Monday, April 18, 2016

Bocas Del Toro

We had heard a lot of comments about Bocas from other travellers, they didn't like it, it was too noisy, too rough, too many surfers. I guess maybe when you spend Christmas day on the island, things go full on party mode in town, but we had nothing but a grand ole time in Bocas Del Toro, I would pack my bags in the morning and head there again.

To be honest we were meant to be staying on Isla Bastimentos but the day before we arrived, we got bad news that our place (The Sea Monkey) had to be shut down. There is a crazy story to that which the owners shared with us. I honestly felt terrible at first because it was the place I was most looking forward to staying but when I heard their story & what they were going through, it wasn't long washing off. They were still amazing hosts, finding us somewhere new to stay on a different island and so last minute. We arrived into Isla Colon at the boat dock & headed straight to Pukalani Cafe for some iced coffee & delicious arepas. We ended up staying on this island at Tesoro Escondido cottage, perched perfectly on a cliff overlooking the ocean. It is separate from Tesoro Escondido House but only 500m down the road. Many surfers stay at Tesoro house because of its proximity to Bluff beach, one of Panamas surfing gems. Tesoro is far from town, more than an hours walk, a long cycle & a $20 (30min) taxi ride, how were we going to get around? Well, let's just say I found quad bikes at the Flying Pirates. I was little scared of riding this massive beast at first, changing gears in flip flops isn't easy, but this was our ride for 4 days & we loved it. It took us all over the island, into the jungle, into town, we rode at night, on the beach, dodged potholes & sandbanks. We named her Beatrice.

We spent the first morning making scrambled eggs & enjoying our coffee from Boquete. Our kitchen is fully equipped minus a fridge. We have a huge cooler with the biggest ice cube I've ever seen since being at the Tsukiji fish market. We spent the rest of the afternoon on Bluff beach where the tide is strong and rip currents are real. I am not even to my knees & the waves have me knocked over. I am not sure how these guys do it. I would never be able for those waves, I'd need rescuing in minutes. Some of these guys bike it all the way from town with their boards under their arms. That is serious commitment. A few snoozes later & we were eating dinner at Paki point, a small outdoor surf shop.

Day 2, my first agenda was wishing my dad a happy birthday through crappy wifi. This was a really hot day, the sand was roasting, I got a little toasty. We later walked around town & it was dead. We concluded that we were doing it all wrong. We needed to be at the beach all day & in town at night. What do you do when the town is a dead zone, you go for massages. While we waited for our turn we also booked a Bioluminescence night tour with Diving Pirates, something I've always wanted to see. We got lucky, that night was the last tour because the moon was coming back. I was so excited to see the lighting plankton & algae that I couldn't even relax during my massage. Two massages & two bike rides later we were back in town for a quick fish curry at Indi (Indonesian) before heading out with all our snorkel gear. We met a lovely guy called Terky from Saudi, he is also travelling around for a month, we are on the same paths going in opposite directions and managed to meet in the middle. The plankton was so impressive, it looked like tiny little led lights in the ocean, but the algae was the true star of the show. Any bit of agitation in the water & the entire ocean around you lights up like little stars. There happened to be an English girl sitting behind me on the boat, who loved the sound of her own voice. She asked so many questions, she forgot the answer to the last one. If she managed to hit me once on the back to tell me something, she must have walloped me a thousand times. Our guide was telling us about plankton & she asked about sea turtles & their lifespan. When we were talking about algae, she asked which one was The North Star. If your man said blue, she would have asked why wasn't it black. She was a special kind of special. Our moment to swim with the plankton came between Solarte & Bastimentos. The water was amazingly warm & it was an experience. The tour was a bit long winded & could have been shorter but I did get to see 4 shooting stars which was incredible. As I was laying there taking in this wonderful night sky, English pipes up again, "Can you take me to where I'm staying"? "Where are you staying"? "I don't know, I think on Solarte" After eventually getting her phone out, she was staying on Bastimentos. I am still shaking my head to this day.

Day 3: The adventure continues as we have a busy day today. We met with our guide Honky (507-6785-2230), if you are in Bocas, this is the guide you want. Ask for Honky from Bastimentos. He will meet you on Isla Colon at Hotel Limbo and take you on a very personal tour of the Bat Caves. En route, we saw hundreds of jellyfish floating through the warm waters. I could only imagine the sting of jumping off the boat & into that water. Then we motored slowly through the mangroves, there's a sloth, a white tailed hawk, a caymen, blue crabs & spiders (massive fecking spiders). When we pulled up to a small community, we saw a baby monkey. I am not quite sure why he was there or the rules around this. Helmets go on, wellies go on & head lamps are tested. We are ready to enter the cave. We were only at the entrance & there were hundreds of flying bats, this is not going to end well for me. We trudged through rivers in the cave, filling our wellies to an overflow, weighing me down like rocks. I would no sooner empty them when they would be full again. I stopped to look up, massive vampire bats, hanging above me. Oh nah, they are now flying around me, freaking me out. I leave out little screams, hoping the sound will let them know my presence. Honky said they only eat fruit, I was more worried about a run in with one. We climbed over stalactites & stalagmites for over an hour. I saw spiders bigger than my hands sitting on rocks, turn your head & turn back, they would be gone, ugggggghhhhhhhhh. Honky mentioned a biologist had been there recently, this was underwater centuries ago which meant if you sifted through the sand & silt in the cave bed, you were bound to find some shark/animal teeth. I found 8 in total. We know at least one was from a Great White. At one point in this cave we were swimming & we had to dip underwater to avoid a stalactite, that was cool. Luckily, it didn't rain while we were inside, if it does the cave can flood & you have to climb high into the cave near the bats & wait it out. That happened Honky with 3 girls on another tour. Once we left, he told me he saw the biggest Caymen in that cave (he tells me now). He was in the river water, they turned & left. This experience was pretty insane, something so adventurous that I had been craving.

That afternoon we went snorkeling with Roberto, I highly recommend him for snorkeling or diving tours. The visibility was pretty shite but I managed to catch a glimpse of a sting ray. I got stung by tiny jellyfish a million times. This just wasn't a great day for it, just foggy & silty. On the boat ride back to Bocas, Roberto told us about Wild Bill, a 28 yr old gringo who moved down to Bocas & seeked out other rich gringos. He was friendly, through parties but managed to get people to sign over all their property to him before killing them and burying their bodies. He killed one family & then a woman whose husband was away on business in the U.S. Upon his return, he walked into his house to find Wild Bill in his bed, asleep. Asked, where was his wife? Wild Bill told him she sold the lot to him & did a runner. Immigration later told him she had never left the country. The husband later found out that Wild Bill killed the wife and tossed her into the water by their house, she has yet to be found. Will Bill was caught 5 years ago while on the run in Central America, he is currently in a Panamanian prison. He may only serve 35 years there before being sent back to the U.S

Day 4: This is our final day with Beatrice, so we decide to take her through the jungle. Flying Pirates own some jungle trails that their customers are allowed to use. It didn't seem too bad at first, it was sandy roads & paths that were nice & wide. We stopped at Noriega's drug house & by house I mean ruins. This is where he ran his drug empire from. He ran cocaine from here to Miami on a regular basis. The U.S turned a bling eye to his drug business while he was working for them, but when he started working with others, they began noticing all the drugs he was bringing into Miami. Noriega was the president of Panama for 7 years. He came from the poorest neighbourhood in Panama City called El Chorillia. It remains the poorest & dangerous, riddled with gangs & crime. Noriega sits in a Panamanian prison for many years to come. Then we stopped at La Piscina, this was my favourite, a giant pool that was blasted out with dynamite by pirates to hide their boats. The water was incredible warm & calm, I could have swam there all day. Blue lagoon was next on our jungle journey, to get there we drove over rocks, coconut vines, branches, palm trees, beach, you name it. Stand on the edge & just jump in. It is about 6m deep but again with the waves thrashing nearby, visibility was poor. We made our way through the rest of the mud ridden, tree branched trail & I only manged to lose Farah off the bike once.

We spent our last dinner at the best restaurant in Bocas town. Justin from Flying Pirates recommended spot to us & I am ever so happy he did. If you are there, seriously consider going to Ultimate Refugio. Inside, there is live music, we later found out the guy serenading us with his Caribbean music went on tour with Santana. Order the grouper $15, you wont be disappointed. This was exactly what I wanted my entire trip, Caribbean flavours. The next morning we rise early & head to the border, it is time to show you guys our Costa Rica trip.

You can follow our past trip to Boquete here.

Paki Point

Noriega's Drug House

La Piscina

Boat Dock Bocas ,/p>