08:00 – The Shuttle to Bocas del Toro is already waiting at the Mamallena hostel.
It seems we have to first head south again towards David and make a detour to get to Isla Colon by driving over the mountains. As we ascend to a Bosque nublado – cloud forrest, the fog obscures the view of the bus driver almost completely. Strange how he manages to get us safely along the serpentine road. The higher we get, the less actual houses are along the road and the amount of more simple huts increases. The majority of the inhabitants of the mountains seem to be of the indigenous population, having lots of “molas”, traditional stiched clothing hung at the front walls.
Bocas del Toro –
The bus get exchanged for a water taxi – and the operators are insisting in everyone wearing lifejackets. Oh well… I wonder what happened before causing this. As we head into the direction of Isla Colon we pass a large Chiquita Banana freighter. During our ride we get to talk to a Canadian who has already been on the islands several times. He was done some dives with most of the dive operators there, yet his first pick is “La Buga”.
The rickety panga skids across the ocean
and enters a tunnel of mangroves.
Islands appear on the pane of blue glass
each a unique treasure to behold.
Clapboard houses painted pastel hues
sit on stilts on docks over the turquoise bay
faded and weathered I wonder
if Bocas is a ghetto fabulous Nantucket.
On the main drag you’ll find
tour desks restaurants and dive shops.
A traveler with some cash
can have whatever he wants.
American expats, drunken sailors,
backpackers, drug dealers, and dancing queens
drink and dance until dawn.
Bocas feeds party fiends.
Bocas City resembles a mixture of Varadero in Cuba (without the big hotels) and San Pedro in Belize. Our accommodation is an apartment in “Bocas Condos Rentals”. We wanted to be able to cook for ourselves and have our accommodation central, but also not right at all the party noise – but that probably is not really an issue at this time of the year here. Bocas City fills rather at Spring Break, mostly by Argentine youths having their holidays here… Once at Bocas Condos, we’re a little confused: The estate is similar to a high-security wing: The red picket fence is decorated with barbed wire and several cameras are installed. I think it is hard to rate Bocas in terms of security: We heard many reports about people being mugged. Especially the island Bastimentos should be treated with caution, as violent individuals have ambushed travelers who walk the path to Wizard Beach in small numbers carrying even machetes on several occasions. (It is said that incidents like these are the reason why “Stay Safe” is the common parting phrase on Bastimentos). *
So… is this kind of security actually needed in Bocas Town?
We had booked a small apartment for a night, which was however fully booked for the following nights – so we had to switch to a bigger one for the remaining 3 nights on Bocas.
Frieda, the landlord, opens the door and after we are done with the paperwork, she just offers us to use the large apartment for the entire time at the same price. A double room, 2 bunk beds, a huge bed, kitchen and bathroom. Plenty of space – I never had such a big room in any of my travels!
We drink some refreshing drinks in “Toro Loco”, a sports bar, before we go shopping… The local supermarkets are limited on the essential. However, then again “the essentials” come in a huge diversity: Beer, soft drinks, cereals, all kinds of unhealthy noms… Whooohooo! Lucky Charms! Just for me! We buy plenty of stuff for breakfast, drop our booty off in our kitchen and have a walk to visit La Buga.
The Location is awesome: You get a very relaxed, pleasant atmosphere already at “La Bugita”, the bar-restaurant in front of the dive center. The easygoing guides in the dive center, the self-built dive boat (A converted catamaran! The drive to the givespot has to be ultra-smooth and relaxing here ) and the reasonable prices complete the overall gread impression: Our guide for tomorrow is Lucy from Denmark, who migrated to Panama. As I have a look at the different divesites I discover a wreck. I think a wreck dive is a must-be when you got the opportunity, and another guide sitting at the desk tells me that he personally would recommend a night dive to that said wreck. You can watch bioluminescent plankton in the dark here. Sounds good, and we even have new moon, so this effect can be seen even more clearly. Following plan for the next 2 days: 5 dives. Nice
A tiny island that faces town
has got surf and lazy island vibes.
No cars, no shoes, no worries
just sit and watch the tides.
Come sunset sand fleas feed
on all of the fresh white meat.
Slather up with coco oil
or expect to lose your feet.
-by Camille Willemain
For dinner, we go to the neighboring island Carenero by water taxi (approx 1.5 PAB (1.50 USD), depending on which part you want to go to) in the “Cosmic Crab”. From there you get the most beautiful sunset of the 2 islands. After a delicious snapper for me, a flonder for Ena, and 3 cocktails we get stuffed and tired back via water taxi. We had already seen pickup taxis in El Valle (they are also available here), but the police-quad we actually see on our way back is something new. Back at the apartment, I also get to know Friedas husband – Jim – as I have to ask for the somehow hidden light switches for the lights in the living room – large living room, many light switches). The older gentleman in a bathrobe having a thick southern accent, gladly helps us immediately and we have a little chat afterwards. It seems the installed security system of the building became some sort of hobby for him, and he sure is very proud of it – though he would love to exchange all the barbed wire with some laser security system… this wouldn’t look that obvious . I have the feeling now, that the whole thing isn’t that much needed to be safe here (at least not on Isla Colon). We wish each other a pleasant night, and he invites us to a BBQ on his porch – he’ll fire up his smoker, we bring the meat. Cool. Somehow he kinda reminds me a little personality-wise of my great-uncle Stratos . I’m not sure though if we will have time to get to accept his offer as we will always be doing activities during the day. We let ourselves fall into the couch in the living room, watch an episode of The Simpsons, have a shower and go to bed.
*Note: Also really dangerous: Riptides. Especially at Red Frog Beach and Starfish Beach there are annually many incidents where people underestimate the currents and drown. So always swim crosswise to the flow!