During the past two weeks, I’ve spent more time on or under the water than on land, leaving little time for blogging. I finally completed my PADI Open Water Course, which I have been wanting to do for many months, in Bocas del Toro, a small archipelago of islands off the Northern Caribbean coast of Panama. Bocas Town is small, dive shops seem to make up the majority of the businesses, alongside a few hostels and restaurants and frankly if you’re not diving from 9am to 5pm everyday there isn’t much to see or do. I went diving with La Buga, a highly rated PADI dive shop which offered the Open Water Course for a mere $250.
This involves a lengthy read of scuba diving theory, a confined water dive and four open water dives. The final dive of the three days was fantastic: half an hour spent floating around coral reefs, doing underwater acrobatics and a flying Superman pose or two, and I even spied a lion fish hidden within the rusted wreck of a cupboard. I was very thankful to leave behind the many exercises of the “Oh no, your air supply has failed! What do you do? And, go!” variety, which although useful skills, interrupted my searching for fish. A few diving holidays may need to be planned for the coming years, as after all, it’s important to practise newly acquired talents…
From Bocas, I set out for Panama City, the final stop of Central America. We were due to take a boat with San Blas Adventures through the stunning San Blas islands, a territory owned by the indigenous Kuna and a stepping stone to Colombia. There are 378 islands in San Blas, and only 49 of them are inhabited. Which meant that there were countless deserted islands just waiting for us to explore (or take a nap on, as the case would be). Traditionally, backpackers would sail through the islands, sleeping on board the boat and eventually arriving in Cartagena five days later. San Blas Adventures however operate a small motor boat, which speeds between the islands and allows for plenty of time spent on the beach or snorkelling around the coral reefs. We even spent two nights sleeping in hammocks in Kuna villages, which was an absolute privilege.
Our days were spent snorkelling, reading on the beach and devouring the freshly caught lobster. In the evening, we would break out the bottles of rum and watch the sun set before swinging ourselves to sleep in our hammocks. There are downsides of course, as you spend four days in wet, salty clothes, some of the group insist on being rude and disrespectful to the guide and the Kuna families for the length of the trip… Ultimately however, it’s an utterly unique way to cross the border and we are some of a lucky few to have spent time in the Kuna villages, gaining a small insight into their way of life and meeting some of the adorable children who scamper alongside you shouting “Hola! Hola!”