Our first day in Panama was a true expedition-style day spent on the remote island of Escudo de Varaguas. An intrepid group set off early, landing on a long sandy beach dotted with abandoned fishing huts. A walk along the edge of forest yielded sightings of the endemic Escudo hummingbird, the golden-collard manakin, bay wren, and blue-gray tanager. The rest of the group chose to take a Zodiac cruise and were greeted by brown boobies and a pygmy sloth. Later in the afternoon a small group set out for some drift snorkeling along a small passage just off the community of Cotton Bay. The snorkeling yielded too many fish to count but the highlight had to be the family in a dugout canoe that we met. Jack was able to engage them with his Spanish and we learned they were living on the island for a short period of time.
Our next destination was the San Blas Archipelago where we were struck by the beauty of these little gems that number about 360... one for every day of the year. The ship anchored off the island of Acuatupu and we landed at a community that came to be known as the "mola mall." The line of people selling crafts seemed to go on forever but we did our best to support the local economy. Later in the afternoon, at Holandes Caye, we enjoyed a choice of water sports including diving, snorkeling, nature walks, sea kayaking, and general relaxation. Even the Commandant made it ashore and we all agreed it was one of the most beautiful places we had been.
A daylight transit of the Panama Canal allowed us to experience and appreciate this man-made wonder, often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Rich Cahill, Panama native and expert guide, enlightened us with facts, figures, and volumes of information about the canal system.