Isla Colon: snorkelling and sunburn


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Published: September 20th 2013
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Panama City to Bocas Del Toro


From Cuba we flew into Panama City late on a Sunday afternoon, and a good part of the day was spent in long queues. After getting grilled by an immigration official on our arrival in Havana, we ensured that we got to the airport the specified 3 hours prior to the flight out of there, in case we had a repeat episode. We were greeted with the most disorganised check in process I have experienced. The airline told us that we needed to be there 3 h. ours early, yet they did not have anyone manning the desks for the first hour. By the time that they started checking people in, the queue was over a hundred metres and nearly out the door. We had about 50 people in front us, which took 40 minutes to process , and we thought that there was no chance in hell that we would fly out on time, but somehow we did. Arriving in Panama, it was another 2 hours in a queue to get through immigration and then customs.

We spent a week in Panama City, regrouping after Cuba, and trying to figure out a rough plan for the next 10 weeks of travel through some of Central America. As it is the rainy season now, we have had to figure out where it would not be too wet and what areas we could visit without getting washed away. And with Mexico getting hurricanes, and flights up north really expensive, we have found a land route to head north chasing the sun and avoiding the worst of the wet. The weather is good at this time of year on the Caribbean coast up near the border with Costa Rica. This is the complete opposite to the Pacific coast and the hinterlands, where it is the wettest time of year. It's quite amazing that the weather can be totally different within such a narrow stretch of land, a few hundred kilometres apart, albeit with a decent mountain range in the middle. So this has led us to Bocas Del Toro, an archipelago on the north east coast of Panama. Over the next month or so we cruise up the Caribbean side up to Toruguero, cross Costa Rica stopping at La Fortuna and then up to Nicaragua for a month. That is as far as we will get before sadly having to turn around. At least we will have the Corcovado national park to visit along the the quick push to get back to Panama City. That place sounds absolutely wild, some say it is the most biodiverse place in the world, and you can trek through it, I am really looking forward to that.

We thought that we were done with the long bus trips after leaving South America, but it looks like we have quite a few more to complete, including the freezing 10 hour overnight bus from Panama City. At night in Panama City the humidity goes through the roof, and most nights a massive storm will roll in for hours, dumping a crazy amount of water. The most trivial of tasks result in being covered in sweat, and when cooking it is like having a shower. We had been told the bus rides were cold, so packed a jacket each for the trip. When we rocked up to the bus terminal in shorts and flip flops we were surprised to see locals fully clothed and some wearing beanies and ski jackets! It wasn't too cold at the start of the trip, but by half way it was like being in a restaurant cool room, with thick condensation droplets plopping from the windows. We had stashed a bottle of rum with us, and it helped to keep warm as we rode over the mountain range watching lightning flash for hours on end.

Bocas is a stunning place, with a real laid back Caribbean feel. Most of the houses are on stilts, with a lot of them over the water with views over the coral cays below. The main form of transportation is done by either boat or bicycle. Hot and sleepy during the day, the place bursts into party mode at night when the temperature drops and the bars start pumping out reggaeton at insanely loud levels. Each bar has a ladies night, where free drinks are in offer, and it is possible for a women to drink free every night of the week if you know the right places to go.

On our first day here we got the bus out to starfish beach, where as the name suggest, there are large starfish everywhere. It was here that we ran into Shane again, the crazy Irishman that we did the Colca Canyon with in Peru months ago. We were supposed to meet up in Panama City, but never got the chance to in the end, so it was great finally catching up with him. He was travelling with Abby from the states, and over the next 3 nights we hit the bars, drinking beers sitting on floating pontoons where you can put your feet in the water with tropical fish everywhere, or if you really want to, jump in for a swim.

Mojo and I went out on a snorkelling tour one day, getting taken out to all of the best spots and finally getting to use my cool farewell present from work in full earnest. The coral is different to what we have seen off Australia and in the Cook Islands. It is mainly soft corals, and has a lot more colour, with deep purples, reds, greens and yellows taking centre stage. Although an overcast day, we both got fried by the sun and will need a few days to recover. Yesterday we hired wonder years bikes, and along with Shane and Abby rode out to Starfish beach, about 16 km on an undulating road that pierces its way through the jungle in the middle of the island. It was hot, hard sweaty going, but luckily there was a bus coming back that would take our bikes, as i don't think we would have been able to do the ride back.

We like it here a lot, and plan on staying for a while on the various islands and doing more snorkelling and maybe some diving.


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Abby, Shane and I Abby, Shane and I
Abby, Shane and I

tucking into peanut butter and jelly sandwiches


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