Exploration on Isla Bastimentos

By Meret Schueschke

A short boat ride away from bustling Bocas Town with its multiple bars, restaurants and  souvenir shops, Bastimentos Island is a nearly untouched Caribbean retreat. With less than 1 500 inhabitants, and no access to cars on the island (there are no roads there) this is one of those places that do not seem to have changed much through the times.

A substantial part of the Island and the waters surrounding it form the Bastimentos National Marine Park, a marine nature reserve. Encompassing coral reefs and sandy beaches, as well as a sizable chunk of rainforest, the reserve provides shelter for a variety of wildlife. The animal the Island is most famous for is a species of poison dart frog: the tiny red amphibians with their black spots can be found only here, and are numerous enough to have given their name to one of the most popular beaches on the island: Red Frog Beach, which is located inside the National Park. Accessible by boat only, this beach is a wonderful sunbathing and surfing spot. It was from here that I set out on a little forest adventure: The trail to the town of Old Bank.

This trail, roughly three kilometers in length, runs along the northern coast of Bastimentos, and is, as I was about to discover, not exactly a walk in the park, but definitely worth doing.

I walked along the beach for a while, until a painted sign pointed me to a small path in the forest, and began my adventure. At first it was relatively easy going. The trail was narrow, but easy enough to find, and every step led me to a new discovery.

The forest was full of the sounds of birds and insects, lizards scuttled around in the undergrowth, and I could still hear the crashing of the waves on the nearby beach. Now and again, the path returned to sandy strips of beach, meandered through coconut tree groves or passed across rocky outcrops before another reliable little sign pointed me back into the forest.

After a while, I started to feel like a true explorer, discovering a completely foreign place, almost expecting pirates or the Spanish explorers of days long gone to pop out from underneath the trees. I kept stopping to look at the fascinating little things along the path: tiny red frogs, bits of broken coral, and my personal favorite: colorful hermit crabs inhabiting empty shells. Now and again I went to cool off my feet in the waves breaking on white sand (and got thoroughly soaked several times, but in the warm weather this was a welcome refreshment).

After a while, the trail started getting muddier, and harder to walk, but being all caught up in discovering this exotic forest, I only took serious notice of this when one of my sandals got stuck in a mud hole. Fortunately the next bit of beach where I could get cleaned up was not too far away, and from that point on I just went barefoot when the mud became too persistent.

And then, suddenly, I found myself on a long stretch of white sand beach again, a new sign informed me that I was almost at the end of the trail: I had arrived at Wizard Beach. Another twenty minutes through the forest brought me to the town of Old Bank. Brightly painted houses, children playing in the streets, fruit vendors selling coconuts down by the docks: This was the Caribbean as I had always imagined it. I realized then I had spent almost four hours in the forest, I was muddy, tired and hungry, but I had had the chance to experience an amazing place, and to discover yet another facet of the ever-changing beautiful country of Panama.

If you would like to visit Bastimentos Island f or stay at one of the fantastic lodges on the island of Bocas del Toro such as Eclypse de Mar with its cabins  built over the water, across the bay from Old Bank, La Loma Lodge in the Jungle, Tranquilo Bay on the Southern tip of the Island, or Al Natural near the indigenous settlement of Salt Cree you can contact our office for details and itineraries at Info@ecocircuitos.com or calling our Panama office at +507 3151488

Discover the Bocas del Toro Jungle with the Nasso People

The Naso, also known as the Teribe, have been the inhabitants of the mountainous jungle region of the northwestern corner of Panama since long before the Spanish colonizers ever reached the shores of Central America. Although the Naso were once a large celebrated tribe of warriors, the arrival of the Spanish in the 17th century led to a decimation of the Naso population with war, relocation, and disease. Today, the remaining Naso live in 11 small communities located along the Teribe River amid the lush forest of the La Amistad International Park.

The basis of Naso life, both historically and today, is the Teribe River. Although called the Teribe by the Spanish, the original Naso name for the river is Tjër Di. ‘Di’ means ‘water’ and Tjër is the “Grand-Mother”, the giver of life and guiding spiritual force of the Naso ancestors.

The Naso are proud to be the only remaining monarchy in the Western Hemisphere. The population of about 3,500 Naso people all pay allegiance to the king, who resides in his royal palace in the community Sieyik, the center of the Naso region, located approximately two hours upriver from Soposo Rainforest Adventures. The king governs with the help of his consejo (board of advisers), representatives drawn from the various communities. The Naso reserve the right to switch kings if they become unhappy with him. They can vote him out, but the replacement has to come from the royal family.

The Naso have maintained their close connection with the earth for centuries. Although they have always been dependent on the bounty of the rain forest, the Naso culture has strict regulations that prohibit the exploitation and over use of these resources. Because of that cultivated sense of conservation among the Naso, their rain forest home still exists much as it did hundreds of years ago. Today, however, the Naso find their very survival, and that of their children threatened. Many Naso are forced to leave behind their homes, family and culture to seek out jobs in urban areas. Those that remain in their ancestral homelands are feeling increasing pressure from outsiders intent on overfishing, over hunting and over harvesting their trees. Even more frightening are the multiple hydroelectric projects approved by the Panamanian government that threaten to displace Naso communities and destroy their remaining natural resources and cultural identity.

Although several of Panama’s other indigenous tribes have received large tracts of land from the Panamanian government that are designated as reservations for those tribes, the Naso still do not have comarca (reservation) status for their land. The Naso continue to fight for the creation of a130,000-hectare comarca of their own, but it is seeming more and more unlikely with the governmental interest in profiting from the resources that the Naso have depended on and protected for centuries.

We offer day trips, overnight trips and great adventures in the Jungle of the Bocas del Toro. For more information and tours, contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com or call at + 507 3140068 http://www.ecocircuitos.com