Tag: Snorkeling

Islas de San Blas, Panama

Islas de San Blas, Panama

Find your beach….

Sailing to Panama

I’m fascinated by sailing. Partly because I have a healthy fear of the ocean. And it’s healthy to confront your fears…right….right?! Part of that’s because it feels primordial. Sailboats were constructed as early as 4000 BC. And part of that’s because of the romance. Finding that hidden white-sand beach. For these reasons, I got my sailing license this year.

Also for these reasons, we decided (or I forced us) to sail versus fly from Panama to Colombia. We arranged a private sail with six other overlands.

The Experience

The experience was incredible, not only because of the sailing and the islands but also because of the people. Despite being the definition of close quarters — thirteen humans, one boat — we all quickly became best o’ buds. The other overlanders — Wenbo and Xi, a couple from China traveling in a Jeep Compass, Chris and Mark, brothers from Colorado traveling in a vintage Landcruiser, and Tyler and Meghan, a couple from Colorado traveling in a diesel Ford 150 and truck camper — tolerated us just enough that, even after the five-day sail, we rented an apartment in Cartagena for four nights. It took us that long to get our vehicles out of their shipping containers.

The crew — full-time captain Ayelen from Argentina, former nurse and current explorer and first mate Thomas from France, and sabbatical-ed medical doctor and aspiring gelato entrepreneur and current deckhand Sergio from Italy — was experienced and uber-friendly. They comforted us on our extremely uncomfortable sailboat, a 44-ft regatta-style monohull se llama Victory. We hit two epic storms in route, the first and second to last nights. Thanks to a good crew and good drugs, none of us vomited. Though few slept. We were certainly wet for wear. Every cabin leaked. Victory isn’t watertight.

The crew also prepared amazing meals in a kitchen about the size of a washing machine. All of us were amazed how fresh and funky and fantastic everything was, despite at times being in the middle of the ocean. One night they even arranged for twenty lobsters to be caught and cooked by some of the indigenous Kuna Indians on one of the islands. That meal alone would’ve been a fifty spot in the US.

A Swallow on a Winch

This guy rode along for a few hours.

(Photo courtesy of Colorado Chris.)

Beach Score: 9.5 out of 10

This is where they film the Corona commercials (seemingly). It’s like one Corona beach after another. You can truly find your beach here. There’s one for every day of the year.

We visited four islands in total (saw many more) — can’t remember any names, though I suspect many don’t have them — the last two were the most idyllic. The last one also had a reef encompassing one side of the island that was more scenic than anything I’ve seen thus far on this trip. Spectacular snorkeling.

Wild Night

Parenting is challenging. Especially when you’re around your kids twenty-four hours per day seven days per week and for the last (almost) three hundred and sixty-five days. Occasionally, however and of course, your kids give you these insane bursts of joy, insane bursts of pride. Paheli did that on one of the islands one night.

We’d been sailing, snorkeling, and swimming most of the day. Most of us were pooped. But we decided to burn the night away anyway. We made a massive bonfire from fallen palm branches.

A dozen songs later, Everett and Andrea retreated to Victory. Paheli wanted to stay. Despite my eyelashes feeling like miniature dumbbells were attached, I agreed. And I’m stoked I did. Paheli stole the show! She danced, she sang, she danced more. She got other people to dance, culling folks one at a time or all together — she was very specific about whom could dance and when — into her electric dance vortex. A legendary performance.

(Photo courtesy of Colorado Chris.)

Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica

Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica

The road to the beach tells you much about the beach itself. Rough and potholed: probably an underdeveloped, lonesome beach. Smooth and paved: developed and crowded. Thus as our van purred closer the beach on perfect asphalt while high-end condos, villas, and resorts peekabooed through the jungle canopy, I figured we’d pay for it. Parking, food, drinks, our general comfort level, whatever. But I was wrong.

Theft

Theft is rampant, nearly omnipresent in Costa Rica. Everyone has warned us about it at every stop. Our paranoia has become palatable. We’ve also secondhand experienced it: our former traveling buddy Steve had cash and clothing stolen, a German couple we camped near on the Caribbean had their electronics and passports stolen, and we met a Swiss couple that had everything except their passports (thankfully!) stolen.

Thus, as we’ve learned and been instructed, you either need to pay for parking or park right on the beach (and keep vigilant eyes on your stuff). Some folks take everything out of the car and just leave the car open, to avoid having it broken into. Fortunately at Playa Flamingo, you can park right on the beach.

Beach Score: 7.5 out of 10

If your teacher asked you to draw a beach, it’d end up looking like Flamingo: crescent-shaped, verdant hills, and whitish sand. If your family asked you to pick kid-friendly beach, it’d end up being like Flamingo: wide, long, and flat with Tempurpedic-like sand, few rocks, and gentle waves. Perfect beach to kick a soccer ball. Toss a football. Or play that one paddle game that I see everywhere but can’t seem to buy anywhere.

Flamingo has most of what makes an awesome beach. Most. What it doesn’t have is funky, inexpensive lodgings and restaurants — what have become our preference on this trip — and snorkeling. Besides one hopped-up stingray, that kept hopping through the waves near us, the only unusual sea-life I saw was a plethora, a virtual sea forest, of sand worms jutting from the sea floor on the north end of the beach. They grossed me out enough to get out of the water.

Finally, despite the luxury looking down at us from the hills above, Flamingo never felt snooty. We never felt underdressed in other words — despite, quite literally, being underdressed; all our swimsuits are a thread or two away from being nude suits. It also never felt crowded. I suspect, most times of the year and days of the week, you’d have plenty of space to yourselves on this near perfect family beach. Just park your car nearby.

Pink Sand

Flamingo’s cream-colored sand has a pinkish hue. Or at least I think it does. I’d read that, certain times during the year, the sand gets pink. Hence the name. However, it’s quite possibly, quite probably actually, that after reading that before arriving, my feeble, easily-influenced mind projected pink into the sand. Preconceived notions and all that.

(Photos courtesy of my parents)

Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica

Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica

We’ve been traveling with family — my family first, now Andrea’s family — down Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, hitting most of the major beaches, and a few minor ones, as we inch toward Panama. Figured I’d write shortish posts on each stop. For our memoirs mostly. But hopefully also for your information (and enjoyment), if case you ever venture down here.

Beach Score: 7 of 10

Ocotal checks most boxes: More croissant- than crescent-shaped, but shapely nonetheless. A smattering of islands in the distance. Boats bobbing in the bay. Jungle sights and smells and sounds. The quintessential beach restaurant (Father Rooster, where the picture above was taken). Checks most…

Black Sand

I take back what I wrote about black sand beaches.

While I can’t verify this with any statistical certainty, given the scant samplings, but (I think) I like black sand more than tan. More than beige. Honey. Even cappuccino. While white — the less hue, the better — remains my favorite, black is nudging into second. If only for its rarity.

The Sands of Ocotal

Playa Ocotal, in spots, primarily toward the south end of the beach, has truly black sand. No hue. Absorbs all light. We’ve visited other black sand beaches — like Playa Negra, a beach on Costa Rica’s Caribbean side — but they’re more charcoal. Gray even.

You’d think, or at least I’d think, given its color and source (volcanic rock) that the Ocotal sand would be rough, raw, scrape-inducing. It’s anything but. It’s the softest sand I’ve ever felt. Like walking on black satin.

The satin is, however, limited to the beach. As it nears the water, it swirls with coarser tan sand. It doesn’t blend, like creamer eventually into coffee, but swirls. Coexists with the tan. Two different sands. Side by side. Then, toes into the water, rocks and shells join the sand, like marshmallows on hot chocolate. Only much harder.

Snorkeling & Secret Beach

The snorkeling was good. No coral reef, but a sufficing of tropical fish, sea fans, starfish, sea anemones, and fish fish — even saw a few spotted eagle rays — zigzagging between the rocks abutting the surrounding cliffs. It was just good enough to compel me to snorkel around the cliffs, revealing an uninhabited beach on the other side. Thought briefly about what’d it be like to Tom Hanks on that beach before plummeting back into the sea.

End with a Joke

Here’s a joke written by Everett: “Why do you throw the clock out the window? Because it’s alarming.”

Placencia, Belize

Placencia, Belize

The Caye you can drive to, as the locals say.

We skipped Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, mostly because the ferries to the islands were complicated with our van but also because, as we’ve read, and confirmed through other travelers, they’re crowded. And gringo. Expats have driven up the prices and out the local charm. Everyone is trying to access the same reef anyway. Placencia seemed as good a place as any to do so.

Mariposa Restaurant & Beach Suites

We crashed in the parking lot of the Mariposa. The owners, a cordial couple from Canada, just requires campers to eat at least one meal per day in their restaurant. Well well worth it. You get access to their sparkling pool, combed beach, and stunning views for the price of an excellent, albeit slightly expensive, meal.

Flat Wallet

Everything in Belize is expensive. Beers are served in 9oz to 10oz bottles (so you pay more per ounce). Food costs as much if not more than the US. Gas is twice as expensive as the US. And unless you just happen to have a SUV and/or a boat parked down here, to explore the jungles and cayes, ya gotta pay for guides. We spent as much in a week here as we did in two weeks in Mexico.

Belize Love

Nevertheless, we love Belize.

The towns, while not picturesque like some colonial towns in Mexico, are colorful and charming. They’re also clean, especially compared to most towns in Mexico. The highways are gorgeous. The Hummingbird Highway, which bisects Belize, is like driving through a jungle fantasy. The people are also incredibly, obnoxiously friendly. Not obnoxious in that they annoy you, but obnoxious in that they remind you that you’re not that friendly….

And the culture, a combo of British colonial and creole and Caribbean and Central American, is fascinating. And an anomaly in this region. It feels different. The casual tempo, the happy demeanors, the sweltering humidity. It also sounds different. The garifuna drumming, the sing-song English, the rastafari music. It’s a place where you want to sit and do nothing — which, if you do, will save you money.

Beaches

You shouldn’t vacation in Belize for the beaches. They’re nice, but they’re not postcard, sleep-in-the-sand beaches — unless you’re fortunate to travel to one on some remote caye. The beaches are, however, excellent jumping off points for the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest reef system in the world. If you’re a diver and/or snorkeler, this is your place.

Silk Cayes

We took a snorkel tour of the Silk Cayes Marine Reserve. Even though it was overcast (see picture below), which obscured the visibility a bit, we saw as much marine life as we’ve ever seen. Dozens of varietals of coral and tropical fish. Nurse Sharks, Spotted Eagle Rays, Southern Stingrays, and Leatherback Turtles. Even saw a Magnificent Frigatbird get into a Top Gun dogfight with a Laughing Gull. While I’ve been to more easily-accessible reefs (US and Spanish Virgin Islands) and more colorful reefs (Hawaii), I’ve never been to a larger, more diverse reef. You can snorkel for days in any direction.

Snorkel Adventure

Snorkel Adventure

Written by Everett. Typed by Dad.

Date: 12th of April

When we got to the Mariposa, we wanted to go in the pool, so we got on our swimsuits. It was 4ft to 5ft. The next day, we went to The Sidewalk. The next day, we went snorkeling at the second largest reef system in the world. We saw lots of fish.