Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Week 3: Panama to Costa Rica

Two weeks may have been enough, though we so looked forward to Costa Rica.  Just became tired of socializing, eating, scheduling, get the picture!  There were many excursions and land tours from our anchorage in various beautiful locations but all were very expensive.  The ship's currency is the Euro, so not favorable to Americans.  We often found that going ashore and bargaining with taxi drivers was a lot cheaper, and more fun to do on our own.  Our last week's itinerary proved to be quite nice in spite of our waning enthusiasm!

Leaving Panama on the southwest Pacific, we first stopped at Isla Iguana,  a beautiful little island about 7 km or 4.5 miles off the coast of Panama, a Wildlife Refuge surrounded by palm trees, fine white sand beaches, and crystal clear waters, perfect for snorkeling the coral reefs.  There appeared to be a small, private hostel for a few overnight guests.  Frigate birds were in abundance and the fishing was said to be terrific.

Ashore for snorkeling on Isla Iguana

The epitome of a cruise photo (says Beth)

Howard in his element
Our next stop was Isla Gamez, one of the many uninhabited islands located in the Chiriqui Gulf National Marine Park, near the border with Costa Rica.  The extensive coral reef and mangrove swamps serve as protected areas for leatherback turtles and many species of exotic fish.  The beautiful beaches are lined with coconut palms.  Our naturalist, Steffi, who joined us in Panama, proceeded to open a fallen coco for us that she found on the beach.  She gives talks a couple of times a day on the flora and fauna of our destinations in Costa Rica.

Golfito is a remote and secluded town on the southern Pacific mainland coast, not far from the border with Panama.  A major port until the mid 80s, Golfito was the center for the banana growing region, with the United Fruit Company's headquarters being based here.  Since its closure the town has suffered from major economic loss but with the advent of tourism, is slowly rebuilding itself.

We looked forward to the day ashore, first just sitting at the marina bar with a beer and free wifi.  The ship's wifi is 20 Euros for 3 hours, or about $9 an hour!  Next we walked the short distance into town and found a Farmacia for some throat lozenges as I seem to be coming down with a sore throat or something.

We wanted local  Tico food for lunch and the pharmacist recommended the perfect restaurante.  We had hamburgers and French fries...hamburguesas con papas fritas!  Every small Central American country has their own national beer.  Here in Costa Rica it is Imperial.  In Belize, it is Belikin and in Honduras, Salva Vida.

Picturesque Golfito

Golfito fishing fleet

Nice view from town

All aboard...though this is not the ship's tender

Approaching Drake Bay we seemed to have magically entered the rainy season as we were hit by a deluge.  A good reason to stay aboard and while the hours away reading.  The groups that had pre-paid "horseback riding to the last frontier" and a hike through Corcovado National Park returned 4 hours later drenched to the bone.  Many tender or inflatable trips to shore warn of wet landings, meaning you usually disembark in the water or surf, but this wet landing took on a stronger meaning!

By the time we reached Quepos we almost felt at home, having visited this area and stayed for a week in 2004.  Instead of paying the 44 Euros per person, or $120 for the two of us, to visit Manuel Antonio National Park, we just hired a taxi when we got into port:  $30 round-trip for the taxi and $20 for park admittance for two.  After hiking around for awhile, and yes seeing a monkey...though the photo is blurry, we paid a few extra dollars or colones (500 = $1) for cold Imperials.  Oh, and taxi drivers don't let you out of their sight so no worries about him being there for the return trip!

See the monkey?

A taxi to Manuel Antonio..much cheaper than ship tour

Banana plants

The beach at sunset
Please click on Isla Tortugas to get more info on our last stop for snorkeling or a paid nature walk at the private Curu Wildlife reserve.  We stayed onboard and began organizing and packing after 3 weeks of being spread out in closets and cabinets,  for tomorrow's arrival at Puerto Caldera and our point of disembarkation.  We did admire the view of Isla Tortugas where there were many day-cruise boats ferrying passengers to and fro'. 

Isla Tortugas from a zoom lens

 So dear friends, by the time you read this we will be enjoying 4 days of "decompression" at a condo in Jaco, Costa Rica.
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