Return to Bocas del Toro, Panama

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig! It was finally time for us to return to Rode Trip. As we’d learned during our departure from Panama, getting to and from Bocas del Toro is not an easy feat. Our travels home began with a red-eye flight from San Francisco, CA to Miami, FL. In Miami we had a four-hour layover; then a direct flight to arrive at the Tocumen Airport in Panama City. From the Tocumen Airport, we took a taxi (overpriced but simple, cost us $40) for the roughly half-hour drive to the Albrook Bus Terminal. At the Albrook Bus Terminal, we found it relatively easy to purchase a bus ticket for an overnight bus to Almirante. We chose an overnight bus because then we wouldn’t have to spend a night at a hotel in Panama City; in the morning we’d simply have arrived at our destination. (You can also fly to Bocas del Toro from the Albook Airport for about $100 per person, which doing again I would choose in a heartbeat.) The overnight busses run nightly, with the exception of National Holidays, and tickets are first come first serve. Tickets were $27 per person.

Riding a bus across Panama overnight was very odd to say the least; I would liken it to the experience Harry Potter had riding the Knight Bus. Brian and I were seated in the very first row, directly behind the door to the driver’s cabin. Stops were made, people got on or off, the bus refueled, and passengers came to the cabin door to inquire with the driver. The bus wheeled around tight turns, at times swaying me nearly out of my seat. All the while Brian and I were somewhere between awake and asleep. The man seated beside me continued to explain to me, in Spanish, his discomfort while seated due to some kind of accident that occurred four years ago and from what I could render he was wearing a catheter which he continued to adjust around his thigh and knee throughout the ride. The bus stopped for some type of inspection. “Policia,” my seat-mate stated as I tried to focus my fuzzy, sleepy eyes. “Perro,” he stated, “su passaporte,” he continued as he took out his photo idea from his wallet to show me. Ok, we’re at a Police station and the dogs are snuffing out the luggage compartment and maybe the Police will ask to see identification. Where even are we!?! The luggage compartment closed and the bus rolled along. We stopped at a rest stop; my seat mate shuffled me out the door where I waited for Brian at the bottom of the bus steps. We used the restroom and sat staring at the bus so as not to miss it leaving again. It was a very…long…night. At approximately 5:00am we arrived at Almirante. Taxi drivers were already waiting and loading luggage into the backs of pickup trucks. “Bocas!” That’s our direction, we shuffled sleepily into a taxi pickup.

From Almirante a water taxi completes the trip to Bocas del Toro. We were dropped at what seemed to be the home of a water taxi driver, accompanied by about seven other people. It was still dark outside and flashes of lightening were lighting the entire river before us. One of our fellow travelers informed us that we’d wait until sunrise, approximately one hour, before the taxi could leave. So Brian and I got cozy on the plank dock beneath us and waited. At sunrise, the lightening continued now with defined bolts, and a light rain fell. The water taxi driver arrived; he and an assistant put all of the luggage into the front of the boat and filed us into the bench seating. Another taxi pickup brought about seven more travelers bound for Bocas. When the boat was full, the water taxi set out. Rain fell harder and thunder clapped loudly. The water taxi driver and his assistant closed the canvas on the sides of the boat. Driving out of the inlet and onto open water, the skies opened and torrential rain fell. Lightening was striking all around and so closely that the booming thunder was heard over the water taxi’s outboard. Oh dear lord! We were so close, please just let us make it across this bay!

The thunderstorm eased just as we were arriving at a dock at Bocas del Toro. Wow, welcome to rainy season! We walked out onto the vacant streets. It was still very early in the morning, we didn’t know what time exactly but nothing was open. Brian and I were tired and hungry. We meandered around the streets of Bocastown amidst newly arrived backpackers seeking out their hostel for the night. After what felt like hours, lights came on at a cafe we’d been eyeing for breakfast. We ducked inside just in time to escape another passing downpour. Breakfast lifted our spirits. We got a few staple items at the grocery store and then took our second water taxi ride out to Bastimentos where we’d reunite with Rode Trip at the Red Frog Marina.

We’d returned! All we wanted to do was drop our bags and collapse onto the v-berth for a few hours of horizontal sleep. Not so fast…the rainy season had attacked our poor boat. Without being home to keep the interior ventilated (we’d left a very clean, dry boat) the dampness settled and every surface had been coated with a film of mildew. EVERY SURFACE. There are not words that I can share openly here to describe our reaction to this homecoming. And so, we dropped our bags and began cleaning…

First Look at Bocas del Toro

Walking down the main streets of Bocas del Toro Brian, Paul, and I felt as though we’d just entered a theme park (aside from the surplus of litter in the streets and alleys which reminded us that we had really landed in a third-world country). The streets were bustling with vendors, taxis, bicycles, backpackers, surfers, locals…everyone casually walking down the street, not along the sidewalks.

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Brightly colored restaurants, hostels, and shops advertised their daily specials on sandwich boards flamboyantly decorated with dragons, waves, palms, and parrots. “Private Rooms $10-20/night-Air Conditioning-Wifi…” “Surf Lessons…”

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A pirate themed restaurant lured us inside with their $5 lunch specials. They served coconut rice, plantains, and choice of chicken or fish with a soda included. Tasty! Cheap! And a fabulous waterfront view.

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After lunch we stepped off the main drag.

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We cut through a graveyard.

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It may seem unusual to be walking through graveyard, and well, it is. But Brian and I tend to check them out as they are all different country to country. In this one we noticed that many of the graves were raised and many were ornately decorated with tile. The trail was also a bit sketchy, but I skipped along ahead of the guys to see what might be around the next corner.

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And at the end of the trail…

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…we found a beach. There were some young guys playing a soccer game, some backpackers cooling their toes in the ocean water, and some dogs frolicking in the sand.

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The walk back through the opposite end of town did not disappoint. The local lumber yard was promoting synthetic thatch, something we didn’t even know existed! Keep that in mind when constructing your backyard tiki bars this summer.

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A nice first look at Bocas del Toro…and oh, so much more to explore!

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