Bastimentos is in the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago on the Caribbean side of Panama, just a couple hours away from the Costa Rican border.
I guess that’s a good place to start my update- at the border. We came across in a shuttle with a company that helped us cross. It is quite literally just a bridge you walk across. There is no grand entrance; it was pretty anticlimactic if you ask me. If we didn’t have help I would have never known where to go because when we arrived no one was policing the area or organizing the people crossing.
On the shuttle we were told we had to have a ticket to our HOME country, NOT just proof of onward travel in order to enter Panama. I had never heard of this rule, and I double-checked on the embassy website and it mentioned nothing of this. However, I knew that the immigration laws are currently changing in Panama so I listened to the guy on the shuttle and proceeded to try and buy 2 $800 tickets to the US (then cancel them). The problem was I had no Internet. So here I am, an hour away from the border, freaking out that we won’t be let in because we don’t have the proper documents. Vincent is all nonchalant of course, saying "What are they gonna do Hannah, not let us in?" UM, YES! So I would say WE panicked but it was more just ME panicking for our hour-long ride, and then the time came when we had to cross. We were never able to buy our tickets so we just went and hoped for the best.
We went up to the window, they asked us some questions and asked for our flight documents, we handed them our ticket to Lima with no issues, then they sent us to the next place. We had to fill out the customs paper but no one ever checked our luggage and there was never any security to go through. Our troubles came when we had to pay our entry fee. They only accept US dollars, not Costa Rican currency or credit/debit cards, and we were told to have exact change. No one told us this until we got ON the shuttle however…. But it honestly wouldn’t have made any difference if we knew ahead of time because the ATMs in Costa Rica only gave out their currency, not US dollars. I dug into my emergency cash and pulled out the only US money we had- a $20 bill and again, hoped for the best. We noticed that the couple in front of us gave her a $20 with no issue so we thought it may be ok… However, after 5 minutes of me trying to speak flustered Spanish to her and her refusing to even take the whole $20 and not give us ANY change she just shrugged her shoulders and gave us the bill back. We walked away obviously looking defeated and worried because some guy came up and asked if we needed change. I said yes and he ran away with our $20 bill. I thought we had been taken advantage of until I saw him run down the street to the market. He soon came back with some smaller bills for us! He wanted a tip after that but I was happy to give him money. Honestly, after all of that, I was just happy to be in the country. Vince and I got in the shuttle (the last ones of course) we looked at each other, sweat pouring down our faces, sighed a deep breath of relief, smiled to each other and said, “We’ll we made it”.
Bocas Town is on the main island and where most people stay when they visit. It is a big party town and has been pretty much taken over by tourists. We go grocery shopping there and see more hotels than homes. We live on an island 10 minutes away by boat called Bastimentos. It is a place unlike any other. The Caribbean vibe here is contagious. The Reggae and Latin beats never stop and are played loudly over each other. Life is slow and easy in Bastimentos. Here your feet are your car, the women sit outside and talk while the kids run up and down the street or fish off the dock with just the line in their hands. The older ones tote around their young siblings on their hip or in a small stroller. Sometimes they come swimming off our dock in their undies using a block of Styrofoam as their flotation device. I often see children barely old enough to talk bringing their quarters to the market counter for a snack. The men gather in “The Hole” playing dominoes or watching futbol and drinking at all hours of the day. When things get exciting I can often hear the riffraff all the way down the street. I kept wondering if they ever go to work since it seems people are always outside. We’ve discovered they mostly drive boats, sell things out of their house (we buy coconut oil and hot sauce from the lady next door and it's great!) or offer a service like sewing or doing hair. We have formed some relationships with local boat drivers and regulars that come into our bar. People are starting to recognize us now and talk to us whenever we walk around town.
Vince is seriously thriving in this community. I love watching him go out of his way to talk to everyone and make friends. He runs off on his own just to walk down the street and see what’s happening. He plays futbol with the locals and has handshakes with the kids. He loves being in a place where he isn’t a minority and is sometimes mistaken as a local.
The work we do here is pretty easy, although it was overwhelming at first because we had almost no guidance. We are working at a hostel doing everything from cleaning to checking people in, from running the bar, to renting kayaks and selling tours. The boss leaves it up to us for most of the day since he is a local schoolteacher and is at the schoolhouse during the day. You can imagine how stressful it was for us to figure out all of the booking websites and how to answer guests’ questions when we had still just arrived ourselves. We are finally getting the hang of things and have had time to work on some of our own projects around the hostel.
Jaguar (the owner and boss) is laid back, funny, and probably all around the sweetest man I've ever met. He has a patient and kind soul and checks up on us to be sure we are enjoying our time here often- which we are! I have gotten to go snorkeling and swim with jelly fish, I get to see jumping fish and barracuda off the dock every once in a while. I witness the most beautiful night sky where I am convinced the stars shine brighter than anywhere else in the world. I love being able to look down 10 feet into the glass clear water and see all the way to the bottom. It is amazing to jump in the water and see bioluminescent plankton when our power goes out. I often ask myself how I will be able to go back to my normal life after living this lifestyle. It surely has its challenges, but the things I have witnessed in this short 2 months has taken my breath away and drawn me to tears. The beauty of this earth and the people on it continually amaze me.
Until next time, friends. Peace, Love, and Adventure On!