So I may have built up this day more than actually necessary… But hey, such as it is, while it may not have been the most adventurous day, it was still great! I started my day with the free breakfast (as I recall it was free, but maybe it was just a couple of dollars… In any event) then decided to just wander around a bit more. Red Frog beach was not the only beach there of course, so I wandered past along Red Frog beach, up the road to the adjoining beach called Turtle beach! Much like Red Frog beach, the sand was white and fine. I spent hours once again playing in the sand and water until I could take no more and needed some lunch to replenish my energy.
I went back to the community kitchen area and made my lunch. Sadly, someone had chosen to pick a jack fruit and place it at the bottom of the fridge. Now, for those who don’t know, the Jack fruit is a HUGE fruit, like a gigantic watermelon. Its skin is kind of prickly and it’s orange in color inside. However, the Jack fruit to my nasal passages at least, absolutely stinks!! It is the most foul smelling fruit I’ve ever encountered (aside from papaya which smells like dirty feet to me) and just like potently scented food in general, when placed in the fridge, they tend to make everything else in there smell like it. Hence, lunch for me wasn’t the most pleasant as my sandwich smelled like Jack fruit… Yuck!! I wasn’t going to waste my food however!
In any event, the day went by quite lazily otherwise. I went back to Turtle beach for some pictures and spent the evening getting to know fellow travelers (from Switzerland as I recall). And by getting to know fellow travelers, I mean drinking about 70 beers between 6 or 7 people… Good times!! But hey, the beers were cheap, about $1 a beer and I’m quite sure we just about drank them out of stock! What made the drinking even more fun however was the games provided in the common area. They had a Jenga game with different things written on them. So if a block was successfully removed we all had to follow the command on the block. They were all innocent enough (take a shot of a drink, take a drink without using your hands… Seeing a theme here?) and hours of great fun! Eventually we all gave in and went to sleep and thankfully (and miraculously) I didn’t wake up with a hangover!!
The next day was once again quite lazy, just spending time again soaking up the beaches as I wasn’t sure exactly when I would be getting some beach time in again after leaving! I returned to Bocas town after my third night on Isla Bastimentos and headed to another hostel just next door to the one I’d stayed in the first night (Zappos??). It was much more accommodating to the hostel traveler and was brimming with energy! I met a great crew from England and though I really wasn’t up for any more drinking… well as you can guess I was sucked in and went out drinking! Some very notably good and fun bars on Bocas town are the Aqua Lounge where they have a swing and trampoline that swing and bounce you right into the water! And the Iguana Lounge again built backing onto the water. It had several docks going from inside the bar to the outside with underwater lighting so you could see all the critters and fish under the water surface. It was quite great but VERY slippery!! There were several times I almost completely biffed I, but thankfully never did!
In any event, once again we all made our way back to the hostel and passed out. The next day I was on my way to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica!
So it occurred to me after finishing that last post that I never actually explained why the Red Frog Beach is called as such. But, as I’m sure you are able to guess, it’s because of the red frogs that live there! Now at one point in time the sands of the particular beach known as Red Frog Beach were completely littered with the frogs. Now however, you will be hard pressed to see one at all. It’s not only that the little buggers have become exploited and are dying out because of people trying to handle them and thereby poison them to their deaths (death of the frog, not the human) but it’s also hard to see them because of their absolutely tiny size!
The red frogs of Isla Bastimentos are about the size of a nickel to a quarter, are red (duh!) and are speckled with black dots all over their body making them look like a strawberry! Each time I walked through the jungle from the hostel to the beach or back again, I searched every surface I could just to spot one of the tiny beauties. On the second day there, I was blessed enough to spot one. They are quite a sight to behold and it’s really a good thing I “hunted” them as vigorously as I did, otherwise I’m sure I never would have spotted on, even if given a month there! They really are that tiny and hard to spot!! Sadly every time that I was walking through with my camera I never could find any, but at least I got in one live viewing!
So, I’m going to jump up on a soap box for a few minutes here just in case someone reading this does visit the area. I implore you to at all costs to NOT handle, pick up, or touch the red frogs. In addition, I strongly suggest you don’t even pay others for pictures with the frogs. Let me explain further:
The Red Frogs, like most other frogs are quite delicate in nature. They basically breathe through their skin and literally absorb their environment into their bodies. So, while they are not poisonous to humans to the touch, we are poisonous to them!! Sunscreen, soap, oils, hair product, our lunch, literally any residue we may have on our hands is absorbed into their body and can potentially poison them to death. It is in part due to people (tourists) handling the cute critters that they no longer in bountiful numbers and are dying out.
Another thing I would strongly suggest against is even to pay for pictures of you holding the frogs. Children, yes children, would go around to tourists with a red frog or two that they had caught and ask if the tourist wanted a picture with it. The tourist, not knowing (hopefully) that they were #1 exploiting the amphibian and #2 potentially killing or aiding in the amphibians death by holding it, would pay the children for a lovely vacation picture of them holding the frogs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about supporting local economies, however I believe there is a more sound way to do so. And I’m not the only one who thinks so as there was a posting at the hostel about this very situation occurring (children selling picts with frogs to tourists) and imploring tourists to not take part!! Kudos to Bocas Bound!!!
Ok, I’m off my soap box now… And by any means, I’m not saying I’m perfect or that I do everything right by the environment, but I do try to do my part as best as possible. And for this particular area, not touching the frogs was my way of doing just that.
One last little bit of interesting information… Strawberry Red Frogs are not poisonous to humans to the touch. They DO have poison on their skin, however if that poison does not get into our blood stream, then they are not poisonous to us. Hence why you could (please DON’T though!!) touch or pick them up without being harmed… Local people apparently would also eat them and suffer no consequences from the poisoned skin of the frog because the stomach acid would kill off the poison. However if punctured with something that had brushed against the skin of the frog, you’re a gonner! Due to their ability to poison people if punctured, they are part of the poison-dart group of frogs used by indigenous people as weapons if needed. Pretty cool stuff…
I arrived to the JAMPAN tour office with my gear and groceries ready to go. We loaded up and were heading out shortly after that. The boat wasn’t huge by any means as it really didn’t need to be. Just a simple commuter to get between the islands that made up the greater area of Bocas. I learned on my way over that the tour owners, a couple from Florida had moved down to Bocas after first vacationing there and simply fell in love with the place. So much so that they gave up their “normal” lives in the States and opened the boat tour business in Bocas. I should also mention that acting as a shuttle service is only one of what they offer. They also took out snorkel trips, dolphin sighting trips and day trips to the various beaches.
For my needs however, I only used their shuttle service. We hummed silently (apparently they had just updated their engines to make them more eco-friendly and therefore less of a noise nuisance to the marine life, YAY!!) along for perhaps 10-20 minutes and finally arrived on the very modest but sturdy dock of Isla Bastimentos. From there it was just a short hike along a trail to the (apparently) only hostel on the island: Bocas Bound.
Now, as I’ve mentioned before I had seen several advertisements of this particular hostel while traveling to Bocas, and even a few before. Normally I would not go with a hostel that was so heavily advertised, but what did attract me considerably was the price. They were running a special of sorts that basically gave you a third night at 1/2 price, and since the original price was only $10, I thought heck, 3 nights it is! The other benefit to this hostel was a free breakfast, cheep beer (yay!) but BEST of all, unlimited and free access to the famous red frog beach! They even had a trail that went through the jungle from the hostel cabins to the beach. Quite convenient and fun to walk through!
So I paid my hostel fees, settled in the dorm room, put away my groceries in the outdoor community kitchen and immediately hiked down to the beach! I had been itching for quite some time (basically since leaving Costa Rica) to once again be on a beautiful and inviting beach and since I was now on the Caribbean, I salivated at the thought of the warmer waters and pristine sands that I imagined in my mind, but so far had not encountered (even though Bocas is an island too!!).
I made my way down the trail and finally emerged onto a scene that finally took my breath away!!! A beautiful, inviting, soft sanded, warm and bright Caribbean beach!! I shed off my cover-up dress and all but sprinted into the warm waters until fully submerged. I can’t say how long I was in the water, but I was out there for several hours at least simply playing in the shallow waters, floating on my back along the gentle waves of the sea, and sunning myself on the sand in between bouts of swim sessions.
There was a little rock formation off the beach, not a very far swim at all that I thought would be fun to swim to and maybe climb on to explore a bit. I swam up to the formation and with bare feet hoisted myself up on the rocks, being careful not to step on any of the inverts that were clinging to the rock. I wandered around for a bit seeking out the different critters making their home on the rocks and generally watching the ocean from a rocky point until plunging back into the water and swimming to shore again. I had to specifically mention this part of my swim because, well… Let me go back a tiny bit.
When I was first checking into the hostel I asked the helpful staff if they by any chance had snorkel gear for the beach. They said they did but no longer lent or even rented them out because many of the hostel patrons apparently ended up ruining the gear, so it was just not worth it to them to deal with snorkel gear rental anymore. However, they did say that there was a “kiosk” on the beach that did rent out gear. After my first “dip in the pool” I walked along the beach and found the rental kiosk, but sadly they too did not have any snorkel gear to rent. It wasn’t as if they were out of the gear because of all the people on the beach (I was one of maybe 4 others there!) but rather they simply didn’t have any anymore. So after I finished my first beach fun and went back to the hostel, I spoke with the staff just to let them know that those particular individuals no longer rented snorkel gear, and the lovely young lady felt so bad that she had “led me astray” that she allowed me to use the snorkel gear that they had (even though she wasn’t supposed to!!)!! Needless to say I was very appreciative of this and just had to go back again for another swim, or snorkel rather. I did of course promise to take good care of the gear, and true to my word did:)
Ok, so now fast forwarding again… With the snorkel gear in tow I decided to swim yet again to the little rock formation to check out all the sea life around the rocks that lived below the surface. Man-o-man… Was I EVER LUCKY!!! As it turned out, with goggles to actually be able to see everything in my surroundings, I realized that as I had climbed up the rocks barefoot on my previous trip there, I had just narrowly missed stepping on one of several dozens of long-spiked sea urchins!! Those things were just everywhere!! Tucked in every nook and cranny of each rock yet hidden from the surface by just a few inches and further disguised by the water crashing against the rocks were sea urchins!! I have no idea how I missed stepping on at least one, but goodness am so very THANKFUL that I never did! I guess in my previous ignorant bliss it never occurred to me to watch out climbing on sea rocks in bare feet!
The rest of that day went by peacefully and soundly. There was only one other person that was staying in the hostel at that time, which was fine by me so needless to say it was a quieter night. The next night however, slightly different story…
Before beginning again, I must admit… It’s been quite a while since my last post. It’s crazy how life can just sweep you up and time flies so fast you forget to keep up with some things… In any event, I am currently getting ready to travel again but must first finish the tales of the last adventure…
After leaving the quaint little town of Boquete, Panama I made my way to Bocas del Toro. It was quite obvious that the closer we got to Bocas, the more prepared the locals were for lots of travel from tourists back and forth in that area. Taxis were lined up around the bus terminal waiting and ready to sweep tourists off the bus, into the taxi and whisk them away to the boat terminal. Honestly I don’t even recall saying much to the locals as the swaps occurred, only “Bocas?” followed by a head shake indicating “yes” and away we were.
It took about 40 minutes by boat to arrive on the island of Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast of Panama. Again, once off the boat and on solid ground I was immediately greeted by a local named Carlos. He was most eager to shuffle me around and help find me accommodations for the night. Of course he would be getting a commission for getting me to the “right” place but I first wanted to check out a few places that I had heard about from others on the road. Carlos was quite determined to get his commission however and literally refused to leave my side as I walked from place to place inquiring about prices of the places that were recommended to me. They were quite out of my price range however, and Carlos’s efforts to not give up on me were soon rewarded as I finally gave up and told him to take me to the place he recommended.
The place he took me to was right on the main road just across the street from the community park and also right across the street from THE BEST sandwich shop anywhere!!! The name of the place was called… And this is why I should keep up with my posts more frequently… Los Zapatos… I believe… Anyway, the place wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst either. I felt comfortable enough to stay there for the night. The place next door honestly enough looked much more inviting, but they were booked. So for one night I opted to stay at Los Zapatos and paid for a private room. The one definitely nice thing about the place was it had several floors with a balcony on each floor overlooking the town, so it was great to just sit and watch the traffic and people watch. Carlos, after collecting his commission from my sale said bye and trotted off back to the boat dock to greet the next arriving boat. Honestly I recall the lady looking quite bothered by his presence and the fact that he brought me in. I think mainly because she just didn’t want to pay the commission, but such is how life there works I guess!
In any event, perhaps now is a good time to actually describe Bocas del Toro. Prior to my arrival I had imagined and envisioned (all due to the descriptions provided to me by other travelers) that Bocas was an island in the Caribbean surrounded by beautiful beaches. Quite to my disappointment, the reality was absolutely nothing as what I had conjured in my mind! The water as we came toward the island became increasingly gross. It was quite apparent that at least the water path we took to get to the island was becoming increasingly polluted from all the boat traffic. As for beaches, there is no waterfront anywhere on the main portion of town on the island of Bocas. The waterfront is completely built up with resteraunts, hostels, hotels, docks for boats, bars, etc, etc. The only beaches on Bocas are at least a 40 minute bus ride to the other side of the island. Apparently there was one beach 20 minutes by bus, but it was recommended not to go there as the currents for that beach, depending on how they were flowing, tended to wash up all the seaweed or trash from the ocean, etc on to the land making it not quite a nice beach to be on. The beach 40 minutes away however was the world famous starfish beach. The sands are literally littered with hundreds of starfish! Or rather, that is what I’ve been told since I sadly never kicked myself hard enough in the rear to go there!
Honestly, I think just I was just disheartened when I arrived on Bocas that I kind of lost energy or enthusiasm to do anything. I was hoping to arrive on a beautiful island with beaches nearby to walk to. Instead I arrived on basically a party island built up to the hilt with beaches only accessible by yet another bus ride or a boat ride to another island nearby! So, needless to say, I was just bummed! I didn’t really like the energy of Bocas. In any event, I was determined to make the best of it so I once again did what I did best and simply wandered the streets getting to know my new surroundings.
As I wandered I found the Spanish school where I once again contemplated taking some courses, but then couldn’t imagine spending weeks on an island with no easily accessible beaches! I found the local internet shop where I stopped in to check emails. Then I found a boat tour group called JAMPAN tours (honestly you couldn’t miss them as their front door was the most colorful anywhere on the island!) that offered services to the nearby island of Bastimentos, home of the world famous Red Frog Beach! On this National Park island there was also a hostel called Bocas Bound which I had seen many advertisements about. So, since I wasn’t 100% enamored with the island of Bocas, I decided to jump over to Bastimentos and stay in the hostel there for a few nights. I booked my departing trip with JAMPAN tours for the next day as well as my return to Bocas several days later then continued my wanders. I was informed by the tour group however that there were no grocery stores on Bastimentos, but that there were community refrigerators at the Bocas Bound hostel, so unless I wanted to eat out the entire time there, I should go to the grocery store and stock up on food for the several days to just bring with me.
The rest of the day went by without any major occurrences. I ate in the bakery across from my hostel (seriously the biggest and best sandwiches of all kinds and for only $4!!!!!!!) and otherwise sat on the balcony of the hostel people watching and chatting with a guy from Germany about politics and such. Ok, massive correction here… I wasn’t speaking about politics but rather listened to HIM talk about politics in the US. And as I listened to him talk it occurred to me how amazing it was that someone who lived in Germany, yet worked in Panama City, Panama knew so much about US politics whereas those FROM the States (sadly including myself) know so little about it… Hmmm…. In any event, I eventually turned in and for the night, got up bright and early the next day, did some grocery shopping for food for the next several days on Bastimentos and headed over to JAMPAN to hitch my ride over to the Red Frog Beach!