Brilliant Bocas

Trip Start Aug 12, 2010
Trip End Sep 23, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hostal Hansi

Flag of Panama  , Bocas del Toro,
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hi all,

After our local bus journey from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca we made to the border. The border consisted of a very old, rickety and rusted rail bridge. We carefully walked across the wooden planks that acted as a path, being careful not to fall into the gaps and consequently fall into the running river below, and ultimately to our death (Thomas is so over-dramatic!) It is by far our strangest border crossing! Once we reached the otherside we got our passports stamped and got a taxi to Alimante, the port town for the Bocas del Toro island and archipelago. This area of Panama is nicknamed "The Mouth of the Bull" and consists of around 300 islands, but only a few are inhabited. The boat trip cost $7 for a return and was well worth-it, it was fast, furious and alot of fun! Especially with the onboard elephant that suffocated Hollie for the 45 minute journey and upon arrival threatened to capsize our boat; taking 5 people to re-arrange in order to balance the boat out.

As soon as we stepped on the island we knew we were going to like it. Bocas is much cleaner and developed than the Caribbean islands we had visited previously. It also catered for more upmarket tourists as there were luxury suite hotels and private lodges. Therefore, we opted to stay at Hostal Hansi. This was a lovely place and we really enjoyed our stay. It is probably the best hostel we have stayed in so far. We did plan to only stay for 1 night and then move onto Red Frog Beach, but loved it so much that we decided to stay put and visit Red Frog Beach in a day.

We had 4 days to spend on Bocas del Toro, this was really nice as it meant not having to move on and carry our bags. It was the first time we could truly relax and not have to worry about catching the bus or deciding where we would be staying the next day. Our time spent here was relaxing, playing cards on our balcony and drinking beers which were only $0.60c (about 45p)!!! We would of gone to the beach more often but to be honest it was cloudy most the time and we hated those pesky sand-flies (give me a mosquito any day).

On our second day we took a tour of the archipelago. The boat tour visited Dolphin Bay, two snorkeling sights, a quick jungle tour on Red Frog Island and a 2 hour stop on Red Frog Beach. We took off at 9.30am, first making the trip to Dolphin Bay. We both were very excited to see dolphins in the wild, but were dubious whether we would see any or not. We arrived at Dolphin Bay with an optimistic naivety that we would be the only boat and the cove would not be over-run with tourists. After watching Dolphin Cove, Hollie feels a sense of guilt participating in dolphin tours. But hypocrite that she is, she signed the dotted line and happily went along! Unfortunately, there were at least 4 other boats full with tourists, and we were both worried that the dolphins would be too scared to surface. Our guide stopped the boat engine as we waited for the 1st sighting of the dolphins......

Then all of a sudden one of the other boats started its engine and moved to another part of the bay, we knew that dolphins had been spotted. We made our way over and could see a small baby dolphin coming up to the surface. We were told that dolphins can stay under water for a maximum of 5 minutes before they need to re-surface. They also breathe voluntary, meaning they are able to commit suicide if they wish not to re-surface (very sombre Thomas!). After we sighted the baby we knew that other dolphins were around as they swim in schools, so our guide followed the baby. A few moments later there were about four adult dolphins within metres of us. They seemed very relaxed and had obviously adapted to the boats and droves of tourists.

Once these set of dolphins disappeared we all waited again for another sight of them. I have to say it is more exciting than I expected waiting for a sighting, a sense of apprehension and hope. Suddenly our guide started his engine and we sped off to the otherside of the bay, leaving the other boats behind. We wondered whether our guide was mad when he started to move the boat in circles; creating a swirl of waves. But as soon as the dolphins started to follow our boat and ride the waves that were being created we all ooohed and wowed in appreciation. At the peak of each wave we could see them swimming and spinning underneath the water, and they then would jump up out of the water or flip their back flippers up. It was just amazing, knowing that wild dolphins are naturally playful and we had seen them outside of a glass tank. Here they were in the wild, metres from us.

Other boats had started the same trick and dolphins were riding their waves. It was a better view from here as we could see the dolphin jumping from the side and I managed to film a jump in full. We were concerned that we wouldn't see any, let alone see them playing with us and showing off. We were not left disappointed and if the day had ended there then we would of been more than happy.

We made our way out of Dolphin Bay and onto another island. Here we stopped for a snack before going onto our 1st snorkeling sight. Instead of going to the regular spot, our guide took us to a less trodden area of the reef. Here the coral was much brighter and developed, there were many little fish like the Rainbow and Sergent Majors (yellow with one black stripe). After acting as Scuba Steve and Scuba Sally our guide took us to the regular "tourist" sight. Here is was clear to see that tourists had trodden on the coral, causing it to be badly damaged or dead. This was really disappointing and shows how tourism is destroying this fragile habitat (what hypocrites we are!). On the upside there were bigger fish here including large Parrot Fish. Thomas also saw the recently introduced Lion Fish. Due to climate change these fish have migrated south from America and are now killing off all the other fish. The introduction of the Lion Fish has seen a depletion in smaller fish and certain types of coral. To counteract this problem it is now legal to fish and kill them.

From the 2nd snorkeling sight we went in sight of the critically endangered sloth. There are only around 100 3-toed sloth in the whole world and they live here, on one small island. It is thought that the sloth was not always slow and sleepy. Over time they have adapted this way as their diet has increasingly become poorer, so to conserve energy they have large bellies to store food and a very small amount of muscle mass. They also have long toes so they can hang and climb without consuming much energy. They have become endangered because they have become an enemy of their own evolution. They don't have the capacity to conceive and produce off-spring causing numbers to diminish. So to see one was very rare and something which we feel very lucky about.

As we passed the trees they were very hard to see. Our guide directed our eyes to one hanging in the tree but still neither of us could see it. At this point our guide decided to get off the boat, climb through the mangroves and yank the poor thing from the tree. As he brought it over it looked like a stuffed animal, it was so stiff and still. As you can see from the pictures its not a very pretty animal, almost like sleepy, smelly, stiff monkey! We didn't dare to touch it as its fur was fully matted and covered in moss (plus we felt bad that the guide had literally shaken it out of his sleep). According to scientists this moss is only ever found on sloths and again no where else in the world. Its as if it has created its very own biosphere because it is so immobile.

After our guide put the sloth back on a tree we made our way to Red Frog Island. Here we went for a short jungle tour to see the tiny Poison Dart Red Frogs. Again this seems to be a reoccurring theme, but this is the only place in the whole world where you get Poison Dart Red Frogs. Each of the islands here have different coloured frogs. For instance, on an island just metres away you may get purple or green Poison Dart frogs; these are common in other parts of Central America, but you only get the Red Frogs here. I was very pleased with what we saw and managed to get some great pictures.

Our final destination was on the other side of the island, the Red Frog Beach. Here the sun had come out for us as we swam in the sea and acted like 5 year olds. It was the last time we would be on the beach for a while so we had to make the most of it! In any case it was safer to stay in the water as the beach was full of those pesky sand flies again! Anyhow, we did venture on shore to mark our names on the sand and say a final farewell to Central America.

Bocas del Toro marked the end to Central America as we had our flight to Peru from Panama city. We truly enjoyed every moment of Central America and it has been a great start to our round-the-world journey. There have been some great highlights. Mexico as a whole, snorkeling with sharks in Belize, climbing the live volcano in Antigua (Guatemala), scuba diving in Utila (Honduras), going 5 Star in Cancun, relaxing in Granada City (Nicaragua), swinging through the forest canopy in Monteverde (Costa Rica), riding in the highly entertaining Chicken Buses, and finally seeing all the wildlife in Bocas del Toro, plus all the people we have met along the way!

Bye for now x x x
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