Panama, Day 4

‘Twas the fourth day in Panama, and already a distinct routine had set in place. I arose to the (now expected) 630 knocking on the door, signaling PT time with Terrence–there’s nothing like working out with a former Navy SEAL to give perspective on how out of shape you are. After the vigorous workout, we all snorkeled out into the bay to free dive a sailboat sunk in roughly 20′ of water, where Terrence once again showed us all up by doing laps around the 32′ vessel like the dolphin we’re pretty sure he secretly is. Breakfast at 730 sharp, then setting up gear for a 900 launch to our first boat dive of the day: Las Tres Hermanas (The Three Sisters.) I was able to get some great footage on this drift dive, including of a pair of scorpion fish and a large, rust colored trigger fish that no one has yet been able to identify. After the dive we motored over to a shallow lagoon to explore a red mangrove habitat and the shallow tidal zone, where I witnessed a tiny coral shrimp, no bigger than my fingernail, attack what I first took to be a drifting piece of seagrass, only to exclaim in surprise when I noticed the crab legs sticking out–my first ever decorated crab sighting!
Lunch followed the lagoon, then an hour break to nap, shoot pool, or catch up on our coral identification research, and by 1400 we had all loaded into the boat again for the second dive of the day: a downed Beechcraft airplane next to a series of coral swim-through caves. Due to earlier rain, the visibility at the plane was less than ideal, but it was still great to observe all the fish taking refuge in the shadow of an intact wing, and to stick my head into the fuselage and observe the sponge and coral growth inside the gutted shell. More intriguing were the coral tubes, which required a bit of dexterity, patience, and perfect buoyancy control in order to navigate through spaces barely wider than myself that rose and descended as much as fifteen feet and were often silted out–certainly not for the faint of heart, or inexperienced diver. Some of our group who had been diving in just a rash guard and swim trunks (and sometimes not even the rash guard!) emerged from these swim-throughs with a number of battle wounds and vows to wear a full wetsuit from then on (yours truly merely made a note to bring gloves next time any tight spaces and sharp rocks are involved.)
The evening was, as it always has been, a time for decompression; a time to enjoy the scrumptious local fare (I have developed quite the affinity for fried plantain) go over the dives of the day, discuss the dives to come, and then break up to listen to music, practice our trick shots, read a book, or just simply hit the sack early; these days are jammed packed, and by the time 2300 rolls around, it is a relief to collapse into our single beds, ready to fall into sweet slumber until seven hours later, when we’ll do it all over again.