Bocas del Toro

Bocas Town was a sunburned and swollen meat market of westerners staying 5 days longer than planned, and fighting the righteous fight against the Panamanian law that even men must wear shirts when they walk down the street. There’s not much to do there, and sweating bodies lie in bunk beds all day then prep for the night, when 4 or 5 bright-eyed male puppies will follow each outnumbered female, some of whom stroll with bemused delight at all the attention, while others work the crowd with well-honed skills of attention or inattention, depending on their respective diva levels.

I sat on the porch with a 40-something woman who had literally just submitted the last portion of her second master’s degree in Human Rights Law, and discussed world politics and her experiences working in the Kosovo and South Sudanese independence movements. Then we got Mexican food at a place called Gringo’s.

Unable to sleep in a dorm room that felt (and smelled) like a laundry basket left too long in the sun, I sat on the porch, talked to three salt-of-the-Earth fellows from Jersey who sure use the work “fuckin'” a lot and were instantly likable. I was surprised by the pair of white prostitutes posing under a streetlight down the block in their mini-skirts and heels until I realized they were tourists waiting for a take them the three blocks back to their hostel. Oops. My mistake.

DIY pancake breakfast came with the hostel (as did a lingering smell of German armpit) then I said goodbye to the remarkably friendly hostel staff and walked to the water taxi to Bastimentos Island. Bastimentos has no roads or cars, just a concrete sidewalk running between houses on stilts over the water and tropical trees shading fiddler crab burrows. Reggae music is usually blasting out of somebody’s house, the creole patois is a delight to listen to though 99% unintelligible to me still, and I quickly began to suspect I was falling in love with the place.

I found a hostel and appreciated the honesty when I asked about bug levels and the guy said it was pretty decent “for the tropics.” (He was right, although I did wake up last night with a cockroach crawling around on my hand.)

Those marks in the sand are turtles
coming out to lay eggs at night.

That afternoon was a dream sequence spanning three days, images kissed by sun and licked by rain of a path through the jungle to a deserted white sand beach with the clearest water I have ever seen, sandy bottom lifting in underwater smoke signals in the substantial undertow. The faces of Grade A1 travel friends and acquaintances over meals of fresh fish and coconut rice & beans. Drinking homemade kombucha in a hippy-family coffeeshop in the jungle and promising the 5 year old son that I’d keep an eye out for his missing cat (has anyone seen Whiskers in the jungle?) Drafted into playing volleyball with a bunch of locals, finding their banter hilarious even though I couldn’t understand more than a word here and there, but able to tell occasionally when they were talking about me, and with an atmosphere flawlessly welcoming, to the extent that I received a marriage proposal, which was entertaining but slightly unnerving given that the girl looked approximately 15 years old.

Yesterday  an elderly couple got robbed in the middle of the day on the path I’ve been walking, so the pictures end abruptly there. I gotta learn how to sketch.

But the pattern continues and everyone left yesterday. A quiet evening, talk to the newcomers a bit, and take a long walk around the island. Time to move on, and Colombia is calling. It’ll take awhile still to get there, so I’ll take a longer step than normal next and overnight bus myself to Panama City tonight. Hasta luego.