Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Identity Crisis

The Ngöbe are very active on these islands and can be seen everywhere you go. It was great to see that they have found a way to make their way in this world among the crazy tourism projects sprouting up all over.  
Ever meet someone who hasn't figured it out yet? Maybe you're one of them.  I'd like to think that those are good traits because I'm still figuring it out myself.  When we moved from Coiba Island National Park and headed over to Bastimentos National Park in the Bocas del Toro region, I got the sense that things had changed a bit....and I got the sense of "uncertainty". We passed near La Amistad National Park as we headed over to these hot and tropical islands on the Caribbean side of Panama. The road trip was wonderful because we entered some cloud forest which cooled things down quite a bit before we descended back into the moist soupy temps.  I pulled out my kindle and read looking out my window from time to time. We passed many Ngöbe villages. Most of their homes were on stilts and high above ground.    
We spotted two 3 toed sloths clinging to the mangroves in Bastimentos National Park
Eventually, we got to the port of Almirante which was the hopping off point for Bocas Town. It was quick and easy.  The boat ride was about 4 bucks and so we shot off to Isla Colon.  Within 25 minutes, we arrived at a colorful Bocas Town.  Most of the old homes were painted in hues of blues, pinks, yellows and greens.  This place definitely had a lot of history and charm.  We spent several hours on the main street seeing a lot of tourists for the first time since Panama City.  Bocas is a place for everyone.  If you like to party, there are bars.  If you like to shop, there are stores.  If you like nature, there are national parks.  If you like snorkeling, they have pristine coral reefs. If you just want to chill, tranquilo is the mood you'll find:)
Crabs everywhere. Look all over.  I spotted this quite large crustacean at night.
We ate lunch on the pier and waited for our wonderful guide Karen to take us to Isla Bastimentos where we would spend several nights.  Bocas Town had a cool vibe, but we were looking forward to escaping the tourist scene and exploring a new park.  Another 15 minutes later, we arrived on the secluded part of Bastimentos island.  The place we stayed was La Loma Inn which was located near mangrove waters full of jellyfish and caiman.  It was absolutely beautiful as we hiked our way on a wooden path up the hill towards our place. The lodge was located on the edge of the National Park and had lots of wildlife like sloths, the red frog, butterflies and plenty of birds.
This island is really interesting.  I titled the post "Identity Crisis" because of the development going on.  Bastimentos is quite beautiful and because of this attraction, tourism is wanting its share of this 20 square mile island.  Over half the island is covered in primary and secondary rain forest.  The other portion of the island is covered by nastiness. A little suburb of homes have popped up around the infamous beaches where surfing is premium.  It was irritating going from the lush green and secluded parts of the island to the noisy and trashy beach known as Red Frog.  There were young hopeful surfers and drunk nasty tourists hanging out all over the place. At one point, we needed to catch a truck back to the pier and this gross guy had women all over him who were just as drunk.  Prostitution?  My eyebrow went up which usually means that my gut was dead on about what I had observed. I've learned to trust that instict over the years. So I got off the truck and hiked back to the pier on my own with several newly made friends.  It's amazing the stupidity that will take over certain places of this world.  Luckily we didn't stay long, but we did get a glance at what was going on with a part of the island.  Reckless idiots shot off on their motor boats as they ignored the 20 km signs in the mangrove area.  As a result of their careless action from just the pier, several jellyfish were killed.  We, along with one of the Ngöbe guides, had also found a dead sloth on the beach which was very uncommon. He was clearly upset by the days discoveries. Several kids had the endemic red frogs in their hands charging tourists a quarter to sneak a peak at these beautiful creatures.
These ecosystems are fragile.  Watching a piece of rainforest made me wish we protected more places because the animal and plant life was phenomenal. Our ecolodge was run by 2 people from England and  several people from the nearby Ngöbe community. There was a small cacao plantation that made some delicious chocolate.  They have also been planning on getting their butterfly farm back up and running again. 
A river converts into fresh water as we leave the mangrove forests.
Speaking with many of the people, there seemed to be a general consensus that the island and communities were trying to figure out how they were going to divide things up.  Due to recession, progress has been slowed for now.  The entire Bocas region ten years ago was a secret, but today it has been discovered by the tourism industry and development has taken off.  Capitalists see lots of money signs.  
However, we enjoyed our stay on Bastimentos and there's plenty to do.  We went to Nivida Cave where we discovered bats galore!!  We hiked through water up to our necks. Guides will take you into this dark place so don't enter alone.  Don't bring your cameras as they'll get wet and if you do, PLEASE do not use flash because there are a lot of bats on the cave ceiling. Your guide will provide you with helmets.  Make sure you wear swim trunks and watershoes.  There are plenty of crabs and other scary looking insects all over the cavern walls....also watch out for bat guano:)  I stuck my hands in a pile:) Isn't it supposed to be a good fertilizer for plants?  And aren't they using this stuff on our skin now?
I also met several birders on this trip.  This trip, for me, was more interesting botanically as I read a lot about several tropical trees that grew around the area.  We learned about the cacao plant as well as the Lipstick tree.  Karen's husband Steve, our host at La Loma, knew a lot about plants because he is/was a landscape architect.  We had some great discussions at dinner and they provided me with some wonderful reading material.  I also really liked both of them because they were scifi/fantasy geeks like me....so we got along very well:)
Note the colors at Bocas Town
Apparently there was a funny issue for a couple of my female friends on this trip. They had noticed several ladies with tight shirts.  A question, which I never thought about until that time, popped up.:)  Should women wear bras when they are so uncomfortable to use in humid and nasty weather? The conservative ones definitely agreed that a "nip and tuck" was in order.  However, the other ladies thought it was okay.  I wish the topic had never been brought up because I don't like those things in the back of my mind while I'm trying to have a conversation with someone.  It's like someone who has food on their face.  Do you tell them?  I would, but that's just me.  As for this sensitive issue, I think it's okay.  Traveler tip.  Be ready for many different conversations with many different people during the course of your trip. They can be very educational:) 
If you go to Bastimentos, bring plenty of  bug repellent. The mosquito spray doesn't work with the chitras. There was a coconut/citrus oil we used that kept the chitras off of us.  They sell it on Isla Colon at one of the hotels. These sand flies will ruin your vacation so investigate possible solutions to keep these irritating bugs off of you. Mosquitos are the least of your worries:) We ran out of this magical lotion during our turtle conservation program and then we were slowly attacked on what would be the most difficult of our journey to Panama.  More of that coming soon....
I like both of these pics a lot and couldn't figure out which one to choose so I picked both of them:)
the Entrance to Nivida Cave


  1. Sounds like a very interesting trip. We had sand flies this winter when we were in Florida. They were nasty, and we learned not to go outside at certain times when they were at their highest levels.

  2. It is a fantastic trip Chris, however it is depressing to know that the biodiversity is in peril. That happens when rate of population increase hampers the carrying capacity. I hope the government of concerned environmentalists can curtail the impending doom! I envy what you're doing, but I missed the portion when you said what you're there for in your previous posts. It looks like work and not vacation.

  3. Andrea you are so right about your comments. I found this trip to be a lot of fun and while it was relaxing, I had a bit of blogger burnout. I've been taking this month off to let myself breathe a bit. I promised myself to write for one year and everyday. The challenge was to make sure each post was unique and related to nature and gardening. I've been back in my own garden now for about a month and working on several stories/interviews. It is a crazy amount of work. I'm proud of the work, but when the new year begins, I'll be writing like a normal person again:) This trip was a little bit of work for me because I needed to understand what motivates people to bird, find out the issues at the national park system, volunteer at a turtle program to get the full picture....the latter part of this month was pure enjoyment and I spent one week relaxing as you'll see soon:) But the best part is that I'm back in Tucson writing about our issues here again and that feels good.

  4. Okay, i understand, and i had some little envy because the trip to me sounds real exciting. I also love adventure, but if you are paid for your adventure the better, LOL!

  5. Can you imagine getting paid for travel? I would love it! When I was younger, I had several jobs like this, but now it's save save save:) There are so many places to visit. We're thinking about next year already and creating a budget. We'll see:)


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