Bocas del Toro
7. May: We wake up at around 9:00 in Hospedaje Maritza, wow, we've slept a lot. We decide to walk through Bocas town to change some money and have breakfast. We change Traveller's Cheques for 300$ into cash (Panama uses standard US$ notes and a mixture of local and US coins, which have identical value. The currency is officially called 'Balboa'). There is a commission of $1.10 per 100$ changed, which is very acceptable. The little bank does have a guard, is air-conditioned and even offers free coffee. We can speak in English, which is very welcome to me.
For breakfast, we settle for the restaurant of a 4* hotel, I have bacon and eggs and tea, which is quite good. We then go to the tourist office, a very nice freshly renovated wooden building, a/c and very well kept (boy, they must have poured a lot of money into it). Unfortunately, they have no-one knowledgeable there and also no brochures for us to take along. What a pity!
We unload a couple of bags of laundry at the local laundry, which a room at the back of a cheap restaurant. The lady, a rather large black mama, says she'd be done by evening. We look around a bit more and find a tour shop to take us for a boat trip the next day (15$ pp) and book. They say they don't have the minimum number of participants yet, but we should appear the next day and then they'd decide. We rent snorkelling gear for both of us for 7$ the day (amazing: they didn't want a deposit for the equipment, and it was practically new TUSA gear!) and then decide to take a taxi to the other end of Bocas to a place called 'Cayo del Drago'. This place is supposed to have marvelous beaches. We bargain the cab driver down to 22$ (instead of 25$), but the price is well justified, as it is a long and bumpy 1-hour trip along bad roads and unpaved paths each way.
Halfway along the way we stop at 'La Gruta', a strange cave with stagmatites pointing downwards from the cave ceiling and two Madonna shrines outside. A small stream is flowing into the cave. A woman at the cave entrance is washing herself, her children and her clothes.
The last part of the road to Drago is really bad and I feel sorry for the cab driver. The hoped-for dream beaches are nowhere to be seen, unfortunately, but there is a bit of a beach and we head toward it. We arrange for the cab driver to pick us up again after a couple of hours. We put on our snorkeling gear: masks, fins and snorkel and set out. Annewien has never snorkeled before but learns very fast. The first part of the water is unspectacular with some sand and sea-grass. We do find three sea-stars and we watch how one rights itself up again after turning it over on it's back. Amazing! Coming out of the water we discover that we are in a very secluded place and take advantage of it. Some boats occasionally drone by in the distance.
Later, we walk in the direction of a riff and try snorkelling a second time. Initially there is some sea-grass again, when we reach the riff we find a number of nice fish: some blue fish with amazingly brilliant tiny glowing blue-green spots on them, some surgeonfish, butterfly fish and a gigantic brain coral (I reckoned it had a diameter of 4 meters!) with a pole on it sticking out of the water. Wow, what a nice snorkelling experience, especially being able to share it with Annewien.
The taxi was already waiting for us, I reckon that the driver had a snooze in his car since he was there well ahead of the scheduled time. Back in Bocas, our laundry is not yet dry so we agree to fetch it the next morning. Walking through Bocas to find a place to have dinner, we discover that there is an offer for a flight to David for 20$ pp. This would save us the tiring bus-and-boat trip there, which we had planned. We decide to book the flights at the airport the next day. We have dinner at a seafront-place called 'Buena Vista'. The food was expensive but not really too good. Interesting that the beer bottles had a foam-rubber covering to hold them.
We're really tired now, and since we don't find any place at this time with music, we walk back to our Hospedaje. Just across, we see a bar open, but there's nothing interesting going on, so we take showers in our room, finishing what we had started in Drago.