Adventures in Bocas del Toro
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I love crossing borders on foot. Such was the case in Nicaragua, and such is the case when crossing into Panama from the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. After dodging all would-be salespeople in the typical border town frenzy of Sixaola, we walked across a rickety old bridge that serves as the border between the two Latin American nations and begrudgingly paid a $5 fare to ride in the back of a truck to the nearby town of Chinguinola, gateway to the Gulf. Looking at the dock from which we would depart, you would think that we had been duped, because this place was as land locked as can be. Obviously at least 10 miles inland, the sole form of water that the alleged water transport rested on was a stagnant looking lake surrounded by thick groves of reeds and marshland. These reeds and marshland, however, did in fact feed a muddy river that stretched at points no wider than about 8 feet, and our captain expertly navigated his way around floating logs as well as the dug out canoes of local people who live amongst the reeds in huts raised off of the ground and fish the muddy waters for their sustenance. Finally emerging into the blue Gulf of Mexico after the thrill ride through the marshland, the islands of Bocas del Toro hovered stoically in the distance.
Landing on the main island of Bocas del Toro (the archipelago, island, and main town all claiming the same name), we walked the main strip in search of reasonable lodging and settled on a hotel named Las Olas on the north end of town just overlooking some of the exceptionally beautiful cruising yachts moored outside the harbor. An area alive with the dollars of expats seeking tropical living, a simultaneous American and British flair engulfs the town and one would expect to find themselves perhaps in the British Virgin Islands than a mere isthmus away from the Pacific Ocean. Wanting to experience some of the Panama surf scene, I was not allowed the opportunity due to a mellow Caribbean Sea, so we opted for some more scuba diving instead in the warm waters between the islands.
With dozens of islands in the archipelago, the entire region is rich in watersports activities and exploration. On the dive trip that we booked through Bocas Watersports, we ferried alongside jumping dolphins, made stops on Isla Bastimentos at Red Frog Beach, and dove a number of shallow walls tucked away in hidden coves on the islands. At the second dive spot–Hospital Point–Heather and I actually lost the dive instructor for a minute or so while descending the wall, and upon thinking we had found him again realized that it was just an eagle ray cruising at us in the distance, enough to unsettle us slightly in the somewhat murky waters.
Back on shore we feasted on some of the most amazing Thai fish tacos I have ever had, and we relaxed and watched the world slip by from an amazing little port town and fantasized about the day we would be back in the islands aboard a boat of our own. Failing to resist the urge to spend a night on the town, we ended up for the evening at the Power Hour at the infamous Mondo Taitu hostel that stands on the far end of town. Run by a group of young Americans, this place knows how to get wild. On the way to the hostel we stopped to take in a local street festival with live drumming and dancing and beats rhythmically moving their way down the town’s main drag. Music was alive in the air. While only having spent a few days in thea area–and the country for that matter– an indelible impression was made and a return for further exploration is a mandatory stop on the ever-increasing “list”.