I’m beginning to lose track of the number of days we’ve been here. Despite the fact that I can’t remember what day it is, today I woke up feeling like I was ready to go back home and yet, our trip is only half over. I’m pretty sure I’m just tired from all the moving around, but I also think the clouds and rain of Boquete were really getting to me.
*** LIGHT PURPLE FLOWER PIC ***
Before we leave this Central American “Seattle”, we’re going to hit up the “gringo market.” Carlos from the coffee tour told us about it and we’re curious to know what it’s like. It’s been hard to spot gringos here, Sugar & Spice being the only place where they seemed to gather. We found out that they also congregate every Tuesday morning in a building to sell their wares: anything from imported Whole Foods type items (coconut oil, organic spices, etc.) to jewelry, carved wooden bowls, lotions and potions, and hot food. There was one table where someone was selling organic veggies from their own garden. It was lovely to see things like spinach and other greens. First place I’ve seen them! We didn’t buy anything since we felt everything was a bit overpriced. OK. We’re ready to go to Isla Colón.
*** 3 PIC COLLAGE OF PRODUCTS IN THE MARKET ***
Today we are driving to Almirante, which is where we need to park our car (in a secured, gated area) and catch a water taxi that will take us to Isla Colón. The drive time was accurate this time around and it ended up taking us about 3 1/2 hours to get there.
Drive to Almirante
*** FAR OFF CARIBBEAN PIC ***
Towards the beginning of our drive, we could see the Caribbean from a hilltop!
The drive, as usual, was unbelievable. We found ourselves stopping every couple of miles to take a picture of something or someone. We just can’t get over how different this place is! We’ve been in our little all-American bubble nearly our whole lives, so all these things we’re seeing are pure culture shock. The people, the houses (if you can even call them that), the way of life… we have it so good. Or do we? These people, generally speaking, live much longer than we Americans do. I’ve always heard it’s because of what they eat, but I’m really, really starting to doubt that. I can’t speak for the rest of Central America, and I can’t really speak for all Panamanians, but I’ve seen what’s available in the grocery stores here and it’s quite unimpressive. Worse. It’s downright disgusting. Processed this, refined that… few vegetables, no whole grains to speak of. Coconut oil? What’s that? Even olive oil comes in tiny overpriced bottles. They couldn’t have always eaten this way, but what did they eat before now?
*** P TERRY’S PIC ***
Look! They have their own little P. Terry’s!
*** 3 PIC COLLAGE OF LITTLE HOUSES ***
The cute houses we saw along the way…
*** ANOTHER 3 PIC COLLAGE ***
Typical houses for these parts…
*** 2 PIC COLLAGE OF KIDS WAITING FOR BUS ***
Kids waiting for the bus, kids playing in a covered area (the white and blue clothed kids are wearing school uniforms.)
Anyway, I’ve gone off on a rabbit trail. What I was trying to get to was that I’m beginning to believe that the reason they live longer (and I’ve had this confirmed a couple of times by other Americans who live here,) is that they’re happier overall. They have so little stress. They’re content. We’ve all heard that stress is a huge factor in determining one’s health and I believe it now more than ever. Maybe food isn’t the main contributor to good health afterall…
Back to beautiful sights. Lots of beautiful sights along the way to Almirante!
*** THAT AMAZING FAR AWAY WATERFALL ***
*** 3 OTHER PICS FROM THAT PART OF THE DRIVE ***
Arriving in Almirante was like arriving in yet a whole other country! Like being in the slums of Thailand or something. I don’t know firsthand, but I’ve seen pictures of Thailand and that was what it reminded me of. As soon as we made into town, we were bombarded by men on bicycles, trying to show us the way to the water taxis. At first, we ignored these guys and tried to find the boat dock ourselves. The guidebook had put us off these guys, giving us a warning that they will expect a tip for guiding us. But we’re not newbies! We can find it! Or so we thought…
*** HOUSES FROM THE WATER AT ALMIRANTE – MULTIPLE PICS ***
At every turn, these guys were on our tails. These buggers are persistent! At one point, we came to a dead end and had to turn around. As we did so, they were knocking on our windows, trying to get our attention, but we pressed on, even finding ourselves in even scarier parts of the town. I rolled down my windows and tried to explain to them in Spanish that we were trying to find the water taxis. They looked at me strange, and then in perfect English said, “Oh! Water taxis! Yes, you just go straight and then take a left!” You just never know where people are going to speak English around here. Apparently, because Almirante is the main hub for getting to any of the islands of Panama, they get a lot of tourists!
Even after the seemingly simple directions, we still couldn’t find our way. Frustrated, we headed back out the way we came in, hoping we’d see something we missed. Instead, we found our buddies on bicycle. Ugh. “OK,” we decided… we’ll give these guys an opportunity. After they tried to give us a guilt trip for not letting them guide us the first time, they lead us a half a block to the taxi. Why couldn’t we find it?! We ended up paying a couple extra dollars, but in the end, it was worth it. The guidebook should probably make that part sound less scary or give thorough directions instead.
*** US FOLLOWING THE GUYS ON BIKES ***
*** 2 PIC COLLAGE PANAMA WATER TAXI25 ***
Water Taxi to Isla Colón
They helped us get our luggage to the Bocas Tours water taxi dock and loaded us up. OK. This water taxi in particular, holds about 40 passengers and when we arrived, every seat was taken. That didn’t stop them from cramming us in like sardines. And why did everyone else have a life jacket and we didn’t? I was a little freaked out. Island after island we zoomed past – the islands seem to stretch out farther than I can see. Panama has over 300 islands and a bunch of them are right here. Twenty minutes later, we arrived safe and sound in Bocas Town, Isla Colón.
*** US CRAMMED INTO THE WATER TAXI 2 PICS ***
*** SEVERAL AMAZING PICS FROM THE WATER FROM THAT TRIP ***
Bocas Town is yet another unique place – not at all like the rest of Panama. It definitely has that Caribbean vibe. You can hear reggae music playing and about half the population seems to be Jamaican. I’d say that another 1/4 looks Central American and yet another 1/4 is Chinese. The buildings are so adorable! I want to take a picture of each one. A Panamanian man offers to guide us to our hotel (for a tip, of course) and we accept. We’re carrying all our own luggage, so wrong turns are not welcome at this point.
*** US WALKING OUR BAGS TO THE HOTEL ***
Bocas Town, Isla Colón
Gringos everywhere. For the first time since we began our Panama adventure, I see gringos everywhere I look. Ah! So this is where they come! It’s obvious why, but I am glad that I’ve had the opportunity to see so much of the rest of the country, too.
It was only a 5 minute walk to the Palma Royale, where we’ll be staying for the next 5 days. I notice that next door is a little grocery store called “The Super Gourmet.” I’m definitely going to check that out. Our room is really nice, with a separate bedroom for the boys. The view from our balcony is breathtaking! This works.
View from Bocas Town, Isla Colón
*** VIEW FROM ROOM OVER SUPER GOURMET ***
We sat around the room for a bit, just unwinding from our journey and enjoying the air conditioning. The humidity in Bocas Town is a bit of a shock, having just come from the fresh, cool mountains of Boquete. Still, the humidity is alright as long as it comes with sun and surf. Oh yeah. I just remembered that I’ll be going home to extreme humidity and sun without surf! Count my blessings, count my blessings…
Bocas del Toro is the only area in Panama that doesn’t promise safe drinking water, and seeing as I’m parched, I decide to take Karter to the little grocery store next door. What is this I see? Almond butter? Real cheese? Organic chocolate?! This place is different than all the other grocery places I’ve been to. It reminds me of a mini Trader Joe’s, with many of the brands I love – or at least recognize and don’t gag at. We buy 2 gallons of bottled water, a bag of Goldfish crackers, and some dried pineapple. I’m filled with food hope. I’ll definitely be back for some real food later.
Eeek! The sun is going down and we still don’t know what we’re doing for dinner. Moon Guidebook to the rescue! El Ultimo Refugio it is! It just happens to be a 2-minute walk around the corner and is said to be a wonderful, little place. IT IS. It’s a little piece of dining heaven wrapped into one, 1000 sq. ft. “room.” Only it’s not a room. It’s a covered dock on the water… and it’s magical. Right away, we see a huge ray, some starfish and some other little schools of fish in the water next to us. This is awesome!!!
*** FIRST NIGHT DINNER OVER WATER MULTIPLE PICS ***
We order some tapas of mahi mahi, strawberry and cucumber salad, bacon-wrapped shrimp, and leg of lamb. The flavors are incredible. Little morsels of gourmet wonderful. Kudos to the chef.
*** PIC OF DARKNESS OVER WATER WITH A BOAT ***
It’s dark, but we decide to walk down the main drag and see what we see. Bocas Town is the place to be at night. It’s a city that’s hoppin’ every night! It’s not creepy, it’s happy. Everyone’s out, just walking around, enjoying the slightly cooler temperatures now that the sun has gone down. Shops are still open – everyone’s doors are open. We’re finished after 4 blocks. It’s still humid and we’re tired and sweaty.
Back to the room and ready for bed! Aaaaah… this bed is amazing. Is it the bed or is it that I’m exhausted?