Dec 27

Hangovers in Paradise

My personal beach on Isla Colon

Power Hour

“So, wait, are you saying that…”  I stopped mid-sentence at hearing Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams cut mid-chord and change to The Proclaimers’ I would walk 500 miles.  Pulling away from yelling into Erin’s ear I grabbed my plastic shot glass full of beer and “clinked” with my Finnish friend Heikki before pouring even more beer into a stomach already full of the finest foam that Panama has to offer.  Heikki went to the bar for more beers, and I managed to sneak in a bite of pizza whilst refilling our tiny cups before I turned my attention back to Erin and our conversation about the “Seattle Freeze”.   I had barely gotten my question out before The Proclaimers were interrupted by Michael Jackson‘s Smooth Criminal.  Heikki raced up to our table and unloaded half a dozen sweaty ice cold bottles of Panama Beer next to the already sizeable collection of empties we’d congregated.  I held out his cup for him and we drained yet another shot together.

We were in a bar in Panama about 40 minutes into “Power Hour” – a shot of beer every minute for 60 minutes – orchestrated by one minute segments of 80s music.  The beach bar was packed full of sun-kissed international revelers sporting fluorescent green headbands in addition to the standard beach-party getup one would expect on one of the biggest party islands in Central America.  Power Hour was just the warm-up session as afterwards the entire bar would migrate to a club on the docks to partake in $1 tequila shots, $1 beer bongs, and outrageous dancing antics.  More than one person would end up drunkenly jumping off the end the club into the warm Caribbean waters before the night’s end.

Welcome to Bocas del Toro.  Easy to get here.  Harder to Leave.

Don’t forget the machete

Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is a collection of beautiful tropical islands just off the Caribbean coast of western Panama.  It is known as one of the do-not-miss destinations on the Panamanian Gringo Trail, but to be honest I had almost skipped them entirely.  “Beautiful beaches and $1 beers” struck me as something I had already had enough of this trip and strangely I find that the backpacker beach bum scene often irritates the island boy in me.  In the end though my fear of missing out got the better of me and soon I found myself loading Tony onto the back end of a motor boat.

That was the right decision.

It’s not difficult to find a good beach party in Central America, but Bocas del Toro offers more than just a daily hangover and itchy sand flea bites.  The main town of Bocas on Isla Colon manages to absorb a huge number of travelers without feeling over-developed or overspent and the laid-back locals get on well with the waves of travelers that pass through.  Head one kilometer out of the little town though and the Island gets progressively more quiet and untouched.  The pavement soon turns to dirt, and the dirt soon turns into a muddy jungle track that only 4 wheelers (or mountain bikes) can negotiates.  Next thing you know you are alone on a Crusoe-esque beach hacking into a coconut, starting a campfire and thinking that life couldn’t get any better than this.  You can go even further off track by paying a few dollars for a water-taxi skiff and they will whisk you over to any island you desire and drop you off on the deserted beach of your choosing.  Snorkeling, kayaking, diving, dolphin swimming, bat-cave spelunking, eating, 4-wheeling, surfing, and sport-fishing are just some of the other activities that one can partake in during the day here in Bocas, and all for a reasonable price and without the hassle of needing to pay for an unnecessary guide or tour.

Toilet wisdom

The little things

It’s sometimes the little things that make all the difference.  For example, in Bocas walking around town topless (guys and girls) and drinking on the street is illegal, but walking barefoot is perfectly acceptable.  I think is these little touches of conservative decorum that help to keep the debauchery in check and preserve a measure of mutual respect between locals and foreigners.  Also, the island is largely devoid of the husslers, hasslers and usual riff-raff that one tends to get in this kind of destination, a reflection of both the islands’ relative prosperity and laid back island attitude.

Tony and I mixed it up a bit while we were here, spending our first couple of nights on the island camping on our own private beach on the north side of the island – washing down campfire-cooked Spam with coconut water and wine from a box – before returning to town to spend a few evenings flirting with beautiful women, grooving to the music, and drinking in deep the all pervasive Dionysian spirit.

So just be aware that if you plan on coming to Bocas del Toro for a couple of days you could end up staying all week.  Or, like one lady I met last night, a week could become eleven years.

1 ping

  1. Volcano for New Years » Zack Skerritt

    [...] year off right.  The day before I had turned down the offer of a ride and free place to stay at Bocas del Toro.  Everyone was heading to Bocas for New Years and what was assured to be a huge party.  I turned [...]

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