Sea, sunshine and shells

Trip Start Jan 18, 2012
Trip End Apr 30, 2012

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Where I stayed
Villa Romantica

Flag of Panama  , Panamá,
Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Sunday morning we left Panama City to fly to the Pearl Islands, situated 30 miles off Panama’s Pacific coast. 

We checked in for the short flight at the domestic airport and had a bit of a shock as, having completely overlooked the baggage restrictions, we were stung for a hefty excess baggage charge.  Then, as we sat waiting in the departure lounge, we were approached by airline staff who advised us that the plane was going to be overweight and that, as our bags were the heaviest, we could only take one of them with us on the flight and the other would follow on the 4.00 pm flight.  We reluctantly agreed to this arrangement.  Just before boarding however, they came back with some good news.  One passenger had not arrived for the flight and so they would be able to take both bags.

We flew on a little 18 seat Cessna and had seats immediately behind the pilot and co-pilot who seemed to spend most of the 30 minute flight adjusting their sun visors.   There are over 90 Pearl Islands but just a handful are inhabited.  We were going to the most visited, the tiny Isla Contadora.  We bounced down onto the short runway and were met by golf carts from the various hotels on the island.

At the Villa Romantica we had to wait for our room to be ready but were happy to sit for a while on their verandah overlooking the fine white sand beach sipping our “welcome drinks”.  The hotel is run by an Austrian and is a bit kitsch.  A series of circular balconies with concrete balustrades inlaid with pebbles and shells, and connected by flights of steps, cascade down to the beach like a procession of Wurlitzers.  In fact shells feature heavily everywhere in the hotel, including in the bathrooms where the walls are covered from ceiling to floor in shells.  The rooms all have names (we are in Romantico Uno) and feature semi erotic décor.  Initially we weren’t quite sure what to make of the place.  It was all a little run down and in need of some TLC.  What’s more it seemed crowded and noisy.  Then we remembered it was Sunday.   An hour or two later all the weekenders had left and it became blissfully peaceful.  After an afternoon on the beach and a pretty good meal at night under the stars we were beginning to really like it.

On Monday morning we set out to explore the island a bit.  It was only a mile wide and a mile and a half long and so this didn’t take much time.  The American visitors seemed to like to hire golf carts to get around but we decided to be British and walk (the $30 an hour rental charge might have had something to do with that decision too).  Isla Contadora translates as the accountants’ island as this was where the Spanish recorded the pearls harvested from all the nearby islands.  It has a couple of claims to fame - it was here that the TV series “Survivor” was filmed and the island was also once home to the Aga Khan.  Many rich and famous people still have homes here today.  Some of these we glimpsed through security gates as we wandered around the island.  In the centre of the island though we found more modest dwellings and some unspoilt jungle.  We spotted a few coatis and agoutis wandering around and also one small deer.  The birdlife was prolific - eagles, herons, pelicans, cormorants, little green parrots, tiny hummingbirds and lots of others which, in our ignorance, we could not identify.

Then it was back to the beach for a dip in the warm turquoise waters where briefly we spared a thought for those poor people who aren’t retired and have to go to work on a Monday morning!

On Tuesday it was Keith’s birthday.  Unsurprisingly he elected to spend the day on the beach.  There was hardly a breath of wind and it was a very hot day, requiring frequent dips in the sea as well as the consumption of many cold beers.  As usual we ate in the hotel that night.  There were a couple of other eating places in the village but our hotel restaurant was regarded as the best on the island and we certainly enjoyed the meals we had there.  (The food was good and actually served hot!)  It was lovely to eat out under the canopy of stars and listen to the sea lapping on the sand below us and the night sounds of the insects and other creatures of the jungle all around us.  It had been a most relaxing few days.

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