Monday, June 23, 2014

Snorkeling In The Caribbean.......

Since our last cruise in March that allowed us to snorkel in Aruba and Bonaire, we've both been in the mood for some more underwater adventures. So we recently purchased some snorkeling equipment and just needed to decide where to go to use it.  Since we already enjoyed some of the best snorkeling in the world in Bonaire, Clyde looked into a trip there but declined when he saw the prices. So the next best thing was to head over to the Caribbean Sea side of Panama, just a mere two hour drive from our home.

Our destination was Octopus Gardens Hotel and Dive Shop in Portobello for a vacation from our normal life of vacation. Although the rooms at the hotel really didn't look like the photos on their website, they were adequate and inexpensive.  After all this place really was nothing more than a dive shop with some hotel rooms attached.  And it was on the waterfront overlooking the Caribbean , which allowed us to relax in style listening to the sound of the surf crashing against the pier. After settling into our room we put on our swim suits and stopped for some lunch at the hotel restaurant first.  I ordered a Greek Salad but Leo the English speaking server quickly explained that they were out of lettuce. Clyde told him to use whatever vegetables they had and it would be fine.  Clyde ordered a chicken breast that we could share along with some fries.

A Sign At The Dive Shop


 
Cloudy Day Over The Caribbean
 
Hotel Deck

Hotel Bar

Another View Of Deck

Princess Terry Chillin'
 
Another View Of Hotel Restaurant-Deck Area
 
Appropriate Name Since Octopus Are Found In The Sands Outside Hotel
 
View Of Caribbean
 
Garden Area 
 

 

 

In the meantime Clyde started chatting to a young couple sitting at a nearby table.  We soon learned they were visiting Panama from Norway and from here were headed to Brazil to watch some matches of the Soccer World Cup. Lene and her boyfriend Bard had arrived a day earlier also disappointed with the look of the hotel but decided to tough it out hoping things would improve. Since we were hungry our lunch orders seemed to take forever but eventually arrived at our table and theirs. My Greek salad seemed to have butter at the bottom of it, and I soon discovered cooked cabbage and potatoes on the bottom.  So much for my eating low carb on this trip!  My empty stomach enjoyed the strange salad and some of Clyde's chicken as we chatted to our new friends while dining.

Lene, Terry and Bard

Terry And Clyde With Lene And Bard from Norway
 

Bard explained where the reefs were in front of the hotel for snorkeling since he had already been out exploring. After lunch we wanted to get into the water to explore and Bard joined us while Lene stayed on shore relaxing. The water was rather murky that day so visibility wasn't too good, but we kept on looking around to see what we could find. After a while Clyde and I found ourselves stuck in waves crashing against the shore and we had to fight our way out of a challenging situation.

Clyde and I Went Around These Rocks Where The Waves Are Breaking
Not A Good Idea!
 

Later that evening Lene asked if we had plans for dinner as she told us about a restaurant they'd eaten at the night before in nearby Portobello.  Captain Jack's a rustic tree house with hostel attached is owned by a gringo from the US and his English speaking staff.  A blackboard displayed two specials of the day, one was pork chops with mushroom sauce and the other a pork chop burrito.  Never being able to pass up a good burrito, Clyde and I ordered one of those with an appetizer of spring rolls too, all to share. Lene ordered Pad Thai with shrimp and Bard selected fish. Soon the waiter came back explaining to Bard that he didn't have that fish, but another instead which was just fine with him.  A while later he brought out the Pad Thai with chicken instead of shrimp, putting the blame on the cook and offering to have another made.  Lene was ok with eating the chicken dish and she soon dug right in.  Our spring rolls looked more like sausage, dark in color and crispy on the outside but had a unique flavor and yummy dipping sauces too. And finally our pork chop burrito showed up, but instead it was just pork chops with mushroom sauce. The waiter explained that the cook screwed up again and we could eat that meal while the burrito was being prepared. We agreed to just eat the pork chop meal and pass on the burrito since the water was nice about it all and offered to fix every mistake.  But really now.....all four meals were wrong, albeit tasty.  Later on the waiter apologized again and offered us free ice cream for dessert which we took him up on.


Captain Jack's Bar & Grill
 


Saturday morning we woke up to the sound of pouring rain which surely would put a damper on our boat trip to snorkel.  But by the time the divers arrived and it was time to go the rain had stopped and it was just overcast outside. Six of us piled into a small boat that would take us to a beach near a coral reef for snorkeling. The four of us were left there for two hours while the boat took the divers out further into deeper waters.


Leaving Octopus Gardens By Boat


Our Secluded Island for Snorkeling

View From The Island Into The Water

Island Plants


Lene and Terry on our private island

Still On The Island
 
Wild Mushrooms growing on a downed tree

Land Crabs on our little island


The water was crystal clear, warm and beautiful and I merely had to put my face into the water to see the marine life. Literally millions of fish swam in schools nearby as we explored the magnificent coral reefs that lie below us.  Fish of all shapes, sizes and colors glowed in the warm waters around us as we looked in awe at the spectacle and drank it all in with our eyes. We quickly realized that we had found heaven in Panama.  We don't have to go to Aruba or Bonaire for great snorkeling!  A few hours later the boat returned and took us back to the hotel for a late lunch.

 
The Following Set Of Pictures Were Taken By Bard
From His Go Pro Underwater Camera.
 
And Yes!  Clyde Wants One Now......

Bard and Lene Snorkeling, Taking An Underwater Selfie

Some Of What We Saw.......Under The Sea..... Coral
 
Plant Life Under The Water
 
And More

More Coral....Lene Hated These Round Ones Since They Look Like Brains

And More Beautiful Underwater Life



Some Fish
 
We showered off, cleaned up and enjoyed lunch while chatting to our Norwegian friends.  Lene explained that they were so disappointed with the look of the hotel at first they actually considered leaving and going elsewhere until they met us and things began to improve. To take a break from our water adventures we decided to drive into Portobello to do some sightseeing with Lene and Bard.  We drove as far as Isla Grande, a future destination for Clyde and I which would probably be a great place for future snorkeling. Boats lined the shore and we pumped a local man for information on prices to take a boat over to the island.  It's just $2.50 each way for the boat and since it's only 20 kilometers from the hotel that's something we can do on our next trip.

Scorpion Fish aka. Lion Fish Caught Near Hotel
Hotel Staff Told Bard That These Fish Were Introduced Into The Caribbean From Some Other Part Of The World Due To A Hurricane, But Some Others Don't Agree With That Theory.  The Fish Are Destructive And Locals Are Told To Destroy Them
 
 


On our way back we stopped in town Portobello to explore little village. We showed our friends the famous church of the Black Christ, a monkey on someones front porch alongside a parrot too. A nearby bakery provided some delicious batidos (milkshakes with fruit) and snacks before we headed back to the car. On our way back to the hotel we stopped for dinner at El Castillo (the castle) Restaurant where we seemed to be the food source for many mosquito's as we dined. Clyde and I shared a fish meal along with a more traditional order of spring rolls.  Bard picked up the tab as a way of thanking us for showing them around Panama.


The Black Christ, Portobello, Panama
 
More Views Of Portobello
 
A Fort In Portobello With Accounting House In The Distance
 
Boats Along The Shore Near Isla Grande, Panama

Islands In The Caribbean

 
A Little Church
 
Boats Ready To Take Passengers To Isle Grande


Back at the hotel we enjoyed some rum and cokes listening to the ocean until we turned in for the evening.  The next morning we said our good byes to our friends from far away who invited us to visit them in Norway anytime. The rest of the day on Sunday Clyde and I tacked the ocean again but this time against the tide.  We swam out against the current quite a ways where two buoy's were anchored to see a sunken sailboat and a plane. But once again the murkiness of the water kept everything out of view so we swam back closer to shore. More coral reefs were waiting to be explored as we floated above them, marveling at the sights below.

The Following Are Shells And Sea Urchins That Washed Up On Shore.  We Did Not Take These Out Of The Water!
 
A Sea Urchin With Spines......maybe?

Dried Sea Urchins
 
Shells

Pieces of Coral

And More

Yes More Coral
 
More Coral

Interesting Piece Of Coral

Round Coral With Spots

Coral With Dots
 
More Coral

I Loved This Find


We watched as a restaurant worker gathered octopus from the nearby beach but when we looked there were none to be found. But we did enjoy the serenity of the ocean, picked up a few shells and coral, and enjoyed our time together on the Caribbean Sea in Panama.......along the gringo trail.


Shallows Of The Bay


More Shallows

Terry Collecting Shells And Sea Urchins On Shore
 
Near The Hotel
 
Fallen Tree On Shore
 
Flower Growing On Shore
 

Another Flower Nearby