The neighbor seems to be pooping in the ocean. Something is cascading directly from their flushing toilet straight down through the hole in their house and onto the open ocean. I can see the floaters traveling slowly in my direction, bobbing ever so lightly on the subtle wavelets. My eyelids raise, pupils narrow, lenses focus. I do not want to lose sight of these brown battleships on a collission course with my expectations of a perfect paradise.
Then again Panama, and Bocas del Toro in particular, is by no means included in the definition of perfection.
Those photos you see of clear blue waters, white sand beaches, blue skies, and sweat free couples running through the low tide…there’s a whole other side to that image.
In the real Bocas you will see the remenants of a crashed Panama Air flight that rolled 100 yards south of the airport main entrance and apparently was left there for every new arrival to see as their first impression of the town.
In the real Bocas you may want to stick to the main lit roads at night, as robberies are apparently quite common. You will want to take care of renting an apartment or house here…as your neighbors are likely to keep track of your commings and goings – and there’s a high chance of being burglarized. As you wander around town prepare to be propositioned for weed and coke on a daily basis by multiple people.
Lock your bike with a metal chain and a big master lock… actually make that two. Forget taking that bike out at night and parking it locked inside a discoteca, thieves will work on it while you dance… even in plain view of everyone.
If you go to any of the beaches nearby, leave your valuables at home and keep an eye on everything if you decide to go in the water. Hell, you may even be robbed on the footpath leading to the beach, depending on which you choose. If you decide to go to the local beach just north of town, you will have to pass by the leaking cemetery perched right on its edge that smells of bodily decay. Continuing past that, the beach itself may have a few rotting bloated rats on it, putrid seaweed, and the occasional shark attack.
Don’t bother with most of the restaurants here – they seem to have forgotten spices, herbs and the basics of creating an edible dish. The locals won’t acknowledge you and seem to rather that you check out of the island and leave you cash behind. Oh yes, drinking the tap water here is ill advised, it comes out a bit brackishly green and oftentimes can be a tad odorous.
Plus it’s hot as death itself here. If you don’t have a/c you might as well bring a drip IV to refill the amount of sweat that will be constantly pouring out of you. Even after all of these realities, I still found it a bit charming during my 6 weeks here. After all, there’s not much to worry about except which beach I might want to go to next… and if it’s far enough away from any local houses without the foresight to connect their toilet to the sewage line.