A Few Days in Bocas del Toro

 The cool tropical rain dropped hard the as the peedboat pulled in to Isla Colón. I walked into one of the first hotels that I saw and acquired a private room with private bath and cable TV for $15.

I spent my evening in the kitchen and balcony as that’s where the free (or included in the price of the room) wifi functioned. I ended up on the balcony as it was breezier than the oppressively hot communal kitchen.

It’s rare that I get a room with a TV.  While unpacking my meager belongings and watching CNN for the first time in ages, I became worried about the US economy. The only thing being talked about was a potential government shutdown. I called family and friends as I was worried that the greatest economic crash in history was about to take place, leaving me stranded in Central America, not being able to access to a dime.

Everyone I talked to reassured me that there was nothing to worry about. The reason I became paranoid after turning on the TV is because I’d drunk coffee and talked with seemingly intelligent gringo retirees in Boquete a week prior.  These guys are convinced that the US dollar will become worthless this year, causing us to instantly move back to a barter system.

As you know, the government didn’t close down. Regardless, on my first night in Bocas, the news was as strange as I’d ever seen it.

After I was reassured that I had nothing to worry about, I relaxed and easily conversed with Italians, about their hometown of Venice, and how it’s sinking. After they left I shot the breeze with Swedes. We talked about Scandinavian culture. As the evening went along I met a group of Argentineans. We talked about how they’re tourists here exactly like myself. Although their Spanish is native, the dialect is foreign. It may be analogous to a Scot speaking to people in the US or Canada. They’re traveling on a very tight budget, yet, they’re perceived as wealthy tourists just like North Americans and Europeans. These nationalities, and many more are ubiquitous to Bocas.

My guess is that this Caribbean archipelago is the most visited area in Panama.

I’d been told by a few travelers that Isla Bastimentos is wonderful, so I boarded a $5 speed boat the next morning.

Weeks earlier I’d read about a hostel on Bastimentos. This would prove to be one of the most remote places I’ve been on this trip, yet the hostel is the biggest in Central America. I thought about what I’d read somewhere:  Everything in life is a paradox.

I ended up with a 10-bed hostel room all to myself for two nights ($13 per night). It rained for most of the time I was on Bastimentos.

Fortunately, I managed to swim three times on two different beaches. The waves are designed for surfing more than swimming. On one occasion I ducked under  the crashing waves and swam out. I had the open sea to myself. There were no surfers, lifeguards or others swimmers. Being all alone in the Caribbean Sea felt freeing and refreshing.

While admiring the open sea of the earth, and appreciating the body movement involved in the act of swimming, I felt forceful riptides diagonally plowing into my legs from two directions. This caused the sentiment of liberation to dissipate. I felt as if I could have easily been sucked out to sea, never to be seen or heard from again. 

I thought of three mantras just in case: Swim parallel to the beach. Relax. Don’t Panic. I have no experience defeating currents and can’t remember ever feeling riptides as strong as these.   I decided to swim back with the powerful waves.

I hung out for an hour or so in the warm, foamy and salty shallow water,  letting the waves crash into me, sometimes knocking me down, leaving handfuls of sand in my pockets.

I enjoyed thinking:  Stingrays are nonexistent in the Caribbean.

At the gigantic and far-from-full hostel, I met three surfers from Panama City.  When I was heading back to Isla Colón, they suggested that we share a boat, as it would save us a couple of bucks.

We waited for a friend of one of the surfers, an Afro-Caribbean man who had a small, slow boat. As we started off, he told me in a Caribbean English accent:

I’m from Ethiopia mahn.”

Oh, and you immigrated to Panama. Nice.”

They all started laughing. The man then said:

No mahn I’m just joking. I’m from here.”

After a slow and casual cruise something happened. Apparently the man needed gas. So he pulled into an area of the same island and whistled to a man operating a water bus that held about 10 people. He pulled up to it, and we switched boats. 

The new boat pulled up to Caribbean homes, dropping people off and picking others up. I heard a strange language being spoken. At times it sounded like a different dialect of English. On other occasions I couldn’t understand a word. I asked one of the surfers after and he told me that the language is called Patwa.

On the way over the boat ride took 10 or 15 minutes. On the way back the ride lasted for around an hour and a half. This ride with the locals proved to be the most interesting thing I experienced during my short stay in Bocas.

I’ve always been fascinated by people using water transportation in their daily existence. We came across people hanging out on decks outside their stilt-based homes.

After returning to the island of Colón, I went to the same hotel and shot the breeze with the same group of Argentineans from a few days prior.

As rainy season was now here, I couldn’t think of a reason to stick around, so I decided to blow out the next morning.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Actually I was sick for the last three or four days in Panama. It was partly from changing from hot to cool (high in the mountains) to super hot again, and not getting much sleep (It can be loud down there, especially during Easter week when many are on vacation). Latin Americans are generally louder than North Americans) :-).
    As for the pace of life, yes, it’s slower down there. For example, I typically find myself walking two to three times faster than the average person. They’re not in a hurry at all. Things seem to move a lot slower. I wonder what they think of the Europeans and Gringos passing them in the streets. 🙂


  2. Yes I liked tht particular with the branches and boats too.

    Thanks! Back in the US now. Got a little bit ill w/ a cold for the last couple of days. Perhaps it was from changing climates from the cool mountains down to the tropics of Panama.


    • Posted by Annie on April 22, 2011 at 16:19

      Your body is protesting being back in the USA where everybody rushes around. It’s used to relaxing, (when your not hiking), and taking it easy for the last few months.
      Hope you feel better soon! Welcome back to the USA!


  3. Posted by Annie on April 22, 2011 at 12:43

    Happy Earth Day to EarthDrifter! Hope your doing well!


  4. Posted by Mamma on April 19, 2011 at 15:18

    Wonderful pictures, some of them might do great in a photo competition, especially the one with the branches hanging down in front of the boats.


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