Week 16: Panama!

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Week 16: Panama!

Isla Canas – Turtle paradise

We have divided our trip to Panama up in two parts: Beach and rainforest! This means our first stop is at the coastline and as we have been to Panama before the choice was to go to a new place, the peninsula region of Los Santos. At the very bottom of it we found Isla Canas, an island with literally nothing on it but some huts and a lovely hostal called Pachamama. We have a little cabana booked, which is a wooden hut on stilts with two beds in it. The beds have a mosquito net, and that is pretty much it.

One of the main draws of this place is the turtle season, and we happen to be right in the middle of it. The owners have also decided to help the turtles by digging up their eggs and hosting them in their own hatchery, safe from birds and other animals. As we take a look at the hatchery, 2 spots have a crate over them, as they seemed to have some action going on underground. Turtles usually hatch when it is dark and cooler, i.e. in the night, but as the weather is not that great when we arrive, it seems one nest decided to come out in daytime!

As the crate is lifted, dozens of tiny turtles start making their way away from the nest, which is an absolute stunning sight. We are so incredibly lucky to witness this on our first moments on the island! We help get the turtles into a box and then move them out towards the ocean. Not expecting them during the day, the birds that usually patrol the beach for some baby turtle snack are now nowhere to be seen, and thus these babies make their way to the ocean safely… Fingers crossed we get another show during our stay, but this was already spectacular!

The turtles keep coming

It turns out that we have luck and nature on our side as the following days, 4 more nests full of turtles decide to make their way to the surface, totaling 436 baby turtles! They are the ‘black turtle’-type and are very cute as they work hard to try and get to the ocean. Sometimes we help them a bit as it starts to get too hot and the way to the beach becomes longer as the tide goes down, but we are proud to say that all of them made it out into the water. What happens after that? Of course we do not know, surely some have become bird or fish food… but we did our best to get them a good start!

Unfortunately it is very necessary to do the conservation work Jean-Pierre and Irina from Hostal Pachamama do here. The local population helps out as well, with their own patch of land to collect and guard eggs in, but the big contradiction is that they also EAT the eggs themselves! The law gives them that right, as long as it is for their own personal consumption, but this is of course difficult to check. And as dozens of turtles lay their eggs here and every single one lays 80-100 at a time, you can imagine how many are taken without ever being able to venture into the world. Let’s hope the awareness continues to grow that they are worth more alive than in an omelet!

While turtles are most certainly the highlight of our stay on Isla Canas, it is not the only thing we enjoy here. The rain season brings murky water which takes snorkeling and scuba diving off the menu, but the waves that come with it are perfect for SURFING! Which is of course what the boys fill their days with from early morning to late afternoon. In the meantime books are read, games are played and generally a whole lot of relaxing is done! The meals served (breakfast and dinner) are fantastic, varying from cold soups and rice meals to salads and fish with yucca. It is a real treat, and as we are pretty much the only guests, it really feels as if we are the private guests of our hosts.

The last day we take a boat ride along the inner lagoon, further into the mangrove forests. We see lots of birds and some fish, and the coolest little crabs climbing the mangrove roots hanging in the water. There are plenty of crabs on the island, all with their own habitat and characteristics. From very colorful land crabs to grey spiderlike sea crabs, they all seem out to be there to either tickle or scare you! After a snack and a drink Jean-Pierre drops us off at the village, which lies 2 km from the hostal. We walk through it to the other side of the island (the sea-side) for a walk back along the beach.

We look for mangrove roots here that wash up ashore, to plant at the bank of the hostal… hopefully they will grow into a tree to stop the erosion on the lagoon side. We manage to plant more than 100 roots, so chances are a few will stick and become a proper tree which will be named after us ;-). At the end of the day we even get a surprise visit from a howler monkey with young! Lots of noise, but no bite, so we enjoy a long stare at this animal up in the tree before we let him yell at himself. And with that we wrap up our stay on Isla Canas and say goodbye to our hosts, only to be welcomed by our rental car on the shore… with a flat tire :-(.

Seems like that is the story of our lives when it comes to our travels, and thus we are experts in putting on the spare and finding a place to fix it. Panama is one of those countries you love having a flat, as fixing the hole is done within 10 minutes and the guy charges you 3 dollars for it! With a long day of driving ahead of us, we really did not want to waste any time on this, so the service was really appreciated so we gave him a tip of 66% :-). Turns out there was a very big nail in our tire, which is not uncommon on the messy/potholed streets of Panama.

Rainforest relaxation

After the beach, it is time to explore the rainforest and catch a glimpse of the famous Panama Canal. The drive back towards the city is a long one, but with pizza at the end of it we check in satisfied and ready for bed at the Summit Resort. The resort is located in the middle of a rainforest area, and has some beautiful facilities. We managed to get a good deal through booking.com including breakfast so the luxury is welcomed after our hut at the beach! We plan to spend 4 nights here and take it easy.

Step 1 to getting back to the US is of course another Covid test… however annoying, the hotel can arrange for a test to be done on the premises, and thankfully the US accepts the ‘cheaper’ antigen test. As we book the test, the hotel however changes its mind (something about liability) so we have to wait for the doctor outside of the gate by the street to do the testing. As we wait… the security guard however gets tired of waiting and rides us back up to the parking lot, where we are tested through an ambulance in the end. Tests come back negative so in terms of flight eligibility we are good to go.

The hotel has many activities included in its price, so we make the most of it. As we explore the hotel, we walk through their butterfly garden and visit their little frog shed filled with bright green and blue poisonous frogs. Right behind the premises is a hike set out in the rainforest, which we clamber through in search of animals and a game of who gets the most mud stuck to their shoes. In between all of this are of course the obligatory visits to the pools of the hotel to cool off.

The resort also has an 18-hole golf course, so Sven takes a free lesson of golf to see if he still has the swing of years ago (turns out he does hitting the balls over 175m away!), and the boys take a putting class which is a synonym for ‘boring minigolf’. The best time we have on the golf course however is a ride in the golf cart at the end of the day in search of animals. We are not disappointed, as we find a sloth up in a tree, beautiful birds roaming the grounds and their house caimen and tortoises coming to say hi! The ride on the cart is of course also super fun, so all in all the golf course turned out to be a good place to be even for non-golfers!

Panama Canal – And off we go!

Of course you can not go to Panama and not check out the Panama Canal! The boys head out to see this ingenuity show its action and learn about the locks and how they pull through the enormous ships we have seen passing by in the previous days. An incredible sight and so much fun to learn about the routes around the globe and how ship freight routes have changed over time. More importantly: How a tiny little train can pull these ships along to the other side of the locks. A great final activity before an early morning flight back to the US…

Next week: Back to the south of the US

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