Isla Grande is a small island on the Caribbean side, a few hours away from Panama City. Evidently Panamanians from the city flock to it during the summer on weekends (winter here starts in May). The hostel I stayed at was surrounded by tropical forest, had a big communal gathering area with a very large rectangular wood dining table, and hammocks lining the edge. When I arrived, “Stand By Me” was pulsing from the speakers and the vibe was right.
The day after I arrived I did an island tour with my hostel mates that included seeing monkeys on the appropriately named Monkey Island, a tour of the mangroves, and then relaxation at a private beach for snorkeling. Well, on Monkey Island we just got off the boat and watched 3 monkeys, and 100 yards into the mangrove forest we pulled up onto a sand bar and started drinking rum and gingers while Bob Marley blasted from the boat speakers. The private beach just meant we had to pay two dollars but we did see a good number of fish while snorkeling, one girl even saw a sting ray. As tours go it wasn’t all that great but it was good fun with the people from the hostel.
Later that night, with new arrivals at the hostel, we sat around playing cards. We noted at one point, around the table playing, we had representatives from the US, England, Panama, Venezuala, Holland, Germany and Italy. Later, a few of us went to a house party the Panamanian’s friend was having and sporadically a latin dance or two broke out. Being the good host, the Panamanian girl kept trying to teach me the dance moves but eventually she had to concede…I got no rhythm.
My destination after Isla Grande is Santa Catalina. Similar to Isla Grande, it had some complicated connections so at 7am the next morning, I caught the first boat back to the mainland in time for my 7:30am bus back to the supermarket. Since schedules don’t really mean anything in this area, that bus left just before 7am and I had to sit around the dock for 3 hours waiting for it’s return and well, best laid plans…
For that reason, I am back in Panama City for the night and will continue my journey to the surf and dive town of Santa Catalina tomorrow (my tomorrow, your tomorrow will be different based on the date you read this which means it’s no longer tomorrow).
One last note, the buses and boats in the area are all painted in bright colors in art similar to graffiti. They blare music that is a mix of reggae, latin and hip hop. The first bus I took also had two large exhaust pipes flaring up the back making it look like one special pimped out bus. The buses are actually old school buses and were likely exported to Panama after people in the US started questioning their safety. It’s possible the same bus I rode on to Portobelo is the same bus I rode to school in 8th grade.