Panama for sale

Trip Start Sep 28, 2007
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Trip End Jun 25, 2008


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Flag of Panama  ,
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We got a great welcoming to Panama: a large procession of children dressed up in white suits and long boots with drums. Actually they were celebrating independence. It was a fairly tame affair but it was getting live coverage on the local news channel for hours.

We raced from the border at Sixalola to  Changuinola where we waited for a ferry. It was a pretty spot with lillies trying to fill in the river and jungle coming down to the water's edge.

There was a cute little girl there with a pink balloon, her hair in pigtails and a tee shirt that said 'I'm expensive.' No parents of little girls would disagree with that; mine certainly wouldn't.

The boat went down the river close to the coast and then came out into the bay and on to Bocas del Toro, which literally means mouths of the bull. The area is an archipelago of islands on the Caribbean side.

I found it too touristy  with real estate agents every 10 metres, 'for sale' signs everywhere and cynical tour operators lamenting that the very thing that made the place, the relaxed beauty, was now gone.(All the property in Panama seems to be for sale actually.)

We went on a catamaran boat for a snorkeling trip. First we went to  dolphin bay where they didn't disappoint, swimming around slapping their tails down on the water.

Then we went to a little mangrove island and went snorkeling. The water was so clear, I didn't feel like I was looking through water. The coral and algae was amazing, so colourful. It was the living version of the crazy Jade Seahorse place we saw in Utila with its mosaics of all things bright and shiny glued together.  The line from The Beatles song 'the octopus's garden, in the shade' came into my head.  There were sponges that looked like huge purple goblets with spindly, hairy black starfish  stretched around them like tinsel;  potato chip algae that looks like thin chips curling around like lettuces with scalloped lacy edges; green balls like bunches of grapes and  little algae bubbles full of fresh water within the membrane that look like black pearls in nooks everywhere. Also, bright orange and red starfish, anemones with tendrils moving like  branches in the underwater breeze with their resident fish, and so many sardines they formed a rippling, silver curtain. The coral came right up to the mangroves and then you could see fish living in the roots of the mangroves.  I wish I had had an underwater camera with me.

That night we went to a restaurant called Lemongrass and I had the first authentic Thai curry since leaving New Zealand. By the end of my green  fish curry, sweat was pouring off me but I felt so refreshed. They had neat cane woven lampshades that continued up the cord to the ceiling, similar to the goblet sponges  we had seen under the water during the day.

The next day we took the public bus to the other end of the island to go to dragas beach. High tide and with no sand to lie on, there was grumbles in the group of girls who went at first, but then the sun came out and lying on the concrete pier or on the grass was lovely.

 I saw a transparent needle fish with a tiny bit of blue ink colour on its side swimming under the pier and it was funny to see the birds standing on posts from the old pier, all facing the the same direction as though on military duty and waiting for orders.

There was a friendly golden lab there who was heavily pregnant. She kept standing in the sea with the water just lapping over her bulging belly. I wondered if the pups inside were enjoying their cool off.

The bus ride back was packed with people, bikes and prams. So much so that passengers were getting out the windows when they got to their stop.

One lady in our group got to nurse a baby that was plopped on her lap while the caregiver stood in the aisle and  we were all amazed to see her hand the baby out the window to another woman and stay on the bus later in the trip. Like transporting a sack of potatoes it seemed.

That night I decided to check out the nightlife but it was pretty dead. We got a water taxi over to the Blue Monday bar, which was supposed to be the happening place on a Monday night. It was a dive of a place, with crackling speakers, five people and one light bulb for the bar, dance floor and outside deck area on the water, Luckily we had a moon and the gin was strong.  We came back and checked out a few spots onshore. One had a deck over the water with a boat wreck in a large hole in the centre with  fish swimming about. The sign said "Swim at your own risk. Everything cut you."

I still think the Hotel Parque where we stayed had the best drinking spot, with its fantastic  upstairs veranda overlooking the central park.


 
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Where I stayed
Hotel Parque

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