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Published: December 20th 2014
It's the last Saturday afternoon before Christmas, its warm and sunny with a light salty seabreeze, and my third Balboa is tasting just fine....
I'm sitting in a restaurant overlooking Panama's Chiriqui National Marine Park and the islands that seem to stretch forever into the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean to our south. We are staying on Boca Brava island, where the rainforrest and the ocean meet on a black sand beach.
We've been in Panama a week now, and apart from Panama City, its been pretty much all sea, sand, jungle and amazing wildlife.
Firstly we stayed on the Azuero coast near tranquil Malena beach, where the local people have a turtle conservation project. They collect the eggs and protect them from predators until they are hatched, at which point they release the baby turtles into the ocean. In the past year they have released 18,000 turtles, of which they expect 10% to survive. We watched 24 baby Leatherback turtles make their journey across the night sand to the waves and into an uncertain future.
We spent 2 nights and 3 days on Coiba Island, a remote and unspoilt island National Park; precious, unique, fragile and so
carefully protected by the Panama National Parks Authority. Until a few years ago, Coiba was a prison with a curious model.... part high security, locked and guarded, and part open security where prisoners basically fended for themselves. Given its remoteness, there was little risk of escape, and it seems, replenishment of supplies. Prisoners had to grow their own food, catch fish, or starve. So, for much of Coiba, there was little interruption and so it is relatively pristine.
On Coiba, we stayed in Park bungalows, to snorkel the reefs in the hope of seeing turtles. We shouldn't have worried as there were turtles on every one of 4 dives, often more than 1, and ranging from small to fully grown, and we saw turtles on the surface from the boat. They are truly the most majestic of creatures in the water. And apart from turtles we saw a profusion of other life - sharks, brightly coloured reef fish and coral, blue trevally and lots more. In the jungle and mangroves, Coiba has some distinctive creatures; howler monkeys, a little mammal like an overgrown guinea pig, crocodiles, a pigmy deer, sloths (though we didnt see any), and of course a
profusion of birds...
The Pacific coast of Panama feels off the beaten path, and so it should. Tourists, while not rare, are not everywhere, and seem to be mostly surfers and naturists, and these good folk have much to enjoy. The weather is so easy, the people are so friendly, and the vibe is relaxed... it would be so easy to chill down for a month or 6.....
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