Panama Pacific Coast 2010

N 08° 07' W 82° 19'

Mangoes and coconuts

May 25, 2010

When unfamiliar with the local language, it can be easy to assume that most place names are derived from a person’s name.  Islas Pedro Gonzales and San José were obvious examples and Coiba was thought to be a variation of the Indian Chief Quibol.  Many other names include straightforward adjectives such as Bahía Honda (Deep Bay), Ensenadas Hermosa and Naranjo (Beautiful- and Orange Coves), Islas Secas and Gobernadora (Dry- and Governor’s islands) and Golfo Dulce and Golfito (Sweet and Little Gulf, to where we were headed in Costa Rica).

The third group of names that required a bit of research in the Spanish dictionary were potentially the most interesting and on our recent travels included: Granito de Oro (the aptly named from a snorkeling perspective Nugget of Gold), La Bruja (The Witch – a nasty, mostly submerged rock), Isla Barco Quebrado (the rather ominous Island of the Broken Ship) and the distinctly odd Isla Parida, which in our dictionary translated to Island of “Stupid thing to say/do”.  We wondered if there was an interesting story behind this name, or another translation. It also made us glad that we had no pushed our luck in trying to navigate to another anchorage when the seas had been so rough on our arrival.

After three nights at Ensenada del Varadero (our little dictionary did not offer any suitable translation of this name unless it is related to a stick or rod – la vara), conditions had calmed down enough to explore another anchorage on the northeast side of the Isla Parida.  The swells were still throwing some significant spray up from some of the many rocky outcrops along our route but once we rounded the west end of Isla Gamez (presumably someone’s name) we found that it was fairly settled on the northwest side of this little island so on midday Tuesday (May 25th) we anchored just off a very attractive sandy beach.

We had originally thought that Vahana may have headed to this area after leaving us at Las Secas but we had learned on the single-side-band network that they had carried on further west to spend a night on the east (Panama) side of Punta Burica on the mainland.  They made their final, rough passage into Golfo Dulce on Sunday, anchoring for that night near Puerto Jimenez and then thankfully checked-in at Golfito on Monday only to learn that the ship picking up Vahana was going to be at least a week late.

We had been listening to the morning cruiser net (9am in Panama) on the SSB partly to find out how Slip Away was doing (they got to the Galapagos with only a few windless days and seemed to be very happy there) and partly because Jan had talked Randall into agreeing to host the net on Sundays.  His first day as net-controller had been when we had very good reception and broadcasting at Isla Gobernadora and it was quite enjoyable.  The net-controller is provided with a simple script (emergency traffic first, then boats underway, general notices, and general check-ins) and their main role is to facilitate communications so that people do not all try to talk at once and to help arrange relays when one boat cannot hear another but an intermediate boat can hear both.  We had not checked-in very often except when we wanted to communicate with a particular boat (such as Slip Away, Joss, or Vahana) but we knew that the network is particularly important for boats underway on the longer passages such as going to the Galapagos (other networks are organized beyond there).  So being a good sport, Randall had agreed to host the network one day a week, especially as Jan was soon going to be out of useful range and would no longer be available as a net-controller.  It was a fun and interesting activity when it was easy to communicate with other boats as had also occurred at Coiba but it was much more difficult and consequently less satisfying for everyone during the stormy conditions when we have been at the south of Isla Parida.  Still, we had been glad to hear that Vahana had made it to Golfito despite the rough seas.

The beaches on Isla Parida that we could see from our Isla Gamez anchorage each seemed to have a large house or huts and boats related to small resorts so they did not look particularly welcoming.  The little beach on Isla Gamez, however, was very attractive so soon after lunch we rode ashore in the dinghy and explored.  There was a trail along the south side of the island to the east end which provided some spectacular views of narrow little coves worn out of the cliffs and of the general surroundings.  There were few shells on the beach but there were plentiful coconuts and a conveniently placed, sharpened stick stood waiting for the next person to rip open the husk of a coconut, an activity that entertained Randall for a while.  There was also a splendid mango tree that produced a prodigious number of delicious tiny mangoes (about the size of a large chicken egg) which were in various stages of ripening.  We helped ourselves to a small bag-full of fallen fruit and left a few for other people and animals to enjoy. 

While walking on the trail we had found a detour that lead to a rather uninspiring dead-end surrounded by thick vegetation.  Unexpectedly there was a small folding beach-chair hanging from a tree limb just overhead and curiously most of the seat was neatly cut out.  While we puzzled over these finds, we had to avoid stepping into several deep, leaf-filled pits whose steep sides and rectangular shape suggested human (spade) action rather than animal digging.  Finally, the clues all fell into place and we realized that we had found the impressively well-kept and clean latrine site for day-trip visitors to the island.

Just after we had anchored, a large party barge with the name Pescado Panama (Panama fishing) had chugged across from the mainland towards us and had anchored a few hundred yards off-shore of us.  It appeared to have several air-conditioned cabins along with several kayaks and a small sport-fishing boat but we could only see one person on board and no fishing tackle so it all seemed a bit odd unless everyone else was taking a nap.  Not long after we returned from our island exploration, however, the mystery was resolved as two mid-sized sport-fishing boats well equipped with fishing gear pulled up close to the beach and disgorged half a dozen cheerful guys who were obviously ready to swim and drink beer after a day of fishing.  Later, the crew member on each boat picked the fishermen up and took them over to the Pescado Panama where they presumably ate and slept in some comfort.  Most considerately, by the time it got dark they re-anchored a bit further away so that the guys could enjoy their evening activities at full volume without causing too much disturbance.

At the same time that the fishers appeared, a huge catamaran also arrived and anchored very snugly between us and the beach so that their eight passengers could also enjoy swimming over to the island and making the same explorations and collections that we had made of coconuts and (few remaining) mangoes.  The catamaran had several crew members and large numbers of scuba tanks so we assume that it was on a diving cruise that was taking an afternoon break.  The water was so murky around Isla Gamez that there was no point in trying to snorkel or dive there.  After our visit ashore, we had cruised around the island in the dinghy and found that the water around the rocks to the east, which are supposed to provide good snorkeling, was much to turbid to see anything so we wondered how far field this group had had to go to find some good diving.

Although catamarans typically have a shallow draft this one was so close to the beach that we wondered whether it would be high and dry at low tide but once the passengers were all back aboard they too re-anchored further away and left us to enjoy a peaceful night in our popular haven.  And popular it continued to be.  The next morning I swam ashore to wander around the beach at low tide and to collect a few more mangoes that had fallen during the fresh breezes that night.  I also spend an hour or so cleaning Tregoning’s waterline during which time a lancha arrived from the mainland and unloaded 10 people, a very lively Labrador puppy, and several ice-chests of food and drinks.  I felt a bit sorry that they would not find a lot of mangoes on the sand but they seemed set to have a good day there anyway.  They were busy swimming, eating, and exploring by midday when we hoisted our anchor and set off for Costa Rica.

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