Isla Gamez

Isla Gamez is a small island, about 3/8 mile in length and perhaps 100 yards wide at its largest point. The way it runs west-to-east to Isla Parida gives great protection from the south swells, and the big island protects it completely from the west. The anchorage was flat and nearly free of any roll. But what really grabbed us about Isla Gamez was the white beach and swaying palm trees, like a picture postcard, just a few yards from the boat. The beach and palms are at the thinnest part of the island, so one can see the sky thru the palm trees over the beach. We were the only boat anchored here, and the net effect was to give a sense of a being at a deserted island paradise; it was so pretty it's hard to describe!

We had heard a boat, SPARTA, check in to the morning SSB net from nearby Boca Chica, so after we got the boat settled into the anchorage, she decided to try and raise them. We were pleased when they responded and told us that they too had said, upon first arriving in Panama, at Isla Gamez, that "this is what we've been looking for!". They also told us about Boca Chica which we would be visiting later, so it was a good contact to have made.

It drizzled a little that evening, but nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for our new "home with a view" as we had our celebratory beers and tots that first night. There were a few panga fishermen who anchored each night about 1/2 mile away, close to Isla Parida, but they in no way impinged on our sense of privacy. Later that night a large, 50-ish foot catamaran made it's way around the north end of Isla Parida and anchored about a mile away, off of Punta Del Pozo, but once again, they did not get close to us at all, and by the next morning they were gone.

The next morning we got up and were greeted with a sunny day and the truly terrific view of the beach from the back of RHAPSODY. We had a nice breakfast (scrambled eggs with cheese!) and about 10:00 we donned snorkeling gear and swam the easy 40-50 yards from our boat to the beach. We got out of the water and took a quick walk to the other, south, side of the island which was just as picturesque with volcanic rocks. There were dozens of small islands within view from the south side and we were once again struck by the cruisers paradise we had found ourselves in. We took a bunch of pictures, waded thru the tide pools looking at the various life there and sat under the palm trees just marvelling at the beauty of it all.

After awhile, we re-donned our snorkeling gear and swam towards the east side of the island, hugging the coast, which changed from white sand beach to some really nice rocks and reefs full of fish (and a stingray) for underwater viewing. The visibility wasn't great, perhaps 6-10 feet, but what we lacked in visibility was more than made up for by the scenicness of the whole place.

Around noon, we swam back to RHAPSODY and had a nice lunch, the usual ham and cheese sandwich, and relaxed by reading and learning about the region from our several cruiser's guides and tour books. Slightly after lunch a small motor boat from the mainland appeared and disgorged about 6 tourists onto the beach, where they strung hammocks, had a picnic, snorkeled and so on. It was Sunday, and we had heard that there might be tourist boats visiting the island. It was o.k. though, as it's a nice feeling to see people visiting the place and having a good time and realizing that what they get to experience for a few hours, we got to experience for days at a time upon our own boat.

Monday morning, around 6:00 am, we were awakened by someone knocking on the boat.

Who could be there? My first thought, as I scrambled to put on some clothes and go outside was that the park rangers, which we had read about, were visiting us to collect park fees, but when I got outside, there was a panga with a couple of fishermen in it. Disoriented at first, it took me a few seconds to understand what they were saying as they directed my attention to the bottom of the boat where there were 20 or 30 lobsters moving around in pool of water. They wanted to sell us some Langostas!

We found out their names, Jose and Julio, and made a deal to buy two lobsters (slightly over 1 lb each) for $10. Through hand signs and broken Spanish, we also realized, as they passed us a bag containing mangoes, avocados, and freshly picked pineapple, that they further wanted to trade the fruit for stock provisions like rice and flour. We were a little short of rice, but we were able to dig up a couple of pounds of flour to trade for the fresh fruit. So by 7:00 am, we had already secured our lunch fare for the day, which we deposited still alive into a 5 gallon bucket with some sea water to keep them going.

After they left, we did the dinghy drill and decided to visit the nearby beaches and coves on Isla Parida for a little exploring. We first took the dinghy about 1/2 mile to Playa del Socorro, but were dismayed to once again see "Private Property" signs preventing us from going ashore. Around the corner to the cove at Punta Jurel, where we had expected, from our reading, to find a small resort that might welcome us, instead we found what appeared to be a private residence, but did not feel like disturbing the occupants, so we just circled once in the cove and then left, heading south to the beaches by Punta Lanza.

At the north of the two beaches we found what appeared to be the fancy resort ... modern bungalows with solar panels and so on, but once again, there were "Private Property" signs, so we didn't go ashore there either. Finally, making our way to the southern of the two beaches by Punta Lanza, there were no more signs, so we landed the dinghy and went ashore for a bit of exploring.

On the beach we watched hundreds of these cute little red crabs that would scamper out of our way as we approached. However, I found that if I threw a stick into the midst of them, they would all run to it curiously to see if it was food. We were pleased, among all of the lush coconut palms, ferns, and trees, to find some very hearty Epiphytes (air plants) growing on the trees. Also, down the beach a bit there was a fresh water stream that made its way to the ocean where we found what might of been some feline (cat) tracks.

After about an hour beachcombing, we decided to return to RHAPSODY. From about a mile away we could see her proudly sitting at anchor off of Isla Gamez, another one of those "kodak moments". When we got back we cleaned and barb-b-qued up the lobsters for lunch. Mmmm mmm mmm!

Daytrip to the beach at Punta Lanza

On Tuesday morning we decided to do some more snorkeling so we loaded up the dinghy with the gear and headed to another small beach on Isla Gamez where we went ashore, donned the gear, and snorkeled off the beach around some rocks and reefs. The visibility was still limited to 6-10', but the water was nice and the snorkeling was fun, if not spectacular.

We returned to RHAPSODY about 10:00 am, and took off our swimsuits to dry on the lifelines. While I was on deck having a smoke, a panga with 6-8 people approached RHAPSODY. I quickly donned my shorts as the boat, marked "USO" for the park service, arrived with a pair of Rangers and 4 friends. The ranger, Carlos, and his assistant, Ron, gingerly explained to us that they would, if it was alright, be back later in the afternoon to collect the park fee from us. We, of course, said that we would be more than happy to comply with the rules and regulations and agreed to meet them later that afternoon.

In the meantime, we had lunch and then loaded the dinghy up with the snorkeling gear and an anchor and headed over to nearby Isla Tintorera which looked like a very inviting spot to go diving, all craggy with lots of reefs with waves breaking over them.

When we got there, what had drawn us to the island, its craggy rough looking nature, ended up being a problem, as there was quite a bit of surf around all of the reefs, making it hard to find a good place to safely snorkel. We finally dropped the dinghy anchor off of the west side of the island and dove in, but the snorkeling was difficult. There was also a lot of current driving around the island which raised sediment and matter in the water, further limiting the visibility. After about 45 minutes of fighting the current and limited visibility, we got back in the dinghy and returned to RHAPSODY.

About 3:00, as promised, rangers Carlos and Ron and their amigos returned to RHAPSODY, came aboard, and made to collect the park fees, while telling us much about the islands and the ranger's mission. They told us about which islands nearby had the best reefs to dive, the extent of the park and where we could go for free if we wanted, and so on. We offered them some Coca Colas, which they gratefully accepted while they had us fill out a one page survey which they use to help direct the park's efforts at ecotourism. When they asked how long we had been there and how long we planned to stay, we fudged and told them that we had arrived the night before, even though we had already been at Isla Gamez for three nights. They told us the fee for our boat, 50' in length, was $25 a night. We told them that we would probably stay two more nights, and so proffered up $75 in U.S. currency for them.

As the process continued, their friends were busy jumping off the panga behind RHAPSODY, laughing and playing in the water. In a really nice gesture, the rangers told us that, basically, since we were such nice folks and didn't hassle them about the park fee, that they would look the other way if we wanted to stay more than two additional days, implying that we could stay a week if we wanted and that they would not stop by to collect fees from us again. Apparently other cruisers have raised a fuss when approached to pay the park fees, and since we were forthcoming and polite with ours, they felt good about us. We thanked them very much as they gathered up the trainees, got back on their panga and motored away.

We spent the rest of Tuesday afternoon and evening on RHAPSODY, enjoying the sunset and a rainbow that appeared before it began lightly raining, sipping cocktails, and having a nice dinner.