ADVENTURES IN BOCAS DEL TORO, PANAMA
by Renee Vinyard
I am excited to write about my cruise aboard the “Finisterre” with TW instructor Mike Heath and his wife Kay. I flew to Panama City (PC) with my friend Tom in late January. We visited the very impressive Panama Canal and marveled at the wealth and beauty of this Pacific Ocean-side city but were also surprised by the poverty that still lingers in the older parts of town. We ate some great food and stayed in old military housing built for the American Officers and canal workers.
After a couple days we took the one-hour flight from PC to Bocas Del Toro on Isla Colon. My luggage didn’t arrive with us, but was delivered the next morning to the Red Frog Marina at Isla Bastiamentos near our first anchorage.
We had many unique experiences while anchoring off the outer islands in the area of Bocas, such as listening to the sound of shrimp eating on the bottom of the boat at night and having pizza cooked in a cob oven while watching the Super Bowl at a remote island bar called Los Secretos.
Snorkeling was very good with beautiful coral and colorful fish. Tom and I had never snorkeled in Mangroves before. We saw the largest Brain Coral we had ever seen in the Zapatillas islands.
THE BAT CAVE: If ever you travel to Isla Bastiamentos, Panama be sure to go on the Bat Cave tour. It cost each of us $8 (plus a well-deserved tip). It was one of the highlights of our vacation. We were met at a child laden wooden dock and loaded into a traditional Nogobe dugout canoe called a “cayuco.”
The cayuco leaked through a number of small holes and the a manual bilge pump. The creek or quebrada would rise with heavy morning rains, but today the level was perfect for the huge cayuco. We traveled first through mangroves up into the lush, fertile jungle. Half a mile upstream in we entered a diverse for noisy kingfisher deftly following the twists and turns. We also glimpsed the Montezuma Oropendola.
We arrived at the wooden dock; climbed out finca for growing cacao and bananas. With his great use of clear Spanish and enthusiasm there was no barrier to understanding him with our minimal language abilities.
We wore water shoes and traipsed into the mud, aided by well-designed low tech structures such as rounds cut from a huge tree and a bridge made of vertical poles for hand holds that held three logs close together to form a walkway or la Puente-bridge. Off we went into the jungle to the “Bat Cave”
.The cave was beautiful with stalactites and stalagmites. At times I was up to my neck in cool clean water. The bats flew around us never making contact. There was no odor or significant amounts of bat guano in our paths. We could see well as we were all wearing headlamps. At the back of the long snaking cave was a waterfall into a dark rocky room. I loved rinsing my hair in the waterfall. There was no touching bottom near the waterfall. Needless to say we all felt washed off and refreshed as we entered back into the jungle for our cayuco ride back.
*** Mike and Kay have been traveling since October 2012 in the Caribbean, on Finisterre. In prior years they have spent many months sailing in the Pacific and Caribbean. I know them from our small town in Northern California, Ukiah. They were great host and I feel very happy that we are friends!