It is going to be a glorious summer. We rose just before 7 a.m. to catch a 9 o’clock flight from Panama City’s domestic airport. We quickly found that air travel here is far different than that in the US, beginning with a 2-minute search on our checked bags and nobody in line at ticketing. Next to the ticketing desk were a few rows of chairs: this was our gate, one of two at the airport. They called our flight and that’s when we went through security. It took less than 10 minutes. No frisking, no nude scans, shoes stay on.
A quick flight on Air Panama took us to David, a mid-size town about an hour from the coast. We were greeted by Aris, short for Aristotle, Isla Palenque’s project coordinator. At 6’5” he made quite the impression, but solidified it when he fooled us into thinking we couldn’t fit our bags in his small jeep, when in fact the car he actually drove was right next to it. Maybe you had to have been there, but we got a good laugh. The mind-blower came, however, when Aris stopped to pick up another friend. After learning his full name, we realized that in the front seats were Aristotle and Christopher Columbus.
Our next destination was Boca Chica, a small coastal village and gateway to the surrounding islands. A simple journey for most, it proved a heck of an experience for us. The original Christopher Columbus didn’t navigate a boat too well, but this one could sure handle a car. We whizzed through the countryside, passing slower drivers and missing oncoming traffic by a hair, all under a downpour of tropical rain. Ironically, the seatbelts were buried under the back seats. We were glad to have made the effort to find them.
At last we arrived in Boca Chica, where a 10-minute boat ride took us to the famous Isla Palenque. It was then, as the lush greenery materialized in the tropical air, that we realized just how monumental our journey would be.
We stepped off the boat and did our best to contain our wonder. Aris belted out a deep laugh, probably all too familiar with the look everyone must get upon first sight. Only a few moments after taking in the beaches and palm trees, we were escorted into the island’s only car, where it was a 3-minute drive to camp.
Future visitors and residents take note: while nature has crafted this beautiful island just for you, your luxurious accommodations are being made as we speak. So while you may never get the opportunity to reside in the tented construction camp, we assure you it is an excellent experience. There are so many friendly faces to get to know, and we will be happy to recount our interactions as they unfold.
That left us with one major item of business: time to hit the beach.
Aris drove us to Playa Palenque, informally known as Lucy beach by the crew for the airstream trailer that sits on one end to hold supplies, reminiscent of Lucile Ball‘s silver bullet. We set our shoes on a deck and jumped into the water. Imagine yourself in a heated pool. Open your eyes to find yourself in a bathwater-warm ocean along a private beach. It’s starting to sink in that this fantasy is a reality, right here.
I was able to enjoy a run across Playa Palenque’s three-quarters-of-a-mile-long shoreline while Luke used a machete and straw to enjoy his first taste of all-natural coconut water. Sitting on a piece of driftwood, reading a book with the tide warming my toes, it occurred to me that so few people in history have been where we are now, and it has taken so long for this gem to reach the world. Future travelers, your dreams await you.
Images by Luke Hansen.