Friday, July 9, 2010

The Jaguar

We had heard of a nice hostal on Isla Bastimentos in the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago. To get there, we took a water taxi from the main island (Isla Colon) to Bastimentos. The ride took only about 4 minutes and as we pulled into the sleepy and rather dilapidated town, we saw various dockside porches with hammocks. Unfortunately, we did not pull into one of these but instead had to hike up a very steep pathway up to the hostal which turned out to not be very nice. So we walked back down the hill and along the water until we found our way to a purple wooden building, where we were met by a man who called himself The Jaguar. (And when I say that, I mean that he actually referred to himself in third person as The Jaguar). This seemed like a good omen to us, seeing as I had been searching for the jaguar the entire time wed been in costa rica and hadnt yet found it. So we entered the building which was built entirely on stilts above the water. At the back was a large covered dock with six hammocks and a kitchen. We knew we had found a great place to stay when we were greeted by 4 jovial brits (actually one was irish), one of whom was playing guitar. We settled into some hammocks, and The Jaguar, who had discovered I played accordion, brought out his little Casio keyboard, two microphones, and an amp. For the next hour, he and his wife Nana performed several original compositions for us, each to the tune of a different, pre-recorded keyboard song. During the instrumental breaks, Nana would shout either "Si!" or "Saaaabbbooorrrr." The effect is hard to convey via blog, however ask me in person and I will be happy to demonstrate. Suffice it to say, their performance went from amusing to grating rather quickly...

It was a rainy day, so we just hung out in the hammocks and talked to the other guests, who, it turned out, were on much longer journeys than our own. One couple had been travelling for more than a year and had started at the bottom of South America, then slowly making their way up. Between the four of them, they had been almost everywhere in the world. Over the next few days, we felt as though we were gaining insight into a sort of traveling subculture. Membership requires embracing traveling as lifestyle and being able to swap stories about treks in Borneo, African safaris, and catamaran voyages to remote desert islands. These people do not live lavishly-- at least not all the time. As they put it to us, whereas their friends spent their money on cars and homes, travellers save up and then see the entire world. Indeed, there was almost a hint of a competive spirit involved. A day later, yet another irish couple arrived who had been travelling the world for 2 years. Their passports were maxed-out, which they announced under the guise of being concerned about how they were going to enter the US soon.

Our first morning in Bastimentos, we agreed to go on a day-long tour with the other guests. After an hour of haggling, we worked out a deal-- 17$ a person to be taken by boat to a snorkling spot and then to a pristine tropical island with white sandy beaches. We were a little ambivalent stepping into the boat. 17 sounded like a lot of money to be paying, especially when there were 8 of us going. However, it would be a gross understatement to say that our misgivings prooved baseless.

After about a half hour of navigating through the bocas lagoon, our boat pulled up along side several others in the middle of a large bay. Other snorklers were already in the water, so we quickly donned our gear and jumped in. The reef below was surreal-- if the coral had been made out of neon lights, it couldn't have been more vibrant. Ethereal purple and pink tubes, yellow and green mushroom-looking things, and lots and lots of fish. The sheer amount of fish made me wonder about how you never really know what's beneath the surface when you're swimming-- there must always be a lot of animals staying out of your way. Although its a lame thing to write, the reef really did look like something from a TV show. And perhaps that's what made it so fantastic? It's always exciting when real life outshines your fantasies.

After probably 45 minutes, we reboarded the boat and continued heading north east (I think) towards the sea. Way off in the distance we saw a small island, which slowly grew as the water beneath the boat became bluer and bluer. Finally we could see a circular island, fringed by palm trees and white sand, and surrounded by bright, clear, turquoise water. The driver stopped several times to let us take photographs, but it was one of those moments when you realie that you might as well buy a postcard. (Indeed, the irishman told me that he often just takes pictures of postcards when he visits especially astounding places). This island, named Zapatia, was the quintessential tropical island that one gets marooned on. In fact, the guidebook said that either Zapatia or one of its neighbors was featured on an episode of Lost. Anyways, the boat pulled onto the sand and the driver informed us that he was going to go sleep under a coconut tree and to be back at 430. For the rest of the afternoon, we walked around the island, enjoying different swimming spots and snorkling. After eating our PB&J, we found a young coconut in the sand. With no machete available, we fell to throwing it down onto a big log. I probably would have given up, had it not just felt like the right thing to do on such an island. Eventually, the coconut cracked and I pealed away the skin. It was a little sandy but we enjoyed the milk and then broke it open to eat the flesh. Here we must thank Delroy again for demonstrating so many times the proper way to eat a coconut-- otherwise we might have been at more of a loss for what to do. At this point you may be thinking that we could come no closer to paradise. Well you're right. The only thing separating us from paradise (aside from still being alive) were these annoying biting flies that swarmed around us when we lay down on the sand. Ah well. I guess nothing's perfect after all.

When the sun started sinking down in the west, we sadly returned to the boat. Zapatia was the kind of place that would have been nice to camp on for a day or two, provided you had a little more food and a lot more bugspray.

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