Sun 9-Mon 10 December - Day 44 to 45 - Bocas del Toro, Panama

Published: December 13th 2018
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Sun 9-Mon 10 December - Day 44 to 45 - Bocas del Toro

My next story is very’ interesting’. Leaving our San Jose, Costa Rican hotel at 5.30am to catch the 6.00pm bus to Panama we travelled through some mountainous area through the fog before coming out the other side onto rural plains. We travelled for 5 hours to the boarder where we were required to pay a departure tax of US$8 and to enter Panama, we only had to show our departure arrangements from Panama before getting our tourist stamp in our passports. Australians don’t need visas to visit Panama.

All was going well as we got off the bus and was walking to pay our $$ to leave Costa Rica. We noticed that the whole area was a building site. Backhoes, cranes, trucks, you name it. They were obviously in the early stages of building new facilities for immigration and the border crossing. The was a hugh line up of people. The 12 of us joined the line to be stamped out of the country after paying our $8. Then a policewoman called out for all those over 60yo. It was hot and humid, and we found that we were taken into the small building to be processed so that we didn’t have to stand and in the sun. We 5 all thought that was very good. After the 5 of us were processed, we waited for the remainder of our group to be processed. All of a sudden, we noticed nothing was happening. Their computers had gone down. One person was being processed every 15-20 minutes. People had been waiting for over 2 hours. Suddenly the power went out. We guessed that a machine had dug up all the lines!!!!. The on-and-off computer system was now completely dead.

The additional problem was the 5 of us over-60s were stamped out of Costa Rica and in ‘no man’s land’ and the other 6 were still in Cosa Rica. One of our travel mates aggravated the policewoman which didn’t help Alfredo with his negotiations. In the end, Alfredo started negotiating with a policeman instead and convinced him to process the remaining 6 members of our group. The way they did it was to take an image of each passport, send it through WhatsApp, to their other office which had internet access to see if we were all OK to go through the border. We saw Alfredo’s happy smile which meant we were all through. He then cancelled the accommodation in Guabito, Costa Rica which was his plan B.

We loaded our bags onto a trolley and off we walked, across the bridge between the 2 countries. I felt a bit unfair walking past all the masses of people who were sitting down waiting to be processed. They may still be there!!!! The Rio Sixaola forms part of the border with Costa Rica. An old railroad bridge spans the river between Guabito and Sixaola, Costa Rica. The bridge is a border crossing used by tourists going between destinations in Bocas del Toro and Costa Rica.

So meanwhile, 5 hours later, we had our passports stamped to enter Panama. There was a slight delay as 3 of our travel mates didn’t have full evidence of their flight out of Panama. Alfredo put on his best negotiating hat again and got them through. We were off to catch the boat after a 45-minute minivan ride and top speed. We arrived 2 minutes before the last boat for the day was going to Bocas Del Toro.

After a beautiful speedboat trip to tranquil Bocas Town through calm seas, we arrived safely in the dark. After checking into our Hotel Delfines (the host was fantastic), walking for 10 minutes with our bags, we all met downstairs for a cold drink. We were supposed to go to a restaurant away from the hotel for dinner but it was a very easy vote to stay right where we were and all ordered pizzas, relaxing and reflecting on our very different day. Up until this border crossing, our Estonia to Russia had been the most ‘interesting’. Now the Costa Rica to Panama wins the ‘race’!! We all slept very well that night.

The islands of the Bocas del Toro archipelago offered us a great diversity of attractions and natural environments; luxurious rain forests with an abundance of fauna and flora. These sunny islands have beaches, coral reefs & crystal clear waters that compete with the Caribbean's best.

After a slow start, waiting for the tropical night rain to stop, when the sun came out, we caught one of the many water taxis to Bastimento Island to visit the Red Frog Beach. It was beautiful. After an $8, 20 minute boat trip, we arrived at the Island, paid the $5 entrance to this private beach and immediately asked the local to show us the red frogs. He easily found this tiny little frog in the mangrove forests. All of the islands in this archipelago had mangrove forests. Some of the small islands were completely covered. The red frog was more orange than red and was very quick to move. We also saw a big male sloth, busily feeding and a mother and baby sloth curled up in a ball sleeping.

The beach was beautiful with waves for surfing, even though there was a substantial rift in the bay on rough days. There was a mixture of permanent tents, cabins and top accommodation available, but limited. We saw that the beach was being prepared for a wedding later that day and one of the 3 restaurants was closed, preparing for the reception. We tried to get a coffee but the beach had run out!. We didn’t have a swim there because we were planning to go to Star Fish Beach on another island. After having a good look around, we found our boat and driver who was waiting for us who took up back to Colon Island.

We had a coffee at a seaside restaurant when we got back plus an icecream for lunch and then found the local bus which took us to Rest Yarisnori Hospedaje where we caught a boat to take us to Star Fish Beach 5 minutes away.

The bus drove through a narrow piece of land, through dense tropical rainforest. On the way we saw the Plastic Bottle village and wooden houses spotted along the way. It was almost like a chicken bus we had travelled in, with locals getting on and off with their household produce and hardware.

We saw the rest of our group walking back to the bus to go back to the hotel. It was about 2.00pm. As soon as we were dropped off by the boat, we went for a swim to find the star fish. I swam along parallel to the shore and easily found the massive star fish sitting on the white sand before the sea floor fell away to deeper water. Tom then used my goggles while I looked after our bags.

After a beautiful swim, we couldn’t help but sit on the deck chairs to enjoy a beer. After all, it was 3.30pm by this time. We watched some people playing volleyball in the water which would have been good fun.

We then did the 20 minute walk back to the bus through the mangrove and tropical forest. We jumped on the minivan local bus which ended up being packed with people.

We arrived back to Bocas Town and enjoyed the much needed shower before our afternoon drink with the rest of our group. We all had different stories to share about our day. I think they all wished they had visited Red Frog Beach with us.

Dinner that night was at El Pirata restaurant, a pirate-themed restaurant on the seafront. Food was magnificent, service was excellent, and we helped Tonya from Dallas, who joined our group in Costa Rica, to celebrate her birthday. After we sang happy birthday to her, the restaurant bought to the table a brownie with icecream and a candle. We sang happy birthday again and the table of 20 Italians joined in.

There are so many islands in this archipelago, it would have been lovely to stay a couple of more days but being excited to be seeing our family in a few days was definitely over-riding those thoughts very quickly. After a leasurly breakfast the next day, with the sun shining, we walked to the water taxi for another pleasant 30 minute speedboat trip to the mainland where our minivan was waiting for us.

A bit about the area: Bocas del Toro meaning "Mouths of the Bull" has an area of 4,643.9 square kilometers, comprising the mainland and nine main islands with a population of about 140,000.

The province contains two national parks, Isla Bastimento National Park and La Amistad International Park. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute operates a research station on Colon Island just northwest of Bocas Town where we stayed. There are many banana plantations in Bocas del Toro, often called the oro verde, or green gold of Central America.

Christopher Columbus explored the area in 1502 while searching for the passage to the acific Ocean. Columbus's original name for the island was Isla del Drago. In colonial times, it was originally part of Costa Rica until, in one of many territorial disputes, Colombia took control of it with armed forces. The then government made a reservation called Bocas del Toro in 1834. In 1850, Bocas del Toro became a part of Chiriqui, then was separated from it and became part of Colon. On November 16, 1903, Bocas del Toro was separated from Colon and became its own province. In 1941, Bocas del Toro was divided into two districts, Bocas del Toro and Crimamola. Four years later, it became part of the same division as before. In 1970, Bocas del Toro district became Changuinola, the district of Bastimentos was eliminated, and three new districts were added, making the province what it is today. The districts' areas changed in 1997 when the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca was created.

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