My Tripadvisor profile, an automated update from the reviews submitted, describes me amongst other things as being an Urban Explorer, a foodie, and a thrill seeker!
While I’ll leave judgements on the artificial intelligence to others, there’s no doubt that our travel tends not to involve solitude, and veers markedly towards places where there is activity, choice and people.
So why did the photos of the little lodge on the quiet island in Bocas del Toro keep calling to me? For at least two years until a well-priced KLM fare provided the opportunity…
And not only was it to be a change of pace from our other travel, it was a change of pace from THIS travel. Four days in Panama City and two in Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica preceded the return journey across the infamous Sixaola border crossing to Panama, and journey onwards to Almirante where Leo the caretaker of CocoVivo met us, guided us to the supermarket, and brought us on the 25-minute boat trip to the lodge on Isla San Cristobal.
Immediately, any concerns as to the wisdom of the decision – mainly from my wife – seemed to disappear. Beautifully situated facing across to a sparsely populated part of the Panamanian mainland, at the end of a short walkway, we stepped up into our room – effectively a tent on stilts – with the sights and sounds of nature around us seeping in.
The diving board invitingly poised over the placid waters were used – and quickly. Straight into beautiful warm water below with reef and abundant fish life waiting for snorkellers. A regular swim – or mostly float – was to be a feature of the days spent lazing at the dock on lazy chairs or hammocks.
Full cooking facilities are there, and our hasty shop in Almirante ended with plenty of meats for barbecue on the deck. We also tried our hand at fishing – a little bit of bread at the end of a line produced a catch which would have yielded a most modest meal, so we decided returning it to the waters to live on rather than clean or gut for the first time!
Those calm waters were perfect for stand-up boarding and kayaking too. Stand-up is a lot trickier than it looks at first, but it ended up being a great way to pass time particularly in the calm air of the mornings.
The off-grid aspects of life are a lot less challenging than may be thought – and they certainly give a greater appreciation of environmental impact, and how the elements interact. Walking away from a chopping board to come back moments later with it besieged by tiny lizards, and yes even the odd cockroach, becomes quickly simply the natural order of things.
Recycling of all materials is convenient. A rainwater shower over the water used with eco-friendly soaps. The composting toilet is also very easy to get used to. A tour of the grounds with Leo shows you the huge site and abundant produce of cacao, plantains, pineapples and more. Sloths, iguanas and other wildlife live wild in the grounds.
The hours slip by and the days fly in the calm. Not totally off-grid, solar power meant charging was freely available, and WiFi easily supported Skype calls (when there, you couldn’t but show it off!)
Sleeping isn’t undisturbed at first of course, with wind causing rustles in the thatched roof and echoes of nature amplified with the otherwise silent environment. However, it feels fully safe, not least thanks to Capitan, the owner’s dog who chaperones you around the property, barks off passing boats he’s unfamiliar with, and is a close companion throughout your stay. Leo and family of course are also on hand to assist, including his lovely son delivering coconut water!
There are two small rooms in the lodge property, and the larger hill house to the rear of the property is suitable for groups. In short, the whole stay broadened the horizons of travel, and what we could and would enjoy. While it’s unlikely those Tripadvisor descriptions will change to Remote, Peace and Quiet or Eco-warrior, we certainly left with some of our most special memories of travelling, and the feeling of a choice well made.