Published: April 18th 2012April 18th 2012
Bocas Del Toro, Panama –Erin
After a wonderful visit from Mom and Dad Deren, Jeff and I were on our way to Bocas Del Toro, Panama for a couple weeks until Mom and Dad Kemmerer arrive. As always, the goodbyes in Costa Rica were accompanied by tears. It is always so hard to leave Jeff’s Costa Rican family, and then Pat and Linda returning home was a double doozy for us. It was just such a special time for all!
Jeff and I caught the 6 a.m. bus out of San Jose, Costa Rica hoping to arrive in Bocas early that same afternoon. It was an uneventful bus ride to the border minus the steady rain, which made crossing the bridge into Panama rather daunting. The bridge itself was the scariest I have ever had to cross to date (worse than the suspension bridge crossing over the river full of caimans in Drake Bay…that says something!) Jeff had warned me the bridge is was not the most structurally sound, but that was an understatement. The two options available for crossing on the bridge include: uneven wooden planks with an occasional large segment missing, or rusted iron planks
with welding that was half intact, with again the occasional missing segment. I would never want to know the statistics of people that have fallen into the river below… Never the less, even with 30 pounds of bags strapped to our bodies each, we both made it safely across! After haggling with Panamanian immigration about how long we were going to be staying in the country (they ask you to show your “exit ticket” so they are sure you are going to be leaving, which we currently do not have) we were led to a bus taxi and our bags were thrown in the back. Accompanied by about 8 American exchange students from Costa Rican colleges, and two VERY cautious older ladies who were trying to renew their Costa Rican visas, we were on our way to the boat taxi into Bocas. After traveling over the crystal clear water that changes from turquoise to deep blue, we landed in Bocas Town. A bustling beachside community that has a coastline full of restaurants, shops and bars built on dock structures over the water… I immediately fell in love!
The hostel we chose to stay at called Mondu Taitu was a
very social hostel that has a laid back artistic/ surfer vibe. Like a lot of hostels we have frequented, all of the walls were hand painted with art from fellow travelers. Very eclectic! They also offered a happy hour every evening with dollar drinks and 50 cent beers, and needless to say it was very popular with everyone. We met many great new friends there! After staying in Bocas Town on Isla Colon for about a week enjoying the local beaches, Starfish Beach and Bocas Del Drago (which we initially discovered by jumping on a random bus outside of the central park in town) we decided to make a move to a neighboring island, Isla Bastimentos. All travel between the islands is done by boat taxi, and costs anywhere from 1 to 3 dollars per person depending on where you are going. Five minutes from our departure, we arrived on the dock of Tio Tom’s guesthouse that would be our home for the following two days. Run by Tom and Ina, a German couple that have lived on Bastimentos for 15 years, we lounged in hammocks overlooking the bay, and enjoyed evening conversations with them about life on the island.
I should also mention the entire guesthouse is built over the water, as are most of the beachside structures, so therefore we could essentially cast our fishing poles outside of our bedroom window. Seeing the blue water between the cracks of the floor while using the restroom also took some getting used to…
The culture of Bastimentos is very different from the neighboring islands. It is very rustic, and the locals speak Guari Guari, which is a mixture of English and Spanish with very heavy creole influences. Bastimentos also does not have any cars, scooters, or motorized vehicles of any kind on the island. The “road” through the town of Old Bank, which inhabits only 600 people, is just a large paved sidewalk lined with brightly painted houses, only about 4 basic restaurants, very rustic bars, and of course many playing children, stray dogs, roosters, chickens, and an occasional goat. These are the kind of “off the beaten path” destinations Jeff and I love!
After getting “kicked out “of Tio Tom’s because of guests who have made previous reservations, we found a lovely bright purple hostel called Hospedaje El Jaguar. We were immediately greeted by a congenial man
Jaguar and Nana
Jaguar and Nana Playing their music :)
who happened the spitting image of Dave Chappell… The Jaguar. To this day we still do not know is real name! He showed us to our room that would be our home for the next week and would only cost us $14 dollars per night. A steal! Hospedaje Jaguar was again built completely over the water, had an outdoor kitchen and communal area with hammocks that had a view of the beautiful bay, a hostel guitar, books, cards, and kayaks you can rent at $10 dollars for a full day, or $15 for a half day. Jaguar thinks that little joke is just the funniest thing! I don’t think Superman could kayak for an entire day… although Jeff and I tried (we were both sore for two days.) We met a Costa Rican family who stayed there over the Easter holiday. They were from the same area as Jeff’s Tico family, and just as nice, fun, and entertaining! We also made friends with two other Americans, Scott and Pete. Who happened to be traveling separately, but arrived together on the same boat taxi and decided to park themselves at the Jaguar just like us. Our days were spent hiking to
Wizard Beach, a 25 minute hike through on a Jungle path, but due to heavy rainfall and A LOT of mud, it took us about 45 minutes. Worth the hike and a blown flip flop or two because the beaches here are stunning!! We ate fish for two days that Pete, Scott, and Jaguar caught on a fishing trip one morning. This included a large fish fry, and a HUGE mackerel ceviche made be El Jaguar himself. Jeff and I created one of the best meals we have had while traveling in the hostel kitchen, lobster mac and cheese!! Lobster tails run for $5 to $7 per pound depending on the size, and of course nothing is better than good ol’ Kraft boxed macaroni and cheese. Our new friend Scott said we were having “Lobster Ramen Noodles,” but after sharing our meal with us, he quickly agreed it was a 5 star dish, ha! We also ate at the local restaurants. Our favorite is Alvin’s, who is run by the cook herself, and she makes a mean seafood mix bowl with creole sauce. Alvin’s is a small hut structure on the water with thatched roof and basic table and chairs,
but also features the musical talent of Calypso Joe, the local struggling guitarist who plays for any monetary donation his listeners can afford. We also tried the local Thai restaurant, Mantis, which has been voted best restaurant in Panama earlier this year. After climbing a jungle path up a hill through mud to get there, the view and occasional sloth siting were incredible! Not to mention the family style “progression of flavors” of the dishes and cocktails were like that of a gourmet restaurant. The icing on the cake to our whole experience during our first week on Bastimentos was the Saturday night performance of Jaguar and his lovely wife, Annalisa. Jaguar played all his own original songs on his keyboard with a very zippy beat playing in the background, while “Nana” sings the very basic, but catchy lyrics with a beautiful singing voice. Jeff and I still have the songs stuck in our head!
Another highlight of our stay in Bastimentos was our Easter Sunday experience. After walking the town earlier in the week, we noticed a Methodist church up on a hill that seemed to be the perfect place to spend Easter morning. We have yet to
visit a church while traveling, and we figured there would not be a better time to partake in worship than Easter Sunday. After confirming with Jaguar that it would be alright for us to attend, we put on our Sunday best (jeans and our most clean t-shirts,) and arrived 30 minutes early in order to snag ourselves a seat in the back. Before the service we were greeted with many smiles and good mornings, as well as the occasional stares from children and surprised members of the congregation. We were given hymnals and programs and then proceeded to wait for the pastor to arrive. His arrival was delayed due to another morning service that had run long, and we quickly realized our service was going to be rather lengthily as well. The service itself was very nice, a little disorganized and at times confusing, but lucky for us it was mostly in English and some Spanish rather than the native Guari Guari. Of course me being a fan of any choir, I was very excited to hear the musical talent of the Bastimentos locals. There would only be one word to describe it accurately: loud. After 4 hours of worship,
the service finally came to a close and we were sent on our way with many handshakes and thank you for coming’s. I should also give a mention to the beautiful ocean view from atop the hill we were able to enjoy the entire morning. Overall a very cultural and positive experience for us both!
We left the Jaguar upon the arrival of my parents, who rented an amazing house also on Bastimentos. It was so exciting to see them and show them this incredible and unique place!! Since my parents have been here, we have had such great adventures! We have done so many exciting things, and have had many marvelous experiences. So much so, that once they depart, I am saving their visit for another complete blog post! I think they have fallen in love with this place just as much as we have J Hope all is well with everyone back home. Cheers!
There are more photos below