The mountains are higher, the ocean is larger, and distances between destinations on the Pacific coast of Panama are greater. It seems like time goes by more quickly on this side, too; it’s hard to believe it’s been over a month since we crossed the canal. We’re only 100 miles from Bocas del Toro as the crow flies, but it often feels like a different country altogether. The landscape is more severe: dry, steep hillsides slope into deep blue ocean, breakers thundering where they meet; tidal range is huge - as much as six meters - and the appearance of the shoreline is altered every six hours as the incoming tide consumes everything within range and the outgoing tide sucks it all away. It’s harder to get fresh fruits and vegetables, though when we do the quality is superb. The beaches have that Pacific feel to them with the sun setting over the ocean, giving the trees an orange glow that contrasts against the black sand on the beach. We spend every night at anchor – there are no marinas – and getting ashore can be quite difficult – there are few docks – especially if the swell is up. We still find the occasional white sand beach and it’s still tropical. Just less ukulele and starfish tropical and more shark and crocodile and dark, cavernous tropical… if that makes sense.
We’ve worked our way up the coast from Panama City as far as Isla Parida, zig-zagging between mainland and island anchorages, and one of the most noticeable differences between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific is the amount of marine life we've encountered. We’ve been diving a lot and the reefs are alive with big schools of jacks and tangs. White-tips reef sharks, cubera snapper, spotted eagles rays and manta rays skirt along beneath us. And though we haven’t spotted any yet there are whale sharks around. If the boat is moving, the fishing lines are out. Otherwise the spear gun serves the same purpose, so the freezer is packed full of snapper, dorado, mackerel and wahoo. The surfing hasn’t been bad, either. We even had a rare opportunity to anchor within paddling distance of a really nice left-hander one day, where glassy waves were breaking with no one but us there to ride them (“ride” is a loose term in my case…).
There have been downsides, too, which I'll get to. It's not all beer and skittles, in Matt's words.
Anyway, we've had very limited access to the Internet so I’m trying to catch up a bit before we head off for the Galapagos on Tuesday. If you’ve been checking the map, you’ll have noticed that the area in which we've spent most of our time is spotted with clumps of islands. They’re all beautiful and remote and have subtle differences and describing them all in detail would make a very long post, so instead I’ll just share a few highlights from the past month over the course of the next few days. I’ll start tomorrow with Isla Cebaco. In the meantime, here are a few photos of the Pacific coast of Panama.