Santa Catalina

Posted on November 18, 2018


When I was planning my second Panamá leg, I consulted Mr Flipflop while I was in Roatán. He’d had some travel adventures and told me the best diving was in Coiba marine park.

“Santa Catalina Natasha (his pet name for me) is the place to go. It’s beautiful and a cool place. The diving in Coiba is great. It’s an hour boat ride away.”

This sentiment was echoed by a Colombian customer I took diving at work, who now lives in Panama. “Asha the Mantas! You must go, it’s incredible. My favourite place,” she gushed. She had also managed to stay on the actual island last year. But that option is no longer available, due to renovations. Everyone has to travel from the mainland and back each day. That’s a lot of fuel, so prices are not cheap!

Mr Sub too had told me, “don’t go to Boca Del Toro,”, which initially was on my radar to dive. “It’s what Roatán was like fifteen years ago, just with worse vis,” he urged, raising the corner of his top lip and frowning, the night we met.

So message received loud and clear. On Friday I found myself boarding yet another bus. This time to Santa Catalina. The journey took seven hours total with two brief toilet breaks. Five to a tiny town called Sonar and then a change onto a very local bus, where I sat next to a parrot for almost two hours. I kid you not.

I had stood up to let an old man have my seat. Everyone raised an eyebrow. Latin Americans don’t give seats up to the old or infirm. “Tough luck buddy,” is the attitude, harsh but true.

Two stops later a double seat became free so I took the window one. “Ahh good karma!” I thought pleased with myself. I spoke too soon.

First a drunk guy, old enough to be my Dad, wearing a Ronaldo football shirt sat down and started hitting on me, all in Spanish. I can’t speak the lingo but I know when a guy is flirting and talking about me. The whole bus was listening, and smirking. Even the damn driver. I sat in total silence. I didn’t wanna provoke or encourage him. Thankfully this excruciating, smelly monologue lasted only 15minutes. Then the parrot got on.

A chubby woman with kids dressed identically clutching a shoebox with a large hole, became my next companions. The kids sat on each of her knees and the parrot came out of the box and sat on her index finger. I’ve seen it all now.

I was dropped off at the side of road outside my hotel.”Hotel!” I hear you cry. Yes that’s right Miss Tanna wants three nights of comfort and my King size bed is bloody amazing.

Saturday I’m diving three tanks in Coiba National Park and I’m beyond excited. Here’s hoping for a phenomenal first day….!