Exploring Panama's Caribbean Coast

Written by Matt   
Sunday, 08 October 2006 17:47

To me, ambulance the Caribbean coast of Panama is a sexy mo-fo. From the hurly-burly real estate boom of Panama City, see to the gold rushed Pacific beaches an hour East, it seems that many areas on the Atlantic side are experiencing this delightful feeling of disregard; one in which local families can eat their dinners by the sea, void of the jabbering chitchat and talk of investment that is the fast life.

We soared along a decent road past Colon and Portobello and into this rustic region semi-reminiscent of Tonosi, that being because many of its inhabitants moved there from the Azuero Peninsula. The road follows this whimsical jagged coastline shaded by leaning palm trees that look as if they're relaxing after a hard day's work. Lots of small houses built on stilts in the water, people fishing off their back porches and stray dogs catching naps on the beach. Some portions almost idetical to that mountainous road leading to Maho Bay, Cinnamon Bay, and Hawknest Bay.

After arriving at the small ocean-side village of Miramar, we boarded a boat piloted by a man so large and plump, that I first thought he had swallowed a microwave: his name Edgar. About half way into the boat trip I began to suffer the consequences that can only come from a night of sugar cane alcohol followed by choppy ocean surf.

“Just keep your eye on the horizon” they told me.

To me, that tactic is about as defeating as they come, for staring at something so distant and boring reminds you that not only are you sick, but you also have a long way to go. It might make more sense to, say work on some sort of riddle or tell a long story, something to take your mind off the inevitable, which in my case happened. I happily introduced my donut breakfast to the underwater ecosystem.

The boat ride ended by a wide patch of beach next to the fishing village of Playa Chiquita: a striplet of brightly colored boat houses, dugout canoes, and broad mesh nets. Upon docking, Sonja came running out: a jittery little lightning bug of a woman, Columbian in descent, who has started her own hotel on this, her little piece of heaven. Sonja was holding a celebration of sorts for herself—an inaugural ceremony showing people what Chiquita Bay Hostel was all about. I had no idea what events were in store but was pleased to be greeted by a small boy handing me a frosty beer. “No me gusta tu camiseta” he said. That was because I was wearing an ugly Special Olympics Panama T-shirt, which, from looks of the stitching, appears to have actually been made by the Special Olympics athletes themselves.

I spent the afternoon in the sun, smoking meats with some of my new friends who shared my love for fire and butchery. We marinated the yield of an entire (and unfortunate) cow in a large bin, with a spicy recipe that I can't really talk about. We smoked the steaks using only chicken wire, mango wood, and the deliciously salty ocean breeze. We enjoyed the meat alongside freshly hacked yucca served out of a banana leaf on the beach. Things on Playa Chiquita were good.

Sonja had a pretty cool surprise in store and when it arrived, I thought I had been transported back in time. This vibrantly-clad group of Congo dancers performed some of their historic boogie: a dance mocking the original Spanish colonials and their customs. The dance was driven by this pulsating cluster of drummers and singers; the kind of scene I used to reserve for the Discovery Channel and National Geographic. Several of my small friends took a liking to my camera and proceeded to assemble in a set of poses wearing my sandals and sunglasses—perhaps in retrospect, mocking the ignorant colonial in me.

As part of the inauguration, there was this man parading around as a priest doing small blessings and eating off people's plates. I say parading, because in my heart, I do not believe the man was a priest. If he was, then he was certainly one of the most unconventional priests I've ever seen. First off, I think I saw him drinking a beer: isn't there some rule against that? He also carried around this old toothpaste container which he used to hold his holy water, a sip from which I'm pretty sure I saw him take after climbing a tree to get a coconut. After the main ceremony, he darted towards the ocean, rolled up his pant legs and went wading into the ocean, as if by some awesome spiritual force, he was ordained to catch a sand crab. “Hey priest man, come back! You forgot your little pocket bible!”

Panama never ceases to amaze me. The Caribbean coast offers this great lifestyle that's completely different from Panama City and the Pacific coast. We left Chiquita Bay on full stomachs and as our boat motored off the sun was setting over the jungle. My skin had that tough, leathery feeling that you get after a day in the sun and surf. I wrapped up in a blanked as the boat cut through the sea, and did what any tired traveler would do at the end of a long and exciting day. I called my mom.

Check out the Panama Pictures of this trip. There are several sets: Trip to Miramar, Congo Dancers, Meat Smoking, and My Friends

You can also see the video footage on the left hand side of our site.

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Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 22:33