For this edition of 10 things you might not know, I am covering just the area of Panama that I stayed in. I really was on only one island for the vast majority of the time that I spent in Panama so I felt that I didn’t have the proper qualifications to talk about the country as a whole. In Costa Rica I was able to travel to many parts of the country, here I have been to only the islands in Bocas and will go to Panama City (which is a different world) for 4 days, so we we’ll focus more on what I know.
Many things are similar here to Costa Rica- you cannot flush the toilet paper, the non-existence of addresses, and the power outages, among other things. However there are some individualities that are very prominent of this culture.
1. The people of Bastimentos are one of the last Afro-Caribbean cultures in the world. They are a boisterous community full of color in every sense of the word. The mother tongue of most of the people is Guari-Guari, which is often refereed to as a dialect of English, when in fact it is it’s own language. It can be described as Creole English with a bit of Spanish thrown in. Guari-Guari is more seen as a custom and tradition among those who share it. It’s rules are not imposed by a grammar book or by a teacher, there is no proper way to write or spell a sound, and characteristics of the language change over time- as they do in most languages that are mainly oral. Most of the community also speaks Spanish and English in addition to Guari-Guari. This culture has zero shame and it’s so refreshing. If a heavy set women walked into a bar with a torn up t-shirt that’s tied up like a crop top, no bra, no shoes, and her hair being held up in a scarf, in the US, she would most certainly be stared at- best case scenario. Here when women walk into the bar looking like that they're going to shake what their momma gave them and dance into the night without a care in the world. The sense of community here is strong. Here they greet each other by hugging and saying "love", "respect", or " ya ya Rasta" which is more or less a greeting meaning "peace". They say goodbye using "bless" and call everyone- even someone they don't know on the street, "my friend". Can you imagine what a difference it might make in our culture if we greeted each other with words like "love, respect, and peace" instead of "what's up bro?" and called everyone "my friend" instead of considering them strangers? I could write a whole post on just the people of this culture because both Vince and I love them so much. We have no doubt that we will be back again.
2. 17 different countries have filmed their version of Survivor on this island including the US version, which has been here 4 times as well as some nearby islands. The French version made history here as the season where the most people had to be evacuated.
3. Clean is a relative term. I was talking to an anthropologist (whom taught me a lot about this the island) and she explained that they are simply not educated about proper trash disposal, hygiene standards, and how fragile their incredible ecosystem here is. Claudia, the anthropologist who lives between here and the US, says they are trying to educate the citizens more on this topic by giving public seminars. At the hostel here we try do our part and daily dive down to pick the trash out of the ocean by our dock, but it has to be a community effort. That being said, there are plants and animals that live in our bay that can only survive in pristine conditions so somehow it mustn’t be as bad as I think it is.
4. Meat is not sold nice and neat how it is in the US. First off, it sits out in non-refrigerated containers for people to pick from. There is only one store on the island that does keep all of their chicken in a deep freeze and that is where we buy all of our items unless it is clear that the meat hasn’t been sitting for very long. There is no such thing as boneless, skinless, chicken breast. You have 2 choices- chicken quarters or whole chicken breast.
5. You don’t buy the milk refrigerated, and the expiration dates are like 6 months away. We didn’t drink milk in Costa Rica because it tasted weird; here we haven’t drunk milk because it simply creeps us out.
6. The water for the island is all dependent on rainfall. Everything that comes through the pipes comes from rain storage tanks around the island that are filled by gutters on the buildings leading into the tank. When there is a heavy rain everyone stands outside with their gallon containers to collect the fresh rainwater because it is drinkable. The water coming out of the tap you do not want to drink. If there is no rain there is no water- which can prove to be a problem.
7. Showers do not have a drain where all the water goes; there is just a hole in the floor where it all drains into the ocean. The same thing happens with all the sinks. We had a hard time deciding what to do with milk and juices that were left in the hostel. We knew if we put it down the drain it would go directly to the ocean, which is nasty, but if we didn’t it would sit in the trash and smell awful.
8. You can pay anyone $1 to do just about anything around here. Don’t feel like taking your trash to the dock? Need someone to spray your house for termites? Dropped something in the ocean and don’t want to get wet? Walk outside and you’ll find someone on the street who will do it for you.
9. You cannot go into town without a shirt on. It is actually against the law and you can get a hefty fine. If you go into almost any beach town in America you will see people eating, shopping, and walking around in their bathing suits. It seems quite odd coming from that and even Costa Rica where they did the same thing. Since we are on an island and guys especially never have their shirts on we constantly have to catch tourists right before they walk out.
10. Only cash is accepted on all of the islands. The Panamanian Balboa AND the US dollar are both official currencies of Panama, and have been since 1903. Balboas are only coins, they do not have paper currency, so you see US dollars being circulated everywhere. Their coins are even made to have the same shape and design as our penny, nickel, dime and quarter. They also have coins for a half dollar, one dollar, and denominations up to $500, but I have yet to see any coins larger than $1.
I hope you now know at least a few more things about Bastimentos than you did before. It is a wonderful place full of life and my favorite culture I have come across thus far. I will miss the rowdy, bold, loud, funny, and incredibly warm people of Bastimentos very much! Stay tuned for 2 more posts from Panama before we move on to Peru!