The Island


Jim & Jason at base camp

We can always justify an expedition by calling it research, and our trip to explore ‘Los Farallones’ fell into that category. This loose collection of small islands and breaking rocks sits a few kilometres off the coast near the village of Cacique. The largest island which hosts an unmanned lighthouse was our destination. It was our second attempt, the last time the swell was too big to allow a safe landing, and even this time in the flat calm the lancha could only get us within 50m of the rocks and we had to paddle our gear in on kayaks and a small dinghy.

We ferried our camping gear and supplies ashore as fast as possible, piled it up and quickly covered it with a tarp before an approaching squall hit. Even torrential (warm) rain and wind isn’t really a problem in the tropics, and as the sun quickly reappeared, we assessed where to put up the tents. A stark and vaguely hostile environment, dead skeletal trees, a jumble of bare guano-covered rocks, no shade, curious frigate birds and boobies wheeling overhead. We decided to explore and see if there was an easier place to make a camp.

We scrambled over the rocks, climbed up the scary near vertical steps to the lighthouse. The views were breathtaking but there really wasn’t anywhere obvious to set up. In the end Jim wished he’d brought a pick axe as we worked to create a flat space for our tent near where we came ashore. Jason ended up sleeping on a canted piece of concrete slab ( left over from the sea-destroyed dock ) and Amy & Austin decided on a spot up by the lighthouse. There was very little breeze that night and when it got too hot they abandoned their tent to sleep outside on the bracken-like grass. Amy said there was nothing quite like waking up to the sensation of a hermit crab combing through your hair (!) Jason felt the birds were deliberately using him as target practise, as he woke to find streaks of bird poop ONLY on him, and not his surrounds. We were lucky, slept much better on our lumpy floor than we expected, but it was sweltering.


If these are Boobies, does that make their perch site a Boobery?



Base camp from the lighthouse


Sunset over the Caribbean….


Our underwater experiences more than made up for the discomfort of the camping… we had wanted to explore out there for years… the visibility is spectacular, 10m, 15m, 20m? The fish obviously don’t see too many fisherman. We almost got tired of the Angels, both French & Queen. We’ve never seen so many Black Durgons. A pair of majestic Eagle Rays glided (glid?) past  several metres below us. The underwater landscape is like nothing I have experienced since Gozo in the Mediterranean, or Saba in the Caribbean.

The viz is out of this world, far enough from the mainland that runoff from rivers, or aguaceras, has no effect. The current sweeps it clean also.


Holding on tight!


A pair of Porkfish


A beautiful French Angel fish


Typical sea life


A Honeycomb Cow fish


Lined rock and pounding surf


School of Doctorfish

It was a great trip with great folk, and as Arnie would say “We’ll definitely be back!


Wildlife moments

Most days Jim and I compete as to who has seen something remarkable. It can be a new animal, or a new behaviour, and if you manage to get photographic evidence, so much the better. Of course, if you didn’t carry the camera, something good ALWAYS happens.

Yesterday wasn’t unusual. Tamarin monkeys in the quebrada ( burn or stream ) at dawn. Our resident Great Black hawk who is now completely unperturbed as we walk under his favourite tree. A couple of sloths above the papaya patch. Capuchins and Howlers crossing from east to west as part of their daily commute across our garden.

So I just want to reassure the many people who have written concerned, I wasn’t bitten by a ‘wild’ animal, and it wasn’t on our property.

Charmer is anchored off an island 5km away. I had just finished cleaning the hull, and as my reward I finned over to the shallows, planning to look for seahorses around the pilings of the abandoned dock.

As I snorkeled along parallel to the shore, I became aware of animal noises. I pushed my self up on my hands to investigate, saw two monkeys staring intently at me and one immediately launched himself from the sand, jumped on my back, and took a bite at me. It happened so fast. His momentum toppled me back into deeper water, which was when he let go, and then I saw all the blood! As luck would have it, Jim wasn’t testing the main engine. He heard my panicked scream, and I waded out backwards into deeper water ( the only easy way with fins on) together enough to want to get further away from them, and also not wanting Jim to have to come in too shallow, with the outboard. I clambered inelegantly into the dinghy, and he told me to keep pressure on the wound, and we headed back to Charmer. Once onboard, I started to hyperventilate, and officially fainted briefly.

Thank heavens for friends. One phone call, someone met us on the mainland to help Jim get our dinghy out and onto the trailer, the vet was on hand to treat me ( who else has better experience of animal bites?) and, the hospital in Panama City were great. Two weeks on, I have graduated to steri strips to help the wound heal, antibiotics done and apart from frustration at not being allowed to do anything, all is good.

The back story? The animals were released there more than twenty years ago, along with some peccaries ( wild pigs) and various birds. As the US pulled out, bases were closed and these monkeys were part of a zoo in Fort Sherman. They were initially fed, just as in their previous life, but not caged, they were always free to roam. A family lived there and cared for them, but after they left, I am guessing it was assumed the monkeys had learned enough to forage for themselves.

The world has changed, and what was once a remote, relatively un-visited part of the Caribbean coastline, has slowly become busier. The white sand beaches nearby attract weekend visitors, and it has become a regular stop on the water taxi routes… stop and feed/watch/photograph the monkeys. But it isn’t regulated. Some days they score a lot of junk food ( no idea how that affects them physically but it can’t be good), other days people throw full beer cans at them…  one of the people who helped placed them notes they were already pretty mischievous when still in the zoo, used to stealing sunglasses and picking pockets.

In the past I had never seen them enter the water, and that’s why I felt secure. Up until two years ago, they were my closest neighbours, and because of the many incidents we observed, we never set foot on the island.

They were, and are, completely unpredictable. Please note this change in behaviour, and give them a wide berth. That was one wildlife moment I intend never to experience again