Monday, May 24, 2010

Solarte: Our Panamian Home

Most students' friends and family get different images in mind when reading the update, "Students are in Panama this week..."

While most envision the Panama Canal (which is actually about 12 hours away by bus) and/or the commercialism that it brings, they would be surprised to learn about the beauty of both the scenery and the culture in Solarte (pictured right) where Costa Rica Outward Bound students stay.

Just 20 miles south of the Costa Rican border lies the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro, Panama, a cluster of six principal islands that forms a province on the Caribbean Sea. It is famous for its luscious palm forests spreading over the islands, an extensive coral reef system that is a snorkeler's playground, and beautiful clear water full of tropical fish. One of these islands, Isla Solarte, is the destination for all Costa Rica Outward Bound courses that involve a SCUBA portion, including all semester courses (Water & Wave, Tri-Country, and Leadership) summer courses.

The Archipelago of Bocas del Toro was originally discovered in 1502 by Christopher Columbus and became an often-visited spot by pirates during the 17th century. On their underwater dives or in their rainforest hikes, many Costa Rica Outward Bound students hope to find buried treasure that is rumored to still be hidden in the area.

Solarte's defining geographical feature is Hospital Point, so named after the hospital built there in the 1900s by the United Fruit company to quarantine yellow fever and malaria patients. The hospital was abandoned in the 1920s when the United Fruit company shut down operations on Solarte due to a plague that knocked out most of the banana plants. Much of the snorkeling done by Costa Rica Outward Bound students takes place around this point.

Students arrive on Solarte via water taxis (taxis marinos) and are immediately greeted with a view of palm trees, greenery, and clear water. Houses nearby are made from boards of wood, often with thatched roofs. Solarte also has a simple structure which serves as the community's church and a small school right behind the rancho where Costa Rica Outward Bound students stay. The nearby field serves as a soccer field, and in between scuba dives students have ample opportunity to join in futbol, especially in the evening. During the day, the temperature is very warm, and when it is windy it can get very windy. In order to escape the sun's intense rays, students turn to Duckies, inflatable kayaks that provide a wonderful way to get a closer look at the crystal clear Caribbean waters.

Costa Rica Outward Bound students have been visiting this island populated with indigenous tribes for over seven years, and are always looking for ways to give back to the community. In fact, Leader's Challenge of Colorado did a major service project in March 2009 when they installed working toilets for the Guaymi tribe. (Read about it here.)

Every year we explore new places to go with students, new outdoor activities, and new service projects. And because of our last Panamanian reconnaissance mission, we have recently added a plethora of courses and activities in Panama including: Panamanian Kayaking Adventure, Volcano Exploration and Panama Adventure, Outward Bound USA's sea kayaking phase of their semester course, and our Girl Scouts Underwater Explorers course.

Read more blogs about Panama: Panama: Undiscovered Territory, Panama: Lionfish Invasion, Busy in Panama, Leadership Semester SCUBA in Panama, SCUBA in Panama

Article donated by former Communications Director, Kathleen Sullivan.

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