New Places With Old Friends: Bocas del Toro, Panama
The last boat taxi from Almirante to Bocas Town leaves at 6pm. Due to our slow border crossing and taking the wrong road, we rolled into town at 5:45pm on the 22 of July, 2013.
15 minutes is not enough time to park and secure the bikes, strip off our riding gear and to pack enough belongings for an island adventure, but we had no choice. Almirante is not a very nice town. Rubbish piled along the sides of the roads, shabby houses and industrial buildings. Not a place we would want to stay the night!
The place to park motorbikes in Almirante is the local firehall. They have a spare garage which they charge 2 dollars per day per bike to park in. They may ask for $3 but just say no. We sped into the firehall, undressed and unpacked in record time, and were in a taxi heading to the water taxi at 5:55pm.
In the taxi I realised that in my rush I had left all my money and bank cards in my riding jacket, and that I had not locked my jacket to the bike like I normally would. Oops.
Phil had money, and we didn’t have time to turn back, so I just hoped that the firefighters were honest and that my jacket and all its contents would still be there when we returned.
We ran into the taxi terminal and then had to wait our turn to book onto the boat. While we were in line, we saw a familiar face:
We’d met Stephen at the Surfer’s Inn in El Sunzal, El Salvador and he’d sped through Costa Rica, meaning he’d made it to Panama the same day as we had!
We quickly paid $4 each for the water taxi, and joined the crowd waiting for the boat.
And we waited.
Frustratingly there had been no need for our huge rush, because the boat left 20 minutes late, true Latino style.
Steve (not to be confused with Stephen) met us when we got off the boat. We hadn’t seen him since we met him in a parking lot in Teslin, Yukon, more than a year ago, but the instant motorcyclist’s bond was still there.
Bocas is a bustling little town on a medium sized island, with a party vibe and lots of travellers. We found this guide very useful.
We checked into the Coconut Hostel with Stephen and his two friends, as Steve had managed to get himself a “retiree” discount at a hotel across the road.
When we checked in to the hostel the guy told us breakfast was included. Phil was not impressed to read this sign the next morning:
The next day we decided to visit Red Frog beach, about a 15 minute boat ride away. ($7 return + a $3 fee on the island to walk across their private land to access the beach).
Red Frog is a beautiful white sandy beach, but for some reason this is the only photo either of us took of it.
That evening we met up with Alicia again, who we’d last seen in Puerto Viejo. A great evening was had by all:
After dinner we had a hankering for ice cream. Some people walking by pointed us to an ice cream shop but when we got there it was closed. Phil spotted some ladies still inside cleaning up:
Steve had work commitments he had to get back to the city for, so he left early the next morning. We found Stephen passed out on the hostel sofa:
Alicia, Phil and I decided to move to Isla Bastimentos, a smaller, more authentic island. Bastimentos town is full of smiling locals and ramshackle houses.
It was more chilled out than Bocas and we settled in at the Yemanja hostel, located on the point of the island, right on the waterfront.
To celebrate we decided to walk to Wizard beach. Several locals warned us that tourists sometimes were robbed by teenagers with machetes along the very muddy path, so we took only essentials and slipped and slid our way to the beach. Luckily we were not robbed, and met only nice people along the way.
The next day it was pouring rain, and we decided it was time to move on. We packed our bags and found a boat to take us back to Bocas Town, where we could get a water taxi back to the mainland.
All was going to plan, until we arrived at the water taxi office and Phil suddenly realised that he had left our Spot Satellite tracker at the hostel back on Isla Bastimentos. We found the phone number and called Leo, the owner. He very kindly found the tracker and then went and waited in the rain for ages until the next boat was leaving. He gave the driver our package, and, and hour and a half later, we were reunited with Spot.
I managed to talk our way into the last two seats in the water taxi that was just about to pull out of the dock and we were finally on our way back to our bikes.
Our first week in Panama was obviously meant to teach us patience, and to learn how to wait calmly for things. We’re getting better at it.
Our bikes were as we had left them, and we were soon on the road, heading towards our friend Mark’sÂ father’s house in Capellania, near Aguadulce.
We were behind schedule, but the rain had eased, and Steve had given us detailed instructions (necessary to combat the complete lack of signage in Panama) so we were making good time until this:
The Panamanians loved it when Phil pulled out his machete and joined them hacking at branches. It was slow going until someone walked up with a chainsaw.
After another of Panama’s lessons in patience, we were back on the bikes heading for Ray’s Pizza House.
It was dark by the time we passed Aguadulce and were looking for a sugar factory, which indicated where we needed to turn. It was too dark to see what kind of buildings we were passing, so I pulled up to a cop with a radar gun to ask the way.
He was super nice and put away his radar and escorted us to the road we needed. We have been pleasantly surprised to find the police extremely helpful, and have not yet once been asked for a bribe of any kind. I feel like the Mexican and Central American police get a bad rap.
Of course this officer didn’t realise that Phil’s tail light was burnt out, as he cleverly dragged his brake when passing him, and we still have a whole continent to ride through, so I reserve my right to change my mind.
We pulled up at Ray’s place at about 7pm, just in time to learn how to make pizzas Ray’s special way.