I am in paradise. This is the true meaning of our full stop. Lying in a hammock, and not just any hammock but the most comfortable hammock I’ve ever experienced. It wraps you up like a cocoon. And that picture above is my view. I wish you could hear the soundtrack — gentle waves lapping the shore, the bar/kitchen nearby setting up for dinner in a few hours and the muffled, distant but constant beat of bass from someone’s house a few streets away. This is Bastimento, a little speck of land off the bigger island of Bocas del Toro, Panama. Here shoes are optional — we actually visited two restaurants where you are politely asked to remove your zapatos before entering. Everything is open air — bars, restaurants, houses. Our hotel, Firefly, is very open air and very hipster cool without the pretentiousness that often accompanies that. There are no cars on our island, and one gets around by flagging down a boat and telling the driver where you need to go. It’s a beautiful way to commute, even at night when it’s a little scary. These are small boats, ie fishing boats, and many of them don’t have lights so you hope the driver has really good hearing or night vision. The first evening out I asked the driver if he has a light – he started laughing and said, “Oh yeah, I’ve got a light.” I didn’t want to be that girl so I just went with it (yes I was dying inside), and as soon as he started the boat, I saw a light pop up behind me – the man had strapped on a headlamp. For 15 minutes all we had was the sound of the motor and the constant sweeping of light across black water as he turned his head left and right. I was just happy I didn’t have to whip out my flashlight because of course I came prepared. US dollars are accepted and used everywhere. And the number of Americans we’ve met who’ve come for a vaca and stayed for life, at least temporarily, is staggering. Our days are lazy and perfect, waking up around 9am (to the sound of waves, which you can hear constantly in our room, ahhhh), opening the doors to our deck, walking 50 feet outside to breakfast and then lazing around in the hammock until something presents itself. The first day here we took a boat to the big island so we could go to the hospital. This one was even smaller than in Mendoza, and a little odder, but at least it was daylight and there was no wait. After getting off the boat on Bocas, we grabbed a taxi, which dropped us off at the hospital (the cab ride is 60 cents, btw). When we pulled up, I asked the driver where the hospital is and he said, twice, that we’re in front of it. It looked like a small office building from the 70s. We walked in, saw the farmacia first, a long hallway second, and handwritten signs on all of the doors in the hallway, third, that said they’re out to lunch from 12-1pm. It was now 12:05. I asked someone where we should go to have stitches removed, and she told me to take the long hallway all the way to the end. As we started walking I thought maybe my Spanish was still not so good and I’d misunderstood, because we were going through the maternity ward, the oncology ward, radiology (each of these wards was a room) and past random hospital beds, filled and vacant, and I thought for sure there’s no way we should be wandering through here. But sure enough, we got to the other end of the building, which took 5 minutes, and found a group of people behind a check-in desk talking, eating lunch and checking their cellphones. I asked again if someone could take a look at Anthony’s stitches and perhaps take them out, and at first no one said anything (REALLY questioning my language ability here) then a guy stands up, says, “Ven conmigo,” and led us into a room the size of a closet a few feet away. It’s still unclear to us if he was a doctor, a nurse, an intern or the janitor. As he pulls out some scissors, I ask if he thinks the sutures are ready to come out. He asks how many days, I say 11, and he says that they have to come out, never mind if they’re ready. Two days earlier both the French doctor and my mother (via Facetime) said his hand looked inflamed, which means the wound can open back up if the stitches are taken out in that condition. But this person (maybe someone’s kid?) didn’t seem worried and just started snipping. Three snips and he’s done. I asked if we can get a bangage to cover it (it’s still a little raw and the island is dusty and hot) and he says si, at the farmacia. Apparently the hospital portion of the building was out of bandaids. So we left, again signing and paying nothing. In 8 minutes the whole thing was done and we were stitch-free. That was Wednesday. Thursday we snorkeled at Coral Caye and a few other spots and wandered around Zapatillo, a sweet little deserted island you can walk in under an hour. Except that I didn’t realize some trees had fallen on one side and therefore we had to swim the last 1/4 or so of it. Which was also fine except that I’d brought my non-waterproof camera with us and started squawking about it getting wet, so Anthony swam with it held above his head for approximately 30 minutes. Thank Jesus that man loves me. The whole thing was supposed to be a 3-hour tour (yes we were singing the song all day), but the boat captain wanted to show us every beach in the area. IT’S A CARIBBEAN ISLAND. We were going to be there all day. So I may or may not have feigned sea sickness toward the end. Then I realized I was complaining about seeing too many beaches and I slapped myself. Friday after our morning ritual we took a hike (15-minute walk) to the top of our island, stopping at a chocolate farm (yes this is a real thing, but it’s wasted on me as I don’t like chocolate — I opted for the fresh fruit juice) and lunch at a vegetarian place called Coco View (so far two for two). We met the Aussie owner and her son and had some fantastic food and drinks. Today the big outing was going to the neighbor’s house to buy fresh coconut oil, so I can bring some home to the States. It’s not like the coconut oil we cook with and put in our shakes in the States – this one smells and tastes so much stronger. I’m told Feena (the neighbor) will fill a Jack Daniels bottle, as in a fifth, for 10 bucks (you fill what you can find here). Tiffany, the yoga teacher and masseuse at our place, around my age who moved here from Chicago a few months ago, took me there earlier but Feena was out, so we visited Mitch’s house next, down the sidewalk a bit, and he grated a whole coconut for me for 50 cents. I’ve been snacking on it all day. On the way home from his place I stopped by the green mango guy’s house (50 cents a bag and he puts the extra green and sour ones aside for me — as a kid I used to make myself sick eating so many of these in my grandparents’ backyard in the Philippines) and then I stopped by the water taxi guy’s home to make sure he’s good to take us to the airport at 6am tomorrow. It took me all of 10 minutes to do everything I just mentioned. After my lap of the neighborhood, A and I took a boat to Blue Coconut, a bar/restaurant located on a small deserted island about 10 mins away (by boat; everything here is by boat). There is literally nothing on this island but this place. And it is paradise. A couple of fruity drinks later (one was blue and I’m not ashamed), we went snorkeling around the entire thing (it’s the size of my thumb) — saw starfish, jack fish (they jump) and needle fish (the nose looks like a needle) — then came up for some lunch. More drinks and eventually flagged down a passing boat to bring us back to our island, and now here I am, back in my hammock, aka my new happy place. Anthony is currently getting a massage, and I’m next. This is our little piece of heaven, and after all of the running we did for the past 7 weeks, I don’t mind it at all. Most of the late afternoons we’d take the yoga class offered at our place and then I’d follow that with a massage (Tiffany has magic hands I am stating for the record; I wanted to pack her in my bag and bring her on the rest of the trip with us). Dinner either on our island or the bigger one, then a few drinks back at our place with whomever is up and maybe play cards, nursing a couple of bottles of wine we brought from Mendoza, then falling asleep to the sounds of the waves or the chirping of the lizards that crawl on the ceilings in our room. They talk to each other all night — I love them. Also we’ve acquired this island smell after being here for a week — our clean laundry, our clean hair, our clean selves all smell like this, no matter what we do. We’re just resigning ourselves to it. People here say it goes with the territory. If this is the cost of being in paradise, I’ll take it…
Pictures of all the breathtakingness here.
Where we stayed in Panama City:
Magnolia Inn, in Casco Viejo (perfect place for a night on the way to/from the islands)
Where we are staying in Bocas del Toro, Panama:
Firefly Resort, on Bastimentos Island (one of our favorite places we’ve stayed)
Where we loved in Bocas del Toro for food & drinks:
Blue Coconut, an island in the middle of the ocean that is also a bar and restaurant