(Read in Pirate voice)
What’s a Pirates favourite letter of the Alphabet?
(you answer “RRRRRR”)
You think it would be RRRR but it be the CCCCC
Okay, so that was awful. Lets continue.
The Darien Gap- quite possibly the most intense, dangerous stretches of land in the world. This area is a forbidding mountainous jungle on the Panama side; full of swamps, guerrillas, drug traffikers and kidnappers on the Colombian side, making travel through the area not just a struggle against a hostile environment but also a maze of bribing the right people for passage and ducking bullets.
Not to mention some of the most dangerous animals on the continent. Swamps filled with Caimans, Jaguars and poisonous insects. Many of those who are foolish enough to attempt to navigate their way to or from Colombia either go missing completely or find themselves kidnapped, killed or at best, force to pay exorbitant amounts of money to avoid the former. This makes it virtually impossible to cross from South America to Central via land; the Pan American highway simply stops in Panama and picks back up some 90 kilometers south in Colombia.
One can fly, which is quite expensive, or travel by boat on a 4-5 day sailing trip through the Caribbean islands, visiting local villages, deserted islands and eating fresh seafood. Despite my unrelenting travel sickness affliction, the decision is a no brainer.
Brit and I meet up with the rest of our crew and our two incredible guides, Tess, an adorably tiny fair-skinned redhead from England endearingly called “The Human Candle” and her Costa Rican boyfriend Luis, “El Rasta” and board our boat with our double-garbage bagged backpacks and as much Rum as we can carry. As this was Tess’ final trip before returning to England, we made quite the deviation form the usual schedule, under the guise of a ‘surprise’ that evening, something Tess really wanted to see before she left. We spend the afternoon in a Local Kuna Village, playing football with the older boys while the younger kids clung to our legs in wonder. Late that night we crept onto the beach in silence and watch in absolute awe as we saw giant mother turtles slowly make their way onto the sand to nest. For hours we watched these graceful, majestic creatures go through the various processes of nesting. This is without doubt the most beautiful, mesmerising display of wonder I’ve ever witnessed and likely will ever see again. We were lucky enough to watch four distinct parts of the process unfold before us over the evening.
The first giant turtle (for you cannot comprehend their enormity until you see them. I’m talking quad bike size) breached the water and made her way onto the sand to begin the lengthy process of digging a giant hole for her eggs. We quickly moved on, for spending too much time around her begins to distress her, so under the faint glow of a few red light head torches we padded barefoot through the sand, until we stumbled onto the next mama. She had been at it for quite some time, and was in the middle of the exhausting task of using her powerful fins to cover her eggs with piles of sand. Once this is done, the mother turtle spends thirty minutes doing 360’s over her newly formed pile of sand protecting her eggs in the giant hole she had dug, spraying her urine as she slowly turns, warding off potential predators and protecting her future young. This is the final process of her absolutely exhausting nesting ritual. Then, if we weren’t already utterly enamoured by these gentle giants we were lucky enough to see the hatching of the baby turtles and follow them as their blindly tried to make their way into the ocean. It’s fascinating to watch the vast difference in this cycle of life-the giant mothers nesting to the coin-sized babies struggling through the sand to make their escape. At one point we stumbled across a few rogue babies and had to stand statue still as they crept throughout our ankles and at one point a baby crawled over both my feet. Life made.
Surely nothing can top that?
We spend the next four days cruising from island to island, drinking fresh coconuts (fine, there was rum in them. Before midday.) swimming in crystal blue waters and exploring uninhabited islands like true adventurers. There are something like over 300 islands in this archipalago, some of which are only mere meters in diameter and boast only few palm trees. It’s so easy to escape and feel truly lost here. Our final night we spend on a small Kuna Island eating our last dinner of fresh seafood-as much Lobster that we could possibly eat (yes, thats a thing. You CAN eat lobster til you’re sick) and Octopus Civeche, drinking Rum Punch like a Pirate as the sun goes down over the sparkling water and sitting around a campfire eating smores and telling stories. Someone passed out and wee’d in their hammock and it WASN’T us! We eventually fall to sleep outside in our hammock as an enormous thunderstorm rages overhead. Life couldn’t get more perfect if it tried.
After four wonderfully relaxing and awe inspiring days exploring the San Blas Islands we arrive in Panama City, a bustling, Miami-like stark contrast to the crawling paced, shower-less, wifi-less, creature comfort free island life we’d just come from. Determined to spend one last night with our new friends, we all donned our (backpackers) best to meet up at Trump Tower for our last hoorah. On a balcony over the water of Panama City, our wristband read “bottomless champagne” and that’s exactly what it was. We swapped Rum for unlimited champagne and it flowed well into the night, followed by a late night dinner at a delicious greek restaurant, we all said farewell over Calzones and Tzatziki. Perfect end to a perfect trip.
Most Importantly, I spent 4 days sailing and didn’t get seasick. And thats the biggest win of all.
After a few days we’re well and truly ready to get out of the city again and so we jump on a night bus and head to Bocas Del Toro. A rainy boat trip and soaking wet backpacks later we arrive at Palmar Beach Tents on Red Frog Beach (Named for the Red Frogs, duh.) This place is some serious #bliss. Tech free, tent-sleeping, Beachside, tropical Yoga retreat (confession: didn’t do that much yoga)…I was immediately altogether bewitched by this charming hideaway. We arrived here and told the owner I was looking for somewhere to get stuck. He laughed. I laughed. We got stuck. And this begins one of the three Bocas lies.
1-I’m leaving tomorrow (mmhmm)
2-I’m not drinking tonight
3-I love you
All of which I’m positive were thrown around at some point.
We spent 5 days here zoning out, practicing our limber yogi moves and definitely drinking way more than our “alcohol free” pact allowed. Meh. The owner, Sebastian (NOT the Slippery Dip Pig Sebastian) is an awesomely interesting American guy who we befriended for nights out partying (you can only zen out for so long-see above pact) and general tomfoolery. I’m not going to say we went swimming fully clothed in a club. But I won’t say we DIDN’T. The island is full of beautiful beaches, our favourite being Polo Beach, where the local Panamanian, Polo lives in a little hut and is perpetually hammered and rambling a shit-mix of nonsensical English/Spanish babble. He’s an amazing human. Polo follows no alcohol free detox plans. Be warned though, Polo will often sell you Bush rat under the guise of delicious chicken. It’s not.
Our last day..our ACTUAL last day (remember rule Uno) after a rather delightful evening of Rum and bonfires, Sebastian and his friend John, who has just flown in from the states, take us Quadbiking for the day. There was a huge rainstorm the night before (short lived bonfire fail) so the tracks were ridiculously, amazingly, delightfully muddy. We donned bikinis and flame covered helmets (because we all know flames make you go faster) and jump on our turtle-sized quads and spent hours of shredding through the jungle, getting covered head to toe in thick mud and basically laughing our heads off. Even with Sebastian and I being stung by jellyfish, breaking a bottle of wine all through our wishfully romantic beachside picnic and Britt having a minor accident involving a handlebar to the groin couldn’t shake our happy.
P.s. everyone please let it be noted that Britt crashed twice, into motionless trees. I did not. Little sister win.
We very, VERY nearly never left, volunteering to work… had we not only had 6 weeks left of adventuring. We will return! It’s kind of hard to shake a place like Palmar that seeps into your bones and makes you want to run away, take root and never leave.