Travel notebook

Explorations between Panamanian cities and paradise islands

After crossing the Panama Canal, we found ourselves in a small marina, the Balboa Yacht Club. We had never been in such a ridiculous harbor: there must be about 30 buoys, used for both pleasure boats and professional canal boats, and there is no dock. To go ashore, you have to call on the VHF radio or by shouting a cab boat that acts as a personal shuttle.

Balboa Yacht Club — Photo : Billy Foster Photography

With its very small size the marina has rather rudimentary facilities ; there is a gas station for boats, a shower and two toilets (not always in excellent hygienic conditions). That said, the staff is very helpful (at least, the driver of the cab boat).

We take advantage of this stopover to rest and to do some necessary repairs before going back to sea. We reassemble the solar panels that we dismantled a few days ago and we do the big revision of the dinghy's engine that didn't want to start again. after his adventures with Lucas. The heat is overwhelming, it is much hotter than in Colón, since there is no longer any trade wind to cool us down.

Two days after our arrival, we decide to go for a little trip to Panama City to see what the capital looks like. We start with the French Quarter, a historical and touristic area very well maintained. We are surrounded by old colonial buildings in perfect condition. There are also a lot of guards and military in the streets which is quite reassuring. The atmosphere is very different from Colón since many tourists are here to stroll around and to visit the souvenir stores.

After this first picturesque area, we decide to visit the other part of the city, its nerve center. There, it is two different atmospheres. While at first we were immersed in the historic district of Panama City, here we find ourselves in the middle of huge buildings of the business districts. The arteries are huge and there is a lot of traffic. We do not find the Panamanian spirit we met before and we explore a city with American appearances. In the street, the fast-foods are well present and we even visit a mall.

So there it is, the great Panamanian gap In the space of a few days we went from the popular city of Colón to the economic hypercenter of Panama City. The difference in living standards and infrastructure is extremely striking and we prefer the authenticity of Colón to the frenzy of the capital.

Strong of this experience, we leave Panama City for our first stop, the island of Taboga. The anchorage is quite good despite the wind and we find ourselves in a bay in front of a small picturesque village.

Island of Taboga

At first glance, the island seems to be a tourist attraction, it's a bit like our national Collioure. There are very few vehicles on land and most of the inhabitants get around on golf carts. The houses are quite rudimentary but very colorful; the village is very small. The calmness present on the island is very pleasant. Since we arrived during the week, there are no tourists and we find ourselves surrounded by the few locals who live there all year round.

We will take advantage of this restful stopover to work and we will stay there for two days. During this time, I will have the opportunity to go for a walk in the forest and I will come across an open dump. It was the first time I was confronted with such a thing. The inhabitants seem to gather all their waste in a space in the heart of the forest, and then burn them.

Open dump in the heights of Taboga

When I arrive on the scene, there is still smoke coming out of the mountains of garbage and many birds are scratching the rubble to try to find something to eat. The decor is desolate and reminds us that, in France, we are lucky to have a waste treatment system relatively effective.

After this first stop, we set sail again towards the iguana island. The navigation is not long since we arrive less than 24 hours after the departure of the previous island. This time, the anchorage is not easy: we arrive at night and it is very windy. Moreover, the map seems wrong and it took us a little while to find a satisfactory anchorage. The night will be somewhat agitated as the waves will rock the boat.

The next day, we set out to explore the island and its shoreline. On land, we find ourselves walking in the middle of shell holes dating from the second world war. Indeed, this island belonged to the Americans where they carried out military tests. Today, it is a nature reserve, known for its numerous iguanas. We meet our first reptiles and we are somewhat impressed. The biggest of them exceed 1m and their green and brown colors allow them to camouflage themselves perfectly in the vegetation. We are very careful where we put our feet but Emilien still managed to step on an iguana. Fortunately without consequence.

We also take advantage of this island to swim in its lagoon and to observe the fish and the corals which populate it. The colors are incredible and when we pass over a drop-off, we find ourselves above a myriad of exotic fish. We observed parrot-fish, trunk-fish, a moon-fish, some morays... We had never seen so many fish in our lives.

Around 4 pm, the coast guard asked us to leave the land and we returned to the anchorage. We take advantage of having time to fish and bingo! We caught two fish that we ate in the evening. Only small problem, the fished fishes are fishes of rock and the taste is not really here...

Once again, with the waves and the wind, we had a bad night because the boat moved a lot. In the early morning we decide to leave to the next island, but we will have a very bad surprise before the departure.

With the current and the waves, the chain got stuck under a huge rock at 10 meters deep. Émilien and I had to dive, nothing can be done, it is impossible to remove the chain. It will be necessary to maneuver with 3 to get the boat unstuck. Émilien as captain to manage the engine in order to tighten the chain, Lucas at the bow to indicate the angle of the chain in relation to the boat and myself to chain the apneas to indicate what is happening at the bottom.

Not to simplify anything, there was a lot of current and the swell started to rise. It is precisely because of this swell that the chain will become unstuck. During a big wave, the boat will rise, tearing the chain from the rock. In the water, I can hear a deafening din followed by a huge cloud of dust. After checking the bottom, I quickly go back to the boat while Lucas brings the anchor back on board.

After such an epic, the day could only get better. And indeed, the navigation was perfect. We had the chance to sail in a rather calm sea, accompanied by dolphins. Around 11:30 am we even caught a southern spotted kingfish, a kind of hybrid between a tuna and a mackerel. The fish is delicious and allows us to have two meals.

Southern Spotted Thazard

After 20 hours of navigation, we arrive at Cebaco Island, where we drop anchor. The setting is exceptional since we find ourselves in the middle of a huge bay, alone in the world, surrounded by virgin nature. The only human presence is a small house located at the edge of the beach.

We go ashore, determined to explore this small piece of island. We sink little by little in the jungle and we go up the bed of a dry river. Nous sommes entourés d’immenses arbres et de lianes : la sensation ressentie est impressionnante. Au bout d’un moment nous voyons un animal bouger au fond d’une petite mare. Nous nous rapprochons tout doucement croyant voir un bébé crocodile mais c’était en fait un iguane qui se prélassait dans l’eau.

We continue the hike carefully until we reach a waterfall forming a natural pool. The setting is idyllic and we stop there to have a picnic. The small stream above us forms a waterfall flowing down the rocky walls. We take advantage of the natural swimming pool to bathe in clear water.

After eating, we go back to the beach and we cross a snake on the way. The reptile passes us and disappears very quickly in the dense forest. We therefore remain vigilant and return to the beach. There we find coconuts and a bunch of bananasa. We decide to keep the diet for the boat and, with the help of our machetes, we open the nuts, drink the water and eat the pulp. At this moment we really feel like Robinson Crusoe and the dream of exploration becomes reality. We watch the bay and the fishermen returning to the small beach house.

The next day, we decided to go back to sea to reach Isla Cavada in the afternoon. Once again, the anchorage is incredible: the water is as transparent as crystal and it won't take us long to go for a swim. Below us, life is extremely present. Big coral heads gather animals around them and we found the same species of fish that we had met at the iguana island.

Exceptional anchorage

Many parrot-fish but also surgeon-fish and many morays. We were even lucky enough to see a blue ray with white spots. We fish, which allows us to eat a delicious parrot fish the same evening. The next day we go ashore to explore the island.

This one is inhabited and a huge and very luxurious eco-lodge complex is located there. The island is a paradise and the facilities are exceptional. Nothing ostentatious, everything is made to be camouflaged in the nature. The place is incredible but obviously the prices too since the customers come directly by plane on the island (we will learn later that the night costs 3 000 dollars).

In the evening, as the day before, we took advantage of the transparent waters to observe the fish and we caught again a parrot-fish that we ate in the evening.

The next day, we set sail again and once again the sailing conditions were perfect. Between these islands, life is extremely present and the waters are very rich in fish. So much so that we met several times during the day dolphins, schools of tuna (we caught one of them by the way) and deep-sea snakes. These snakes surprise us because they are orange underneath, black on the back and the tail is white spotted with black. By doing some research, we learned that they are pelamids and that these snakes only live in the sea, using seaweeds and pieces of driftwood to reproduce and hunt. They are not really dangerous for humans although their venom is potentially deadly.

In the night, we pass the virtual frontier entre le Panama et le Costa Rica et sur les coups de 4h du matin, nous arrivons enfin à notre destination finale : Golfito. This small town in the south of Costa Rica will be the base of our expedition in this country.

  • Christian et Monique
    February 28, 2022Reply

    C’est pas du jeu, Danièle a tout dit! C’est exactement ce que nous pensons! Merci de nous faire partager votre aventure avec tellement de réalisme et de spontanéité que nous naviguons avec vous, nous plongeons avec vous, nous explorons avec vous. Nous pouvons même remonter l’ancre avec vous pour repartir à nouveau à l’aventure avec vous…

  • Nicolas
    February 28, 2022Reply

    Magnifique profitez un Max , c est pas tous le monde qui vie une expérience pareille 👍

  • Nicolas
    February 28, 2022Reply

    Magnifique, c est un plaisir de lire vos aventures, on essaye d imaginer ce que vous pouvez ressentir
    Ça doit être fort et génial à la fois . Bravo continuez à nous faire rêvez , profitez un maximum c est pas grand monde qui vie une expérience pareille 😉👍👏

  • Poser
    February 27, 2022Reply

    Profitez bien les gars, ça à l’air d’être une putain d’expérience !

  • Danièle Ruibet
    February 27, 2022Reply

    Passionnant ce voyage et si bien raconté ! On partage votre avanture comme si on y était . Je pense que c’est tellement fantastique et incroyable qu’elle vous marquera toute votre vie et que même vous petits enfants vous diront  »dis moi papy, raconte nous ton tour du monde en bateau! » et ils ne s’en lasseront pas! Quelle superbe expérience humaine!

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