Bocas del Toro – Archipelago of a different kind.

It is supposed to be one of Panama´s highlights; the archipelago of Bocas Del Toro, in the country´s Caribbean northwest, near the Costa Rican border. We were afforded a comfortable bus ride, as we headed to Almirante, the port from which we would then have to catch a boat to Bocas. The scenery, as in Boquete, continued to be lush and verdant, and as I watched the ebb and flow of the mountainous landscape, my mind seemed to do the same…ebb and flow. It was as if I was coming in and out of consciousness.

When we reached Almirante, I felt every bit conscious! The ebb and flow of the landscape was replaced with garbage…strewn everywhere! After finding out where it was, we headed down to the port, which was a 10 minute walk away. Let me say that Almirante really was a non event, and it was full of litter and stagnant pools of water, on severely potholed roads. As we walked down the road, shooing away flies, I had visions of malaria and dengue. We walked briskly…in my mind the mosquitos wouldn´t be able to catch us that way!

The port…yes, well…………..more rubbish and flies and mosquitos! We bought our ticket, but would have to wait another half an hour before we would board. Not much around the port…except for a tiny restautant. It was the only place where we could sit down. Not to be deterred by the flies which seemed to be picknicking on fried food that looked no younger than a day old, we had a soft drink. I think that´s about as safe as we were going to get…in Almirante!

Needless to say, we very excitedly jumped onto the boat to Bocas. The archipelago consists of six large, mostly forested islands, and lots of smaller ones. As we sped along, zipping by a multitude of the smaller islands, I couldn´t help but think that they looked like confetti scattered after a wedding.

After some 20 minutes, we arrived at Bocas Del Toro, the capital of the region, on the island of Colon. More rubbish, and more tourists than you could poke a stick at. I would not say resort-like, but I would say, ¨Spot the local¨. I just knew that this was not going to be my thing. After the usual search and hunt for a place to lay our weary heads, we found a place called Hostal Hansi. It was very clean, very new, and very cheap. We stayed for a couple of days, and did some exploring. We went to a place called Boca del Drago, which was a nice enough beach. What can I say, after having seen some exceptional beaches, the ones which are not as spectacular leave you feeling a little ho hum.

In our quest to escape the masses, a couple of days later we departed for Bastimentos Island, only a 10 minute boat ride away. We went with Robert ( who we are still travelling with) and a fun Dutch couple we met in Hostal Hansi, Job and Denise. As we reached the ¨pier¨ – a rickety, ¨watch where you put your feet¨ number, which hopefully enables you to get on to terra firma, my heart sunk yet again. This time, not so much for the throngs of people, but for all the gargbage and litter.

We ended up staying at a place called Hostal Bastimentos, which despite a little mishap, ended up being alot of fun. The owner, Enrique was very helpful and friendly, and Dixon, who worked there, was quite the character, and also ready to help out whenever. The day of our arrival, I went for a walk to Wizard Beach, with Job and Colleen, an American lady that we had met. We had been told that it would be muddy….what an understatement! Let´s say that when we arrived at the beach, some 30 minutes later, my tevas (Teva is a popular brand of hiking sandal that originally comes from the USA), had completely detatched themselves from my feet…to be more specific, the straps ripped off, and so did the heels! OK, so they were fakes that I bought in Thailand last year! So, it really was time to get up close and personal, as I trudged through the mud, ankle deep. I tried not to think about the possibilities of leeches and other mud-borne insects!

The next day was spent ¨relaxing¨ , by default. As it rained incessantly, the one and only option was to hang around the hotel! Talk about an alluvial downpour! Nobody was going anywhere! Later that night, Alex gave me a heart attack! No sooner had he started walking down the slippery and wet stairs, and muttered for me to be careful as I followed, he slipped and went tumbling down. As I saw him bounce and knock his head, as he fell to the bottom, I almost passed out. As he grabbed his head, I almost passed out. I am not sure if you know, but I do not cope with blood and open wounds. I am not sure who went into shock first! I could not even look, and a few others came to the rescue. Pathetic, I know! I eventually had a look, and there certainly was a small cut, fortunately it was not deep. Let me confess, I had visions of Alex needing stitches, and there was not a decent clinic within coo-ee! Alex did go into shock, and was worried that he had done some serious damage. I assured him that all was OK, and we spent the next few hours in our room, icing his head, and making sure that he did not have concussion.

The next day, a group of us went on a day tour of several of the surrounding islands. Dolphin Bay lived up to its name, and we saw lots of dolphins. There is something fascinating about these docile animals. We then went to Coral Cay, which was basically unimpressive, as far as coral goes. But then, being Australian, and having seen the Great Barrier Reef, living up to that is a tall order. Having said that, experiences are relative – as far as being provided with a beautiful small Caribbean small island , surrounded by palm trees, it certainly passed the test. We then went to a place called Red Frog Beach, which had some decent surf, and a pleasant beach. I am sorry if my adjectives in regards to beaches are becoming lax, but I have seen so many phenomenal ones on this trip, that it is getting harder to ¨grade¨them. Three months back, this very beach may have been described as impressive! Our final snorkel at another destination was not possible, due to the massive amounts of rain the day before. The water was all stirred up and murky!

That last night on Bastimentos Island was brilliant, and I finally felt that Bocas was providing me with some of the experiece I had expected to receive. I should explain that the island has no cars, and the only ¨road¨is actually a wide footpath, which runs along part of the waterfront, for no more than a kilometre. As I walked along, I saw shop owners chatting with each other, children playing, young men playing soccer , women hanging out their clothing on their brightly painted balconies and couples walking along together….and at the end of rainbow, oops footpath, was the sea, and a spectacular sunset!

That night I went to bed content! Tomorrow would be an early start, as we would be making our way across the border, to Costa Rica.

¨Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail¨- Emerson


(Photos: 1 Water front – Bocas del Toro. 2 Soccer on the beach, Bastimentos Island. 3 Ombi walking in mud , on the way to Wizard beach (Bastimentos Island), after “fake” Teva sandals broke. 4 Red frog, Bastimentos Island. 5. Paco, Ombi & Alex, Denise & Job. 6 Dolphin ..on the chase for a yummy tourist. 7&8 Sunset on Bastimentos Island.

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Alex & Ombi

Alex & Ombi

Ombretta (Ombi) Zanetti is a co-founder of She has been travelling the world since 1989 and since 1999 with her partner, Alex, who hails from Ecuador. They both like to venture to the lesser known places. Ombi shares her passion for different cultures through her travel stories and Alex through his lens. Come take a detour or two with them!

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