Bocas del Toro, Panama (Of sloths, coral, paradise and sing-a-longs)

Published: October 17th 2013
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The sloth was languid in the tree, curled up on a fork in the branch structure, preventing its fall with one long, vertically outstretched arm wrapping its three fingers around an overhead tree-limb. This was not what I had expected when heading to the idyllic island archipelago of Bocas del Toro, Panama.

The islands are located in the Caribbean Sea, a half hour boat ride from the mainland town of Almirante and only about 30kms from the border with Costa Rica. We travelled there on an overnight bus from Panama City, having seen the ships pass through the famous canal and wandered around the old town, which is somewhat reminiscent of Havana in Cuba.

Bocas del Toro consists of numerous islands; however the real gems are the uninhabited keys, known as Cayos Zapatillos. These two keys are important breeding grounds for turtles and basically consist of dense vegetation and pristine white sand beaches. These keys are reached by undertaking a full day boat tour, which also takes you through a dolphin breeding zone. Whilst we didn’t see any dolphins, we did catch sight of the sloth! We were cruising by a nearby islet and then we saw it really close at hand. It undertook a couple of slow movements of its head to gaze at us, but really wasn’t too motivated to do anything else.

Just when I thought that my day was complete after this sloth sighting, we were taken to the coral zone for a spot of snorkelling. I approached this in a rather blasé fashion, considering the amazing reefs we have in Australia and the colours I saw when diving in Thailand. I soon found myself gulping at the water in my snorkel though, for my jaw had dropped upon seeing the spectacular array of colours in the coral here. Blue, magenta, luminescent green, lavender, orange, purple, jade, red and everything in between. Unbelievable and joyous.

Caroline and I shared this day trip with three other people from our hostel, Miguel and Geraldine (a couple from Chile) and Paulo (from Argentina). Being forced to speak in Spanish for the entire day was a great challenge and left both of us feeling pretty happy with our progress in this second language over the past year and a half. It was Miguel’s birthday and Paulo had brought his guitar along for the expedition. When we were returning to the island of Isla Colon for the night, he asked our captain to stop the boat when we were surrounded by sea and then proceeded to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Miguel in Spanish, English and Portuguese! We all joined in and it was one of those moments that seem to materialise when you are travelling. One of those ones that you’ll never forget for its spontaneity and fun. We then finished our time on the islands by going out for some birthday drinks and revelling in Panamanian paradise.

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21st October 2013

A perfect day in the life of a backpacker
This day really was complete and perhaps my favourite so far. It's so good to meet really great people and I am still dumbstruck I spoke Spanish for 24 hours!

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