Saturday, June 11, 2011

Exploring the Bocas Archipelago

Getting to explore new areas is one of the real joys of cruising. Now that we are checked-in to Panama, rested up from the six-day passage, and have the boat back in some order, we are ready to start learning about this area. And boy, is there a lot to learn. Get out your maps – the Bocas del Toro area is in the northwestern corner of Panama, just 30 miles south of the Costa Rican border. Once in the Bocas waters from the Caribbean Sea, you're cruising through two major bodies of water – Bahia Almirante and Laguna de Chiriqui. The mainland and mountains of Panama are visible which give the area a great backdrop. Within these waters there are eight major islands surrounded by another 50 plus cays and more than 200 islets. Many are small mangrove dots in the sea of blue. The area is a bit confusing because the locals, the area's ex-pats, and the cruisers all have different or multiple names for every bay, anchorage or location.

A little history lesson. It was discovered (like just about everything it seems in the Caribbean) by Christopher Columbus on his fourth and final voyage. In the 19th century, immigrants descended upon the area that was populated by various indigenous Ngobe tribes. These immigrants were mainly slaves from the Colombian islands, US and some of the more eastern Caribbean islands. The banana industry brought in more folks and bananas still make up more than 80 percent of Panama's exports.

The present population is made up of an interesting mix of folks – the descendants from the slaves, the Chinese (which seem to own and run every store in the area including what is known as "the Chinese Walmart."), various indigenous Ngobe tribes, many ex-pats from the US and Canada and a mix of Latin Americans. Their language is "guari-guari" - a mix of Afro-Antillean English and Ngobere with a splash of French.

The wildlife of the area is quite remarkable. We are anchored off one of the large islands – Bastimentos where there is an indigenous red frog. This small very colorful frog is from the pumilio family – the poison dart frog. This small one is not quite as toxic as others – unless eaten (so we won't taste). Kids in the area collect them and carry them around in big leaves with a touch of water and show them to you for a tip. Unfortunately they often put the frogs in salt water. There are also monkeys, sloths and all types of colorful, beautiful sounding birds. We took a nice walk across the island yesterday to see the incredible beaches on the other side. Saw a few red frogs (caught by the local young boys) and heard some great birds. We'll take a walk after some rain and hope to see "lots of red frogs" after a rain shower.

Because of the large ex-pat community and cruisers who are here for long periods of time, there are lots of activities in the area. It starts with the morning radio net filled with everything from the local restaurants' menu specials to trivia to all the various events going on (garden club, charity fund raisers, movie nights etc.)

We'll explore the area and enjoy the process of doing so....

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