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Published: January 21st 2015
The promo material suggests that this is the top Carribbean paradise. Is it? Well, not having been to any others which might claim this title, I can't say for sure. But the appellation is not far-fetched, to be sure.
Sunday night the group met for the pre-trip briefing. There are nine of us (plus leader), and what a different mix from usual! First, there are 7 males and 2 females, the reverse of what is normal for Central American trips. Second, the clients represent a completely different mix of nationalities from those I've travelled with before. There are two from Northern Ireland, two from Denmark, one from Brazil (but also lives in Denmark), one from South Africa, one from the US, one from New Zealand, and me. Other than New Zealand, none of the other nationalities have ever been represented on my previous trips. Then there's the age. While I am the oldest (as always), there is another couple just a few months younger, and the youngest person is 40, which is typically the oldest other client than myself. Our guide is a 34-year-old American from Philadelphia, who's on her third tour of duty on this route.
explain that the complete trip is 49 days from Mexico city to Panama City, broken into five sections. Clients buy any continuous combination of them. One of the clients has done the whole thing, one joined for the last four weeks, five had done the one week Costa Rica circuit before this, and two of us were just joining for the final week. I have previously done the Costa Rica circuit, however.
We left early Monday morning for Bocas Del Toro, an island archipelago just across the Costa Rican border into Panama, on the Caribbean side. First 5 hours by motor coach, to the border. We got off, grabbed our baggage, and checked out of Costa Rica (in two stages: first you pay your fee, then go get your passport stamped). From there we walked across a rickety old bridge to the Panama side of the fairly large river where, in two stages again, we were admitted to Panama. There we boarded a private van for the hour's drive to the boat taxi. The boat taxi was another 45 minutes over seriously heaving seas (I'd say 50 mph over 5 f.t swells). We got to Bocas at about 4
pm, settled in, then went out to check out the adventure options for the next day, as well as potential restaurants for the evening.
Bocas is a small, very touristy town at the tip of one of the 300+ islands and cays that make up the archipelago. A little more foreign influence and quite a few tourists. The entire group opted for a full day boat tour for the next day, for the amazingly good price of $20 per person. We hadn't planned a group dinner but most of us found the same restaurant with great seafood at the waterfront (actually over the water). Seafood, not surprisingly, is the theme here.
The boat tour yesterday was phenomenal. We started with a trip to Dolphin Bay, about a 20-minute boat ride, where, together with six other tourist boats, we watched the dolphins surface for about a half hour. Sometimes you get lucky on these, sometimes you don't. We got lucky. Also, I should mention that the weather was excellent. We were concerned, because it had rained hard early in the morning, but it had gradually cleared.
After Dolphin Bay, we took the boat for another 20 or 30
minutes to the tip of another island where there was a restaurant and other facilities out over the water (built on stilts), ordered our noon lunch, to be ready for us 90 minutes later, and headed to a nearby reef to snorkel. The coral was fantastic, and the fish better than advertised. I had a little trouble with my mask, water gradually leaking in, perhaps because my mustache prevented a good seal, but it was still a great experience. I love snorkeling, at least when the water is almost body temperature, as it was, and the coral and fish are colourful.
After a break to have our lunch and relax for awhile, we headed off to Red Frog Beach. There are many great beaches on these islands, but this is the one the tour operator recommended. It really was a great beach, with large rollers breaking onto the wide, white sand beach. Michael and I played in the waves for quite a while, then I explored the beach and took a bunch of pictures of paradise. The only flaw-I never found the quintessential paradise beach picture with the curved palm tree stretching out across the sand and arching upward
at waters edge--you know the one I mean--so there must be another paradise somewhere else. Oh yes, and we never saw any red frogs, either. It was blistering hot out there, and by the time we left the beach, Michael noted that my back was very red--I would feel it tomorrow. No doubt, the majority of the redness must have come from the snorkeling, though. I had slathered my whole body with SPF30, but I suppose I should have done a second dose later.
Anyways, the fourth stop of the day was another snorkeling place. With the comment of my friend in mind, I reluctantly decided not to participate. I'd had more than my $20 worth already. Some others also passed, and we had great conversation on the boat. But when the snorkelers returned to report that this had been their highlight of the day--not so much coral but amazingly great fish--I was disappointed to have missed it.
Our leader and five of us clients went by boat taxi to an over-the-water restaurant and enjoyed another great seafood dinner with pina coladas and conversation lasting until 10 pm before we headed back for the night. Unfortunately (though I
can understand the decision), the three Danes decided to step out of the tour and remain there for two extra days, skipping Boquete, and then fly into Panama City to rejoin us for the last night of the trip. They were a lot of fun, but I'm sure they will have a great time there. One of them, especially, thought he had truly found paradise.
Bocas is an idyllic place and I could have easily spent a few more days there myself. But, for me the greater priority is to see more places, cover as much of the earth's surface as possible in the short time I have available. Panama represents the 21st country I have now entered. I am, by far, the least travelled of anyone in this group, except for our leader.
Well, so much for now.
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