Paradise in Panama with a group of life-long friends

I have been guiding adventure travel trips for twenty-five years, with wonderful people to incredible places, mostly with Adventures in Good Company.

In March, 2022, I guided a group of eleven women who have been besties for five decades — they call themselves the Ya Ya’s.

They came together to explore Panama, celebrate their seventies (as in years) and their life-long friendships. They snorkled, swam, SUPed, did yoga, Qigong, kayaked, explored the beaches, a bat cave, and nearby village, shared meals, sang, danced, read, supported each other and never stopped sharing stories and delving deeper into their relationships.

I was honored and moved to witness their supportive friendships and each individual’s zest for life. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to guide them on their special trip — it was special for me, too.

As usual when traveling, I carried a small sketchbook, waterbrush, and Art Toolkit watercolor set. I quickly sketched and tried to take notes during boat rides, on tours with local guides, or in other moments that I could snatch.

Bastimentos Island has many mangrove lined channels.

Mangrove forests make up one of the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. They grow in a variety of depths of salt water, their roots sticking up out of the mud, with fish, crustaceans and a host of other species living between tree trunks.

mangrove benefits

A highlight was our visit to Quebrada de Sal (Salt Creek Village), home to our local guide José, as well as the other staff at Casa Cayuco, our eco lodge. Casa Cayuco is working to outfit a remote medical outpost at Quebrada de Sal, which will be staffed by Floating Doctors.

Trying to jot down notes from info shared by Jack and José on the boat heading to Salt Creek Village.


Walking through Salt Creek Village

We also toured the gardens at Green Acres Chocolate Farm and tasted a sampling of chocolate nibs, chocolate drinks, and candies. It was a challenge to sketch notes along the trail, but fun to quickly jot down colors and a hodgepodge of scribbles while trying to keep up with the group.

So fun to see the Ya Ya’s flower logo in bloom — “Hooker’s Hot Lips” or “Lolita”!

Walking through the gardens with every leaf shape and shade of green with splashes of red and pink and oranges.

I was inspired to learn about the Almendro Tree and efforts save the species.

The Almendro tree is an important food source and shelfter for many rainforest animals. They are planting nursery trees to save this endangered tree

Another day, we snorkeled around a tiny island of mangroves among the most amazing sea creatures, with bright colors, crazy shapes, and changing forms. During a rainy afternoon, while others were reading and relaxing, I was inspired look up the creatures and attempt a sketch:

A few of the sea creatures that we saw on our mangrove snorkel.

José is a fisherman and night watchman turned guide. He shared his home and natural environment with us, drove the boats, and led our snorkels. I started to sketch him one evening in the sunset, but he moved just after I started, so I ended up with this wonky remembrance of him.

Casa Cayuco eco lodge is definitely Paradise in Panama and it was extraordinary with the Ya Ya’s!


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