Trouble In Paradise: Bocas Del Toro, Panama

We’ve all heard the cliché: “It’s not the destination it’s the journey”, but what happens when the destination isn’t what we expected? 

On this occasion, the journey was memorable for all the right reasons. Not only had I planned my border crossing thoroughly via local buses, I was also spurred on by my excitement. I’d Googled images, compared day trips around Bocas archipelago and completely set my hopes on finding my kind of paradise.

I took an early bus to the border town of Sixaola. I paid my departure tax, queued cheerily to get my passport stamped and bounced, double-bagged, across the bridge that welcomed me to Panama. Once in, a logistical nightmare didn’t even dampen my spirits. No buses were running due to a protest, so I played the game, spoke my best Spanish and negotiated a collectivo (a small van that stops wherever people thumb it down).

The guys running the outfit had joined forces to beat the road blockade: One ferried me as far as a first set of felled tree branches and then herded me on foot to his mate’s vehicle. Although, from what little I could grasp, the protest itself was only a few army personnel calming the traffic and one older lady who, clearly flagging, had taken up a plastic patio chair in the middle of no-mans land. On I went with a smile on my face, twisting and turning for about an hour towards Almirante.

A few locals and a young couple on a date followed my wobbly embarkment onto a waiting water taxi. By the time we were all aboard, the small boat was sitting worryingly low in the water.

That was the final time I would be properly dry for almost three days.

At this point I must dispel a common myth: Central America’s Caribbean coast doesn’t experience a wet and a dry season. Its rainfall merely fluctuates slightly throughout the year. Only September and October (wet season for the rest of the area) are statistically the driest times along the long stretch of palm fringed coast. Of course, if you’re selling snorkelling trips, this isn’t what you put on your website.

Usually a picturesque beach walk, storms had flooded the route to Playa Estrella.
There was little respite in between the heavy rains!
Where were all the starfish on Starfish Beach?
Finally: A strip of blue sky as the ferry returns to the mainland.

And so I never snorkelled in Bocas Del Toro. On day one I battled the elements by hiking to starfish beach but it seemed even the starfish were hiding from the weather. After a few hours I gave up, the rain too torrential to stand and enjoy its barren beauty for long. By lunchtime all water taxis had been cancelled due to rough seas. On day two I dragged myself into town for comforting scrambled eggs on toast. Then played a lot of scrabble.

By my final morning in paradise I couldn’t wait to leave. I felt betrayed by this tropical destination that I’d been in awe of for so many months. I also felt guilty that I hadn’t had a good time, and with that, embarrassed by my ridiculous reaction.

The car ferry was leaving at 10am and I was determined to be on it. My snorkel and mask? Still at the bottom of my rucksack. As I queued I felt grateful for a break in the drizzle, and as we finally pulled out of port, I felt a sudden twang behind my eyes. The sky was brightening so much that I needed my sunglasses to ease the glare. Light grey clouds were breaking overhead to uncover just the tiniest slither of blue.

All that I could do was laugh. After all that research, those dreams and the journey, Bocas Del Toro was disappointing. However, perhaps it’s how we choose to react to that disappointment that shows us the real meaning of reaching our much sought after destination.

6 thoughts on “Trouble In Paradise: Bocas Del Toro, Panama

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