Monday, April 20, 2015

Underwater Adventuring

Semana Santa was in full force and so we decided to leave Bocas del Toro and head for the town of Santa Catalina where we’ve heard you can find great diving just off the coast off of Coiba.

We broke camp on Red Frog Beach, got a boat taxi to the main island, and then another to the shore, re-packed the bikes (which we are always relieved to return to after any amount of time away), and got on the road just before noon.

Once we descended the mountains and rode onto the plains the heat became truly miserable. We were grateful that we were riding on a holiday weekend as the roadworks signs for a 100+ kilometer stretch of road indicated that usually, the speed limit would be 30kph. Since there were no workers, we were able to blast through the insane heat at 80kph. Thank goodness. 

We stopped in the center square of one small town for a break and to discuss what we would do next. Santa Catalina was about an hour away, and if we made it there early enough, we could schedule a dive for the next day. While we were discussing our options, several guys who were interested in the bikes and are riders themselves came to chat. They told us about a beautiful Good Friday procession that would happen there later that night and recommended that we find a hotel nearby so we could be present for it. The only issue was that they couldn't think of a hotel in the town, we hadn't seen one coming in and a short search produced zero hotels. We were keen to finally go diving and had heard that Coiba was a world-class site. Given the ever-ticking Ferry Xpress clock, we were worried that we would miss the short window of time that we had available to go for a dive if we didn't make it to Santa Catalina that night and book something. I was miserable for the entire ride to Santa Catalina. I felt like we were racing towards the tourist trail, yet again, and missing an incredible opportunity to witness something that we might never again have the opportunity to see. 

We made it to Santa Catalina just after dark around 7pm and right away found a great dive shop that we both had a good feeling about. That good feeling is so important when you’re doing a sport where you are literally putting your life in the hands of the operator of the company. They didn’t have availability until the day after the next so we headed out of town to camp and spent the next day doing research on Colombia, and eating the best pizza we’ve had in ages at an Italian/Panamanian owned brick-oven pizza shop that every tourist and local seems to wind up at when it’s open on the weekends. We met a lovely Belgian family who gave us a lot of great recommendations as they had been living in Panama for the past 6 years.

Wild camping on the outskirts of town

The weather on the day of the dive was HOT but we were soon out on the water enjoying a LOT of sea spray and within 50 minutes, a lot of underwater life. We did a total of three dives with the middle dive being absolutely stunning. We saw dozens of white tipped reef sharks, turtles, eagle rays, a frog fish and many, many eels. We took the GoPro which was a bit frustrating to work with as there is no display and I’m not competent enough with it to adjust the settings, so, sorry for the mediocre UW photos. My Olympus Drop-Proof/Water-Proof/Dust-Proof point and shoot turned out not to be so much of these things and no longer functions after swimming in Guatemala.  But next time we’re at Coiba, I will have my underwater housing for my Nikon so that the photo look like this:

A photo I took in Indonesia a few years ago... really makes me miss my underwater housing for my Nikon... but there's certainly no room for it on my bike

Rather then this:

A frogfish!


They would drop us off on islands between dives so that they had room to swap out the used tanks for full ones. Not a bad way to spend a surface interval.

Couldn't help myself SHARK SELFIE!!

We returned to shore at about 4pm and by the time we were showered and had the bikes packed, the sun was setting.

We wanted to get a little bit of distance out of the way, so we got on the road and eventually camped between a farmers cow field and a sugar-cane plantation.


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