MISTY BRIDGES, TOURISTA COPS AND PARALLEL TRAVELLERS


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Published: May 13th 2006
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Misty Bridges,….visions of the sweaty clamouring heaving silicone of a budding porn queen….no, rather the engineering/meteorological interface phenomenon suffered by early risers on a stormy day, the tourista cop, maybe, and the parallel travellers come back to haunt me.

Finally it had rained in Panama after threatening for weeks, or maybe I brought it back to P City from Colon (don’t mention the irrigation) after the transit. Whatever brought it on, it worked, so I left early and went West, funny set-up, but Panama actually runs East - West, not North - South as you would think!…I only discovered this as we went up the canal, at one stage I glanced at the compass, we were heading WNW, I nearly stopped drinking!, but they assured me with another can that all was well, but it still has me scratching, WNW?

Leaving at 6.30 to beat the traffic and contemplating the options (this is my planning routine, leave……and figure it out on the way!)..will I get thru’ to David and fly to Bocas or look for the mystery road and ride to Changuinola and get the ferry.

Winding around the freeways, then quite suddenly up to the mighty misty Bridge of the Americas, yes, the very one I had been looking up at a few days ago, this time, most of the superstructure shrouded in mist, I could look down on the Balboa Yacht Club, Mustang Sally down there somewhere. Not a great deal of sightseeing time as the road surface is potholey and the traffic intense, it’s 2 lanes each way and no room to spare, a car has broken down on the inbound and the chaos is mind boggling, it will take a day or 2 to get a tow truck up here, meanwhile the old, universal fallback solution….the horn!…everyone’s just honking away, 10 kms of stranded vehicles, you could hear it from Colon.

Great to be back on the road, the new Metzlers making it a whole new experience, there’s bugger-all traffic and cruisy highway travel.

It’s impossible to buy a road map in Panama but I had downloaded something that looked like it had been scrawled with a broken HB on the back of an envelope….therefore I was not surprised when the turn-off to the mystery road was somewhat misplaced.

Fabulous run up and over the mountains, tight corners and a bit cooler than the coast, down on the Carib side and turn off to Almirante as the last couple of coffee stops had garnered me differing stories on ferry availability…..followed the main (?) road, dusty, potholed, old train tracks down the middle until it petered out at the cannery, around the side was the ferry. Quite a fair size ex-Russian vehicle ferry with a couple of trucks already on board, I stumbled into the bar and naturally found the ticket seller, $10 for me and the bike, leaving in 30 minutes, perfecto!

The ferry takes 1 hour 45 mins to get to Bocas so I had time to chat to a German guy who had just started running one of the better hotels (way to exy for moi) and got some of the goss on Bocas del Toro

The town stretches around the shoreline of the main island with clunky, 2 storey buildings new Orleans style weatherboard with ornate balconies and decks hanging out over the water, restaurants and the dive school having fabulous backyard views, out over crystal clear water, fish, coral and starfish, the rest of the town is a sleepy, tropical similarity, very Asian feel to
where the kids swimwhere the kids swimwhere the kids swim

Bocas del Toro
it all, friendly people once they open up, most of the businesses run by Europeans, lot of Poms, Spanish, all nice people, a big ex-pat, old fart, retiree group of seppos and a constant trickle (being the low/wet season) of touristas, the old, sick and lame off the cruise ship circuit and the young, pimply backpackers, and of course the suave, sophisticated, ubercool motociclistas !! Ha

When I was quite young I made a list of many things I wanted to do in my life. When I was 15 I went snow skiing, one of the listed items. On the first day I broke my leg (it was a sign) and subsequently didn’t pay the list much more attention. However, I’m sure scuba diving would have been on that list and this was the reason that brought me to Bocas on the Carib coast of Panama near the frontera with Costa Rico.

I rolled off the ferry and down the main drag, there was a sign….Starfleet Scuba….I’d found them on the net and we had been in e-touch so were expecting each other. Amazing, the internet, how did we ever get on without it?, for maps, information, contact,
My Cafe!My Cafe!My Cafe!

Bocas del Toro
now phone calls, and the endless offers of penile enlargement and mortgage reduction, altho’ why do the junk emails always have such weird names as senders?, surely they must know that I’m going to trash any email with that sort of sender information? (Sorry I haven’t replied to those of you with weird names by the way). So to Scubaworld…

First half day is in the classroom studying all the things that can go wrong when underwater, I’m getting nervous…tests and corrections, I can feel the cobwebs stretching and snapping as the cranial cogs start to crank up…

I feel the same about skydiving (also on the list) ..it would be preferable to just get chucked out of the plane rather than spend all that time prior to the jump, learning all that could go wrong!

First afternoon and I get geared up, wetsuit, mask, fins, and the vest, tank and hoses bits, v cumbersome in fact damned heavy, including a belt that the Sopranos would be proud of, seems to have enough lead to take me to the bottom forever… slipping and sliding across the wooden floor, then just step off the back of the deck and sploosh!..Actually more than just a big step, the official name is Giant Stride, what a fantastic image…into 3 metres of warm, clear water…fortunately the vest is inflated enough to keep me afloat, but the breathing is difficult, a feeling of having to suck the air in and force it out…is this right, am I going to drown here??..some dodgey backyard dive school in some 3rd world country..aarrgghhh ..but no, it’s all good…I get used to the breathing routine and with Jose, my instructor we sink down into the magic, strange realm that the hydrologocally challenged will always approach with caution, just fantastic, the closest thing to weightlessness, rolling over, spiralling around, then shit!…where’s Jose?..the disorientation is immediate and un-nerving, I roll more and there he is, it felt like I had to turn 460 degrees to do a 360 revolution, better watch out for that one…anyway, time for class…Jose and I kneel on the seabed and go thru’ the routines of on and offing the mask, losing the mouthpiece, balancing and other life-threatening ways of surviving life-threatening occurrences (?)

Day 2 and 3 we dive twice in the mornings, checking out different sites each time, sharks, stingrays, a
House by the seaHouse by the seaHouse by the sea

Bocas del Toro
big stone fish yesterday, lots of coral, black and regular, and of course fifty million little fish of the most mind boggling colours, electric bright blues and purples, shoals of differing brands of fish just grazing over fields of seaweed, sucking and spitting at bits of something in the rocks, a massive grouper hiding in the back of his cave, Jose tickles a shark to get him going, also the stone fish so that suddenly, the dull, browny grey rock sprouts little purple and white fins and cruises off, unmistakenly pissed off with the disturbance.

Last exam and I’m qualified, so today I get a couple of free dives as part of the package from Starfleet. In the few days I’ve been here I’ve met so many really nice people, Tony and Georgina, the owners, their friend Lee who left yesterday after 7 months to go back to the old dart but he’ll be back, Jose, my instructor, Mike and Lidia more friends, who have the restaurant upstairs, their staff …farck, it just goes on…Marcus and Louisa, marine biologists, they’re trying to set up eco-study tours..it’s an environment very conducive to settling down and having a small business, there’s
Where the rich stayWhere the rich stayWhere the rich stay

Bocas del Toro
an airport and even a small international school…maybe they need an English teacher?.hmmmm.

A huge thunderstorm just rolled in as I sit in the restaurant next door and use the free WiFi…how cool it is, fresh OJ, plate of fruits, coffee….maybe put off the dives until tomorrow if it doesn’t clear….at lunchtime I’m having a CD burn session with Mike and Lidia as they want some new music for the restaurant, then going fishing with a local guy, Gabriel, who provides fish for the restaurant, hopefully this means we catch something!

OK, now it’s Saturday….I did postpone the dive and in fact I’ll be going out in an hour or so…beautiful clear morning. So, yesterday I burnt 10 Cds for Mike and Lidia, and also caught up with Todd and Jen from Phaedra, I’d taken a water taxi over in the morning but they weren’t on board, then a few hours later they turn up at the restaurant..too cool…

And then…., in the afternoon I went out fishing with Gabriel and his brother, Mike came along and another neighbour, Juan Pablo…first we had to borrow some anchor rope, then to another place for an anchor, then the
where the locals livewhere the locals livewhere the locals live

Bocas del Toro
net, the rods, some lines, gas…all at different locations, we’re zipping back and forth across the water, I’m getting dizzy…finally out around the back of the main island…just beautiful..your classic troppo island, jungle back inland, palms and sandy, totally isolated beaches…don’t get me started on the real estate thing…anyway, we go in close and the bro chucks out the net and in 2 throws has collected 200 or so sardines, like whitebait, we have plugged and flooded the space between two seats and we keep the sardines alive there, then it’s off out to the ocean, bait up with live bait and catch Bonito and Mackerel and needle fish…the last being no damn good…but all fighting fish, fantastic fun…then as the sun sets, amazing sunset, then we notice the full moon rising, OMG cosmic, religious experience, big swell, a huge phallic rock rises out of the ocean and we’re about 200m off it…yes, it’s Snapper Point…bait up the big lines with bonito chunks, the bro has set up my line and we are up the sharp end, Gabriel sets lines for himself and Mike and JP….it’s on for young and old…the bro gets the first one, quite a fight, it’s maybe 3 pounds, the moon is well up by now, we’re rising and falling on the swell, the waves crashing onto the rock, shimmering trail of light from the moon, so bright, I’m just starting to recall that snapper don’t feed on the full moon when my line jerks, I give it a huge snap, it breaks free, fcuk!…let it out again…another bite, the boys are telling me to really yank it so I do, man, I got it…it’s nearly pulling me in, the line just slips thru’ my fingers, it’s cutting to the bone, I’m not letting this sucker go whatever happens…slowly make some ground, we’re in about 30 metres of water so there’s lots of line out, then it pulls away again, it looks like I’m playing it but actually when it goes it just rips the line from my grip!….finally it calms down and I get it almost to the surface, then it goes for a last lap of the boat, nearly pulling me in again, finally the bro grabs it by the gills and hauls it inboard, it’s got to be 15 pounds, which means probably 12!…it felt like 150 pounds in the water.

Tonight Mike’s going to cook it up and make us a salsa to go with it…I’m such a happy camper, couldn’t get the grin off my face for the rest of the night…came in about 9.30 and had a couple of celebratory G&Ts…it can’t get much better than this…and the real estate here, wait til I tell you about that!!

There are several islands, deep channels cut thru’ wide shallow lagoons and inlets, it’s more like lakes than open sea, perfect for diving with water to 30 degrees, crystal clear, endless dive sites with coral everywhere, millions of fish, drop offs that suddenly go from 5 or 6 metres to 20 or 30 metres, such a variety of sea life. One of the back islands has been taken over and is being “”developed” roads, water drainage, sewerage, condos, even an Arnie Palmer designed freaking golf course!!…lots of people buying and selling off the plan, or the other option, just buy and exclusive, isolated, perfect view, edge of the jungle tropical hideaway with private beach, mooring and everything for a couple of hundred K….long way to come for the summer hols but hey…6 month summer hols!

OK, the guys next door are getting the dive gear ready….time for me to go…go and get some pix…

Now Saturday and as I came in from the dive who should be waiting at the bar next door but Grant and Mary, far out, I knew they were close but here they are, fantastico to see them again and swap stories.

Now to try for some pix.....chau, besos!


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