Panama in Three Movements: Taking it Easy in Bocas del Toro 2

Let’s get this Panama trip (three MONTHS ago) wrapped up, shall we?

Our first day in Bocas we wanted to take it a little easy before we jumped in to a bunch of activities. We decided to head for a beach on the main island. We took a minibus along the one road and stayed on until the road ended at a decent swimming beach. The driver told us if we walked 15 minutes along the shore, that we would find a beach called “Starfish Beach.”

We walked for a while until we found a pristine crescent-shaped bit of beach, where palm trees curved their trunks from land toward the water. We saw a starfish in the water, so we figured we had found Starfish Beach. Kelley and I settled down on towels and while the boys took a walk further down the beach. They came back to report we definitely weren’t at the right beach yet. We moved down, and found a section of beach where there were literally starfish dotting the sand all along the water’s edge. It was incredible.

Of course, we had to play with them. And do a photo op. And I got one of the little sucker feet stuck on my thumb and pulled the little guy’s foot off while trying to dislodge him. And Nate told me that I was probably damaging the echo system. But they were beautiful.

On one of our other afternoons bumming around Bocas, we spent some time walking around town taking pictures. Just your typical sea fishing village: laundry hanging out the window of your house built on stilts with a barnacle covered tired where your boat docks.

Bocas is an odd juxtaposition of the poorer residents, washed up expats who find jobs there, hippie tourists and the wealthy tourists who dine at the nicer restaurants in town but stay at exclusive resorts on other islands. I don’t know where we fit. Somewhere between hippie and wealthy.

Many of the businesses along the main drag are owned by expats. They cater to the foreign tourists. We also walked into a creep restaurant/bar on Isla Carneros called the Laughing Pelican or something like that. From the beach, it looks like an interesting place: thatched roof, built on stilts over the water and attached to a long dock. Up close it was a creepy 50 year old former hippie hang out. There were about 6 Americans clustered around the bar, football on TV, all at various levels of drunk, on a Thursday afternoon. Bocas is probably where people move when they don’t know what else to do with their lives.

We visited this groovy little coffee shop more than once. They had a whole rack of old magazines along one wall, and organic food and coffees were served by a somewhat surly (and slow!) waitress. After the first visit, I got the impression she wasn’t mad at US, just the world. We found the open area at the back of the shop suspended over the murky water to be a cool place to spend the late afternoon.

You know how FP feels about coffee. He and Nate also got in plenty of card playing time while Kelley and I devoured books we brought along. Reading is a priority on Jordan vacations.

Everybody has a cell phone.

The indigenous people from the islands got around in these low-riding canoes they paddled all over. They didn’t look too safe over deep water, but none of them seemed concerned. One of our boat drivers on one of the snorkeling excursions told us he builds those canoes for extra money. I think he said he uses a chainsaw to carve them.

The indigenous people live in precarious shacks perched among the mangroves on the surrounding islands. Both times we went snorkeling, our drivers stopped at these homes to get gas. The second day, we went fairly far into a waterway for the fuel. Each shack clustered along the water had a dock that led to an outhouse, also hanging over the water. I imagine it’s not very sanitary. I felt so sad for the people who live that way.

Did I mention card playing? This was while we were waiting for a meal to arrive at one of the restaurants. We ate pretty well in Bocas. We even visited the Asian fusion place twice because it was so good.

Speaking of eating well, on our last full day in Panama, we hopped an AeroPerlas flight from Bocas to Panama City and checked back into La Estancia. Then for dinner we took a taxi to an area near downtown with lots of restaurants. It was a Sunday night, so several of them were closed, but the friendly staff and good prices lured us to La Rioja. Nate said it was some of the best paella he’d ever had.

Speaking of prices, food on Bocas is not cheap. We spent a lot less for a dinner at this very nice restaurant than we had for our pizza meal in Bocas. And even our lunches of sandwiches made of bread and lunch meat from the grocery store added up to about $20 a day for the four of us.

Here’s the whole crew on our last night in Bocas. You can see some of the other islands in the distance.

And behind us, underneath its safe covering of sea water, lies the fantastic fish and coral that made this vacation so memorable.

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