Playa Estero

 Santa Catalina is a world class surf destination, but it sure isn't easy to get to!  We are staying at Rancho Estero for 3 days and four nights....2 days to surf and one to snorkle.

We have a good sized bungalow with three beds...that's Maya still asleep this morning after a long travel day to get here.
There is an outdoor kitchen, a pretty grungy one, but very necessary in this place becasue there isnt much food nearby.  There is an overpriced restaurant next door and other places are a 20 minute walk down the road.  There is an excellent pizza place called Jammin.  Heres directions:  After you pass three speed bumps, make a left on the dirt road.  It will look like it leads nowhere but keep walking and after 5 mnutes you will see the restaurant.  It worked out great, but the walk home was very very dark.  So dark we could see the Milky Way.
Jack making his famous jungle pancakes then a walk down to the beach for some surfing.
We came for the surf and were not disappointed.  Jack caught the first wave he tried.  Bigger and better waves than Wrightsville Beach, but still manageable.  Its a nice long sandy bottom beach break.
Dad's surf school, the best in town...

Such a fine view from the hotel.

We will be walking down this dark road to get to dinner...silent except for the frogs.


Isla Boca Brava

 Completely unspoiled and incredibly gorgeous, this place is the complete opposite of Bocas Del Toro and infinitely more appealing.  We all needed a break from the trash and crowds...we can breathe!
The hotel doesn't have many guests at the moment, so its super quiet.
To get here from Bocas we took a boat to Almirante, then a taxi to the bus station.  Then we got on a 4 hour bus ride through the mountains to David. 
We walked a few blocks from the bus station to find a place to eat before getting our next bus.  It was hotter than hell and the kids hated me.
From David we got on another bus to Horconcitos...then got on a collectivo to Boca Chica.
In Boca Chica, 8 hours after leaving Bocas Del Toro, we got on another boat to the hotel on Isla Boca Brava. Tired as they were they couldn't help but be interested in the dock and stairway leading up to the hotel.
They got even happier after a shower and a chance to see the view from the restaurant.
The food is decent and reasonably priced..like US prices...but definitely not cheap.  Its the only place to eat so we don't have much of a choice.
Now you can see how much happier everyone is now!  They actually toasted me at dinner for making them slog through the work to get to this awesome place.  They have never done that...they just tolerate or sometimes less than tolerate...these trips.  I was very joyful that they were so happy!
We are only staying here for two nights, it's our halfway point to our next destination.  We had a full day here finding our way around the totally deserted and clean beaches.  Yes, clean!  No trash!!!  No one else around and water as warm as a bath...

Wilderness beaches are a very different expereince than what we are used to.  The jungle comes right down to the sand.  The only thing that would have made this better would be someone to climb a palm tree and get us a coconut!.  The island is really desolate, such a departure from  Bocas. 
Two dogs from the hotel followed us on the 20 minute jungle walk to the beach.  We listed to howler monkeys and exotic bird calls along the way.
In the afternoon we rented kayaks to paddle the shoreline and collect sea glass

We feel like the luckiest people in the world.


Hostal La Qhia

We had a nice stay at La Qhia in Santa Fe.

Maya made friends with Lola from Holland. We went river tubing with them yesterday. She is a sweet girl, and they have been using google translate to talk. Lola is here with her dad in Santa Catalina, and in fact we are going snorkeling with them tomorrow on Isla Coiba.

Santa Fe is a cute and untouristed town. There are only a few restaurants, the best one is the farmers cooperative restaurant. It's the type of place where the wives are cooking up lunch for their farmer husbands, but anyone can eat there. Many of the town residents, not just farmers, were eating there. Three bucks got us the best food we have eaten so far.

There is onset little church in the town center.

Petting baby chicks at the hardware store.

We liked Santa Fe, but there isn't much the kids wanted to do beyond the tubing. There is a lot of hiking, it is in the hills after all...but only 500 meters altitude. If there is one thing they hate it's hiking for 4 hours to nowhere...even if there is a waterfall at the end the kids don't like it. So we left the next morning for Santa Catalina. This turned out to be a great idea because we hooked up with the folks from holland again and decided to go in on a boat trip with them.

Good bye Santa Fe! Thank you to the river for not taking my life. I will be forever in your debt.

Location:Santa Fe, Panama


River Tubing in Santa Fe

It's a good thing we met a guy with a go pro because if there weren't pictures of this you wouldn't believe it...or at least you might not believe that I tubed down a river in the middle of panama, or that I let my kids do it.

The lonely planet guide says that at a local swimming hole a guy named William rents inner tubes and life jackets, which "allow you to float idly down the river". Because it is the rainy season...and it stormed last night pretty hard...there was absolutely nothing idle about this float.

I am a little more anxious than most, and preparing to get in the river was no exception. The kids were super excited....

The current was very fast, and although I don't know anything about rapids, Luis thinks they were class 2 rapids. We got all of the survival instructions in Spanish...while I can last that I can get around a country with my simple Spanish, I wasn't prepared to translate how to survive the rapids in an inner tube. Luckily we have met a cool family, a father traveling with his nephew and daughter, who are Dutch but the dad speaks fluent Spanish because he has lived here for 14 years. So we had that going for us anyway.

Wedged into a large tube, not knowing what the hell I was getting myself into, we launched ourselves off the river bank.

I am not kidding when I say we had to dodge rocks. Well we didn't actually doge them, more like ricochet off them and slam into another one, spin 360, shoot backwards into the next rapids....don't forget to lift your bum up or it will get whacked into a rock.

Launching into the next rapids area, I got turned around and so was heading backwards into rough water..the thing I was most worried about was slamming my helmetless skull into a boulder I wouldn't even see comming. I know what a pinball feels like.

Speaking of seeing...William had my glasses in a waterproof bag because they definitely would have fallen off in this river. I couldn't see a damn thing really, and I most defiantly could not see my children. We were all quite separated, in fact there was no way to hold on to each other.

It's probably a blessing that I couldn't see....because then I couldn't see when Maya fell out of her tube. She fell out of her tube in a swift river in panama. She fell out. She. Fell. Out.

Since William was close behind her he grabbed her and they caught up to her tube somehow. Like I said, I didn't see a thing. I only came upon the scene after it happened and they were standing closer to the bank catching their breath. I didn't know how scary that was for her until the end when we came ashore and got into a waiting taxi and she said "wow, that was really fun, but my heart is still racing from when I fell out of my tube!"

Jack said it was awesome and wanted to do it again. Maya said she'd do it again, but not today. As for me, I wouldn't do it again because I think we got lucky once, and we might not get lucky again. Excuse me while I take some Tylenol. My bum is starting to ache from slamming it into submerged boulders.


Making it to Santa Fe

Another difficult travel day. This trip is so short and I am trying to pack in more than I should. A boat came to pick us up at 8:30 to take us to Boca Chica where a collectivo was supposed to be waiting....we waited for about 30 minutes on the steps of the church....and one finally did show up.

All was going well and we were just riding along with a group of older folks on their way to doctors appointments or something.....

Until...1, then 2, then 3 of the 5 lug nuts broke off the rear tire. This was us on the side of the road while the situation got sorted out.

About 30 minutes later another collectivo came by and all the old people got on that one. And we got back into the broken one, the driver assuring us that if we sit toward the front and he drives really slow we could make it. Ok, sure. We got in, drove slow, and finally made it to the Pan American highway where we waiting in the blistering heat by the side of the road for a bus we could flag down. We waited a long time. Busses came and went, none of them going where we needed to go.

Finally one of those double decker super nice ones came by and offered us seats up by the driver. The kids crammed into the drivers bunk bed and Luis and I sat on five gallon buckets, for two hours.

It basically sucked, but at least we were going the direction we needed to go and it was air conditioned. Two points there. The buckets got old after a short while but we had no choice. Finally arriving at the aim bus station in Santiago we asked someone how to get to the bus station for a collectivo to Santa Fe. We got into a taxi for a short ride, then easily found a collectivo for the hour and a half ride up into the mountains to Santa Fe.

So here we are now at Hostal La Qhia, it's nice enough and we are hoping for some river tubing and waterfall walks. It's blessedly cooler here.

This bed is waiting for me......