Santa Catalina: the end of another road…

We meet lots of people on the road, and everyone has an opinion.  The question in Panama was which coastal town is better, Santa Catalina or Bocas.  We consulted with locals and foreigners alike and decided we shall visit both.  After a quick visit to Bocas, we hopped in Vida for an easy-breezy eight-hour coast-to-coast drive.  If anybody is keeping track, this is +1 for two oceans one day.

The two-minute research we did for camping spots in town told us to drive to ‘the end of the road’ and look for Oasis Surf Camp.  I vaguely remembered reading something about a water crossing but didn’t make much of it.  Turned out to be a small river, which fortunately wasn’t much of a problem for Vida.

We set camp on the beach thanks to some help from our friendly Italian host David. Our initial plan was to spend only two days here, but we liked the place enough to stay 5 days/4 nights.  We did some walks around town, found an awesome bakery and I did some surfing.  It wasn’t Internet surfing for a change… The highlight of our Santa Catalina visit was a scuba/snorkeling trip to the largest and most remote marine reserve in Panama – Isla Coiba.

Coiba National Park is a World Heritage Site.  The island used to be Panama’s Alcatraz until ten years ago.  The prison was known for torture and murder of some of the inmates, so the locals avoided the place.  This helped preserve the park’s amazing marine life and also the island itself.  According to Wikipedia, over 75% of the island is forested where the majority of this is ancient forest.  Let me just tell you, the island is huge and it is far off the coast …  We explored only a tiny smidge of the marine park, and it was fantastic.  We saw tons of really large fish including white tip and bull sharks, large rays, dolphins, turtles, stonefish and a massive schools of barracudas.  The coral was in very good shape as well.

I did three dives and Teresa snorkeled.  Can you believe Teresa saw three bull sharks while snorkeling and did not freak out?! Oh, and she successfully retrieved her snorkel after dropping it off the boat and diving right after to get it … The snorkel was well on his way down to the bottom, some thirty meters below.  That was some impressive stuff T!




Bocas – island cruising

We mentioned to one of the guys in Boquete that we were planning to visit Santa Catalina. He strongly encouraged us to visit Bocas instead.  We thought, why not?  It’s the Caribbean. The drive to Bocas was along a windy mountain road.  At one point, we had to pass through some check point. It was unclear to us the purpose of this checkpoint other than to deliver instructions for George to put a shirt on (he often drives shirtless because of the heat). Now, if you know George, you know he doesn’t like to be told what to do. Immediately after the checkpoint, he disrobed and ranted for the next 30 minutes about the encounter. I tuned out.

We had decided to leave Vida on the mainland and take a water taxi from Almirante. Driving into town, my hopes for Bocas were squashed. Almirante is run down and dirty. We were almost immediately tailed by a fella on a bike. He finally caught up to us at a stop sign. He of course had the solution to all of our problems, if we would just follow him. Normally these situations end poorly, but he led us to a very secure parking area complete with 6 dogs, 2 of which were rottweilers. I believe that rottweilers have one purpose in life, and that is to eat me, so I cowered in the car while George took care of the details.  We made it safely to the water taxi, and for $4, we arrived in Bocas after 30 minutes.  We hoofed it to the hostel where a lovely Italian showed us around.

The following day, we decided to rent some cruisers and bike out to Bluff Beach to do some wave frolicking.  The beach was stunning with clear blue and turquoise water.  On the way back we stopped at a beachside bar, since we had earned some cold beverages with all the biking and then the unimaginable happened.  George located the only other Bulgarian in Central American.  Oh the Bulgarian pride was oozing off of him.

After a fresh fish lunch, we headed back to the hostel.  We planned to take it easy that evening, because we needed to be on the 6am water taxi to make the pacific coast that afternoon.


Paradise found – Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

First, let me set your expectations as ours were set.  Anytime we’ve asked where to visit in Costa Rica, Ticos and foreigners alike practically beg us to go to the Osa peninsula in the southwest of the country.  A number of friends had also done trekking trips in Corcovado National Park on the peninsula, and said it was some of the best hiking they had every done.  The stage is now set.

We headed to Carate, the nearest village to the park. Our first mission was to find secure parking for the hike since we just can’t leave our beloved Vida any old place. We pulled into the Lookout Inn hoping to get some advice for the price of two cold beers. Our thirst for cold beer has never led us astray. We had the pleasure of meeting the owners/operators who kindly offered us a parking space for 3 days.  They also suggested that we have a look around their property.  The main guest area of the inn is perched on a hill in a lush tropical setting.  You’re first struck by the view of the ocean and peninsula, but then start to notice all of the wildlife (humming birds, iguanas, parrots, etc.).  We also took a walk up their ‘Stairway to Heaven’ at the end of which we came across a Tapir.  Now, I had no knowledge of Tapirs before this very moment.  Consider what would pop out if an elephant and pig could mate. We camped out that evening on the beach close to the inn.  George also took a guided tour around the gardens looking for frogs.  Predictably, I passed on this one.

The next day we set off on the 22km hike to the Sirena ranger station where we would spend 2 nights. Your hike must be timed with the tides because there is one beach section that can’t be crossed during hide tide. The day started off with rain, but considering this is a hot beach hike, rain is not such a bad thing. The downside of the rain is fewer critter sightings, but we more than made up for this later.  George carried the big pack with lion’s share of our food for 3 days.  I felt a little guilty that he had to lug all that weight, but also took notice that he was hiking slower than usual.  The heavy canned food was acting like a George anchor, and I could actually keep up with him (I didn’t really feel guilty after that).  After 3 river crossings we finally made it to the station and were shown our bunks.  I had several blisters and cuts from the hike.  Luckily Dr. Ionkov was around to clean, treat and bandage me up.

The following day we did some shorter hikes around the station.  We saw lots of monkeys, a family of anteaters, another eyelash viper, a tapir and a boa constrictor.  That evening, we tried to eat up the heavy canned food and planned to eat tuna for breakfast.  There is nothing appetizing about canned tuna at 5 am, let me tell you.

On the way out of the park, I relied heavily on my early warning system for snakes (G walked ahead of me tapping his hiking pole).  We came across 5 snakes and came away bite free.  That’s a check for the early warning system.  The hike out was much hotter.  At one point I was completely overheated, so Dr. Ionkov stepped in to wash my face and force me to hike in my sports bra.  The shirt I had chosen to hike in wasn’t breathable, so it felt like my own personal hot box.  I didn’t look so pretty the rest of the way out, but I made it on my own two feet.

The beach hiking in the heat is definitely a slog, but the pristine beaches and bustling jungle more than make up for it.



Puerto Jimenez, Osa Peninsula

On the way to Corcovado National Park we stopped at Puerto Jimenez to buy park permits and get trail information.  After we got everything squared in town we decided to set camp at one of the local beaches for the night.  We woke up to paradise like jungle.  Here are the pictures from a quick five minute walk on the beach.  Amazing…

Update:  After we came back from Corcovado we came back to the same beach.  The first night here was awesome so we decided to sleep at the same spot again.  The next morning turned out that we were sleeping fifty meters from a fantastic hotel (Perla De Osa) on the beach that has a super cool bar on the first floor with wifi, cold showers and amazing fresh fruit juices …  Yes, we stayed for two more nights :).  Also added some more pictures.