We had just arrived on the island when I was suddenly approached by a man seemingly from out of nowhere.
It had been a full days travel. I had left the Panama mountain village of Boquete and was now on the final connecting bus. Five hours away was the popular Bocas del Toro island on the Caribbean coast. The bus was chocker block full with the roof stacked high with a mound of backpacks. The driver either knew every turn through the winding narrow mountain jungle road, or was on a tight schedule. Either way, as we surged and rolled around each tight bend it was clear he and his accelerator pedal weren’t there just to look at each other.
Despite the smattering of local houses, the jungle starts to look the same after a while. But eventually the dense green foliage finally reveals glimpses of the coast. Our destination below. An island just one of the tropical archipelago of nine main islands. Connecting the island to the mainland a final slick twenty minute high speed boat ride had us at our destination.
It was no more than a couple minutes walk from the boat landing where I encountered the man. Clearly a local inhabitant. He had distinct weathered features. In many ways he reflected the rustic, rambling almost shanty character of this tropical island village. The town I was about to make home for the next week. Not the sort of place you’d expect to find a five star Hyatt.
“Eh mun, wanna a smoke?” he softly spoke as he quietly walked by me. Maybe I had a weary days travel look on my face. But what a friendly place and how thoughtful I smirked to myself. I politely declined his kind offer as I continued towards my accommodation.
But look beyond the unkept almost ramshackle like appearance, an inviting tropical lifestyle awaits. The main street is home to an endless choice of rustic, no heirs and graces, waterfront restaurants. Enjoying a cold beer and meal on a warm balmy night with the twinkly of lights across the harbour dotted with crisscrossing boats, becomes the norm.
And go beyond the slow paced chaos of Bocas Town, hidden nearby on the island or just a short water taxi ride away to the other nearby islands, emerges another tropical life. Along the stretches of white beach sand, nestled amongst jungle greenery, are the sparsely dotted sea view grabbing homely looking resorts. Or private homes for those choosing a lifestyle away from a normal western life. And extend beyond the coast into the cooler higher regions, you discover a similar range of nationalities living out dreams of a more sustainable life. Or just a great place to live. On the more eco end of the alternative scale, a short bike ride into the island reveals a house being constructed from thousands of plastic drink bottles.
It’s now mid Saturday morning as the town starts to come to life. A surf board strapped over the shoulder, the young surfie revs off on his scooter in search of the waves. Another surfie with long board under arm, skates his way down the main street. A couple of old guys zip around the corner on quad bikes. Walking is for the young according to another two senior couples casually driving down the main street on a quad bike. Two on the front. Two perched on the back. For us it’s five minutes island time before our bus is due to leave for beach Playa de Estrella at the other end of the island. Twenty minutes later we’re off. But its all worth it. Sucking on a Panama beer tinny while laying in the tropical water on the white beach sand, a background lined with gently swaying palm trees… it can’t make for a much better day than that.
But one of the other standout highlights of the week would have to be the night swimming in the Caribbean sea with fluorescent glowing plankton. An amazing experience. Just moving in the water lights up the bio-luminescent plankton. (Only problem was though getting to sleep later that night. I must have swallowed too much water. Every time I rolled over I thought the light came on!!!)
Peel back the tattered edges of Bocas Town reveals that life in Bocas del Toro can be a real beach!