|Dolphins off of Isla Coiba.|
We got the boot from Parque Nacional Coiba, which by the by is utterly devine and unbelievably expensive.
Our first stop after a two day passage from the Perlas was a tiny little island called Isla Rancheria located right next to the large island, Coiba, the bulk of the park. Our little island had a beautiful beach, gorgeous water and, according to the Panama Cruising Guide, was part of the park but was privately owned. Our esteemed guide Eric Bauhaus, who rarely leads us astray, said that if we anchored in the main anchorage off of Coiba we would be charged $40 - $20 for anchoring and $10 per person. Per day. Way out of our budget, thank you. But it sounded as though we could anchor in other places for a night without getting charged the exorbitant fee. Were we chasing the dragon's tail? Sure. But it seemed like a reasonable bet, and if we did get charged the $40 we wouldn't go hungry.
Yet, as seems to be our consistent experience in Panama, guess what has happened? Yep, the price has doubled. (The Canal toll, cruising permit and triplicante visas are just a few examples.)
I had spent a lovely 30 minutes of our morning getting coffee made and watching these weird things float by in the water that looked like tiny bits of glowing blue neon, but before I had even had a chance to down one cup of coffee I heard a man outside whistling and shouting, "Bettie, Bettie, Bettie." I went topsides, and there were three men in a bright yellow panga, one of whom had on an official park polo. We said our good mornings, and they began to ask me a series of questions in Spanish. "How long have you been here?" "How long is your boat?" "How many people are on board?"
Now keep in mind that my Spanish, while improving, is still quite crap, and without a cup of coffee .... Well, you can imagine how things went. Anyway, I muddled through their questions, and then they said that we had to pay to be in the park. Ready for our $40 smack down, I asked how much. That's when they said the word "ochenta," and I almost fell over into the cockpit.
"Ochenta," I cried, "Es mucho, mucho, mucho dinero!!"
I then told them that we didn't have $80 to anchor in once place for one day, which was pretty close to the truth, and they then started asking how much money we could pay. Now, before you start to say that we were getting schooled, they were trying to get us to go over to the main office to pay. They said that we needed to go right then at that moment to the office with our paperwork, and we would pay there.
Anyway, we kept talking and talking, and I kept telling them that $40 to anchor and $20 per person per day was too much and that it wasn't right and that it was unreasonable. And they kept agreeing but saying that it wasn't their fault and politely asking if the capitan was going to come out any time soon, the capitan who at that moment was listening to the entire conversation from the comforts of our bed. They also said they could call the policia, very nicely of course, but I just kept looking at them incredulously and saying that it was too much.
Eventually, to my eternal embarrassment, I started crying. Was it a moment of emotional weakness? Shamefully yes. Was it due to the frustrating nature of the situation? For sure. I also think it might have something to do with the fact that everywhere we have gone we run into people, official and otherwise, charging us and charging us and charging us in places that we went to because we thought they would be better for our budget, and we just can't afford it anymore. Whatever the case, after I brought on the waterworks, those dudes were looking even more frantically for the captain and had lowered their price back down to the original $40. Which I paid all teary-eyed. They, then, said we had until noon to get the heck out.
At any rate, I'm sure they thought I was crazy, and Vlad said the conversation was pretty funny, listening to those guys argue with an increasingly unstable gringa. But I will have to say that the park was unbelievably beautiful and evidently could only be enjoyed by those with large amounts of cash, which stands in stark contrast to national parks in the United States where I spent a lot of my time growing up. Those slices of heaven were not just for the wealthy but for everyone to appreciate and enjoy.
At least those were my thoughts as we drank our cups of coffee and stared out over that perfect blue green water bubbling with fish. Then, we hightailed it out of there before the police showed up.
(Aside: I will say that we still may have gotten schooled. It's impossible to tell for sure, but at least we paid the price that's in the book. I somehow doubt those guys gave the cash to the park though.)