Snorkeling in the Caribbean – Bocas del Toro

Over the past few days, we have had the opportunity to spend many hours snorkeling around the coral reefs in Bocas del Toro (Panama). Today we trekked back across the border (which went much smoother than the way down). There was a lot less apprehension among the group, as we were all veterans of the crossing and understood what the emigration/immigration process would look like in reverse.

We are now working our way up the National highway that is once again packed with semis hauling Banana’s and other goods as was described in an earlier blog post. We are en route to the Sarapiquí Rainforest Region of Costa Rica, the final area we will explore before returning to San José Sunday evening. We saw a couple Sloths in a Cahuita National Park just before lunch. While both the Chicken and Rice and the Beans and Rice options were favorites, and while a number of us opted for a Hamburger with fries (including our bus driver Christian, who told some of the group he eats Beans and Rice three times a day every day and this opportunity was extra special for him), Luna was the only one to order the Casado con Carne.

Luna Casado con Carne

Luna with her Casado con Carne.

This meal always has the meat (chicken pieces or breasts, fish, pork chops, or beef) chopped potatoes in a sauce, rice, beans, salad, and sometimes plantains. When she got her plate, many of us were second-guessing our orders. I told the group I would be ordering Casado con Carne if it is an option on the remainder of our experience.

After eating, we had a brief ceremony to thank one of our guides, Amelia, who would be leaving us later in the afternoon to join another group coming to visit. Each member of our group had written a brief ‘Thank You’ to Amelia on a colored popsicle stick, and we gave her an envelope with the sticks and a tip in appreciation for all she had done. Students wrote notes on popsicle sticks like Henry’s, “Thank You so much for showing us around. I’ll remember this trip for the rest of my life.”

Thank You Amelia 2019

A sampling of the popsicle sticks we gave to Amelia as part of her thank you gift.

Of course no day would be complete without La Pregunta del Día; so, The Question:

Over the past few days in Bocas del Toro, we experienced snorkeling and Caribbean culture. What have you learned about snorkeling, the reef, or about life in general while spending time in the Caribbean? How might this experience apply to your life when you return to Montana?

Afton – Wear sunscreen. That is what I learned. You have to apply it a lot of times. Being sunburned is no fun. Even in Montana, I think I will still wear sunscreen when I return.

Aidia – I learned how much climate change is affecting the ocean and the coral reefs and everything. I was obviously aware of climate change and everything, but after seeing the reefs for myself, I’m definitely going to share with others the importance of addressing climate change. That is what I will do when back in Montana.

Barrett – I learned that the water was a lot warmer and clearer than it is in Montana. If I ever think the water is too cold when I’m back in Montana, I can just move to the Caribbean!

Brandon – I learned that the water isn’t good to drink. It is a lot warmer, and that there are way more colorful fish. And I learned not to touch Sea Urchins, the hard way. I’ve also learned that there are jellyfish cells that can sting. Finally, I learned that sometimes things go a lot better when I try to be a part of the group instead of always pushing limits to get noticed and yelled at by the adults.

Brody – I thought that a coral reef was healthier if it was brighter, but it actually is healthier the darker it is because it has to have more algae in it and that makes it darker. The algae helps the coral get oxygen. When the ocean gets polluted, the algae can’t grow and the reef starts to die.

Carson – Something I learned was that the coral reefs are much more affected by pH than I thought. I thought coral was like a tree – like a plant, but it’s an animal. Also, I learned the reef uses algae for energy and stuff with the process of photosynthesis. I will appreciate how clean my house is upon return.

Clement – I learned that they don’t use cars that much – they use more boats. I saw a lot more shops than I’m used to, and I saw a lot of people who are trying to make a living, but don’t have much. When I’m back in Montana, this will affect my life because I’ve found we should all appreciate what we’ve got because we’ve got a beautiful place to live and have a higher standard of living. Even though they don’t have a lot, they were still happy, and we should be too.

Craig – I learned that there is coral in the ocean like Fire Coral that can hurt you if you touch it. A number of our group got cut by this coral and they said it hurt pretty bad (Jacob said, “It cut pretty bad – I probably shouldn’t have touched that.”).

Dayan – One thing I learned is that it is a lot hotter over here and it’s way easier to get sunburned – like really bad sunburn. When I return to Montana, I might take somebody with me when I go into the water because I learned the importance of having a buddy in the water.

Delaney – One thing I learned was how to Duck Dive, and that was cool. It was difficult to go vertically down. You want to go horizontally so you can see all the fish, but you need to dive straight down and you’ll see more – how to do a proper Duck Dive, I guess. Back home, I’ll put on sunscreen even when in water. I always thought the water protected you from the sun, but now I know that isn’t true – it intensifies the rays.

Gage – No response.

Henry – I learned that many people use their boats as mainly their job. Their whole economy is based upon water and boats. Like Roberto, who lived in a shack – the only income he had was shuttling people around in his boat. When back home, I’ll appreciate how easy it is going to be for me to get a job when I turn 15.

Jacob – I learned that the reefs aren’t very well protected. Some of the bigger name reefs are protected, but the littler/lesser known reefs are dying because of pollution and temperature changes. Like Henry said, the islands don’t have that many jobs. Tourists are their big income. When I am legal working age, I’ll appreciate how easy it is to get a job and have a house. I’ll appreciate non-polluted waters and having drinking water, as well.

Jackson – The plumbing is whack. It’s crazy, like the way you can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. I’m not gonna lie, I had to use a spoon to get some toilet paper our once because I threw it in the toilet out of habit. Also, I was wearing my Bocas hat, and many people would just look at me and say, “BOCAS!” The people here are very passionate sports fans. The kids were playing soccer at night in the street behind our hotel for hours – they were using large plastic milk crates on their side as goals. They are just passionate.

Luna – I like how nobody is on their phones here. I feel kind of inspired by that and I am going to try to be on my phone less when I go back to Montana. You miss out on time with your family or being outside when you are on your phone.

Matteo – I learned that the health of the reef can actually control the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. We really need to cut down on pollution if we want to have healthy, non-toxic air to breathe on our planet. Something I’ll take back to Montana is an appreciation for clean streets and clean water. I also want to try to conserve more – like using less water and plastics because it can really affect the world we live in.

Maya – A lot of people rely on the ocean for how they live. The Caribbean people need a healthy ocean to continue living as they have. In Helena, we think of the ocean as somewhere to go on vacation, but for many, I learned it is so much more.

Micah – I learned that you need to listen to your parents when they say, “Sunscreen isn’t a joke when you get closer to the equator,” because these blisters – man! Being a part of the marine research was a contribution to the cause. Even though we didn’t do much, the plots we surveyed and the data we recorded will help ensure the future of that reef.

Natalya – I didn’t know that there was salt in the ocean. I learned that the water is really salty. You can get burned a lot easier in Central America than at home. The water here is a lot bluer as well. I’ll bring back what I learned in that we can change the environment by being aware of what we are doing.

Reece – I learned that Sand Dollars grow vertical to the ground and that they are related to the Star Fish. I also learned that the Caribbean Islands rely on water for transportation, and that they need rain to have drinking water. Back home, I am reminded we are more careless with our water than they are here.

Zoe – I learned that you should wear sunscreen. You can get burnt easily in the water, it makes it hard to sleep, and then you get grumpy. It feels like somebody is rubbing sandpaper on my skin right now and it hurts. I’m going to listen to my mom when back in Montana and wear sunscreen!

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We checked into the Selva Verde Lodge last night, had an excellent meal, and 1/2 our group got to go on a “Night Hike” in the Sarapiquí Rainforest. The other half will go tonight, and those excursions will be the subject of a future post. We’re off to the Rainforest this morning and then going to zip-line in the afternoon! Check back soon to see how those activities are going!