Thursday, April 11, 2013

Panama Part I - Kayaking on Coiba Island

I always love venturing into the unknown and there were many unknowns on our trip to Panama.  For starters, we planned on taking public transportation across the country in order to save money and also for the experience.  I tried to figure out the bus schedules on the internet before the trip but was so confused and had so little time that I finally gave up and decided to leave things to chance.

The main part of our trip was a camping and kayaking trip on Coiba Island, a remote island off the Pacific Coast of Panama.  The island is the largest in Central America at 2,700 square kilometers.  The entire island and surrounding 38 smaller islands and waters have been preserved as a national park and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It's biological diversity is said to be as rich as the Galapagos Islands. In fact, it is part of the larger Galapagos Islands ecosystem. There are a number of endemic species and subspecies on the island and it is an amazing place for bird watching.  We were lucky to see some of the species unique to the island, like the Coiba howler monkey and the Coiba agouti.  The Nature Conservancy and the Smithsonian Institute recently discovered 12 new coral species at Coiba!

We were warned that bugs could be a problem. I was also a little concerned about trying to paddle a double kayak with Ben or Laura in the front.  When Scott and I paddled in Alaska, the waters were generally calm and with both of us paddling the boat, it was pretty easy. 

I'll leave the pictures to tell the full story of how the trip unfolded....

Estamos acá remand en el Coiba Parque Nacional Coiba. 
The paddling was harder than it was in Alaska because we had currents to contend with and occasional wind.  We had several points to paddle around in order to wind in and out of the bays.  I usually had Laura in my boat and the boys paddled together.  At one point Laura and I were paddling in open water around a point.  It was the hardest paddling I've ever done as we were going against the current and into a strong headwind.  We weren't making progress and at times we were going backwards. The rest of our group were out ahead of us which  made me feel a little panicky.  Finally I came up with the idea of counting off 20-30 really hard strokes. So Laura and I counted together and before we knew it we were around the point.  I had to admit I was getting nervous as the point was rocky and windy and I thought we'd either get swept out to sea or have to turn back to camp.  Funny enough when we rounded the corned into the calm bay Laura said, "let's beat everyone to the beach."  So we paddled like mad women to catch up with the group and were the first ones on the beach.

The reward for a hard paddle:  a pretty beach all to ourselves.  We also kayaked to some small islands where we snorkeled and swam.  The snorkeling was very good as the fish diversity was amazing.  The coral on the Pacific side isn't as impressive as in the Caribbean but it was beautiful just the same.

Coconut for breakfast.

 Tenemos suerte.

Ben and Laura packing the boats.

This was taken near sunset and to the right is the little island we snorkeled around at low tide. 

Tired from paddling and playing.  You'll notice the tent is unzipped.  According to our guide we were very lucky.  The bugs were horrendous just the week before we were there but we had no problems at all during our trip, except for a few sand fleas that bit our feet and ankles in the evening.

Laura in front of the mangrove forest.  I saw a Coiba agouti and its baby in the mangroves one morning.

Relaxing at one of the beaches we kayaked to.

Ben en la playa.  One night under the full moon, I went down to the sea to rinse the dishes and there were a million tiny little blinking lights in the sand and water -- the phytoplankton in the sea were bio luminescent.  It was so cool.

This small island was great to snorkel around at low tide.  It was a short swim or kayak from our camp.  The kids played on the island while Scott and I snorkeled.  They had fun poking around in the tide pools and getting grossed out with the sea slugs.

On one of our day trips we hiked around a point to get to trail that went through the rainforest.

Línea de la costa hermosa y selva tropical.

Monkey print in the sand!  We had Coiba howler monkeys and white-face capuchin monkeys at our camp.  One night when I couldn't sleep I was staring at the full moon overhead through the tent netting and a group of monkeys came right over the tent.  I could see them in the tops of the palm trees, silhouetted against the yellow moon.  It felt like I was dreaming.

Snorkeling in the mangroves at high tide. 

~ La mariposa ~
 Every morning while we ate breakfast there was a big migration of these butterflies down the beach past our camp.  There were hundreds and hundreds of them!  There were also tiny frogs at a backwater near our camp.  One evening a mangrove hawk (common black hawk) was hunting the frogs from a perch above where we gathered to eat dinner.

Eating breakfast at camp.

The boys - Ben was a super paddler too!  You can see how clear and beautiful the water was -- we saw lots of fish, some dolphin, and many sea turtles.

Acampa cerca del océano.  The view from our tent.

Our camp between the sea and the forest.  It was luxury camping for us as we went with a guide who provided all the food and camping gear!  One night we had the most delicious pineapple curry for dinner.

Laura, the super paddler.  I was so proud of her. Counting our paddle strokes started to be a game for Laura and she drove us hard.  We got up to 50 in a row with only 5 rest seconds.  And she's still smiling!

If you are interested, we booked our trip through Michael at and were very happy!