Sunday, January 24, 2010

Panama part 1– Important Meetings on Isla Carenero

Panama part 1– Important Meetings on Isla Carenero

On Christmas day I left the main island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago and took the water taxi to Isla Carenero to meet up with my friends Rahul and Rohan. This was a smaller island and when I arrived at the dock the man who ran the hotel said, “Elizabeth? Here’s your room, they’re waiting for you in the restaurant.” Wow. I got there just in time for what turned out to be our nightly happy hour of margaritas and calamari at our little restaurant called Bibi’s that sat right over the clearest of clear water.

On the left is where we stayed, on the right is Bibi's Restaurant

Our pier

It was Christmas so I came bearing Colombian, mainly edible, gifts for the traveler. For Rahul – aguardiente, which is an anisette liquor, and suero, which is like sour cream, but oh, so much better. For Rohan – arequipe which is a caramel-like dulce de leche. Mmmm sweet goodness. As a novelty for both of them I brought a bottle of mud from Volcan Totumo.

It was not a traditional Christmas to say the least but it was still very pleasant…until it started getting dark and the sand flies came out with a vengeance. The entire backs of my legs got absolutely covered in bites. They itched A LOT. Apparently Isla Carenero is known for these. Unfortunately, sand flies are not deterred by insect repellant.

The next morning we arose with the sunrise and took a little walk around the island.
Sunrise view from outside our room

Kind of scary looking roots

jungly epiphytes

After breakfast the 3 of us decided to kayak to another island called Solarte and go snorkeling. Kayaking was brilliant and the snorkeling was even better. My favorites were little black fish with glowing royal blue dots and the purple sponge.

Kayaking to Solarte

crystal clear water for snorkeling

Rohan and Rahul in the perfect picnic spot, if we'd packed a lunch in the kayak

not a bad view

Rohan kayaking back to Isla Carenero

After our expedition in nature, we took a water taxi into the substantially more populated Bocas Town for lunch at a Mexican restaurant that had an amazing cabbage salad that I would like to replicate.

The first spotting of a pink Royal Ponciana

After an afternoon of lounging, the power went out. We decided for dinner to walk to the other side of the island in the dark to a restaurant called the Cosmic Crab. This goofy name delighted us to no end. Rahul sang a song about it as we walked along our flashlight lit path to the Cosmic Crab. I was again attacked by sand flies.

It was completely dark, but the restaurant was open, making it all the more cosmic. The food wasn’t great, but we did learn something extremely valuable there – coconut oil is sand fly repellant. The owner had bottled her own blend of coconut and essential oils. She usually sold it, but couldn’t find any in the dark. The next morning Rohan was beside himself with itching the bites. Rahul and I walked back to buy some coconut oil from the owner. Not only did the coconut oil blend stop the sand flies from biting, it also soothed the itchiness. From that point forward we referred to the oil as gold.

local sights en route to the Cosmic Crab

Barbies are everywhere

A local pier

Speaking of crabs, they were all over the beach. Since our hotel was right on the beach, I was not terribly surprised to return to find this guy in my bag

After lathering on the gold, we took a water taxi to Isla Bastamientos to go to “Red Frog Beach”. When we got off the boat at the little pier we saw a sign that said Playa with arrows. We blindly followed those up through several people’s gardens and eventually into the jungle. The path ended up being rather muddy and steep and I was slip sliding around in my flip flops covered in mud.

I did see this enormous butterfly though

Oh, the jungle

Finally we made it to a beach. Was it Red Frog Beach? No it wasn’t, it was Playa Primera. It was a gorgeous and uncrowded beach. A family was surfing there. I asked the mom how they got there and she said they had a boat. The waves were small, but better than none, which is how it had been since I arrived in Panama. We spent some time there in the sea and on the sand. Rahul took out his guidebook to see how we could get to Red Frog Beach. There was another trail. This one was even muddier and more perilous. I slid all over the place. How I didn’t fall, I’ll never know. I did end up seeing a little red frog about the size of a quarter on this trail, but he jumped away before I could get his picture.

Walking down Playa Primera

Playa Primera

There were many more people on Red Frog Beach so we knew there was no way they had come the same treacherous two trails that we had. We body surfed, laughed, and generally enjoyed the afternoon there. We ended up sipping a coco frio and finding a very flat, wooden platform path that took about 5 minutes to walk to another pier for our boat ride back.

Red Frog Beach

Rahul and coco frio

No one on the beach was topless. It might have been the wishful thinking of this guy below.

Back on Isla Carenero in front of our hotel the water was amazingly clear. It was also very shallow a far way out. We for some reason decided that it was our office and had meetings there to decide on important things like what to eat next, how we would spend the evening, or what would be our next adventure. Rahul's ceaselessly optimistic spirit and tendency to use superlatives earned him the nickname of Big Baby. Rohan, being Rahul's son, naturally got called Small Baby. After trek through the jungle I received the name Sacagawea. Our nights were often filled with Balderdash, which Rahul won.

Rahul calling a meeting

Rohan and I admiring our meeting room

The next day it was finally time to surf. I’d been hoping to surf since the day I arrived in Panama, but finally the waves were starting to pick up. We rented 2 surf boards and one body board. We hired a water taxi to drop us off at Playa Primera. We had put our things in a dry bag and were dropped off in the water a good swim from the beach. We literally needed to surf our things to the beach. It was windy and cloudy, but there were waves. We had 4 hours there and I wanted to surf as much as possible. I had fun catching waves. There were kids surfing and Rahul got knicked on the head by one of their surfboards. Thankfully he was fine. It started to rain hard and the waves became like a washing machine and completely unsurfable. Eventually it cleared and I surfed the rest of the time while Rahul and Rohan went for a walk along the beach. By the time our water taxi arrived I was exhausted, and despite the rain, had a sunburned nose. No pictures due to the rain.

Others enjoying the meeting room

The next morning was rainy and I was still exhausted. I did not have plans for my vacation after this day except for my ticket back to Barranquilla out of Panama City. Rahul was headed up to Nicaragua and Rohan was flying back to Portland. I considered traveling on with Rahul through Costa Rica and on to Nicaragua, but I really had only seen the very touristy, yet beautiful, archipelago of Bocas del Toro. Considering that I'd be flying out of Panama City that would mean a lot of time on a bus if I went all the way up to Nicaragua. I decided that staying in Panama was in my best interest. I was not disappointed with this decision.

For our last meal we had one of the best fish I’ve ever eaten. It was called a Pompano fish and it was huge and delicious. Four of us shared one fish.

The next morning I bid farewell to Rahul and Rohan and was off to the cooler climate of Boquete.

Bye-Bye Rohan, Isla Carenero, and Bocas del Toro

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