Isla Coiba, Panama, a marine reserve
While patrolling the odd complex, a soldier in military fatigues with a knife under his belt waved us in. Mumbling, “La isla del diablo”, he escorted us to a cell block with concrete bunks cast behind corroded bars. He pointed to rotten offices at the top of the hill, claiming this was where dictator Manuel Noriega had his enemies questioned. Sharks, crocodiles and currents discouraged escapees, we were told.
After an hour we all felt the urge to flee and ran to another desert island, Rancheria, for a restorative sunset swim before heading to our accommodation at Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente station.
Spooky prison stories aside, crocodiles remain an obstacle to wandering alone on Coiba. Although Tito, a crocodile who frequents the station, was not in sight, we heard about him from the few other travelers gathered in the concrete catering pavilion, who, once the rangers turned on the generator, was lit by a bare bulb (the generator would stay on until sunrise, powering the air conditioners which were an unexpected luxury in the cabins).
Two Canadian fishermen showed photos of the 400-pound marlin one caught and released, while a pair of Chilean divers described the delicate seahorses they encountered. All four were on more luxurious tours. Fishermen would go out to eat grilled fish by the light of tiki torches behind sea vines, while divers sat on a table covered in linen and set in silver.
Despite the lack of refinements, we enjoyed grilled chicken and rice on paper plates, along with cold Panamanian beer cans.
Like the kitchen, our bunker smelled like prison, consisting of six twin beds, their inventory numbers marked on the frames. Grabbing the bunk near the air conditioner, Seth pronounced himself “inmate 39242”, happy to sleep inside rather than in the hammocks stretched between the palm trees outside with Tito on the loose.