Boca Del Toro - Panama Days 7-9

Published: March 5th 2013
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Welcoming sign to Boca Town.Welcoming sign to Boca Town.Welcoming sign to Boca Town.

There were several tourist information centers welcoming you to town, however none of them were actually open.
The trip from Boquete to Boca Del Toro started at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, 3/2 and took 3.5 hours. There are no roads that travel directly to Boca from Boquete so we put our faith in Jim’s Google map directions and those of very nice Panamanian girl at one of the local adventure outfitters in Boquete. The trip is difficult to explain but I’ll try. A single lane paved road, some so potholed I was afraid we would lose an axle, some with washed out areas that would drop up to 2’, the occasional horseback rider (favorite mode of transportation in the Panama Western Highlands), a brave chicken here and there, (chickens are $5 if you hit one, $20 for a goat), and not a straight stretch of road longer than a ¼ mile without a curve. The road wound up and down over the mountains through beautiful thick jungle, resplendent with banana trees hanging with bunches of green bananas. For the first time since we arrived in Panama, we were stopped at the entrance to the Reserva Forestal Fortuna by the Panamanian militia and asked for our passports. After reviewing our passports and repeating our first names several times, they wished us safe travels and assured us we were heading in the right direction to reach Boca. Oh, and did I mention, it rained the entire trip from Boquete to Boca?

Since Boca Del Toro is an island and the primary mode of transportation is walking, we left the car in Almirante which is described as a “banana town” in our guidebook. We soon discovered why, when we saw the large Chiquita cargo ship from Italy docked at port in town. An entire cargo ship, filled stem to stern with containers loaded with bananas! We found the water taxi depot, and a very industrious young man offered to take us to the place we would leave our car in a secured lot. I say industrious because when Jim offered him a $10 tip he said, “No he would like $15”, and when Jim checked his change he had still shorted him an additional $2! He also assured us he’d be waiting for us on our return, Tuesday. The water taxi ride from Almirante to Boca was $4 per person and took about 25 minutes. We grabbed a land taxi when we arrived in Bocas Town because we didn’t know how far the hotel was and discovered it was a $2 fare, and a 1 minute ride. We’ve since walked by the taxi depot multiple times, but not pulling two suitcases and 2 dive lockers. Did I mention it is still raining?

Boca Town is a surf or backpacker town. There are a lot of young people here to surf, party, learn to surf, party, well you get the idea. However it’s a mellow crowd, we haven’t experienced any trouble or been kept awake at night by loud parties. We thought since Boca was an island in the Caribbean it would be surrounded by white sand beaches and aqua-marine waters like other islands we have visited in the Caribbean, but not so. There is a beach for surfing but it’s quite a hike, and the nicest beach for snorkeling is about 7 ½ miles away. It seems these activities have to be accessed by water taxi’s or tour boats and take place on one of the other islands in the archipelago. Did I mention it has not stopped raining?

Not wanting to stay in our room all day Sunday and since the rain had stopped we decided to take a tour, that had four different “events”. Dolphin watching, a visit to an island were we could see sloths in their natural habitat, snorkeling at a uninhabited island with white sand beaches called Cayo Zapatillas and lunch at a restaurant that sat on stilts over the water called Coral Caye, where you could also snorkel and see coral gardens. The tour was called “The Favorite Scene” and the cost was $35 per person, excluding lunch which was on your nickel. We were told at the time we booked the tour there were only 5 people booked for the following day. After several false starts to pick up additional passengers, the boat was full and we now had 14 people on the “Favorite Scene” tour. I want to make sure you have a good idea of exactly the “tour boat” looks like. It is what I refer to as a pongo, a large row boat with 4 bench seats and an outboard motor.

The dolphin portion of the tour proved to be a bust, as I’m guessing the dolphins now take Sunday’s off. We did see two sloths hanging in the trees at our second stop, and then things
Town SquareTown SquareTown Square

This was artisan week, so they had tents set up with jewelry made by locals and in the evening folk dances in beautiful costumes.
started to go downhill…….fast. When we stopped at Coral Caye to pre-order our lunch so it would be ready when we returned two hours later from our snorkeling trip, we were informed they could not take us to Zapatillas as the waters were too rough and it was too dangerous. Of course this information wasn’t shared until after our lunch orders had been placed. The captain then informed us we all had to pay an additional $3 to go to Red Frog beach to snorkel instead of Zapatillas, but the 14 people on the tour including 3 college age girls from Argentina would not even entertain the idea of paying another dime for this tour. Jim refers to three young girls from Argentina as the “Three Chihuahua’s”. They like us had already paid the $10 park entry fee to Zapatillos and the tour boat operator told them he would not refund the money. An argument ensued between the boat captain and the Three Chihuahua’s that was punctuated with a great deal of hand gestures, stomping feet and all of it in Spanish. We had no idea what they were saying, and assumed they didn’t speak English and found out later they were fluent! The result was the captain and first mate stopped talking altogether and all of us just sat in a standoff for two hours at this 1 star establishment. They did serve us our pre-ordered lunch, which was out of this world delicious.

Finally the combatants decided we would go to Red Frog Beach, after the captain dug deep into his own pocket and refunded us each $5 toward our park costs. At this point it has started raining again, the wind was howling and the seas were about 3’. We arrived at Red Frog Beach about 20 minutes later, soaked to the skin from the water breaking over the bow of the boat. We paid the $3 park fee and walked 15 minutes to the beach only to be informed by the life guard there would be no swimming or snorkeling as the waves were 8-10’ and it was much too dangerous to go in the water. We had an hour and half to kill at a beautiful beach that we could do nothing more than get our feet wet. We finally arrived back in Bocas Town at 4:00 (the time of return being the only thing advertised that actually happened) and everyone crowded into the tour office to complain. When all was said and done, they gave Jim and me an additional $10 to make us whole on the park fee and we were happy. And yes it was still raining.

Monday afternoon the clouds cleared and the sun came out so Jim went diving in the afternoon. I stayed back as I’m still suffering with an ear problem and instead booked a massage and repacked our suitcases so we can leave in the morning. Jim’s dive was good, not exceptional by any means, but he enjoyed it and that’s all that matters. The Caribbean waters around Boca Del Toro are very warm (80-82) degrees, but visibility was so poor on his second dive he could only see 10-15’ in front of him. When we walked down the street for dinner tonight, it had started raining, AGAIN.

We’ve have learned a great deal on this trip which was the point of taking the trip in the first place. We have enjoyed every minute thus far, rain and all, and think Panama is a beautiful country with some of the friendliest people we have ever met. We have been here for 9 days, and have never had a bad meal. The food is fresh, delicious, plentiful and so inexpensive it’s unbelievable. When is the last time you had a mouth-watering filet mignon for $12 or 3 people had dinner with wine and drinks for $53?

Tomorrow we head for Santa Catalina, and some of the “best diving in the Pacific Ocean.

Tuesday a.m. 7:00 - IT'S POURING DOWN RAIN!!!


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