We were welcomed onto the runway at Bocas by rain. Outrageous!!
Luckily this didn’t last long and our two days on this little cluster of islands off the coast of North East Panama were filled with activities and food – two of my favourite things!
Elina and Mark (the NY couple we’d eaten with in Panama City) had given us plenty of recommendations for Bocas. The first night we went to a small place right near our BnB called La Casbah which did fantastic food! We had tuna carpaccio, chorizo cooked in red wine with rosemary and a curried chicken dish. It also offered tasty wine and provided Dermot with his first mohito of the trip – bafflingly 3 or 4 places we requested one in Panama City were “out”…national mint shortage perhaps, as they definitely have rum!
We washed down dinner with a couple of cocktails on the main street, one at a touristy bar with a fire-poi performer who’d obviously been travelling a bit too long and needed to top up his funds. When he started doing the blindfolded fire-poi Dermot and I were terrified, both for his safety and our own. We escaped unharmed (his ankles took a bit of a burning). We then went to the ‘Wine Bar’ where I had a delicious chili margarita – I could probably have done my own fire breathing act after drinking it!
The next morning, we hired bikes and tackled the 11km cycle to ‘Playa Bluff’, which according to our hosts is one of the nicest beaches around. The bikes didn’t have brakes, well, they were pedal backwards to brake bikes which really don’t suit me as I have a tendency to whizz my pedals in backwards circles whilst cruising along,
To add to this, the road ran out after about 7km and we then cycled across sand (difficult!) and through a small river. You’ll be pleased to hear that the go-pro is now fully operational so there will be a video montage appearing at some point in December when I have my laptop to upload and edit. I hadn’t used it up until now as I was too worried about a) looking a total dweeb with the head strap on and b) having it stolen from me without having Dermot to chase after them (he’s been made aware of his duties whilst on holiday!)
We had a wonderfully relaxed day at the ‘Bluff beach bar’ where we rented sun-loungers and had great Panamanian food and delicious fresh lemonade. On the cycle back we popped into the Bocas Brewery about 1km outside of town, it looked really cool with home-brewed beers so we asked them what a good light beer was, and were presented with two glasses of something that looked like guinness and tasted like coffee. We struggled through a few sips each before we were defeated. This was a shame but despite the poor beer advice by them I’d definitely recommend a visit. The day after we were leaving they were putting on a five course BBQ feast with ‘accompanying beers’ for $25 with the chef from El Ultimo Refugio (see below…)
That evening we went to another restaurant, recommended by virtually everyone we’d spoken to and the guide books: El Ultimo Refugio (very un-P.Cly referred to by Dermot and I as “The Ultimate Refugee restaurant”, only to each other, until we’d mastered the name). The place lived up to the rave reviews, I had a gin and basil mohito to start, which was wonderful, I would have it over a regular mohito everytime! We then shared a lobster risotto and a delicious local fish dish. Then we had a frozen snickers desert – wow, I am normally always a starters over desert kind of girl but this was so delicious, not as sickly as it sounds either!
Our final day in Bocas we signed up to a boat trip through ‘Coopeguitours’; a cooperative of local fishermen who decided to group together and run island tours. It was good value at $25 for the day, but we misunderstood the description that “There will be a cool box of water and beer on board” and arrived empty handed to see everyone armed to the hilt with drinks and snacks. We checked and apparently it was a BYO and put it in the cool box type of situation. A mad dash to the supermarket and we had just enough water for the day but sadly no snacks so we had to buy lunch in the overpriced restaurant that the boat stops at half-way.
The tour was fantastic though, first we went to Dolphin Bay and saw a few pairs of dolphins. Our boat was good at going slowly and not getting too close but I did feel bad for the dolphins as every time they appeared about four boats would rush over to them and they obviously weren’t comfortable with it as they dive underneath soon after. It definitely wasn’t a spot for swimming as apparently the bay is filled with jellyfish which the dolphins eat! A girl from our BnB had been stung by one and seemed very blasé about it!
We then drove (sailed?) off towards Coral Bay where we’d snorkel that afternoon. En route we passed a whole school of dolphins who were playing and jumping in the water, it was amazing! Then we had a crossing to the uninhabited island of Zapatilla, there was a heavy rainstorm just as we were in the most exposed bit of ocean and it was hilarious everyone trying to get cover. I was luckily in the second row so Dermot in the first acted as my shield (that’s the price you pay for a front row seat!) We were dropped on Zapatilla for a couple of hours and it was so beautiful! For the final activity of the day we returned to Coral Bay for some snorkelling amongst the colourful coral – also to be included on the GoPro vid!
For our final dining experience in Bocas we were meant to be going to ‘Raw Fusion’, a sushi place on the Main Street, but switched last minute for Guari Guari, a little place about 5 minutes drive out of town. They do a 5 course menu for $23 and you have to call in advance and tell them any allergies/preferences. The first 3 courses were delicious, but unfortunately just as the main was coming out, I felt so incredibly nauseous. I sat whilst Dermot ate his, and thought I’d survive desert but I couldn’t and we had to go home early 😦 depriving Dermot of his pudding. I was so sad to miss out on it! I think it must have been the amount of sun we’d got that day and not really noticing it because of the breeze on the water! So I had a miserable night with a cold flannel on my head and Dermot being an excellent nurse going out to the Chinese supermarket and sourcing some cherry flavoured rehydration drink (we think it was meant for children!). We were the Chinese supermarket’s best medicine customers that week, having already gone there the night before to stock up on sea-sickness tablets.
Added to this I was in absolute terror for our flight out of Bocas the night morning…we were heading to Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica and had established that the quickest way to do this overland was an 8-10 hour journey to San Jose, then we’d have to stay a night in San Jose and get a bus to Quepos (near Manuel Antonio) the next day. As Dermot is only here two weeks it wasn’t really fair to spend two days of that on one journey so we booked a ‘Nature Air’ flight from Bocas to San Jose. Given that I don’t love flying at the best of times my initial concerns arose when not only did the price of ticket depend on the weight of your luggage, we also had to input OUR weight when buying the tickets…
Then when we told the BnB hosts we were planning on flying Nature Air they reassuringly said “Oh wow, that’s like a 6 man plane…you have to be careful with the weight of your luggage and stuff, you know that singer Aaliyah who’s plane crashed? Well it’s like that, they only put in enough fuel based on the weight of the stuff inside”…. thanks. a. LOT.
We woke early the next morning, thankfully the Chinese magic cherry juice had worked and I felt far better, and we set off with our luggage to walk the 3 blocks to the airport and what I was certain was our impending death…