Panama Diving Trip - Hugyfot Housing Review
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Panama Diving Trip
Published : Friday, June 27th 2008
Written by Karin Brussaard
Introduction "Coiba National Park"
Panama means 'abundance of fish' in the indigenous language of one of the Indian tribes. In Coiba this is obviously the case. But due to a minor sight at times, the fish is not always clearly visible. Coiba is the largest island of Panama and consists mainly of ancient tropical rainforest. Between 1919 and 2004 the only occupants residing in Coiba were prisoners and their guards. During those years the island was closed for other people, let alone turists. In the meantime this situation has altered but still very few turists visit Coiba. One of the reasons is the fact that the island finds itself in a deserted faraway spot. And what might even be more important is the protected status of the island. Coiba is a National park, (the island, the reef and marine life) and UNESCO declared the entire Coiba National Park a "World Heritage Site" in July 2005. It is prohibited to build on Coiba.
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ANAM Panamanian organization of nature preservation Coiba Tito the crocodile
The only place to stay at is ANAM, the Panamanian organization of nature preservation. ANAM owns a visitors centre on Coiba and sleeping-accommodation in the form of dormitories for small groups of 5 people. Every morning the howler monkeys woke me up when I was staying there. Unlike the tufted capuchin, the howler monkeys stayed hidden in the forest and I didn't get to see them. The most impressive inhabitant however is the 4 meters measuring crocodile listening to the name Tito. One of my greatest wishes is taking underwater pictures of a crocodile. The ANAM rangers however thought me very foolish when I asked them if it was possible to shoot Tito underwater. Even though Tito has been living in the mangroves close to the visitors centre for a couple of years now and gets treated with dinner-leftovers from time to time, it still is a crocodile, a wild animal and cannot be trusted, according to the rangers. I had to let go of the idea and had to settle for making pictures on land of this ancient animal.
Panama underwater world
"Cold ocean water..."
Millions of years ago, Coiba was situated close to the Galapagos Islands; it drifted away and ended up in front of the Panama coast line. In February an equatorial undercurrent moving eastward from the Galapagos Islands towards Coiba causes up-welling of cold ocean water. This up-welling of cold ocean water feels rather weird underwater and it also looks weird. During one of the dives I had put the Canon 40D on the bottom to be able to take pictures with my other camera. All of a sudden I noticed a brown wall approaching me. Within seconds the water temperature dropped some 5 degrees Celsius, the sight reduced to around 5 meters and the current got really strong. I was able to grab the EOS 40D just in time before it would have started a solitary dive.
These cold currents appear also in different colours, like yellow and green. But they do have a common feature; they are full of nutrients and this attracts fish. Large shoals of mackerels, barracudas, white tip reef sharks and small manta rays swam around us. We were probably more often surrounded by large shoals of fish but unable to see them because of the limited sight. Sometimes I was aware of animals in my neighbourhood but I couldn't see them. Or they approached you from behind, all of a sudden when you least expected it. At one time a large perch of 1,5 meters freaked me out by sneaking up on me and giving me a penetrating look. I was so shocked I couldn't even take a decent picture of him. According to our guide Herbie Sunk of Scuba Coiba ( these experiences make diving on Coiba a adventure.
Travel Distances Panama
Distances in itself are not too bad in Panama, but since the island is divided by mountains and volcanoes, it still takes hours to travel over land. And exactly for that reason I chose to take a national flight which would save me some 8 hours. However; I didn't think of luggage restrictions on national flights. When booking the ticket I had asked the company if my baggage would be a problem. Not only did I have a bag with clothes, toiletries and battery chargers, but also a large bag with diving gear, a rucksack with two digital reflex cameras, lenses, underwater housings ports and flash units. The lady in the travel agency did not mind at all. But the lady at the check-in counter gave me a bewildered look and asked if I really had to take all that baggage with me. She'd have preferred to send it over land. I would then be allowed on the plane and my luggage would arrive two days later. After a long persuasive talk and the payment of a considerable amount of money for my excess baggage she granted me a boarding pass. After that the hand luggage check was scheduled. The small airport did
not have a scanner at its disposal. Instead a customs officer searched the luggage manually. And very thorough I must admit; every bag was emptied completely and every box or sack was checked individually. I felt so not at ease when it was my turn. The customs officer herself seemed rather uncomfortable too when going through my hand baggage, she had no idea what to do with it. The underwater housing was investigated from top to bottom but she didn't know what it was or if it could be a dangerous item on board of an airplane. Finally she decided it was not listed among objects strictly forbidden on board so she let me go and I had to try and put all my stuff back into the bags. Finally I was able to enter the plane with my cameras and the stack of equipment too. I was ever so happy to get permission to take my luggage with me because it meant being able to dive and shoot the underwater life the very next day.
The Panama Canal
During a trip to Panama you must visit the Panama Canal. The Gamboa hotel is the perfect spot to start from. The hotel is situated close to a village called Gamboa, one of the villages built during the construction of the Canal to reside the workers working on the Canal and later it became the home base of the Americans who managed the Canal for many years. It is an impressive sight to see the sea-going vessels sail through the Canal and the locks. Being from Rotterdam (a Dutch harbor city) I must admit that the vessels arriving in the Rotterdam harbor are a tad bigger than the ones I see here although they are certainly not small. A ship that wants to sail through the Panama Canal is allowed up to a length of 294.1 meters and a width of 32.3 meters. With the knowledge of this Canal having been built in the beginning of the 20st century in the back of my mind, it is a extraordinary achievement.
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