride, and not being used to the chilly climate of this mountainous region. Quite different from island weather! I would describe Boquete as almost like a Colorado ski town, very quaint, clean, and has many outdoor activities to offer. Our hostel we chose to stay at called Mamallena is positioned right off the central park square, and is very homey feeling. Mamallena offers a comfy TV room, computer area, fully equipped kitchen and lots of space for socializing with the other guests/backpackers. We have enjoyed our stay so much here!! After two days of hiking and enjoying the sights around Boquete (including a very strange garden we will post pictures of…) we decided to take a weekend beach trip with some new friends to Boca Brava, an island 2 hours away by bus on the Pacific side of the country.
Two hours by bus was a little bit of an understatement. Our trip consisted of an hour bus ride, switch to another 30 minute bus ride, then we were dropped off on a corner in the middle of nowhere to jump into the back of a taxi truck for another 25 minutes until we arrived in Boca Chica. From Boca Chica we were ushered into a boat taxi which took us 10 minutes away to Boca Brava, and our gorgeous hotel we were going to stay for the night. Our group, Heather (Holland,) Rose (New York City,) Jeremy (Idaho,) Tina(Toronto,) Jeff and myself, first ordered lunch and then decided to take a 15minute hike to a beach. It was a great walk and the beach was very nice. The icing on the cake was on the return trip we listened to the howler monkeys our whole hike back, only to find they were actually in the trees surrounding our hotel!! We took some great pictures and watched them for a while, they are so entertaining! We had a great happy hour and dinner at the hotel restaurant, and then we spent the rest of the night playing on of my favorite games… SCRABBLE! Memorable night!
Sunday we returned back to Boquete and relaxed again at Mamellena. We made some new friends that evening while drinking some vino, and got some tips about our next destination, Panama City. Today we decided to stay in Boquete on more day due to today being a national Panamanian holiday, sort of the like equivalent to our Labor Day back in the states. Travel could have been tricky, so we decided to go and check out the hot springs in Caldera about 20 miles away. Instead of taking the formal tour that costs about $15 per person, Jeff and I thought we would get creative and get ourselves there and back without a tour guide. On our way there we changed busses without a hitch, and after 40 minutes of hiking we arrived at the hot springs. The springs were three small pools surrounded by rock walls, and they were VERY hot! Not exactly the most refreshing after a 40 minute hike in warm weather, but we still enjoyed them all the same. The best part of the hot springs trip was a monkey that has taken up residence there. We had been warned that she might try to take some belongings out of our bags, and to keep things under close watch. Much to our surprise, instead of going for our bags or shoes, she went directly to Jeff for some cuddles!! She just clung to his chest for a while, and then became more adventurous and climbed up on his shoulders to rest her head on his head. After about 10 minutes Jeff tried to remove her to a tree nearby. After a little bit of struggle, she finally let go, only to proceed to poop into her own hand and show us her “treasure.” HALARIOUS!! We could not run away fast enough in fear she might try to throw it at us! After watching her play (now from afar) for a while, we started our hike back to the town of Caldera. After a 2 hour wait for a bus, and a switch to another bus, we finally made it back to Boquete in time for dinner. We had a great day and felt pretty proud of ourselves to arrange our own tour… and to save about $22. We think a really fun part of travel is to take things into your own hands, and not always do the “touristy things the touristy way.” It doesn’t always go according to plan, but we usually end up with great stories in the end.
Tonight we have packed our bags and are going to bed early in order to catch a 6:30 a.m. bus to Panama City!! We plan on spending the next week or two there before heading to Columbia via boat ferry or perhaps a catamaran sailboat. Looking forward to having lots more to share with our next blog post!!