Crossing the Border and Experiencing Snorkeling Off Bocas del Toro, Panamá

It was to be a couple hour drive after our whitewater rafting adventure to our hotel along the coast of Costa Rica near Panamá, but that was before we hit the traffic along the route. We learned that Banana trees are like Pineapples in that they are a “one shot wonder” (thanks for the verbiage, Paulette)! In other words, once the clump of bananas is harvested, the tree is cut down and another one is planted. Each tree only produces one set of the fruit and it is done.

Well, southeast Costa Rica is a Banana producing region. We passed huge barbed wire lots larger than football fields filled with refrigerated semi-truck/train shipping containers stacked 3-6 high. Then these containers, loaded with Bananas (we went by the Chaquita, Del Monte, and Dole plants) were hauled to the ports by tractor-trailer trucks. So, on that two-lane road, we did stop and go traffic for almost two hours to go the last 40 miles to our town of Puerto Viego. There were a ton of trucks clogging the road, along with cars, motorcycles, school busses, and even an ambulance (not going any faster than we were). The couple-hour long drive wound up taking over three, but we finally made it to the hotel.

Upon arrival at the Cariblue Resort in Puerto Viejo, our students loved discovering their cabanas as they wound their way through the dense vegetation meandering out into the darkness from the central lobby. There wasn’t time to delay, as we reloaded the bus and went downtown (a couple kilometers away) to a small restaurant called, Riquísimo. By the time our group took seats, there weren’t any tables left in the small restaurant. There was a small island with stools between our open-air tables and the bustling road of the small surfing town. In the end, many students said the Caribbean fare was the best meal of the trip thus far. Some swam in one of the pools, while many opted to connect to the Wi-Fi and check in with friends and parents.

The next morning, many of the students opted for fresh pancakes with a strawberry syrup to accompany their scrambled eggs over the standard beans and rice. Mr. Elder also found the yogurt with granola and a fresh banana was really good! Most everybody went to the beach: the 8am shift got to go swimming out in the surf, and the 8:30 crew just checked things out along the beach. The sun was intense, giving us a glimpse of the power of the rays yet to come when we hit the ocean waters in Panamá. We came back, loaded the bus, and just like that – we were off to Panamá!

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Waiting in the hot sun to go through the Emigration check-point as we left Costa Rica.

We pulled up, got out with only our passports, and found ourselves in a long line of people waiting to emigrate from Costa Rica. We knew it was coming, but about 45 minutes in the hot sun with no shade was intense! Some had umbrellas and all had sunscreen, but it was a hot wait for sure.

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Once done with the first line, we hit the second, waiting to immigrate into Panamá.

When done, we walked back over to the bus, unloaded our luggage, and walked across a bridge over the Sixaola River. It was interesting to be walking with the other people, as our bus was not allowed to cross the border. On the other side, we put our luggage in a new bus (more on that soon), and found our way to the immigration line a few hundred yards away. While the line area was in the shade, it was still pretty hot while we waited.

The adults in our group had to get a photo taken and provide both left and right hand and thumb prints. Fortunately, our students just had their passports run through and then got their stamps. Amelia and I went on a quest to find some water for the group, but none of the four stores at the border had large containers. Miss Pancich ultimately wound up buying a couple of the largest bottles we could find and I got about eight sun-block bottles! Back on the bus…

Speaking of our bus, it was a 1970s-era luxury cruiser that had come form Korea after it completed its home-country service (we knew this because every sign on the bus (ie., Emergency Exit) had the message in Korean as well). Our driver, who may have been over three hundred pounds, had a couple assistants. One stood on the stairs by the door and the other used an upside down 5-gallon bucket as a stool right next to the driver himself. They were proud of their bus, a red 70s cruiser that had purple embroidered curtains with gold stitching. The last couple rows were a favorite, as they had steps up and were like elevated theatre seating, giving the lucky occupants views all the way to the front of the bus!

Off we went, rumbling down the roads through Panamá, finding our way to the port city of Almirante. This was an excellent experience for our students, as many people were crammed in a small waiting area for the taxi. We were fortunate, as Enrique (one of the assistants on our bus) led us through the throng and right out to the boat dock. We loaded on two boats and within minutes, had donned lifejackets and were off.

When we arrived, we met Jeannette, our snorkeling guide, and she took us for a meal. Everyone was really hungry, and the Tuna Steak with Rice and the Chicken and Potatoes were both a real hit. Other than that, you are now up to date minus they snorkeling… leading us to the next Pregunta del Día.

La Pregunta del Día: Five years from now, what will stick in your mind about your snorkeling experience – such as something you saw or did?

Afton – “I liked looking at the different kinds of coral and seeing what’s down there. I saw a lot of different kinds of fish.”

Aidia – “I thought I got stung by a Jellyfish, but I may have touched the Coral.”

Barret – “I’ll remember collecting data and waving my hand at the little worms that have the stringy things outside of them. When I waived my hand, they would think I was a fish and hide back in their tube.”

Brandon – “I will remember being stung by Jellyfish cells.”

Brody – “Learning about how much the coral affects us (humans) and how much the coral is affecting global warming with the algae.”

Carson – “I thought that the water was surprisingly clear and there were a lot more fish than I thought there would be – I was surprised by all the colors.”

Clement – “It was really pretty, because the water was really clear and there was a lot of fish life. I’d never seen one of those worm things before. I’ll definitely remember them. I saw that, I did that, and it was fun!”

Craig – “We collected all sorts of data and saw a lot of fish. It was interesting to see all the things in the water when you looked within a meter of the rope line we laid on the reef floor.”

Dayan – “There was all sorts of algae and stuff, but out a little farther, I dove down, my ears popped as I went down, and I saw this yellow rock with holes in it. It reminded me of Sponge-Bob!”

Delaney – “I saw an Eel sticking out of a rock – it sat there frozen staring up at us, hidden in the Coral.”

Gage – “I will remember that if a fish brushed up against my leg, or even if it’s like a leaf, it freaks me out.”

Henry – “I’ll remember how we couldn’t find the coral reef after we laid the rope down and put the plotting square on it. I found a cool piece of coral, but it wasn’t inside the square like it was supposed to be.”

Jacob – “I’ll remember the little worms that we could disturb the water near and they would disappear.”

Jackson – “The fish were really close – they’d swim by about an inch from their legs.”

Luna – “There was one really big section of coral with a lot of fish in it, and my favorite fish was a black one that had neon-blue poka-dots!”

Matteo – “I will remember touching a sea cucumber. I expected it to be soft and squishy, but in reality it was hard like a rock and had hair on it.”

Maya – “A lot of the time, my whole body would sting because of the Jellyfish particles in the water.”

Micah – “What will stick in my mind the most is swallowing so much salt-water!”

Natalya – “The saltiness will stay in my mind forever. The saltwater was on my teeth and made it hard to chew things.”

Reese – “Seeing a trumpet fish with its mouth and tail like the end of the trumpet where the sound comes out… and diving down and seeing all the see urchins.”

Zoe – “I’ll remember the water was turquoise.”

Tomorrow (Thursday, 3/28), we will spend the morning collecting data on the reef’s health once again and find our way to a beach in a Panamanian National Park for the afternoon! Stay tuned for the next post about our C.R. Anderson group experience in Central America.