From Bocas del Toro we took a 10 hour bus into Panama City. We had 1 day and some shopping to do. Incredibly, we spent our entire day shopping at Albrook Mall – a vast, sprawling temple worshipping the consumer gods. Seasickness tablets, beach blanket, quick dry swimming shorts & deck shoes for Jim, and a new snorkel set to replace the ones we left in the Nicaragua taxi etc. Too tired at the end of all that to actually see any of Panama City.
Loaded up with a LOT of dollars to pay our captain, deposited in various pockets and pouches, we jumped on a bus to Colón and then spent a hot 2 hours at the heaving chicken bus station waiting for (or on) our bus to Puerto Lindo where the boat was anchored.
Chicken buses have interesting personalised liveries.. check out the CSI fan!
Sights at the bus station included drunks drinking strange colourless liquid from what appeared to be the same receptacles they were using to fuel the buses, and a million hawkers selling anything from crisps, drinks and fruits to a broken watch and a radio aerial. Eventually we were all packed in tight, and off the bus went.
At Puerto Lindo we met 4 others who’d been on the same bus, and the rest of our 12 person boat crew. 2 from Poland, 1 from Alaska, 1 from New Mexico, 2 from Canada, 2 from Ireland, 2 from Switzerland, and us. Oh, and an Argentinian Captain and French first mate. Plenty of beers later…
… we got a lancha to our boat, the Amande!
There ensued a debate about who would take the 3 person cabins….
It never occurred to me that Panama would be beachy… in fact I’ve never really thought about Panama. What a nice surprise it is.
I love a good bordering.. and Costa Rica into Panama was incredible. Shuttle for an hour out of Puerto Viejo, backpacks on for a walk across an amazing rickety bridge over a river, prove at immigration that you have booked exit from Panama, into a shuttle for another couple of hours to a dirty port town, into a boat for 30mins and arrive at these lovely mangrove islands (Bocas del Toro islands), a couple lined with houses on stilts. We got off at Isla de Bocas, the main town, at about lunchtime.
Panama is significantly more poor than Costa Rica judging by the shuttle through towns and, in particular, the port town.
But Isla de Bocas is really pretty as you arrive.
Stayed at Hotelito del Mar – right in the centre of town, with a fridge… YAY! Philly and tomato sandwiches for dinner! And as packed lunch the next day when we went on a snorkelling trip! And the next day as breakfast!
Snorkelling trip was cool for $20 each, but not really snorkelling – more visiting, with an older gang of travellers. We went to Dolphin Bay and watched dolphins leaping in the wake of our boat. We snorkelled Coral Key and had lunch nearby (we brought our own packed lunch – philly sangers and apple – since we’d heard it was expensive ($15) and not great).
Then we headed to Red Frog beach and hung out for a while. We met a nice guy that we’d been on the shuttle with the day earlier, had a couple of beers, a swim and Jim and I played beach games (‘hit the coconut with the coral’, noughts and crosses etc). Red Frog is famous for… yes… a species of red frog. Very small (fingernail sized), bright, scarlet red with black spots. They don’t apparently frequent the beach area, but because the locals know tourists want to see them they catch them and take them around for tips. That’s how we know what they look like (although we saw it before tips were asked for and we refused). Sad really. Poor frogs.
As we got out of the boat at Red Frog the Captain had said to us “you have two hours”. We reckoned that meant about 4.20pm. When we got to the boat about 4.25pm, everyone was there and clapped us – apparently we were late, the Captain had said 4pm (to them, at least). An American guy behind us had been trying to convince them to leave without us. Frustrating unjust wrath of our elders, we scarpered when we got back to Bocas Town. Had a nice curry for dinner though, so all was well (poppadums and naan were a bit similar and both resembling tortilla, and the madras was basically paprika.. but, you know, nice to try).
Random sight of the trip. Eating curry, ruminating on Kierkegaard’s theory that
“those who do not bore themselves generally bore others; those, however, who bore themselves entertain others”
.. (as you do over dinner!), looking out at the main road through town, we saw this guy flying his plane!
Plane was constructed out of paper and cardboard, was incredibly accurate, and even had take-off/landing lights which he turned on when he was about to run and create take-off! It flew for about 10 seconds behind him. Adorable. I sincerely hope someone buys him a plane ticket one day.
BRRR for beers in Bocas was not too bad, about $2 during happy hour, so the next day we watched the rain and face-timed, had some beers at Buena Vista and some jumbalaya, and then had a few more beers watching the American Play-offs. Met Jill E Bean and had a hilarious conversation about meeting people travelling and trying to convince them our profession is “Tickling”. We, of course, roughed out the basics to make it believable. Pro-Tickling takes two forms; combat and therapeutic. Combat allows defence manoeuvres (cup hands to guard for underarms, for example) and special accessories (tickling feathers attached to elbows, for instance, the best being peacock feathers which can be sheathed in the bum crack ready for use). “Ultimate Tickling” takes place in a cage, the first to laugh is the loser. We set a challenge; introduce yourself to someone as a professional tickler and report back on Facebook. Jill E Bean has done it, we have – as yet – failed.
On our final morning we had to get up and take a boat at 7am. Unfortunately, there was no water in our hotel room. And reception didn’t start until 7.30am. So not only could we not shower, a slight inconvenience, we had to write a note and apologise to the cleaner for the lack of a convenience and the resulting Jumbalaya curled up in wait for her.
Other important conversations:
While eating a sandwich, Emily sniffs armpits..
“Blimey, that must smell bad!”
“No, I bit my tongue.”
“Yes, well I didn’t want to say anything either.”
“What could we do as a job together when we get back then?”
“Well, maybe a guesthouse.. although my view of that is entirely driven by Gogglebox, that pair seem to just sit there and have nice drinks every night. I’ve clearly got rose tinted glasses about it.”