January 20 – February 15, 2022
The relief we felt was palpable.
After twenty two months, we were still in Panama. Nevertheless, the forty mile journey just completed aboard Exit had delivered us through the doorway to a new world.
The Pacific Ocean.
Yet who stops at the doorway?
The appeal of seeing Panama City represented more of a visual (or visceral) confirmation of what we perceived as our incredibly massive accomplishment of transiting the Canal rather than the actual appeal of visiting the sprawling metropolis of Panama City.
We weren’t sure if we’d do some more provisioning once we reached Panama City, but we had stocked up adequately enough before our Canal transit to make it unnecessary.
Freshly baptized in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, Exit needed to keep going. Why lose momentum?
We were all too happy to trade the moving steel islands of commerce surrounding Panama City…
…for more natural tropical islands of solitude.
We had spent fourteen months in Bocas Del Toro. We had spent six months in San Blas. We had a friend say he grew tired of looking at tropical islands of sand and coconut trees.
We, apparently, had not.
Less than forty miles south of Panama City are a small group of islands. Still within the Gulf of Panama but far enough that they reside right at the edge of the Abyss…
La Archipielago De Las Perlas – The Pearl Islands of Panama.
The first island we arrived at; privately owned though we saw no one there while we were at anchor. Technically, we could go ashore, but only as far as the high tide level on the beach.
Beautiful and unoccupied except for the population of birds.
An unbelievable number of birds. Frigates; boobies; pelicans; cormorants. Who knows how many. I have tried to count swimming fish during Reef Check surveys… a very scientifically subjective number. Flying birds? I’d guess a gazillion.
Our first stop at Isla Pacheca, the northernmost island of Las Perlas, turned out just what the doctor ordered.
Yet, despite the solitude and space, somehow we managed to be on the receiving end of our first hit and sit collision, when a local fishing boat at anchor up current from us dragged down onto us in the middle of the night.
As if our late night collision with the fishing boat didn’t give us enough of an adrenaline shot to tide us over for quite some time, the following day we upped the ante even further with an entire bottle of adrenaline and came very close to losing our drone Space X-it.
We had already launched the drone successfully from the deck of Exit oncewhile we were in San Blas so, in theory, it was not an outrageous endeavor. However, this time things went far from smoothly. As we proceeded with the liftoff, for some reason the drone immediately begin backing just as it rose off the deck. It barely cleared the edge of the dodger, but the landing gear, equipped with floats, clipped the corner of the bimini sending the drone careening out of control backwards until it hung up on the solar panel structure attached to our arch. The rotors, still spinning wildly, began grinding against the edge of the panels, making a sickening noise as the drone got hung up underneath.
In a moment of pure panic, I put down the GoPro camera I had been taking video footage with, and darted to the other side. There were only seconds before the drone would cascade off the edge of the bimini and into the sea, where it would certainly suffer an instantaneous death.
Not even thinking, I reached up and grabbed the drone, fully aware that the horrible thwacking and whining sound meant the rotors were still trying to turn at full speed. Instantly free of the structure of the boat, they started spinning again; however, now against my fingers.
Somehow, I managed to keep ahold until Kris was able to shut Space X-it down. Miraculously, the drone was safe. Also miraculously, all my fingers were still attached, though bloodied and sore.
Taking one for the team.
It was no NASA accident, but I envisioned a CNN breaking story that seemed the equivalent.
Later we learned of an airstrip in the area. We may have breached some sort of proximity protocol for flying the drone and ended up with signal interference that caused the malfunction.
On the charts Isla Bartolome appeared as an insignificant speck. Barely above water. More of a hazard than a destination. Certainly no indication of an anchorage.
It would have been easy to pass by without a second glance.
Fortunately, we stopped.
Though we were hardly the first people to anchor at Bartolome, it felt like our own private discovery. With the exception of a few pangas arriving during the day for brief visits with day trippers, we had the entire island and bay to ourselves.
The lowest tides revealed a staggering range of formations and landscapes that seemed completely random and utterly unique from one another. Such a strange combination of long term geological events must have played out to result in so much variety in shapes and materials. It seemed even more unusual given the tiny size of Isla Bartolome.
What could be globally separated and unrelated examples from a geology text book actually reflect one location’s infinite possible outcomes when the unrelenting forces of an ocean are pitted against stone, given a billion years or so. Mo’ Nat’s artwork.
Despite its small size, Isla Bartolome ended up being our second favorite place to anchor in all of Las Perlas.
However, we may have done a triple take when we saw a small fishing boat anchor just up current from us – a boat looking remarkably like the one that had recently dragged down on top of us at Isla Pacheca.
Isla Mogo Mogo; Isla Bayoneta; Isla Pedro Gonzalez – all stops along the way as we meandered throughout the archipelago.
Dinghy explorations; paddling on the SUP; relaxing.
And always birds; more birds. It became apparent to us that we were witnessing some sort of migration process unfolding. The numbers of birds were astounding. And they just continued to grow.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART TWO…