Vicious crocodiles and cayman are the least of our worries in Bocas Del Toro. Rather its cougars that prowl the streets, restaurants and waterfront bars waiting to attack the crew of the Natural Mystic. Apparently the supple young male flesh of the Natty M boys is found irresistible by these opportunistic predators and every precaution has to be taken upon descending into town for an evening foray, unless you desire to be victimized in one of their lairs.
Away from traditional civilization and society for a while now and I don’t seem to remember events in my life by calendar days or months anymore. Rather its the lunar cycle I clearly recall. I was doing this or that on the last full or new moon; this is how I seem to keep track of time. Its near the full moon and during the last full moon we were sailing to Montserrat, gliding by Saba Island and the Kingdom of Rhonda, we will see what lies in store for us on this occurrence of the lunar crescendo.
We survived our jungle training and with eager anticipation we bid farewell to the jungle river Rio Chagres, exited around high noon over her sand bars and plotted a course for Bocas Del Toro. We started out charging on a close reach at 11 knots, but the closer we got the more and more the wind died, went aft and the slower and slower we went. By early evening the wind was just a pinch and we turned on one engine, motor sailing with the apparent wind at 90 degrees and the sails adding a good 1.5 additional knots to our engine power. By 3am this didn’t work any more and we took the sails down for good, powering slowly at 5 knots for the rest of the passage to arrive at Cayos Zapatilla the first of the Bocas islands at dawn, avoiding the regions ship destroying reefs at night.
With a flash of red orange in the east, dawn was upon us and the sight of the fringing reefs awash just a few miles away gave promise of good surf spots to be found. We cruised the coastlines of Cayos Zapatillia and Isla Bastimentos in the vivid dawn light, to discover the surf quite flat, but the reefs a plenty and the surf potential there. The islands reminded me of Indonesia or the Philippines. Lush vegetation covers every square inch of arable land. Trees reach for the sky, a multitude of palms line the beaches, rock promontories and the many undercut and eroded little rock islands appear to be topped by bushy, green afros.
Our yacht has currently swung on her anchor and is facing the Central American peninsula. A gentle breeze blows off the towering mountains of the continental bridge and over Bahia Almirante, it smells sweet with the hints of flowers it’s caressed along the way. Behind us lies the Bocas Marina and a hodge podge of pangas, sport fishers, sloops and cats escaping the hurricane season.
Bocas del Toro located on Isla Colon is a true water town. Sticking out on a little peninsula and built out to the deep water. It is lined with restaurants, bars, cafes, stores all on pilings with decks and docks over the water you pull up to with your dink or panga. Extremely international with tourists from Europe, Canada, Australia, and the US all converging on the scene. Hostels abound and smelly European backpackers rest their unshaven bodies all in the same room together. The smell of their unwashed clothes mingling with what was just cooked in the communal kitchen. Americans seem to prefer the hotels, which there are some nice ones and the locals live in raised shacks mostly with the plumbing just leading straight to the earth below.
Bocas Del Toro is much more than just a town though, its an area really and comprises a multitude of islands. Isla Bastimentos and Cayo Carenero are just a short dingy ride away and too have bars and restaurants lining their shores. It is also kind of a gringo paradise down here. American baby boomers have flocked, enticed by the cheap beachfront real estate and made little heavens for them selves. Engaging in ecofriendly living with solar power and composting toilets to take care of their power and waste needs. The more enterprising ones subdividing tracts of lands for communities that will probably be developed well after humans have set foot on Mars. Real Estate offices are everywhere, Century 21, Remax, Coldwell Banker, with displays showcasing plot maps of lots where the property lines are much more obscured by jungle then can be portrayed by the plot maps and the joke goes. Its easier to buy real estate then groceries in Bocas Del Toro.
But, all this optimism is hardly unfounded. The surrounding islands are pristine. Jungle meets gleaming white sand beeches and a person could spend a lifetime taking photographs of it all. Local Indians still live much like they did in the past, in huts at the edge of the jungle. They are skilled skin divers and fishermen, paddling their hand built canoes miles to travel to their various villages and out to fish the reefs. We dingy by the local skin divers who don’t even seem to wear fins, but are diving in 50-foot deep water, bring up lobster to sell at the local fish markets. Its also cheap living down here. Unlike the Caribbean Islands we previously visited that were expensive as hell, here its an affordable heaven. Beers are a refreshing buck, burgers with fries two bucks, fillet minion dinner ten bucks and lobster a whopping eighteen dollars.
The surf here is fun as well. There are a myriad of reef and beach breaks to choose from, all just a short dingy ride away. Every day we have been here we have had a fun session or three somewhere. Its not peak surfing season currently, as the wave producing trade winds are dying, the Caribbean Sea warming, and hurricanes not far off. But, here you are below the hurricane belt and those too will bring waves to the various beach breaks, reefs and points that dot this place. The interval is shorter than what we are use to, but the waves barrel and slab none the less, the shape flawless and so far the crowds nonexistent. Its cool to explore the coastline and see a little peak pealing off in the distance, go check it out, realize that its in fact a wave and then surf our brains out in the empty, head high perfection. This is how we beat the heat of the day, as there is very little wind to cool you off while at anchor and keep our bodies tuned up for what awaits us in the larger Pacific Ocean.
The nightlife here is truly classic and a sight to behold. Cultures and ages clash on the dance floor, as the DJ’s spin some of the most eclectic mixes you have ever heard. The electro beats bring the chain smoking Euros to the dance floor, Latin sounds of salsa and meringue get the Latin super stars out, who proceed to make everyone look just plain stupid with their mastery of complicated moves and erotic style, and the reggae and hip-hop brings all the Brothers, Rastas and Americans out to get down. Every now and then a hit Latin rap song is played where everyone just busts out rhyming along to in Spanish and you realize how big a tourist you are. Cougars lurk just waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting young male victim and some males wait to be pounced upon. Most everyone is super friendly and having tons of fun except for the grumpy Euros who just don’t seem to get the Caribbean vibes and relax. Instead they just cigarette smoke the night away in their little hostel clicks. I really don’t understand them, they defiantly seem to be from a completely different planet and you hope they can continue their socialized healthcare as it seems all their young people will be dying of lung cancer and emphysema soon. You really do have to give props to California, because they started the no smoking in bars and restaurants thing and it has caught on everywhere. The Caribbean and Panama have banned it everywhere, except outside and you have to give them credit for making nightlife just a tad bit healthier.
Once again we realized how small the world was, as last night partying we bumped into our Canadian friends Ryan and Davis, who are the only other young people we met in the Caribbean sailing their boat around the world. We partied with them many full moon party at the Bomba Shack in Tortola, BVI and once again we met at the most happening club in Bocas on Thursday, La Iguana for ladies night (side note, every bar hosts a ladies night on a different night of the week were ladies drink for free for like four hours, making it friggin go off and girl sandwiches are what’s for desert). They had just pulled up from a 40 hour hell passage here from Colon via Colombia and ran straight into us, stories were exchanged and we learned that money is the quick solution to the Latin American legal system. Their dink had broken down earlier and as all cruisers look out for each other we gave them a tow back to their boat at the end of the night and promised to take them surfing with us if their engine problems continued.
As captains and owners Ryan and I confided in each other that this lifestyle is much more costly than expected, as boats are always breaking and are in constant states of repair. Their money was running out and they were scraping their plan of going through the Canal. Instead heading back up through the Caribbean and back to good ol Canada, eh. Oh well, everyone has to wake up from a dream eventually and with any luck our alarm clock still has a while before it goes off and even then it might just have a snooze button. Cheers – Kyber