Thursday, July 5, 2018

Day 8- Travel to Bocas del Toro and Tranquilo Bay

After breakfast we departed Boquete for the 3.5 hour bus ride to Boca del Torres on the Caribbean side of Panama. I thought we would all be sleeping on the bus ride but the scenery was too spectacular to miss. We crossed over the continental divide, going from the Pacific side of Panama to the Atlantic side. The mountains were magnificent.

We passed by rural dwellings with their houses on stilts and palm-thatched roofs and saw how people in the remote rural areas live. Quite different from the Canal Zone and Panama City!

We stopped by a huge dam. With many rivers and a lot of rainfall, Panama gets much of its energy from hydroelectric. We stopped to use the restrooms at the visitor center and buy local fruit and snacks from a small farm stand by the road.

We entered banana country and areas where they harvest the palm nut for oil. You could see the clusters of palm nuts along the road ready to be picked up by the harvester and processed for cooking oil.

Literally at the end of what seemed to be the “road to nowhere” was a dock and several waterfront homes.      

We could see two small Boston Whaler-type boats approaching from a distance coming to pick us up and transport us to Tranquilo Bay.. It reminded me that old TV show, Fantasy Island. Instead of "zee plane, zee plane" it was "zee boats, zee boats." 

                                                                   Zee boat, zee boat! Coming to pick us up!

We said goodbye to our beloved guide, Claudio and our driver, Daniel, whom we would meet up with again on our return to Panama City. We were now guests of Jim and Jay, owners of Tranquilo Bay, a sustainable ecolodge they built themselves! They piled our luggage into the bow, passed out the beer, and we were ready for the new adventure awaiting us. It felt like a Jimmy Buffet moment!

With the wind in our faces, we sped through the archipelago for about 45 minutes until we came to the mangrove surrounded Island of Bastimentos where Tranquilo Bay Lodge is situated. No roads- just a dock to greet us and a long walkway through the mangroves.

Check out their web site at this place is amazing- 200 acres of lush rainforest, mangroves, and Caribbean coastline. We stayed in comfortable cabanas and had the lodge to ourselves, being the only group there. There are 8 cabanas and a “duplex”. The accommodations were very nice, double hammocks on each porch. The owners’ attention to detail and design was impressive as was their devotion to giving up their comfortable jobs and lives in Texas to build a sustainable ecolodge and live sustainably in the jungle with their families. The attention to every little detail was amazing. The home cooked meals were delicious- it was the perfect setting to get away and live in and with the rainforest! Jim, Jay, Renee and their children were part of our "family" for three days.

Views of the main lodge and communal dining room (photos on the left were taken from their web site)

 There were 8 cabanas we stayed in and a "duplex" where Page stayed that had a hammock for 2.

Joyce and Carol's cabana

Bats outside Susan and Scott's cabana!

In the afternoon, some people went snorkeling, some went kayaking, others went on a nature walk with Jim and his daughter. We learned more about local plants and tasted different fruits, including the water apple, which looked like a red pear, was mildly tart, and very juicy. We also saw some of the sustainable features they built or designed for water and electricity, including these large bladders for rain water storage (another T in STEM!).

Rainwater storage bladders

So many fruits and flowers!

The water apple

Our new favorite fruit!

We climbed a 6 story tower and were treated to an eye level view of a male 3 toed sloth. You could see the algae on its fur and the yellow spot with black stripe on its back indicating that it was a male. At the top of the tower we watched several species of birds including a lovely masked tityra. As the sun started to dip lower in the sky, it was a signal for the parrots in the treetops to “head home”. The loud squawking began and over a hundred pairs of parrots (they mate for life and fly with their mate) flew overhead.

 Masked tityra

 We watched over 100 parrots, in mating pairs, fly overhead near sunset

 Leaf cutter ant trail seen from the top of the tower- super highway for ants!

After appetizers, cocktails, and a lovely home-cooked communal meal in the lodge with the owners and their family, we wound our way through the dark rainforest paths with flashlights to retire to our cabanas, serenaded by the night sounds of the forest.

Day 7- Baru Volcano National Park and Coffee Plantation/Honey

After breakfast we met our local guide, Jason Lara, who specializes in birding. We traveled to the slope of the Baru Volcano to hike part of the Summit Trail. If we had all day we could have hiked to the top where you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. At the base, as we entered the park, we saw the basalt pillars, similar to ones we saw in Iceland and Devil’s Causeway in Ireland.

Jason spotted for us, with his birder scope, several species of birds. He said we had a 50-50 chance of spotting the resplendent quetzal (look for the wild avocado trees) but unfortunately we did not see one. Jason shared some of the beautiful bird photos he has taken, including the quetzal.

                   Beautiful photos taken by Jason Lara and shared with his permission

We hiked for over 3 hours - learning about the high cloud forest vegetation and birds, experiencing the vast biodiversity of this high cloud forest. At times we had to cross over small streams, balancing across metal pipes laid down to cross over and several narrow foot bridges. 

How many steps, Frank?

The width of the tree trunks is astounding!
  Turkey tail fungus

Beautiful beetle

Right before turning around to head back down the mountain, we saw the magnificent Cenizo tree that was over 1000 years old- massive! Just imagine all the carbon sequestered in that tree!

Coming down the mountain we could see how the clouds descended, hence the name cloud forest.

Before and after- at the beginning of our hike in the morning (top), same spot coming down in the afternoon.

We stopped for lunch at another roadside local restaurant and tried the local fare.

Then off to the coffee farm to learn about coffee, butterflies, raising different species of bees, and the production of local honey. Bees, butterflies, honey, coffee- a pollinator farm! The farm was organic and we were met on the verandah by Johnny, and treated to a cup of their specialty coffee. 

The look of bliss as Claudio sips his coffee!

We strolled through their beautiful gardens and butterfly house, learning about bees and coffee plants. 
Butterflies in the butterfly house and garden

Saw many different  types of bees they raise naturally on the farm

Beautiful painted eucalyptus tree

Orchids on the trees

At the end of our visit we were treated to a honey tasting. Their honey is unique as theyproduce over 40 different flavor profiles with no added flavoring ingredients- all due to thebiodiversity of plants and different species of bees around the Baru Volcano. We bought their coffee in their shop but although we really wanted some, hesitated to buy the honey as U.S. customs considers honey an agricultural product that cannot be brought in without USDA certification.    

Before returning back to our hotel, Claudio said he had one more surprise for us. He said we just had to try the strawberries and cream, a specialty in the region. We stopped at a small “strawberry cafe” for a taste of their different strawberry specialties. Delicious! We love it when Claudio has a special surprise for us!

Time for relaxation back at the hotel, time for beer and cocktails at the bar, another swim, and a delicious dinner.