Bocas Del Toro

Trip Start Nov 24, 2007
Trip End May 15, 2008

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Flag of Panama  ,
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

David to Bocas Del Toro

To get a better idea of Panama the country, a majority of the land is composed of inaccessible mountains and rain forests, not skyscrapers, a big canal and gigantic ships. Its total area, less than 1/3 the size of Oregon includes more than 480 rivers, 125 animal species found nowhere else in the world and its shores are bordered by more than 1,500 islands. Though Panama city is the modern capital and economic power-hub which draws seemingly all of Panama's worldwide attention, the country has so much to offer for how small it truly is that the more we travel through it, the more I feel like we aren't giving it the time and appreciation that it undoubtedly deserves. Given the fact that Panama is little more than 30 miles wide at its thinnest point and separates two great oceans, its quite a wonder as to the sheer isolation that some of the areas we've passed through experience.
Hitting the road once again, ONLY one month to go!, we set off through the Panamanian countryside, this time passing  by banana plantations, small wooden homes elevated onto stilts and a constantly changing
subtropical landscape of green hillsides, mountains and scenic river valleys. Feeling a world away from the concrete jungle that greeted us in the big city, trips like these are for me what define traveling in Latin America. Not the big mega-cities, hip nightclubs that cost $10 dollars, fancy bars that draw an international crowd nor the ba-zillion foreign hostel/communes where I feel more like an outsider than a comrade of travel but genuinely getting out and traveling into the countryside of a new land, seeing the true natural beauties of distant places and mingling with the unique people, cultures and ways of life that make up the rest of the world. This is travel as it relates to me. You can only take so many months listening to others talk of glorified experiences with locals on a street corner they tell you changed their life or seeing doomful poverty witnessed like a kid at the zoo or spending time at contaminated tourist traps roving around with a big group of 'backpackers' who stay in hostels all over the world, drinking, partying, doing drugs, and 'intensely' exploring far off lands. It's more than that. Not to say that I am some adventure traveler exploring pristine utopias across the world and going where others travels dare to go and I'm gonna bash on what people choose to do with their time but in my view of it all there is a huge difference in travel preferences and travelers in general, some of which you relate with and some of which you don't.

Anyway, enough gibberish. In a short time we found ourselves on the coast driving down dirt roads toward the Caribbean Sea bordered by huge United Fruit Company banana plantations. First established in 1890 and magnifying itself from there, banana production in the Chiriqui province is HUGE! United Fruit Company AKA Chiquita (Banana) International grows and exports more than 750,000 thousand tons of bananas annually in this region alone. Hence the historical term Banana Republic (Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras) right? That's a grim story in and of itself...
Ironically, this wasn't the first time that we've been smack-dab in the heart of banana production but once again, as in Ecuador where I it is an even larger production, there we were, watching banana clusters riding on mechanical conveyor lines as people, washed rinsed and readied the fruit for overseas shipment.

Next stop Bocas del Toro, a community largely constructed by the United Fruit Company way back when to house the workers of the many banana plantations throughout the area. After a 20 minute boat ride to the largest, most developed island, Isla Colon, we were met by our first dose of the true, extremely laid-back afro-Caribbean vibe. Mainly comprised of West Indians, Latinos and expat gringos, the first thing you feel in Bocas is relaxation. Colorful wooden buildings, dirt roads and music, is pretty all that makes up main street Bocas. We stayed one night on the main island and had a great time. Urging to see something different and seek more relaxation we headed for Isla Bastimentos and Isla Bastimentos is where we fell in love. 

Not more than a 15 minute water-taxi ride away, Isla Bastimentos is more like a 15 minutes trip to a completely different universe. If you want to get away from the little commotion that exists in oh so layed back Bocas town, head here. This small community doesn't even have one road, just a  concrete path along the southern stretch of waterfront. Contrarily, the northern coast  is home to secluded national park beaches edged by palm trees, mangroves and coral reef.  Though not quite San Blas, Bastimentos deserves its own category of perfection. There are no real 'sights' besides gorgeous beaches and young kids happily playing together, completely oblivious to what lies beyond their island of paradise. We walked the island, swam in the secluded waters on the other side and absorbed the good way of life for the people of West Bank who speak the distinct creole language of Gali-Gali. It all rubbed off on us. During the evening we coooked amazing pastas, feasted on red snapper and relished the splendors of life far away from cars, phone bills, wi-fi, ipods, big macs and any concern for time. A pretty awesome experience in an of itself.

We even splurged a little to go scuba diving one afternoon, checking out some awesome coral reefs and underwater cliffs. Just for traveler info, Tagana was colder water but a more impressive underwater reef environment. More coming soon.
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