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To the border, and off to Tranquilo Bay

On the van to the Pacuare River
On the van to the Pacuare River
I woke to a damp bed at 6:00am for a 7:00am early breakfast. But the weather had cleared and it was nice. I headed over to the main lodge for my final breakfast, alone this time since the others were off bird watching again. As I ate my usual breakfast, the cook came out to hand me a hot packed lunch for my trip to the border. Cool! It had a drink too, in a plastic Coke bottle in foil. I figured I’d check it out later when I was ready to eat lunch. The driver was 30 minutes late. Not knowing what was going on, the lodge sent someone down to the river crossing on a motorcycle to see if he was there. And he was, reluctant to cross the river since the heavy rain. They coaxed him along, and by 8:30am we headed off. It was two guys. The first actually owned this jeep and was only going as far as the town. The other guy would then take us in a bigger bus to the Panama border.

The night before, Lisa had asked me if she could bum along on my ride and get dropped off at the nearest beach town on the coast, Cahuita. It is completely on my way, and I of course agreed. This is her first day off since starting her volunteering at the lodge 14 days ago, and she’s looking forward to some good beach time and staying at a hostel. I admire her adventurous spirit. I don’t think I would have had the nerve to doing something like that when I was fresh out of high school.

After a long bumpy drive (maybe two and a half hours?) we arrived at the border. It was a surreal experience. We quickly met my Panama driver Allan, and then went over to the immigration window. I filled out a card, showed my passport, and was off to the other side of the road for a customs window. Both drivers were still with me at this point, but started to make me nervous when they were asking if I had my plane tickets out of Panama, to prove I was leaving. Huh? I’ve never had physical airplane tickets! But it was all for nothing. We handed my passport to the guy, he took in back for a few minutes, came out and returned it, and we were off. My Costa Rican driver left, and Allan and I proceeded to walk across this long, old, steel railroad bridge, with planks along each rail for people to walk on. The wide muddy river flowed underneath, while locals carrying sacks of produce walked about doing their daily business. It was pretty cool, like a scene from a movie!

Tranquilo Bay

Shortly after picking up Allan’s car (a nice little Nissan) we picked up his son a few streets away, and headed off to the marina near Tranquilo Bay, my home for the next 3 nights. This was also a long ride, but the roads were in such great condition it seemed quick and pleasant. The currency in Panama is the US dollar. We arrived at a house with a gate by the road, and parked in the driveway near the sign saying “STOP! 4x4 only from this point, and a phone number to call). Allan called, and we waited for Jim from Tranquilo Bay to pick me up. In the meantime, I decided to take out the lunch and split with Allan and his son. It ended up being 2 grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, still hot thanks to the trunk and hot sun! After that yummy unexpected treat,

Jim arrived, and we drove his pickup down the short steep road to a marina. The set of islands in this area are known as Bocas Del Toro. Once there, he mentioned that a local woman was having a birthday party at the marina, and I was quickly offered appetizers, birthday cake, and a beer! After giving my birthday wishes and finishing my cake and beer, we headed off in Jims boat, a 20-something foot single engine “Sea-Vee” with a canopy. After a quick ride across the bay, passing several islands and a man hand-line fishing, we arrived at the dock at Tranquilo Bay on Isla Bastimentos around 4:00pm. Nestled in the mangroves, we left the dock, headed down a long boardwalk, past the supply cabana (snorkels, kayaks, etc…), down a cement walkway, and then up some stairs to the main house.

He showed me around the second floor large deck, and then the main room where we gather for meals. “Here’s the bar. If it’s off hours and no one is here, just help yourself to whatever you want”. There were two dogs, a few aquariums holding things the kids had gathered, and a barbeque smoker. Inside was a large bar, sitting areas, and several tables for eight. The walls were decorated with guitars, framed maps of Panama and the waterways, and tasteful art from the region.

I really felt like a guest in someone’s home, because in essence I was! Jim and his friend from Texas Jay, along with wives Renee and Stephanie, started building Tranquilo Bay. This labor of love ended up taking over 6 years to complete, and has been open for about three. They love to tell the story of their adventure, which is documented in an Inc. Magazine article, entitled Paradise the Hard Way.

The property contains the main house (which they live in with their families), along with six air conditioned cabins. The grounds are beautiful, and cement walkways lined with subtle lighting connect everything together. My cabin had a nice queen sized bed, a desk and nightstands (with books and magazines, including the Inc. edition and a ring-bound booklet called “Our Story”), ceiling fans, and a great bathroom with a big shower. This place was simply beautiful. The front porch has two chairs, a table, and a hammock. Interestingly, I never used the hammock. I could have, but I didn’t want to disturb the large and impressive spider that had set up camp between the porch roof and hammock support. Using it would have messed it up, and why bother? I had two nice Adirondack chairs to choose from!

After a nice and long awaited shower (I hadn’t had one since the day before, and last night was kind of soggy in the jungle), and a little reading and photo taking, I went over for dinner at 7:00pm. Tonight’s menu was Mexican fare, and it was incredible. We had cocktails first, and I mingled about and met the other guests there, a wonderful family of 5 from New Jersey (Mom and Dad, two teenage daughters and a 9 yr old boy). I had dinner and other meals with them over the next three days, and enjoyed their company. Even though I was traveling alone, I never felt alone at all during the trip. Everyone I have met has been friendly and kind. I went back to the room around 9:30pm, did some journaling and called it a night. I love this place.

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