Monday, July 9, 2018

Panama Trip - Day 3: Making the Best of Things

In late May, 2017 I embarked on a trip of a lifetime to Central America. Specifically, I visited Panama's steamy rainforest province of Bocas del Toro, a place I had never heard of before, but of which I had read many encouraging accounts.

But first, if you wish to read up on what has transpired before, click on the links below:


Day 1: Here There Be Balboas!
Day 2: Honor Among Thieves. Sorta (But No, Not Really).


And now for the continuation . . .


DAY 3: Making the Best of Things.

Despite the rather crummy circumstances of losing my bag the previous afternoon, I woke up to a much better mood on the day I was set to depart Isla Col√≥n and head across the bay to Isla Bastimentos. But since I wasn't getting picked up until late afternoon, I decided while the morning was still young to do as much as I could on this, the much more populous, island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago.

I had heard about a beach way out toward the northernmost point of the island called Boca del Drago. And in particular, a very nice stretch called "Starfish Beach," a 15 minute walk away from Drago. I planned to find my way there and just hike the shore with my camera in tow.

I ran into the owner of the hotel who inquired into how I was feeling. I mentioned that, despite being out $800 hard cash, I was strangely much more relieved that I had been returned my expensive electronics (chiefly my new iPad, which was thankfully fingerprint locked) and travel documents. And, to be sure, I was also happy that not all of the cash had been discovered. At least they hadn't taken the $400 as well!

I mean, hey, that's just the kind of person I am. Always looking for the brighter side of things. The important thing was that I had recovered the bag, and that everything *except* for some cash had been returned. The owner agreed and mentioned that it was "just money," -- a casual flippancy I couldn't exactly duplicate, I must confess -- and recommended that I have some breakfast at her restaurant while the receptionist (a different lady from the day before, but equally nice) tracked down their favorite personal driver to take me to the other side of the island. It was a 30 min drive there, and the public bus in town could take me for $5 if I so desired -- but a private cab would be far more comfortable and leisurely, and I could also take better photos along the way. It was only going to cost me $25, so I said: hell, why not? Don't have to sell me twice!

So after a perfectly normal American-style breakfast and coffee, the driver Rolando showed up and we were off to the beach!

Rolando was a jovial and entertaining cabbie, I must say. He drove an SUV, which ended up being a godsend because the roads from Bocas Town to Boca del Drago is quite a mess and full of car-sized potholes. I discovered that it takes 30 mins just to get to the other side of the island because you pretty much have to crawl or drive a bit off road at various points along the way. Which was fine for me since it allowed Rolando and I a chance to chat in more of that now ubiquitous "Spanglish" I was getting so accustomed to on this trip.

Through his halting English and my extremely basic Spanish from high school, I learned that most of the locals had been preparing for a cultural festival and parade that was going to take place in the afternoon, and so the beach was probably going to be less crowded than usual. Muy bueno, I thought!

Eventually the road became more of a mud-and-wet sand suggestion rather than asphalt, and there were even a few downed palm trees partly blocking the way that we needed to drive wide around. Wow, was this the main road to get to the beach? According to Rolando, it wasn't; but he thought I would enjoy this way better as it was how locals and resident expats reached the beach.

H'okay, if you say so dude.

He dropped me off at a spot where fishermen normally relaxed with their boats. It was basically just an open sandy launch nestled between a jetty and a snack stand. It was still too early for the stand to be open, and the fisherman were nowhere to be seen. I had the entire place all to myself! Rolando pointed out that beyond the jetty was the main beach, and that much farther after that was Starfish Beach. It was 10am at that point, and through mangled words in each other's languages and, I guess, a great deal of hand gesturing, I understood that he was going to leave me there now, and would I kindly endeavor to meet him back at this very spot at 2:00pm?

To which I said to the cabbie: "Yo homes, smell ya later!"

Okay, no, I didn't actually say that to Rolando. But I did give him the thumbs up and told him I'd be back at the agreed upon time. And with that, he drove off and I was left all by myself on this deserted paradise.




Time to get hiking!

As I wasn't interested in staying at the Boca del Drago site, I picked out a trail through the palm trees and walked right past the beach on the way to Starfish. The trek was surreal in that it was just me and nature all around me. Trees, wind, sand ... and the gentle lapping sounds of the Caribbean filling my ears. I took plenty of photos which you can see below, but which simply do not do justice to the awe and majesty of actually being there in person:













This last photo above was as taken as I approached Starfish Beach, where eventually I began to run into one or two people every 5 minutes or so, and who were all traveling in the opposite direction away from where I was headed. I didn't know what that was about, but I took it as a good sign that I was going in the right direction where people were. Keep in mind that I did not have a map on hand, and instead was simply using the coastline and keeping the sea always to the west of me as my general guide. This was a simple walk along the beachline, after all -- not a journey into the Congo.

In all it took me 25 minutes to get from Boca del Drago to Starfish; mostly because I kept stopping to to take photos, naturally! But finally I happened upon a lot more activity. Beach huts and food shacks began to spring up left and right, and more and more people were appearing around me as if they had simply materialized out of the trees. I saw more boats, too, ferrying in tourists from back on Drago Beach where I had just hiked from. Apparently they couldn't bother to walk. I guess they were impatient and in a rush to . . . um . . . relax or something. Sheesh!


Taxi waiting to ferry people back to Boca del Drago beach.


I staked out a patch of sand away from most of the revelers and relaxed myself, reading a book and then setting up my mini tripod for some established shots with my cam. Unfortunately, just as I was hitting the shutter release this young, bikini clad, lady in red walked right into my shot! Or, I guess you can actually say *fortunately* ... as in, FOR ME! LOL! Honestly, though, I get the funny feeling that she did it on purpose. She saw me setting up the shot for, like, the 2 minutes it took for her to walk toward me and then past, and she saw me hold up the shutter release chord and make to press it. I think I was photobombed, yo!




Finally, after enough time lounging in the sun and reading, I eventually had a snack nearby of some cut up pineapple and lemonade. I know, strange combo ... but I was feeling a little dehydrated and may have lost a lot of electrolytes from the hike. Plus, I also had to hike back to meet up with Rolando for the drive back into town, so I needed to be well fortified for that exertion.

Once back at my hotel, I had about 90 mins to run down the street and pick up a few souvenirs, then run back to pack. Just before 4pm I paid up my lodging and asked the owner if it was ok to wait on her deck out back for my scheduled water taxi to appear and whisk me off to my next adventure on a totally different island. A more secluded part of Bocas del Toro, where the rainforest was thick and was technically a part of the protected wildlife and marine sanctuary there. It was where I would be spending the next 4 nights.


Continue on to Day 4 ---> (click)

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