Friday, September 27, 2013


Liz gets a close-up view of a white-tipped reef shark in Panama's Coiba National Marine Park

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Yet another stretch of deserted beach on the islands near Boca Brava on Panama's Pacific coast. 
Birding, scuba diving, whale watching and beach combing. It's been a tough few days spent on and around Panama's Isla Boca Brava, Golfo de Chiriqui National Park and the nearby Coiba National Marine Park
A mother humpback whale dives near Coiba Island.

Not a lot of travelers in this part of southwestern Panama, but plenty of humpback whales, including a mother and eight-ft-long baby, whose tail we watched flop back and forth above water as he tried to nurse. 

We really wanted to stay at Islas Secas exclusive resort. Their "low season rate" of $695 per person, per night, sounded reasonable, and it's only $1,700 each day (3 day minimum) to go fishing. Tempting, but rather than auction off our kidneys, we opted for the much more accessible and laid back Hotel Boca Brava, with their personal boatman who took us for a full day island cruise, including some phenomenal whale watching, shown above (baby whales!) for the outrageous price of $25.

They even have their own resident howler monkeys, and birds galore, including the Blue-Crowned Motmot and Lance-Tailed Manakin.

Howler monkey playing in a tree.
A pair of lance-tailed manakins.

Below the surface, we went scuba diving in the waters off of Cohiba National Park. Now a beautifully preserved park, this island is home to a prison in operation from 1919-2004 where former dictators would torture and "dissapear" their dissenters. 

It's still possible to visit the prison, but most tourists (like us) come for the undersea adventures, or to meet "Tito" the resident crocodile who lives on the beach.

There were also whale shark sightings in the area, and we were hoping for a repeat of our incredible Philippines experience, but no such luck. We settled for seeing lots of eels, lobsters, jacks, colorful coral, and one massive manta ray.

It was a great stop as we headed down the coast toward Panama City, with breaks for surfing in Santa Catalina and Playa Venao.
Liz wanted to hide this tiny hermit crab in her backpack and take him home. 
Kip, binoculars in hand, looks for shore birds and whale tails.
That's just another jungle-covered island in the background.

Friday, September 20, 2013


We came to western Panama in hopes of seeing whales and mantas. Before we could get in the water, however, we watched this local man walking his pet pig. 

Not exactly undersea exploration, but it certainly was entertaining. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Liz is excited to be on a glass-bottomed boat tour hosted by the Instituto Smithsonian.
That's "Smithsonian Institute" in English, by the way. We learned that.
Traveling is learning. 

On any trip far from home, travelers unwittingly acquire all sorts of new knowledge. There are lessons on cultures, for example, how to greet a person properly in Nepal and why not to eat with your left hand in India. 

Plenty of classes get taught on patience, which comes in handy for 11-hour boat rides that were supposed to last only three. 

On our trip through Bocas del Toro, we ended up learning new stuff everywhere we turned. Like how to say Smithsonian Institute in Spanish:
Yes, the Smithsonian...
Liz looks at coral growing. It's slooooow.
While visiting the Instituto Smithsonian, a research station set up to study the region's diverse flora and fauna, Liz also learned the different growth rates of coral when living in clean ocean water vs. coral exposed to dirty/toxic water.

We also learned that the best place to rent a motorbike is from a Rasta man who hangs out on the corner in Bocas town.

Although he doesn't give out maps of Colon island, you really can't get lost...since there are only two roads. One of which becomes impassible at high tide. 

Since we weren't able to leave the Bluff Beach area, we decided to take one of the midnight turtle tours, which taught us another lesson: Sometimes, people tell you it's turtle season, when it really isn't. Also, walking five miles in the dark in deep sand is exhausting. 

Oh Bocas, you taught us so much. But there's more!

On a beach nearby, Kip re-learned why palm trees line the beaches of coastal areas around the world (because coconuts washed ashore and took root where they dropped).
Kip learns palm trees come from coconuts. Duh.
I'd like a number 18 please... or is it number 1?

We also learned that if you have a restaurant that offers incredible cheap and greasy breakfast, people will come. Even if your signs are riddled with gramattical and numerical errors.

If you happen to add things to the menu, do it in no particular order. 

You can even start with the number 18. 

Certain American tourists will still eat there every day, and maybe re-learn the number system. 

Why not, 18, 1, 2, 4, 7, 6, 8, 9, 10? 

After a week of her egg sandwiches, it made perfect sense to us.

Starting with 1 is just boring. That's what everyone expects you to do.

And no visit to Bocas del Toro would be complete without a visit to the famous Starfish Beach, just one of the locations in Bocas where the upcoming Benicio del Toro as Pablo Escobar, "Paradise Lost" was filmed in April. 

True to the name, there are some huge starfish in shades of red, yellow and orange. The beach even had a small hut with a display of fun starfish facts. Liz was very excited.
Liz excited to visit Starfish Beach.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Visitors take in the view from the cottages of the Hotel El Faro del Colibri on another cloudy, rainy day in Bocas del Toro. 

The island chain is set in a tropical rain forest zone, meaning even in the driest months (Oct, Jan, March), there's still a high chance of precipitation, as we found our during our stay. 

But when the sun does peak out from behind the clouds, it makes all the difference. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Paradise lost in Bocas del Toro. This U.S.-AID sign isn't exactly helping.
There's trouble in paradise. And it stinks. 

Over the past decade the small string of idyllic islands off Panama's northwest coast, Bocas del Toro, has become one of the country's top tourist attractions. While the massive influx of visitors has generated significant investment and cash for the locals, all those tourists and the business serving them are producing tons and tons of trash every day. 

Bocas is quickly running out of places to put it all. 

Sure, officials have been working on the problem for a while. And some eco-friendly hotels and businesses have started recycling and composting on their own. 

Unfortunately, most others haven't. And thanks to a lack of space, funding and political will, there's no end in sight, meaning visitors can expect to see a tainted, trash-lined version of what once was a Panamanian paradise. 
Trash lines the entrance road to Bocas' only airport.

For us, we managed to pick up a lot of garbage that lined beaches, reefs and roads. But similar to the overcrowding we learned about while volunteering in Costa Rica's animal rescue centers, this was an issue that people more powerful than us needed to hear about. 

We've written and called local and national authorities in Panama. We've sent photos and videos to tourism officials. We also emailed U.S. AID, the foreign aid arm of the U.S. government that's supposedly helping Bocas address some of its sanitation issues.

If you'd like to do the same, check out the following links to contact local and national tourism officials. 

Let them know this Panamanian paradise deserves better.

Friday, September 6, 2013


A pier stretches toward the horizon to the surf break called Silverbacks and the island of Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro, Panama. 

Even under a cloudy sky, we found it hard to find anything to complain about with this view.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


What's left of the pedestrian bridge all travelers must walk across between Panama and Costa Rica.
When it comes to border crossings in foreign lands, you never know what you're going to find. There is always anticipation, as border towns can be a bit sketchy, and usually we arrive to the border exhausted, after double digit hours on a bus.

Such was the case as we crossed the border from Costa Rica to Panama. But thanks to our numerous sloth stops in Cahuita, we only had six hours of bus under our belts when we arrived to Sixaola, a dusty border town separated from Panama only by a wide, rolling river.

While we were well-prepared for the cranky border officials, what we were not ready for was the dilapidated state of the bridge we had to walk across. 

Liz and her backpack head toward Panama as a man on his cell phone treks carefully toward Costa Rica.
Lucky for us, there were no trains coming during our crossing...  OK, full disclosure, we doubt trains actually use this bridge, as their weight alone would probably send it crashing into the river below.

So, as Kip would say, we dodged three trains and saved two drowning children as we crossed the ramshackle bridge, with its exposed rusty nails, loose boards, and gaping holes where loose boards used to be.

But it was a lovely view.

Even better was the looks on the faces of the military and bridge merchant as Kip tried on some of the wares they had for sale. Who says you can't sell guns and bras at the same store? 

Welcome to Panama. We already love it here.

Kip checks the sizing on a new bra while Liz eyes the nice array of firearms.
Imagine what the TSA agents would say about this back home?!
Liz takes reluctant first steps over the rickety bridge.
Want to read more border fun? Though we there were no bras involved, and we weren't actually allowed to cross into the Congo, there was plenty of danger in this border town in Rwanda.

Monday, September 2, 2013


While traveling, you see some funny things. 

Unusual street signs in South Africa, strange ads in Nepal and silly products in Tanzania (virgin soap?!) that shouldn't really exist, but they do, thanks to capitalism and/or some very creative marketing people. 

Here are a few more signs from recent days that seemed just a little off: 

Most places actually repair roads, instead of
putting up permanent signs alerting drivers that
the road is in a "bad state."
At least the chickens seem to like it.
How you know when it's time to fix the sign at your hotel. 
The bus driver must be big Jay-Z fan.
Either that, or the air freshener is covering something up.
We loved the clarity of this sign in Cahuita National Park.
Of course, there was garbage we cleaned it up...
just didn't seem to be part of the area.
Homemade stop sign in town. Why not?
Want more funny signs? Check out these warnings for dangerous animals we saw in South Africa.