Party in Panama

Trip Start Jul 17, 2008
Trip End Dec 06, 2008

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Where I stayed
Mondo Taitu

Flag of Panama  ,
Thursday, September 25, 2008

5am Left in the canoe (with a whopping great motor at the back) from Tortuga Feliz (Happy Turtle) back to civilisation.  There were about 5 of us headed to Bocas del Toro (islands off north Panama).  Panama border was a heap of fun - glad I was with a groovy bunch of people to keep it lighthearted.  Bridge was dismal, office where you had to get your passport stamped (on the Panama side) was closed for lunch.  We waited an hour or two next to where they dump a load of agent orange onto the trucks carrying produce from Costa Rica and then they charged us (ie, foreigners from 'rich' countries) $5 for the privilege of being in Panama (except Tom the Dutchman because apparently they feel sorry for the Dutch).
Trip over to Bocas wasn't particularly scenic. We decided not to leave from Chinguinola which would have been much more picturesque (as I learned on the return journey).  Stayed at Mondo Taitu for US$9 per night including breakfast!  Place was a dive with no water for most of the day (but they did have wireless internet - well, intermittently) and loads of grungy, spongey, dope-dealing, dole-bludging backpackers.  Care factor of 'staff' was absolute zero.  But hey, for $9 a night (and 50c beers at the bar downstairs), it was a relief for my stretched travel budget and turns out our group had a room pretty much to ourselves which was great because we were a damn fine bunch of people. 
Once you got off this main island, the smaller islands were fantastic.  Name escapes me now but there was a national park ($10 each if the ranger finds you) that was just spectacular - that's the Caribbean you see in the brochures and not too many tourists because you have to get there by boat and I guess the national Park fee turns off the el cheapo backpacker crowd.  Snorkelling was pretty good - I'm sure I saw a small reef shark swimming away from me not far off shore.  Very colourful fish and stingrays etc.. 
One particularly freakish event was when Susa (the German girl) looked down in the water where she was paddling and saw a tiny turtle.  We think it was a Hawksbill turtle because it had a very unusual shell.  It looked like it was pretty well buggared and could barely get its little nostrils out of the water to get some oxygen which it tried to do on several occasions.  We tried to help it by giving it a break and holding it out of the water for a bit, then Susa attempted to carry it out into the current a bit to hopefully help it on its way.   Very doubtful that it will survive but you just never know - pretty special moment all the same.  We couldn't help think it was quite a coincidence that the 'turtle' people should encounter such a thing.  Long live turtles - I love 'em.

I didn't get the camera out much (at all) in Panama so most of these photos are care of Susa!  Hope you don't mind Susa.
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