Monday, October 11, 2010

Panama Trip 1: Coral Lodge

We started talking about this trip six months ago. The idea was to try to combine our love of complete relaxation and lying on the beach with a book, and our love of birdwatching. At this time of year, birdwatching is fine in Canada, but the beach-reading, not so much, so we figured we'd have to go elsewhere.

I was inspired to investigate Panama as an option by Birdchick, who spent time at the absolutely incredible Canopy Tower, the premiere birding ecolodge in Panama. Her photographs, plus her enthusiastic commentary on how awesome her trip was, convinced me I had to check it out. Unfortunately, there was a stumbling block: being an old US Army radar tower mostly made out of metal, Canopy Tower isn't so much on the relaxing privacy. It's more on the "you will need earplugs to sleep at night and the howler monkeys start at 5am" side of the spectrum. Someday we may still go, but it wasn't quite what we needed right now. So, we started widening the field.

Our first four nights of the week were spent at Coral Lodge, a very remote little ecolodge at the north end of Panama, along the Caribbean. Remote means a 2.5 hour drive and 45 minute boat ride to and from the place. It's right on the very edge, on the Panama side, of Comarca Kuna Yala, which is essentially a separate nation run by the indigenous Kuna people. There's not a lot around, and the lodge itself is pretty tiny. Because of its remoteness and tininess, the new owners are having to do a fair bit of work to make it economically sustainable, including adding more rooms. Right now there are only six.

But they are awesome.

And as advertised, the coral is also awesome. We did a lot of swimming and snorkling. There were sea turtles, stingrays, puffer fish, young barraccuda, lionfish (a long way away -- they're gorgeous, and exceedingly poisonous) and many, many, many gorgeous reef fish of all sizes and colours, right off our own little deck. The water was generally quite clear, though less so when things were windy. But I expect the diving here is spectacular, though I am too claustrophobic to try.

We went for a rainforest walk that ended with fresh coconut right off the tree. AND we saw monkeys! My first time ever seeing them in the wild. They're pretty darn charming, howler monkeys, even at 5:30am when they're booming away. The ones we saw were pretty high, so there was no way to get a good photo. So instead, me on the beach with my coconut, gazing out at a trio of whimbrels.

The food was very good, and service very attentive. The weather was absolutely stunning, with most of the time as you see above; it was raining just a little bit as we left. Not bad for the rainy season. As one of only two couples there, we did feel a little exposed at times. And there were fewer birds than we might have expected, although we picked up about 40 species between the airport, lodge, and our return to Panama City. Overall, it was a really lovely start to our trip.