There’s a handful of little islands scattered all over the stretch of water we have to cover to get to Panama City, and in my heart I’m hoping to visit every single one of them.
We depart Isla Parida and its friendly indigenous inhabitants early in the morning.
It’s a glorious day: clear sky, flat seas and no wind. Well, can’t have it all, but this will do just fine.
Along the way we pick up some winged passengers who keep us company for the majority of the trip.
Our destination so far remains a question mark; all we know is that we’re slowly going to get closer to Panama City. It’s good that we don’t really have any time constraints, we’re free to take our time and explore at leisure.
A little over an hour into the trip I’m engrossed in my Panama Cruising Guide, window-shopping for the best island to visit first: not far from where we are lay the Las Secas Islands. As a matter of fact, I just start seeing them in the distance. I point them out to Tom, who’s laboriously fidgeting with the navigation computer, asking him how long before we get there.
“I don’t know, babe” he says as he keeps pushing buttons, causing beeping sounds “I don’t have a good feeling about those islands… I’ve half a mind to bypass them and go straight down to Isla Coiba”.
Whipping my head up from my map I sputter “But, but, but… I already picked out our next anchorage!” There are three beautiful Islands, five beautiful and safe spots to anchor, and he want to just keep going??? He wants to deprive me of the Las Secas Islands???
Tom just looks at me, his decision already made, our course already plotted. We’re going to Isla Coiba. Fine then, whatever. I pout like only a teenager should for a few good minutes, until I realize how stupid I must look… Heh, so what, I still get to visit an island, right? Besides, Tom’s hunches and gut feelings are spot on most of the time, so I renounce my righteous indignation and start reading about Isla Coiba.
Formerly a penal colony with a really bad reputation (think Panamanian version of Alcatraz), the island is now a National Park (World Heritage Site). It’s also the largest island in Central America and although teeming with wildlife it remains critically endangered.
The Park system charges $60 (US) per night to anchor and $20 (US) per person to walk onto the Island… That’s steep! I strongly believe they’re trying to discourage visitors to allow the island to recover… I don’t mean to be a cheapskate, but this gouging irks me quite a bit.
Still, the beautiful images of the island capture my attention, and I choose to ignore the little paragraph about a sailboat that was boarded by three fugitives, the crew beaten up and the skipper killer, his wife forced to take them to land… That was around 2003, but still… We’ll see how we feel once we get there.
We arrive late in the afternoon and as soon as we drop the anchor we get the wettest welcome in history. For four hours the rain comes down with violence, the sea choppy in protest. I can’t really see anything past my nose. Oh, this is going to be a long, rolly night…
The images of Isla Coiba are not my own, as I never got to set foot on the island.