PANAMA - PART 2 OF 3
When I had finally crossed the bridge into Panama, the small minivan promised to me on the other side was waiting with a handful of fellow tourists to take us to a dock in Changuinola. This was a bumpy, crowded, hot trek through what had the loose framings of a town, over small rivers, through vast banana plantations, and finally to a riverside boat company with a dock and a cash box. It housed two small covered boats designed for the sole purpose of stuffing people in the hull and speeding them to their vacations. Upon paying what I believe was $12, we were outfitted with life jackets and went about speeding and weaving through mangroves, small islands, fishermen in carved logs in what I feel was a 30 minute ride.
This indeed was another world in such a small span of geography. This staggering variation in so few kilometers will never cease to bewilder me. Once arriving at the mouth of the river, we were taken into open ocean where waves broke on sandbars and tossed the boat a bit more vigorously. Off in the distance one could faintly make out the structures and archipelago of Bocas del Toro. Approaching the main island we were able to take in a greater panorama of how small this island community is. Furthermore, it was evident that its entire economy was based on the damp wallets and passports in our pockets. Small planes flew overhead taking what I assumed were rich people in and out of paradise.
I would later know this place from the air. When we disembarked I set about the main street. It was hot, humid, crowded, amazing. I was hunting out some cheap accommodation as I really didn’t have a lot of money this first time around. When I finally found a decent place and got a little food in me, it was time to think about which beach I would head to on day two. All advice I’d been given said that if it’s your first time, take a tour. I signed up for an all-day combo with snorkeling, lunch, two beaches, and dolphins - all this for $20. I jumped into a small craft at about 8:30am and was treated to dolphins leaping in our wake, pristine beaches, unbelievable snorkeling, waterfront dining, and sunburn to rival any.
As much as I loved this island, and looked forward to having to return upon my next visa expiration, my lowly teacher’s budget, and need to return to work on Monday, meant that this Saturday would have to be last beach trip I could take for the next 3 months. I relished every moment knowing that I would awake with but $25 in my pocket the next morning with which to get off the island, out of the country, and back to San Jose. A challenge to be sure.