The unique history of “La Peregrina”, the gem discovered in the sixteenth century in the archipelago of the Pearls that is one of the tourist gems of Panama, is as unique as the tour of some paradise islands.
In the vital centre of this archipelago, Contadora, the process of pacification of Central America, hit in those years by civil wars, was forged at the end of the last century.
The Peregrina, named after its water drop shape, although it deserved the appellation after its journey, was stolen from the treasury of the Crown by José Bonaparte, the “Pepe Botella” brother of Napoleon, who saw his reign in Spain truncated by the War of Independence, thus initiating a journey that took her to the throat of Liz Taylor, set in a diamond necklace.
The pearl richness of the archipelago, exhausted since the first half of the twentieth century, has given way to another form of fortune, generated by the increasing tourist projection of an archipelago located only an hour and a half ferry from Panama City.
The scene of the agreements of Contadora, the hotel that was named after the island, is now in ruins, like the ship that lodged its guests, stranded on “long beach”.
But it has been replaced by more than a score of small hotel establishments such as “Perla Real Inn” -where María José offers a homely hospitality- “Mar y Oro”, “Casa del Sol” and “The Point”, among others.
The island where the pearls harvested during the Spanish Crown was counted has the only nudist beach in Panama, that of “las zuecas”, always lonely, a tropical visual spectacle at the beginning of summer (December), when the trees bloom They frame their white sands, truffled with light blue stones.
Contadora is the epicentre of tourist activity, although the capital of the archipelago is located on Isla del Rey, a few miles, more populated, but also more dangerous.
The boatmen have left fishing aside, despite the richness of its waters, to focus on excursions and the sighting and pursuit of humpback whales that, between July and September, take advantage of the warmth of their waters and their richness in plankton. mate their young.
Scenario of several seasons of the different versions of “Survivors”, wooded and close to coral barriers -that can be seen in broad daylight in especially low tides-, itinerary of drug trafficking routes, despite the surveillance of the station of the Aeronaval police, the islands offer from paradisiacal beaches to lonely sandbars, among which “Boya arena”, a sandy islet, is the most characteristic.
The most powerful families of Panama – politicians and businessmen – used the islands, and especially Contadora, to build luxurious mansions, which now coexist with some irritation with tourists and visitors who can even move in the so-called “passages” (one-day stays) , that have allowed to popularize what until a few years ago was an exclusive place).
But all agree that it is famous, deserved, to be the best restaurant on the island, “Casa Tortuga”, where Piero still offers diners a marker to decorate the walls with their dedications after a dinner as Italian as its owner and cook.
The islands are also a paradise for ornithologists. There live tanagers and flycatchers, eagles and hawks, sandpipers and hummingbirds, and it is even possible to contemplate at dawn or dusk of its beaches scenes of courtship and confrontation of herons in the heat.
Not everything is paradise in the paradise of pearls: the excessive harassment of whales – five, six or seven boats around a mother with her calf – is provoking a progressive reduction of sightings.
And the exponential increase of the tourist activity depletes in the tropical summer the pond in which the scarce water resources of an island without natural sources are concentrated, that this exercise has begun to be restored by the Government, after years of claims.
But it is also possible to meet Pablo, who turns his therapeutic massages into the best antidote against accumulated stress to those who have the fortune to approach his stretcher on one of the beaches that dot the island.