We had heard that Bonito Brazil was a must stop on our way back from Iguazu Falls. Bonito is a paradox. Surrounded by open fields filled with cattle, you would never know pockets of jungle with crystal clear water flowing throw rock-bottom rivers are tucked into the folds and crevices of the area.
We had Camping do Gordo to ourselves aside from the occasional young couple escaping what I can only assume were their families prying eyes. The campsite is situated on one of the clear rivers. After acclimating to the cool water, we started our first float downstream. It was so perfectly serene with light refracting off the water’s surface.
Bonito offers plenty of activities, but the real draw is the Rio Prata (Silver River). To visit the river, you drive over dirt roads and past perplexed cows to the jumping off point of the tour. Nestled in lush surroundings is a well manicured base where your procure wet suit and snorkel for a float down the river. A short hike gets you to the starting point of the roughly 2-hour trip. Floating downstream we passed what felt like hundreds of tiny little worlds nestled in tree roots stretched into the river from the banks. The experience is more like scuba diving than snorkeling because you are not fighting with the currents.
G and I were already falling in love with Brazil, and Bonito really sealed the deal for us.
Oh Galapagos, should we or shouldn’t we? In the end taking into consideration time, money and Vida, George and I decided to save Galapagos for a standalone trip when we are again employed. As a consolation prize, we heard about a day trip from Puerto López to Isla de la Plata (silver island) in Machalilla National Park that would set us back $40 USD per person plus a few dollars for the park entrance. Thank the cheap gas in Ecuador for keeping the prices down.
Puerto López beach
Morning fish market on the beach at Puerto López
On the way to the island we spotted a handful of humpback whales. I felt a little guilty as our boats and a few others combed the water for the whales, but our first sighting had me as giddy as a school girl. They are remarkable animals.
The tour then took us to the island which is chock-full of birds including the blue-footed bobbies. When we first laid eyes on the bird, I wondered if we had somehow fallen into Toontown. Our entire group was transfixed watching them act out their mating rituals including a foot to foot dance number performed by the males. After the bobby sightings, we hiked past hundreds of frigatebirds. Also found on the island are red-footed bobbies, albatrosses, pelicans and other seabirds. Since the Waved Albatross found there is critically endangered the hike near their nesting area is closed, so we were unable to get a glimpse of the elusive bird.
Five turtles turned up around our boat as we were getting ready to leave the island. A fitting farewell to a wonderful few hours spent appreciating the island wildlife.
We wrapped up the day with some snorkeling. No one in the group lasted longer than 30 minutes in the water because of the cool weather. The snorkeling was pretty decent though. If you take the tour which I highly recommend, definitely take layers. It’s pretty chilly on the crossing from the mainland to the island. We went with Machalilla Tours which worked out well for us.
Once we got Vida tucked away safe and sound in a shipping container on Thursday, it was time to get ourselves from Panama City to Cartagena, Colombia. Of course we opted for a sailboat with George being the sailor he is and me being a wannabe sailor who is determined to nip her chronic seasickness in the bud. Our shipping partner Eric (www.trans-americas.com) worked some magic and managed to get us on the 85 foot (18 meters) Independence sailboat on Friday morning (originally the Independence was set to leave on Thursday). We would sail through the San Blas islands populated by the native Kuna people. Incidentally, the Kuna won independence from Panama in 1925 to govern themselves. They are ranked as some of the happiest people in the world and have managed to find a balance between maintaining their traditional ways and supporting their people through entrepreneurial efforts.
A jeep picked us up at 5:30 am on Friday morning from a hostel in Panama City. We would drive to Carti, a very small port on the Caribbean Sea and from there take a water taxi out to the Independence. We had heard the road out to Carti was terrible, but it turned out to be a much shorter ride than we were anticipating. They didn’t spare us from some carsickness on the windy steep road though. Soon enough we were off weaving through the river and then out into the open water to hop aboard. After the anxiety of shipping the car, we were all ready to kick up our feet and relax.
Being a large boat, the Independence had ample room to whittle your hours. The captain was a character, which seems like a job requirement to be a sailboat captain. He was originally from Slovenia, and had been sailing for the last 30 years. He took to the G very quickly as they swapped sailing stories and dirty jokes. After months in the car with me, G finally had an audience that appreciated his material. I tried to ignore the captain’s conspiracy theory rants, but was entertained by his sailing stories. There was talk of a mutiny once on his ship that he forcibly crushed and some funny stories about an all female Swedish crew. You can use your imaginations. The food included a lot of fresh seafood and the small crew did their best to prepare vegetarian meals for me. George and I had our own cabin, but really limited our time there. It was dirty and run down, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see any cockroaches. I quickly dubbed it the roach motel. We ended up sleeping on deck every night, which worked out well with the fresh sea breeze.
The next few days we swam, snorkeled, and visited a small number of the Kuna islands. Many of the tiny islands are occupied by a single Kuna family. We had the pleasure of enjoying a bonfire on one such island. Two young sisters played around the edges of our circle, the best of friends and not a care in the world. It’s not difficult to understand why the Kuna people are so content with life.
On Monday evening, we anchored in front of Cartagena. In the morning, we would depart on the next leg of our journey. All things considered, our little shipping party had an amazing time touring the San Blas islands and getting introduced to the Kuna people.