Bocas del toro

Trip Start Mar 18, 2009
Trip End Apr 02, 2009

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Where I stayed
La Coralina

Flag of Panama  , Bocas del Toro,
Saturday, March 28, 2009

On Isla Colon, we stayed at La Coralina, a small hotel north of the hustle and bustle of Bocas Town.
Isla Colon is the most developed of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, and on the southern end of the island is the tourist ghetto of Bocas Town.  That is where you can find cheap hostels, bars, restaurants, day trips, bric-a-brac and various other items.  All-in-all though, it isn't too hectic compared to other destinations.
We're a few miles north of that, but its a 25 minute, $15 cab ride to get there, and a 4WD is required if you're attempting to get there.  So we're on the hustle and bustle island, but well away from it all.
La Coralina is run by a Minnesotan gal who is constantly busy running her hotel.  Busy in a good way...she's always making sure everybody is well taken care of.  In addition to the normal hotel duties, she is arranging tours, helping us modify flights, and when we decided to stay in Bocas for another night, she even helped us book a room in another hotel in town - because she didn't have a room for us.
So she is an awesome hostess.   
The first couple days we chilled out around the hotel - its a good place to just relax.  We met another really nice family from Minnesota that was travelling with their 5-year-old Juna.  So we kind of merged together for a while and let the kids enjoy some kid time...a well-needed respite from all the adult interaction they had been getting.
Then on the second day, we booked a trip with Erwin, a Belgian naturalist who is something of a local expert on the flora and fauna of the area.  He really knows his stuff when it comes to the poison dart frogs, butterflies, and anything else living aroud here.  He's even discovered new frogs around here!
So our goal for the day was:
            -Cacao Plantation
            -and whatever else we could fit in.
What we got was:
            -Cheating wives and machete's
            -A new 2nd mate
            -Poison dart frogs
            -Cacao Plantation
            -Lunch (without any money)
            -Stranded, boat breakdown
So it was quite the day.
Oh, more details you aks?  Alright.
When we met Erwin, we told him the things we wanted to do for the day.  One of which - the cacao plantation is a bit off the beaten path, and the only time the owner had available to give us a personalized tour was around 1:30 PM.  So Erwin suggested that we reverse the normal itinerary.  This proved to cause problems for Ronaldo's (Erwin's helper) wife.
So our first stop was to look at some 3 toed sloth's.  These are cool animals that hang in trees and make turtles seem shifty and quick.  Near Erwin's house there are some sloths hanging out in a tree.  Since it would take them a week to get to the next tree, he was pretty sure they would still be there.
Well, Ronaldo happens to live next to Erwin, and the sloth's.  When we park the boat, he tells Erwin he has to use the toilet really bad.
"Rapido, rapido", instructs Erwin.
So we're looking at a wasp hive, Erwin gets a phone call.
"I have to go if you don't mind, there might be trouble."
30 minutes later Erwin returns with the story.
Ronaldo walked in and caught wife and his best friend, ahem, studying the thread count on the new bed linens.  Ronaldo became very distressed that they doubted that these bed sheets were indeed 800 thread count Egyptian cotton, beause he had verified it himself.  Oh, and the sex might have ruffled his feathers a bit too.
So Ronaldo's reaction was to punch his wife, knocking her to the ground.  Then, he went for the machete.
Erwin's wife heard the rucus, and went over and jumped in between them, keeping them apart from each other.  According to Erwin, without that action, Ronaldo would have surely cut them apart.
Heck of a start to the trip.
So, Ronaldo was replaced by Erwin's 8-year old daughter, Nicky. 
Next, poison dart frogs.  These are the guys that secrete poisons that will kill you if the get into your system.  Tiny, bright, beautiful, deadly. 
Next, dolphin bay. 
In Dolphin Bay, we followed around a couple familes of dolphins.  They would come up for air every coulple minutes, and we were lucky enough to see a couple of them jump completely out of the water.
Then, on to the cacao Plantation.
I guess there is some kind of gringo land ownership deal that required gringos to do something with their land if they wanted t maintain ownership of their acreage of Panamanian land.
Many gringos just bought a few cows (I always marvel how ineffective most laws eventually are).  Having some grazing cows totally depletes the land, so to be more eco-conscious, these gringo's built a cacao plantation.
Cacao.  I learned a few things about cacao.  First, it grows in the shady part of a jungle, under the canopy.  And the cacao grows in pods which, when busted open, provide access to the almond-sized seeds, and a tangy, fruity white pulp.  A very surprising tastte, and nothing reminiscent of chocolate.
They harvest the pods when ripe, then ferment the seeds and pulp for about a week.  Then, they dry the seeds in the sun  for another 3 weeks.  Finally, they roast the seeds for 30 minutes - much like coffee.
Then they grind the seeds, discarding the husks.  Further grinding produces a more fine powder, and eventully it has a consistency of thick chocolatte cake batter.  This is 100% chocolate.  Plain and simple.
Chocolate that we are accustomed to is a percentage of real chocolate.  The first thing most companies do is harvest the cocoa butter and sell it for cosmetic purposes.  Then they replace that oil with soy oil, waxes, and other things to keep the consistency right.  Finally, they add sugar, milk, other things to make it sweet enough for our palatte.
Not this place, 100% pure chocolate.  Bitter, but they say it is gangbusters for cooking.  Actually, I like the chocolate 'nips'.  Coarse ground chunks of roasted cocoa beans.  It has a taste reminiscent of coffee. 
Finally, off to snorkelling.  The primary goal of the day.
But first, food. 
Uhhh, problem.  We spent all of our money on chocolate. 
We ask Erwin if the restaurant takes credit card.  He says yes, although we are sceptical.
So we get to Coral Cay, a good distance from the home.  30 minutes by boat.  Guess what, no credit cards.  So instead of a nice relaxing lunch on top of the water, we're asking ourselves (and the proprieters), what can we get for $14?
Eventually, we're forced to swallow pride, and Erwin will run a tab.  We can pay Erwin once we get back to Bocas Town, and Erwin will pay the restaurant back.
Oh, the shame of it.  I don't know why we feel that way - we're good for it - but nonetheless, it was a bit uncomfortable borrowing money from someone we don't know.
Nothing nullifies one uncomfortable situation quicker than another uncomfortable situation. 
We get into he boat, and Erwin turns the key, intending to spark life into his 4-stroke outboard.
"Is no problem.  Corrosion."
Fair enough.  Lots of salt water here.
10 minutes later, "we might have a problem", Erwin sheepishly states.
Another 30 minutes of troubleshooting, and we determine that the battery lead is the problem, and it has now broken off.  With tools, not a big problem, but 30 minutes from home without tools, a minor problem.
Eventually, we are able to mash the frayed ends of the cable firmly enough onto the batery terminals to draw enough current to start the motor.  But the rest of the day is shot.  We can't risk being out in the ocean and not being able to start the motor.
So back to Isla Colon we go.  In order to take the most direct route home, we take a shortcut through mangrove forests of Bastimentos National Marine Park.
The mangroves have a certain peacefulness to them.  Number one, nobody else is there.  Every now and again you see a tiny settlement and a dugout canoe but other than that you are all alone.  The seas are like glass because you're sheltered on all sides by the mangroves.
Erwin warns us, "I have to drive fast so I don't bottom out.  But don't worry, its OK."
So at top speed, we're cruising through the glassy water of the mangroves.  Then, we come to a dead end.  Why isn't Erwin slowing down?  Ah, amigo, do you see that wall of mangroves in front of us?
Suddenly at top speed, Erwin banks hard right and slips us into a small and previously hidden channel, a channel that is about twice the width of the boat.  It was fun.  We had plenty of trust in Erwin, so we sat back and enjoyed the ride.
Eventually, we got to town, and to an ATM and paid Erwin for 50% of his fare, plus the money we owed him for lunch.  Unfortunately, he couldn't get his boat started again (good thing that didn't happen in the middle of the ocean), so he had to get towed home.
The next day we finally got to do some snorkelling.  It was good.  Lots of pretty, colorful coral.  Not a great variety of fish, and nothing too exotic, but the coral was very nice.
And the best part, no boat breakdowns.
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vjcarls on

Great post with lots of adventure, loved it. Time to come home and rest. See ya soon.

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