Bushrat for lunch, turtles and amazing surfing

Trip Start Aug 26, 2005
Trip End May 26, 2008

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Flag of Panama  , Bocas del Toro,
Thursday, March 8, 2007

'Bocas del Toro' or ‘Bulls Mouth’ is small town on a little Island on the Caribbean Coast of Northern Panama. It’s very tricky to get here, which is why most people bypass the place, but its well worth a stop in. To get here, I took a bus to a random little town then caught a taxi to a real dodgy rundown little shack that had lanchas to take you to the Island. If you use your imagination, from an aerial view, the Island does actually look like the head of a bull and the town of Bocas is in the mouth of that Bull.

There are loads of Islands around Bocas, lots of little ones, lots of big ones and everything in between. The boat to Bocas takes you past a few of these Islands, all covered in thick vegetation and loads of palm trees, full of coconuts ready to be mixed with rum and sucked down while lazing on the beach. Bocas is a touristy town, a bit daunting at first with the main street full of venders selling all kinds of things from coconuts and juice to fried chicken and clothes. They rent bikes and come chasing after you saying ‘you you you want go snorkelling’. No thanks, I’d probably sink straight to the bottom with this backpack, give me a chance to settle in. I ambled down the main road, looking for somewhere to stay when I found this cozy looking backpacker hostel, full of my kinda people, lots of surfers, board shorts and lazing around, playing cards and even a guy playing violin and his Latvian buddy chiming in on guitar with some random singing Bob Marley / Manu Chau style. It was pretty cool and within minutes I had my bag down in my hot 4 bed dorm with 2 Germans and a Canadian and I was amongst it. A 50 cent beer was in my hands and the temperature was perfect for an afternoon of drinking with my new group of temporary friends. We didn’t party too hard that night and the night time temp was in the low 30’s. Luckily I had 2 industrial strength fans in my room and I slept until the sun came up.

I had a tropical breakfast with a bunch of Canadians, Germans, a few Americans, a couple of Aussies, 2 Latvians and a few more randoms. We got everyone from the 3 main hostels together and all caught a boat to a neighbouring island where a beach called Wizards was waiting. For $2 each, the 16 of us piled into a 10 seater boat and were taken across a channel to another Island. We walked along a dirt path, through a rundown cemetery and real thick jungles, then up a hill then down the hill and there we saw a Sloth!!! A real live wild Sloth. He was super low in the branches and we were able to pat him on the back. He didn’t seem to mind, he was just hanging out, moving his head very slowly every now and then and giving us a super slow blink. He was a sweet little guy and I named him ´Pepe Jose´. We spent 10 minutes playing with Pepe Jose and continued to the beach.

Wizards was a glorious Caribbean beach with some great waves. We setup camp on the beach and within minutes a freak shower saw us running for shelter under the palms. It didn’t last long and we were back on the sand, and sun in no time. We used a coconut and palm frond to play beach cricket and surfed and hangout for the day. There were a few locals that took a liking to us and sat with us. We were mid conversation when they saw a huge rat scurry across the sand 20 meters away and they went running for it. All the tourists looked on in amazement. Why were the locals so excited about a rat? We watched as the caught it, then kill it (I won’t tell you how) and then got all excited that they had food. We were fascinated and followed them. They ran to make a fire and asked is we wanted to eat. Hell no, but the guys from Holland, who had been smoking funny smelling cigarettes all day had the munchies, and what better food than a bit of bush rat to cure your hunger eh. They actually said they wanted to try some.

The fire was started and the locals cut Mr Rat open, only to find that Mr Rat wasn’t a Mr Rat at all, He was a Missus Rat and was completely chocka block full of baby rats. It was one of the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen. So that was the end of the Rat for lunch idea. We returned to the beach and I caught some amazing waves and got dragged along in a pretty crazy rip. The day flew by and it was time to return to Bocas. We retraced our steps and returned to the hostel without too much drama.

Freak storms frequently hit Bocas del Toro and every day, the beautiful sunny skies are covered with clouds that dump a flood of rain, then before you can dry off, the sun is out again and your sweating. It’s nice and refreshing and washes away all the filth that builds up on these streets each day, straight into the Caribbean sea. It’s so tragic that this place is so beautiful and is not cared for at all by the locals. They throw their rubbish where they sit and do nothing to preserve the environment.

Exciting news update: Mel Gibson is in town! He was spotted yesterday walking down a side street by one of the guys from the hostel. We heard he had a boat here and is looking to buy property. From our hostel, we were sitting on the back porch looking out over the harbor and thought we saw him on a yacht. We grabbed some binoculars and we were almost certain it was him. So 6 of us piled into this long skinny dugout canoe and using the 3 paddles made of fence palings, we headed towards the yacht. It was one of the more comical moments of the trip. Six backpackers in this tiny unstable dugout that had a serious leak. We paddled furiously as the others bailed out water, al while screaming out Braveheart lines and any other Mel Gibson stuff we could come up with. We arrived alongside the Yacht and were yelling out "HEY MEL!!! MEL MEEEEEL MEEEEELLLLLL HEEEEEEY MEEEEEEEEEEL WHERE ARE YOU??!!!!?!" Some old guy comes out from below and says ‘What the hell is going on?’ We say were looking for Mel Gibson, is he in there? He bursts into laughter and says no and thanks for the compliments. We asked if he had seen Mel and he thought we were joking. Unsuccessful, we paddled back to the hostel dock. The search has been going on for 3 days now and we can’t find him anywhere. There are reports coming in from all over the place that he is here, but we haven’t been lucky enough to spot him.

On a neighbouring Island is a place they call ´Splash’ A French owner has bought a water trampoline. Basically a huge round trampoline where you can hurl yourself into the water doing gravity defying flips etc. A few of us from the hostel swam across from our island to the little island that ‘Splash’ was located on. It was just like in the move ‘The Beach’, where Leonardo is looking at the island in the distance, wondering if he can make it. It seemed like a long way and we had a big debate on whether we could actually swim across or if we would need a boat. We decided to swim. We stuck together and swam towards the little island in the distance. There were motor boats shooting past so we figured if we got into trouble we would just hail one down and get a lift. Well, the swim was a hell of a lot further than it looked and when we were what we thought was halve way, we thought of going back as it just seemed too far to make it to the trampoline on the island on the other side. We had been paddling and swimming for a quiet a while but we stuck at it and eventually were washed into the beach, almost too exhausted to use the trampoline. We had a little nap under the coconut palms got our energy back and we bounced around for an hour, hurling into the water, performing all kinds of flips and slaps. It was great fun and we had a good chat with the French owner and polished off a few too many cervesas to make the trip back any easier. We did eventually return to Bocas del Toro after a torturous swim across the channel and slept soundly that night.

I am now the proud owner of a surfboard. I was getting tired of borrowing boards from the other travellers so I bought a surfboard from a Scottish guy who was flying out, it’s a 6'4" and with the bag, repair kit and rashee, it was a steal at 150 bucks. So my dream continues. Surfing the Caribbean.

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