Thursday, June 28, 2012

Isla Coiba; Feb 5th 2012: A Family

Bringing in the Launcha on logs.

Trip Log:
Distance: 12 KNM
Weather: Sunny with light winds
Dinner: fried coconut fish with fried plantains and coconut rice
We awoke relaxed, and headed off for the mainland, we came across one more sea snake as we covered the final stretch to the mainland, and this one was much more nervous and dove deep as soon as it noticed my boat.
A big crossing lots of talking, more dolphins and Brown Boobies chasingIMG_4203 Flying fish, it was amazing to see the fish take flight trying to avoid the dolphins below, then have the Boobie Birds come after them in the air, the fish would drop back into the water and the birds would follow suite, snagging the fish below the surface. The game would then continue in the sky with Frigate birds then Chasing the Boobies to get them to drop their catch, a strange food circle.
Land, and people.
We stopped for lunch and siesta in Bahia Hondo. We then pushed on come 3 pm for another bay with a river and possible camp. Allie not in the mood for paddling or being in kayak, wanted a shower, a bed and someone else to cook meals and openly stated this laughing at the unlikely hood of that.
Mucking about in the open deep blue water.

We pulled in to a bay to land near a river, the surf was pretty big and slammed the beach hard,after waiting for the big rollers to pass we worked our way in with the waves,  following a small wave; then I looked back to see bigger sets coming again, and realizing we were right on the break zone I calmly but bluntly told Allie to back paddle and to not stop. She kind of froze smiled and said “OK!”, and we back paddled, I reminded her not to stop and a big face loomed up on us. We rode up the face of the first wave just as it crested and broke partially over us. “Don’t stop” I calmly reminded Allie, the next wave was also big and steep but we are outside the break zone, and we push up and over its steep peak, still paddling backwards, Allie stated “My heart is POUNDING!”. We were clear again and reminded of how easy the surf had been to us so far.
All hands on deck
We line up to wait for a smaller set to come again when a guy whistles from down the beach and waves usplace over to a sheltered corner that has small waves wrapping into it, though is very rocky and has no good camp spots. We had avoided that end as it was obvious a house was down there, however now we followed the guidance of the “Senor” and pulled up on the rocky section of the beach. This is how we meet Felix Hernade and his Family. They quickly and excitedly offered us a place to stay, helped carry the boats to their homestead, helped us carry our gear up to their house, and excitedly questioned us about what we were doing. That night we found ourselves with a room, a meal, a shower in the nearby stream and a family to talk and laugh with despite our struggling Spanish. Actually I think we (Allie and I) both did really well with our Spanish and communicated quite a lot as well as learned a bunch more words for things.
Our restaurant for our stay.

Dogs, chickens, ducks roamed the property freely .We helped bring up their Launcha (boat) with Felix’s sons using logs to roll it up the beach, and we brought up the fish they had caught us for dinner. That night the radio broadcasts that there are protestors in Panama and Costa Rica blocking the Pan America Highway, not sure for what reason, we couldn’t translate enough. We ate Fried Plantains (starchy Bananas) and fried Fish, it is delicious. Our Beds are just planks with light mattresses on top. I Slept with ants on me ( no one’s fault but mine) and had to wake up to wipe them off numerous times in the night.
Moving the rolling logs up, in order to roll the boat above the high tide line

Dinner, Breakfast and Lunch.
Fried Fish, fried Plantain and Coffee; Dinner, Breakfast and Lunch

Friday, June 8, 2012

Isla Coiba; Feb 4th 2012: Canales De Afuera



Trip Log:

Distance: 6.5 KNM

Weather: Sunny with light winds

Dinner: Soup and Fire Baked Cheese Buns



In the Night it poured with rain, we awoke to a soaking wet tent floor as the ground sheet had been sticking out from under the tent and collected the rain. Taking time that morning for some photos and to indulge in some filming, we eventually left Granito de Oro and headed for the Islands that spanned the gap to the mainland. On this morning journey I quickly found myself doing a deep water snorkel entry from the kayak to film some colorful fish feeding on the surface, this turned into some really nice free diving for me in about 45 feet of water, allowing me to film the kayaks from below and experience the presence of numerous curious fish including about five large Cubera Snapper. Back on the surface the water was so thick with Zooplankton I could barely see where I was going, some even stung my wrist a little. Back in the TRAK Kayak we were once again under way for the islands leading to the mainland.











Arriving at the first Island, “Isla Rancheria” we enjoyed the nesting area of pelicans on the surrounding islets and then headed off on our 5.5 KNM crossing too Isla Canal De Afuera. This is where Allie came across the first Yellow Bellied Sea Snake sitting on the surface resting, the beautiful yet deadly snake happily floated about my boat as I took some pictures. Luckily these super toxic snakes are not aggressive and also have very small mouths with rear fangs, making it hard to envenomate a large target like a human.

IMG_4240An hour into our crossing and Allie paddles alongside another Yellow Bellied Sea Snake, wow cool, we are seeing a lot of these snakes. The crossing was calm and beautiful, with lots of turtle sightings, some dolphin, lots of big fish sightings and then on arriving near Isla Canal de Afuera we came across some strong currents. Battling the currents that swirled along the cliffs of the Isla we eventually made theDSC07911 West side and tucked into a beautiful channel to find a shaded spot for lunch and a swim, then after a siesta in the shade we paddled a few minutes more to find a good beach to camp on, most were very sunny with no shade and had very little room above high tide for camping as they affronted cliffy banks. We found a nice one easily enough, made a fire, cooked some cheesy buns in the Dutch oven over the fire to go with our soup and also another loaf for the next two lunches, and then enjoyed a good night’s sleep.



Monday, June 4, 2012

Isla Coiba Feb 3rd 2012: Howlers in the Trees

PIMarch9th Belize(c)JaimeSharp_20080313_07001 (2)
Trip Log:
Distance: 6.5 KNM
Weather: Sunny too overcast too Slight showers
Dinner: Tuna Pasta
IMG_4162Tonight a coconut fell from a palm tree and landed with a thwack right between us, and there was only about a foot of space between us, the coco nut even bounced onto my foot. That was a good sobering reminder of how dangerous falling coconuts can be, the hard small green air to surface missile could have hurt one of us severely. At this point I we stopped trying to tie up the solar shower in that particular place and looked elsewhere.

We had a slow lazy start to the morning today, enjoying our non sandy beach, we swam in the sea, bathed in the creek and ate pancakes for breakfast. Now only a mere 6KNM from completing our circumnavigation of Isla Coiba, we were in no rush to get there.
Granito De Oro and rainbow.

Aiming to camp tonight somewhere near the ANAM station where we started at, we wanted to avoid the cruise ship hordes we sighted in the distance arriving this morning in the large thumping, floating resorts, so we headed to the forest Trail of “los Manos”. Sitting in the shade of an overhanging tree, by a gurgling stream that flowed over a rocky point into the salty sea, we watched across the turquoise waters the tiny yet stunningly beautiful island appropriately titled in Spanish “Isla Granito De Oro”( Grain of Gold Island), become a hive of activity. Boats raced from the cruise ships, multi colored umbrellas went up, along with deck cheers and tables ( we even imagined the luxurious food spread that was more than likely put upon those tables); Another boat came towing sit on top kayaks, we giggled at the luxury of it all as we snacked on nuts and chocolate in the shade. Both we and the cruise ship passengers will say “we visited Isla De Coiba and Isla Granito De Oro” but what different experiences they will be; we just kayaked around Coiba, and tonight we plan to stealth camp on Granito De Oro; both Allie and I fell very privileged we have had the chance to experience this amazing island in such an intimate and special way. We can only imagine what the cruise ship clients will remember.. the turtles that are abundant around the little island, Being pulled behind a power boat on an inflatable ring in a stunning place that was called….. hmm I don’t remember, Panama it was! Or perhaps some will remember the place and quote informative text they read in books prior there visit or on the info panels at the ANAM station, I am not a big fan of cruise ships and I will stop here with my bias towards them.

Howler(C)JaimeSharp0030Walking up the trail behind us we left the cruise ship hordes to enjoy paradise and we came across the allusive Rufus Howler Monkeys we had been hearing the whole time we sat beneath the tree on the beach and in the far distance deep in the trees during the entire trip. Now they were right above us e us, these little monkeys let go a megalithic roaring cacophony that alluded to a monstrous devil waiting to eat your soul, not a small brown primate. No wonder the Spanish conquistadors who came to colonize Latin America thought the forest full of demons and beasts.

The sun sank on the horizon and rain clouds built, as we paddled across the small gap of water to the tiny golden sand island that is “Isla Granito De Oro”; as we paddled across a Rainbow came into bloom over the tiny Islet. A large school of big Tuna or similar, milled about on the surface feeding and splashing as we paddled past, then right next to Allie surfaced a Huge golden turtle, Allie’s jaw dropped as she cruised quietly past this big gentle giant who slowly sunk into the depths again.

Looking back at Isla Coiba and the nine days we spent circumnavigating it.

Tonight we camp under the half full moon on a gorgeous island, we have done our yoga, eaten a big pasta meal, showered under the solar shower and now drift off to sleep ready for our next step, the paddle back to the mainland. We are sad and emotional to be leaving this magical treasure that is this island paradise called Coiba, an oasis of untamed life in and ever more industrialized world. What an unforgettable yet hard to fully grasp adventure this has been; I would love to spend more time here, 25 days would almost be enough perhaps? Good night Coiba thank you for accommodating us and sharing your beauty.
The gold beaches of  Isla Granito De Oro (Grain of Gold Island)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Isla Coiba, Feb 2nd 2012: Prisons, Police and the Bahia Damas (Women’s Bay)



Trip Log

Distance: 14.25 KNM

Weather: Over Cast, Cooler than previous days then becoming sunny and hot in the evening.

Dinner: Falafels


Awake in the dark this morning, hoping to beat the heat and the biting bugs, we were quickly out the zippered doors of the tent, cooking oatmeal, packing boats, eating and leaving. Paddling in the early morning light we headed for the arcing stretch of water that is the Bahia Damas, it is a shallow sandy bay edged by a lot of scrubby trees, marshland and estuarys; we chose to cut across most of it, bouncing from our camp point to the point across the way, 5 knm across the Bahia towards the Old Penatenciaria (Prison) of Coiba. IMG_4221

panacent-8085This prison is the only highly developed area of Coiba and has a slightly notorious past and is also the reason Coiba island never fully got developed and used by people. In the bay a Large turtle swam up to me an circled my boat curiously underwater as I sat and waited for Allie, a few moments later it was also the place Allie and I came to heated discussion about communication and her getting left to far behind some times. Right before we could properly bring closure to the heated discussion (or perhaps a blessing to break the stale mate), a boat came whizzing and bouncing towards us from the prison. In the black military looking vessel were three men, the captain had a stern face and a military vest, the other two wore black balaclavas one of whom held an M16 military rifle. coiba patrol

The guys idled up to us and on realizing what we were (kayakers) and that we were just a couple of crazy gringos, the balaclava’s came off, awkward Spanish was exchanged and our story was curiously gobbled up with amazement and statements of “Moy Leho” (very Far) and “Mucho Sharks”. Realizing we were not a threat, the guys bid us come visit the old prison and once they got there boat started again (an embarrassing moment of power) roared off with a wave as we paddled on.

DSC07853Pulling our boats up on the beach in front of the unused prison, it wasn’t the neglected ruins of a bye gone era we expected. Yes there were some old decrepit buildings, though most had a glossy new paint job and brand new roofs, one block of cells was all set up with lights….. this place was fully operational it seemed. One of the officers who was stationed at the area came down and gave us a tour in Spanish. We came too discover the government was using the place as a central out post for Drug smuggling enforcement and initial containment of offenders. At the moment there DSC07866were 2 shifts of 6 officers at 14 days on and 14 off; we assumed the number of officers would increase once this shiny new compound was fully operational again (in another month we partly understood). Thanking the guys for their time and after perusing a chart of the island, the officers smiling at the places we showed them we had been and nodding approvingly, we ate lunch on the stairs of the ruined church then paddled around the point leaving behind the Bahia Damas.

DSC07860Looking for a beach we could have a fresh water stream to bath in, we found a great pebbly beach with two streams. We were ecstatic as, though it wasn’t your picture postcard beach, it meant no sand and an ability to wash the sand and salt of all we had. Oh heaven. Digging a big pit in the gravel beach were the stream flowed to the ocean, we had a basin to wash gear and ourselves in. very nice. Quickly the trees and beach became strewn with rinsed and refreshed gear and bodies, oh how nice it was to have no sand all through our gear Ahhh. That night we fall asleep clean and smelling sweet on non salty sleeping mats and there were NO bugs again or Hermit Crabs.