Written by Neon
After the training days, we took a rest day before leaving to paddle around the Bocas Del Toro Islands to practice what we’d learned in a semi-protected environment. As often happens in this trip, we were introduced to two knowledgeable islanders on our last day. Carla and Angie were both helpful in offering their personal knowledge of the area and its waters. We were able to set off more well- prepared in many ways.
We paddled along the main Bocas island before heading east across a channel to go into Bahia Honda between Isla Solarte and Isla Bastimentos. The crossing was more exposed though the waters weren’t rough. We had been told about a cool cave to go see, so we paddled into the deepest part of the bay and Fidgit started asking around. After a few rounds of asking, we were directed to a narrow canal opening. Richard, Fidgit, and I paddled in single file for 15-20 minutes along the canal and came upon a dock with a sign at the end welcoming us to the bat cave.
I stumbled out of my boat, legs weakened from being in it for hours, and onto the dock, as two friendly puppies came down from a distant house to greet us. Fidgit went up to the house and asked if we’d be able to stay the night. She said yes, so we set up camp before heading up to check out the cave. As we headed past the house, the woman let us know that we should take a guide with us so we don’t get lost (on the way or in the cave). She offered herself, though then there wouldn’t be anyone to watch the gaggle of children that were running around the house. We suggested a compromise- we would take one of the older kids as a guide so she could stay with the others. In a few minutes, we were following 11-year-old Alex up the trail.
Alex took us on a small path through the jungle and into a cave opening. The cave quickly got dark and wet as we ventured further into its depths, so we rolled up our pants and put on headlamps. The pants got wet as the cave turned narrow and the water got deeper. The freshwater was colder than the sea water we’d paddled through all day and refreshing. At the deepest part of the cave there was a pool of water and Alex showed us a place we could climb up to and jump off into the pool below. After laughing our heads off taking turns jumping into the water, we were ready to head back for dinner. Walking back as the sun set, eating dinner, and falling asleep to the sounds of nature was a great end to the day.
Rain came through in the night and I was grateful I had set up my tarp. In the morning we packed up and paddled out the way we had paddled in to continue our trip around the islands. Once out of the narrow canal, we went left to go south around Isla Bastimentos. We passed mangrove islands of varying sizes as boats passed us along the way to the southern tip of the island. As we came around the tip of the landmass, we were met with more boats taking people places. Despite busy waters, the paddling was tranquil. We were able to find an abandoned beach to camp on for the night.
The next morning, we decided to paddle out to a couple small islands we could see from our camp and practice our surf landings. The paddling was also more exposed to the elements on this side of Isla Bastimentos, so fighting the wind and currents out to the islands was a new challenge. Though we also got to see more wildlife- a pod of dolphins jumped around us for a bit and a sea turtle poked its head out of the water. Approaching the Isla Zapatilla, we were able to find a protected area to land and paddled into shore. We then decided to walk around the island, which took about an hour- it was nice to stretch my legs. We then got back into our kayaks and headed next door to the other small island- Zapatilla II. They were a kilometer apart at most, though it took a while to find a good landing so we decided to camp on the second Zapatilla. Setting up camp near/under the palm trees, I was concerned about falling coconuts, though only heard a few fall through the night.
Packing up the next morning, we had a decision to make. We could go across an exposed area of open sea for 30km into Bahia Azul, or we could shorten our route and paddle south toward Islas Cayo de Agua, Tigre, and Popa. As happens, a local man walked up as we were getting ready to launch. He said a friend had come over from Bahia Azul that morning and had a rough go of it. The man also mentioned “el agua es alta hoy dia”, the water is high today. The rain clouds coming in as we all looked out at the water was another deterrent and collectively Fidgit, Richard, and I decided to take the shorter route. The kind man helped us launch from the beach and we were off, waving farewell before setting our sights on the next island.
Paddling across the most exposed expanse yet led us to Isla Tigre, a small island barely detached from the larger Isla Popa. As we approached the island, the wind picked up and the waves grew higher around us. Fidgit, Richard and I had initially wanted to kayak through the small canal that separated Islas Tigre and Popa, though as the waves grew, the massive ones began to break between us and the canal. For safety purposes, we decided to go southeast to the leeward side of Isla Tigre. As the island blocked the wind, the waters immediately calmed and we were once again able to paddle without concern of capsize. We stopped for lunch at a small tienda and the locals shared their well water with us. As we paddled on from lunch, the air grew heavy with rain.
As we rounded the southern end of the island, the sky opened up. The rain pounded down on us as we searched for a place to camp. This side of the island was well-populated, so Fidgit ended up asking a woman who was washing clothes along her dock. She recommended checking at the church a few docks down. We paddled down, and Fidgit disappeared up the path while Richard and I waited with the boats. She returned in a few minute with good news- we could stay in the old church! We unpacked and headed up to the building, which was right next to a newly-built church. The curious matriarch of the family watched us unload and asked many questions before telling us a few other kayakers had come past this year and stayed with them as well. The rain calmed down enough that evening for us to dry out a bit and having a roof over our heads helped.
After a night of being dry and not in a hammock, I was thoroughly rested as we packed up to continue our journey. Over the next two days, we paddled to and around Isla San Cristobal. The routine of kayaking around the islands was easy to sink into and the island protected us from winds and currents. Paddling every day had taken it’s toll on my butt and shoulders, so I was glad to have some shorter days to play around more in and out of the boats. I went on a beautiful hike one night and saw thousands of tiny frogs of varying colors hopping away from my feet as I walked. The rain persisted, though wasn’t bad because it helped keep us cooler and rinsed the salt off- I was getting some gnarly chaffing so I appreciated getting rinsed daily. As we paddled toward Bocas on our last day around the islands, I was looking forward to a good meal and a night of fewer bugs.