Picture of Panama City skyline from Casco Viejo

Underwater magic and returning home

My final week studying at Habla Ya in 2017 flashed by in a flurry of homework assignments and work commitments.

Over two sleep-deprived days involving a 12-hour bus journey that was delayed by a drunken passenger, I travelled from Bocas del Toro to England, arriving home in time for Christmas.

Picture of San Francisco de Asis Church in Panama City
Exploring Casco Viejo during a brief stop in Panama City

A relatively quiet final week gives me the opportunity to share one of my favourite experiences of my first seven weeks in Bocas: snorkelling at night as part of a bioluminescence tour.  

I confess to knowing very little about the phenomenon before the trip, but it is caused by the reaction of plankton and algae to movement in the water.  When we stamped our feet against the bottom of the boat, the bioluminescence lit up the dark Caribbean Sea like underwater disco lights.  

We were then instructed to put sticks in the water over the side of the boat as it moved.  They immediately turned into wands.  Light was emitted from the submerged sticks, with the intensity of the light varying depending on the force with which you tried to go against the current.   

For a final showstopping turn, we swam, giddy with excitement, and watched as the bioluminescence glowed, generating ‘sparks’ with every movement we made.  Given this unexpected supernatural power, it’s strange the first thing your mind turns to.  For some girls in the group, it was creating a new type of snow angel.  For me, it was reenacting the famous underwater pose adopted by Muhammad Ali in a swimming pool.  Fortunately, unlike Ali, I can swim and it was hugely entertaining to watch the sparks fly as I feinted and threw punches against invisible foes in the darkness.

The sparks caused by the movement of my punches belonged in a comic book, with every punch appearing to merit an accompanying POW!  If it sounds incredibly juvenile, I defy anyone who experiences this phenomena not to react with childlike joy.    

Even when the novelty of throwing Avengers-esque punches had worn off, it was fun simply to swim in the sea.  It was wonderful to lie back in the water and look up at the stars in the rare absence of light pollution.  Reluctantly, we eventually headed back towards Bocas Town. Nature had one final trick up its sleeve though, and the night sky was illuminated by distant lightning strikes.

Sadly, only the most advanced cameras can capture the effect of bioluminescence, so you’ll have to come and see the magic for yourself!  

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