After nearly two weeks of daily adventures by bike, bus, boat, plane and surf, we suddenly found ourselves trapped on a remote Caribbean island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago off the Atlantic coast of Panama. Up until that moment we thought our trip had been pretty relaxing. We figured we had slipped into Panamanian time. We guessed we were mucho tranquillo. HA!
Three nights and three days on the far side of Isla de Bastimentos in a secluded Eco lodge left us in a new state of relaxation and finally made us come full stop. No roads, no stores, no town squares, no generators, no shoes and definitely no wifi...no problem. We finally read our first books of the trip. We spent hours jumping off the dock and floating in the crystal clear Caribbean Sea. We swung in the hammock and stared at the brightest stars. We watched the moon grow each night and marvelled at its magic light glowing on the water and highlighting the jungle. We savoured every moment of every sunset and took in every second of every sunrise. We made plans to runaway to Panama for ever. We ate. We ate. We finally and fully got fantastically bored. As you should on every decent holiday.
Our stay at Al Natural resort was the result another wing and a prayer Google research project and brought my score to a solid 4 out of 4. I will admit, however, that after the first day we weren't so sure about the score on this one. It was our splurge. The rate to a stay in this remote and pristine resort was well above our daily budget for the rest of the trip and soon after arriving we wondered if we had stepped into someone else's holiday. Simple, but naturally beautiful, Al Natural Resort is a hideaway like no other. One of the only resorts on the east point of Bastimentos, Al Natural is miles away from the chaos of Bocas party Town on the main island of Colon. A 40 minute water taxi over smooth turquoise waters, transports visitors to another world entirely. Private cabanas nestled in the jungle only metres from the sea, give new meaning to the 'open air' concept. Watch the sunrise from your bed, look for monkeys while you shower and let the sound of jungle birds lull you to sleep. And be sure to watch out for wee geckos hiding in your water glass in the morning! Al Natural is truly a natural experience in the jungle!
After two hours we had walked the trails of the point in entirety. After four hours we were wondering how we were going to last three nights. "Really, you booked three nights??" After six hours we were slapping each other to stay awake for the 8pm dinner call ( who the hell eats dinner at 8 pm??) and wondering what we had signed up for.
The food, prepared three times per day by Belgian chef Vince, was fresh and flavourful and we ate more vegetables in those three days than we would in the other nineteen. Bountiful fruit plates, freshly baked bread and eggs to please every morning. A buffet of delicious salads and spreads for lunch. Afternoon tea...at five pm!! And then the long wait until dinner at our usual bedtime. We started drinking tea at five so we could stay awake until 8. We saved our pennies and avoided the resorts high priced drinks and tours by packing in our own supplies and finding our own adventures.
The next morning we kayaked 40 minutes to a local indigenous village and visited the Salt Creek people, saving ourselves $25 each in crazy water taxi fees set by the resort. We loved everything about Al Natural other than the expensive add on fees. The price you pay for being in such a remote location and at the mercy of the resort for transportation I suppose. Luckily kayaks were provided at the resort and we enjoyed our paddle down the beach and deep into the mangrove tunnel to Salt Creek. We paid $10 each instead to a local family for a two hour guided tour across the island to a beautiful and deserted white sand beach in the outside. Our guide spotted monkeys, miniature red frogs and even our very first sloth snoozing in the trees! Well worth the small fee and a hike we won't soon forget.
We hiked every jungle trail we could find. We snorkelled under the sea looking for life that never actually appeared. We opened endless coconuts and drank the water mixed with rum before devouring the tasty flesh. We played cribbage every night. We tried our luck fishing in over fished waters. We played ping pong. We met families from around the world and learned more about far away lands than we ever did in Discovery channel or in geography class at school. I did Spanish lessons in the hammock and yoga on the deck. I even invented some sweet new hammock strength exercises-watch out bootcamp!
And then, on our final full day at the resort, it rained and rained and rained. It poured down with that sweet Caribbean rain that flattens the sea and floods the sand. It rained sideways and down and through tiny holes in the palapa. And we were forced to finally surrender to complete and utter sloth mode. It was pure bliss.
In the end Al Natural was an awesome experience that I feel lucky to have had. I would recommend it to anyone looking to get off the grid, unplug and get bored in a simply beautiful way. Another great lesson learned, Central America continues to school me.
Accommodation: Al Natural Resort, $120USD per person per night including all meals, wine with dinner, transportation and use of kayaks and snorkel gear. http://www.alnaturalresort.com
Up next, adios Panama and hello Costa Rica!