Moving and Shaking in The Pearl Islands

Written by Matt   
Sunday, 15 July 2007 18:44

We set sail from Balboa Yacht Club around six in the morning upon a boat called Casa Blanca. "She's 48 feet long" the captain boasted, unhealthy at which point I stopped to question why vessels always have to be female considering they have no attributes that directly resemble a vagina.

While it wasn't something I was necessarily embarrassed about, I had Dramamine pills in my pocket and swallowed them when no one was looking. The pills went down easy but a small break in the surf caused the boat to jostle and I leaked out half a mouth-full of Gatorade onto the deck.

The ocean was calm and the dawn clouds were just beginning to break, revealing sharp and intense rays of tropical sunlight. Our destination, the Pearl Islands, are touted in guidebooks and magazines as one of Panama's many charms; over 70 picturesque islands that lie 50 miles to the south of Panama City. With superb beaches and a wildly diverse ecosystem, The PIs (as I like to call them) are most famously known as the islands on which they filmed the TV show Survivor.

When I first heard this, I pictured myself surrounded by skinny women with large breasts and lightly-bearded old men, all of whom smelled fiercely of eau de jungle. And while I can see the allure of visiting such a pop culture landmark, I am not sure how many vacationers list bug bites and sunburn as holiday requisites. Just an hour into our trip though, with the city skyline still in sight, a whale-the size of a mini dump truck-breached the surface, landing in one big awe inspiring splash.

A boat is truly the finest way to explore Panama I commented to Sam.

"Yes, yachts like these are for the movers and the shakers" he said. I couldn't help but associate moving and shaking with epilepsy, and tried for the life of me to figure out why anyone with such a dissorder might belong on a boat.

We trolled for a while, the small impostor-squid hooks skipping merrily atop the waves. I find trolling to be not unlike the sledgehammer game at a carnival in that it is less about talent and more brute force. There involves no setting of the hook which is what I consider myself to be most skilled at, but instead a pure man-versus-fish battle of strength, endurance, and tact.

Soon enough, we caught some beautiful 60-lb bonito tunas which in reality more looked like a collection of footballs. Keenan landed a stunning yellow and green Dorado which, once it experienced rigor mortis, he then used like a paddle to smack Sam in the back of the head.

At one point we intercepted a large flock of dolphins and they surfed alongside the boat, jumping and swerving and being gay. One of them had a white spot on his chest and I called him Lassie! Simultaneously, the first mate on the boat couldn't remember Keenan's name and referred to him as Quizno.

The islands themselves are glorious. Caves, secluded beaches, coral reefs. There's this amazing contrast of blue water, white sand, and deep green forest that inspired me to take out my easel and watercolors and paint until my hand got tired. That is, until I realized I don't own an easel or watercolors. I don't even know why they call it easel anyways as that reminds me of a small animal.

For lunch, we snacked on pastrami sandwiches and ice cold beers. Pastrami is really quite an amazing meat: Traditional New York pastrami was made from the navel end of the brisket which contains considerably more fat than the chest area. The feeling in Las Perlas is so removed from Panama City, it's really like a different world. I even saw a flying fish which at first I thought was a hummingbird: this soaring creature hovering just above the surface, no bigger than a badminton birdie.

We hit up all the big islands and I took note of the real estate development that's occurring. It appears, in my humble opinion, Las Perlas will become a destination of their own, distanced and separate from the rest of Panama. I think this is a bit of a shame because the country as a whole has so much to offer, but I see these islands, with an eventual international airport and self-sustaining mentality, pulling a Beyonce and doing a solo act.

The islands are a terrific day or weekend trip. You can fly there in no time (flights are cheap) or you can rent a boat and dabble along the different coastlines (my preference). The wildlife is incredible and if you time your visit to the whale season, you'll surely see some blowholes. We returned at night, bruises on our hips from the fishing poles, and our red faces whispering the mantra of the day: should'a brought the sun block. By that time, the fish were dead and the sun was sinking over Ancon Hill.
Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 22:32