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May 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 30, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Pedasi, Isla Coiba and Bocas del Toro, Panama

a whirlwind dive trip, with great surface intervals

from the May, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Note from Ben: Years ago, while ensconced at Laguna Beach Diving Resort on Utila, Honduras, my dive buddy and I took the resort boat into town nearly every day to walk about and soak in a little local culture. I thought it odd that no other divers cared to motor in and explore. However, having since traveled to endless other dive destinations, I've concluded that most divers are solely dive tourists, not travelers. They head directly to their destination, dive and go home. To suggest that they skip a day of diving -- or even an afternoon dive -- to see the countryside is often met with indifference. I guess most of my fellow divers have such a deep love of diving, they can't bear to miss a single minute underwater.

Koko Resort in Bocas del ToroI'm a little different. I've always allocated extra days or extra time to understand more about where I visit. For example, I hiked three days in Papua New Guinea, staying in mountain villages, hiked to Boiling Lake in Dominica and had dinner in town several nights, and spent three days bird watching on Trinidad before heading to Tobago. None of these is a big deal, but I did see a lot and learned a lot, and the side trips made my travels much richer. So I present this Panama diving story, where our writer not only tells us the good and the bad about several dive operations, but shares his first-hand look at the countryside as he drove from destination to destination.

* * * * *

Dear Fellow Diver:

Being within spitting distance of retirement, I've become focused on how to manage the present and future by controlling expenses, rather than obeying financial advisers who suggest I need 80% of my current income to enjoy retirement. As well as diving, my wife and I love to travel the countryside, seeing small villages and eating in restaurants locals frequent. Which set the stage for our latest "whirlwind tour" of Panama, and experiencing my favorite palindrome: a man, a plan, Panama!

The Panama Canal got me in hot water with a high school history teacher who insisted it went east to west because it connected the Atlantic and the Pacific. I disagreed, arguing that it went north to south, which I finally observed first-hand last October. My journey began in Panama City, where I stayed in a refurbished 350-year-old colonial house in the Casco Viejo district. Casco Viejo became the center of government in 1671, after Henry Morgan (whose rum brand representation looks a lot nicer than the original) sacked the original capital city. It is about 40 minutes from the airport, and a 10-minute cab ride from the skyscraper-laden downtown. Reasonably priced at $130 per night, I took a modern studio with a kitchen and free internet. Our host gave a quick overview, complete with a map and instructions to go only during daylight to the bustling Avenida Centrals, a more "real" Panama City than the tonier Casco Viego, and a district reminiscent of what I saw in Havana 15 years ago. My Spanish is passable, but the 100-plus years of American presence means that enough people speak English so a gringo can navigate without Spanish. After a visit to the Miraflores Locks, the last and westernmost three enormous locks on the canal, I headed south toward Pedasi to get wet....

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