My friend, Maiju, has traveled to Bocas del Toro in Panama several times and acted as a tour guide for a few of her friends and I yesterday. The main island of ‘Bocas’ is called Colon, which is where the majority of the islands’ residents live. Apart from Colon, the other main island is Bastimentos. In Bocas, Bastimentos is known for having beautiful, unspoiled beaches. There are two main beaches: Red Frog and Wizard. We wanted to do both. But, that made things a bit trick.
We caught a water taxi from Bocas Town to Bastimentos around noon (quite a bit later than planned, considering we were going to spend the full day basking in the sun… however I later realized that may have been only my intention :)).
Let me pause here to explain the awesomeness of these water taxis. For a few dollars, a local man with a rickety 10-person(ish) boat will speed you across the Caribbean Sea to whatever Bocas island you wish to go to. They have these other places in the world, and I’ve used them in Jamaica, but there was a simplistic charm about the handful I’ve ridden on in Panama. The men are no-nonsense drivers who don’t try to swindle you or charm you, or really even make small talk (although with their friendly grins and English knowledge, I’m sure they would speak to you if you tried). These boats are in need of new paint jobs, but the colors are all like candy necklace colors, bleached from a bright green to pale mint from the sun.
OK, back to the Trek. Once we got to the island we took a simple walk across a man-made gravel road. Ok, this was cool. A bit more developed than I would have liked when heading to a “rustic” beach, but ok… Oh I shouldn’t have even bothered thinking that.
Red Frog was very pretty – definitely in my personal Top 10 beaches. There was a bar/cafe, volleyball court, wooden lookout point, and a handful of for-rent chairs under palm beach umbrellas.
But the water was amazing! One thing you’ll need to know about me is that I love water. Any kind — ocean, lake, river, uber-chlorinated pool — anything. Despite being a fire sign (go Sags!), immersing myself in water is the most self-reviving thing I’ve yet to do in my life. Any time I’m feeling low, the water can bring me back to center. The waves were big but the water was clear and cool. Perfection.
After we’d had our fill of Red Frog, which included an impromptu soccer match with a few local boys and a glimpse at the infamous poisonous red frog thanks to a different local duo, we were off to Wizard Beach.
Maiju knew the way as she’d done it before, but we were cautioned it wouldn’t be easy. UNDERSTATEMENT of the trip thus far. This 1.5-hour trek was a treacherous endeavor for the six of us (all from the farm apart from a hostel mate we just met). We’re at the end of Central America’s rainy seasons and the majority of any “path” has all but washed away. At several points we questioned which direction to head and decided to stay as close to the shore as possible (at some times, I questioned whether we should actually head back to the developed Red Frog). The shoreline has little sand unless you’re actually on one of the named beaches. Instead, the shoreline is full of mangrove-like trees, jagged black volcanic rock, or sharp rocky ledges. So no, there would be no simple beach walking here.
This land seemed so unspoiled by humans – there were plants and trees as far as the eye could see. So many hues of green, speckled with a purple banana flower here, or a towering red stalk-like plant there, and even one tiny orange frog. A true feast for the eyes, but talk about danger. Each of us each had at least one spill, and shortly into the trek all of us ended up barefoot (nature’s best shoe, in my opinion). There were points of 12+” mud holes we sludged through, “tree limbs” we grabbed onto only to find out they were not attached to anything, and picker bushes, and palms, and coconuts, and so many rocks. It was amazing, but it was definitely the most adventurous nature trek I’ve ever taken. Without a guide, even. Maiju would occasionally laugh when we’d ask, “Are you sure sure this is the way?” “Yeah I think so,” she’d say. Very comforting.
After the long walk/climb/slide to the open air of Wizard Beach, I was a bit hesitant. At first I couldn’t see a single soul on this half-mile stretch of truly unspoiled beach against a jungle backdrop and sea green waves. I began to wonder if we ended up somewhere completely different, which wouldn’t have been too difficult to do considering we’d moved away from any sure path about 100 yards into the trek.
But sure enough, I spotted two surfers in the distance and my mind was at ease. We’d made it. And it was amazing! Exhausting, both physically and mentally, but so rewarding.
It’s things like this that remind me how truly powerful the human body is. Challenges will come, but if you don’t seize the opportunity, you’ll never reap the reward.