Greetings all! I’m writing you from Panama City—the last destination of my trip through Central America. But first, I’m going to discuss my last day in Bocas del Toro. I woke up very early at Hostel Mamallena’s to make myself some coffee and pancakes. I decided to go diving in the morning, so it was essential for me to be awake and at least semi-full with food. I walked just down the road to a local dive shop called Diving Pirates. I loved the name of the shop and curb appeal from the torn private flag blowing in the wind. I spotted the shop the day before when eating at the açaí berry shack. A local also referred me to the shop stating they are experienced divers who also focus on conservation work.
I showed up to Diving Pirates right around 8AM. I was greeted by two friendly Divemaster trainees. I don’t have my physical Rescue Diver card yet, so they had to look me up in the system to ensure I was actually certified. A few minutes later, they found me and we started trying on equipment. I always dread picking out a mask because a bad mask can ruin a dive. I didn’t want to have the same troubles I had before in Utila on a few of my dives. I cautiously picked one and kept moving. The Diving Pirates actually rent out top-notch fins compared to all other dive centers I’ve been with. I had really long Cressi fins with comfortable complementary dive boots. There was a group of Discover Scuba Divers going on the boat, too, so the shop walked through various safety lessons before we departed.
We dove two different sites that were relatively close together. The first one was simply named The Wreck. It was a very shallow dive (11M) around a ferry that was intentionally sunk nearly 20 years ago. I enjoy shallow dives because the pressure is almost negligible, so air lasts much longer. The lead instructor and a Divemaster trainee took the Discover Scuba guys down for some preliminary skill refreshers. I was paired up with an Australian Divemaster trainee named Chey Pike. She deserves the credit for all these pictures (she brought the GoPro down). We started the dive by descended near the mooring line. Our plan was to first explore the wreck, break off towards coral formations, then circle back and meet up with the other group. The wreck was quite larger than I expected. Most of the ferry boats I had seen in Bocas were just small little river boats. This one, however, had 3-4 meter high hull. The larger size made it more interesting to dive because we could alter our depths more to check out the bottom and the top of the wreck. We didn’t see anything too crazy in the beginning other than massive schools of parrotfish and a few angelfish. Next, we headed towards the coral reefs. Here we spotted one of the most intriguing things I’ve seen yet while diving. There was a school of 6 squid all swimming perfectly in a line. The whole time we watched them they didn’t break the line formation. I studied them for a few minutes and realized they’re bodies look very similar to founder when gliding through the water. When we regrouped with the other team the lead instructor found a bright orange seahorse. Most seahorses don’t grow larger than five inches in the Caribbean, but this one was pushing that threshold. Seahorses are horrible swimmers so it was hanging on by its tail to a coral formation. We also spotted my first lion fish of this entire trip. Lion fish are an invasive species in the Caribbean and are typically spear fished as a result. Many dive shops make lion fish ceviche now, which I’m bummed I never got to try. Some day!
We surfaced for a very short interval to scarf down some pineapple and ginger cookies. Our next dive spot was just a few meters away called Mangrove Point. Highlights from the bottom included more squid, a massive jelly, many more species of reef fish, and a toadfish–that thing was ugly. It has little tentacles springing from its chin area, which distinguishes it from other similar looking fish (sand divers and blended). My favorite part of the dive was posing for pictures. Chey brought the GoPro down again so I was able to practice my underwater Buddha pose a lot. We all descended into a small sand patch to take a group photo. Myself and another diver got horrible hamstring cramps during the picture-taking process. We powered through under the “mind over matter” motivation. Somehow we managed to snag a complete picture with like 5-6 people in it. Overall, the actual diving in Bocas wasn’t as rich as in Utila, but the people made the experience completely worth it. I can’t say enough positive feedback about the experience and professionalism of Diving Pirates shop.
I exited the dive shop around 1 PM and ran into the three Brits from my hostel by complete happenstance. I annoyed the crap out of them with stories from the dives but they still let me eat lunch with them. They turned questionable hamburger meat into delicious burgers. We just lounged around the rest of the day, enjoying piña coladas and mojitos during happy hour from 4-8 PM. I was persuaded into cooking gallo pinto for seven people for dinner. It turned out really well despite lacking the critical ingredient Lizano sauce. I diced up a pineapple and aimed for 10/10 on presentation (I think I did pretty well). We entertained ourselves for a few hours after dinner playing King’s (or Ring of Fire/King’s Cup). One of my favorite things about traveling is that I’ve learned drinking games are relatively ubiquitous around the world. Everyone plays the same games only with slightly different rules. This makes it both interesting and challenging. It’s fun to pierce together rules from different cultures to create a blended scenario.
Around 10PM we headed to local bar called the Bookstore Bar. It’s exactly what it sounds like–a bar with heaps of books everywhere. Rather than reading, though, we played Giant Jenna with like 6 people. It was entertaining for quite a while until we discovered they had a toilet hanging from the wall. At first, I asked myself “What the h***?” I quickly realized that there was an accompanying soccer ball with the objective of shooting it in. After nearly a half hour of pitiful shots from everyone (including myself), I managed to make it in when almost no one was looking. What’s victory without recognition, right? I went outside to get some fresh air only to find another room where locals were challenging tourists in beer pong. I partnered up with one of the Brits to take the locals down. We started out really strong off to an early lead, but the locals staged a hasty comeback. Our defeat was sealed and we lost by one cup.
We went back into the bar and started playing another drinking game called “Four Corners.” Its a British game that mixes speech with nonverbals. The first round starts out by everyone going around in a circle repeating the same lines: “My hat has four corners, four corners has my hat, if it does not have four corners, than it would not be my hat.” It sounds easy but everything is more difficult when drinking is involved. The next three rounds progress by replacing certain words with nonverbals. I’m the last round, the only words still being said are “has,” “does not,” and “would not.” Its ridiculously challenging despite having enough people where everyone should have known exactly what to do. We left the bar around midnight to grab a quick bite to eat. Almost everywhere on the island was closed except one fast food joint. We ordered loads of hamburgers and didn’t end up getting out of there until 1:30AM. I ran into my dive buddy Chey there and she hyped up my diving skills quite drastically. I thought it was funny.
We went back to the hostel and I chose to fall asleep on the dock until about 4:30AM. I woke up around 7:30 to start packing my bags for my 10:10 flight to Panama City. The Bocas airport was so tiny compared to all the other airports I’ve visited on this trip so far. I probably could have arrived like 30 minutes before my flight and still made it in time. I entertained myself on the flight with a Netflix movie called Expedition Happiness. It’s a short film about a German couple who quit their jobs, renovated an old US school bus, and traveled across North America. I really enjoyed their perspectives on life and traveling. They had bad experiences at the American border, too, so I felt bad for them.
I landed in Panama City just in time for the second half of the game. I took a taxi to the hostel where I’m staying now called Hostel Siriri. On the way we passed a city center downtown where it looked like all of Panama was watching the game. I couldn’t check into my hostel until 1PM, so I killed some time by eating a local place called La Luncheria. The food was tasty and the atmosphere was alive with everyone spectating the game. I don’t plan to do much else today. I want to see the Panama Canal tomorrow and then my flight leaves the following day (Wednesday). I’m sad my trip is almost over but I’m ready to come home! Thanks for reading and watching as always!
Countries I Have Met People From: