22.05.2012 40 °C
The last two weeks in Panama has given us some fantastic experiences. After spending a night in the transport town of David, we took a bus to the sleepy town of Boquete, a popular place for retired Amercians, it is neither historic nor modern and resembles the town featured in the film Forrest Gump. To our surpise, we really liked the mid-America feel of Boquete, now with new money as the result of a number of successful coffee plantations that have thrived over the last decade.
We visited a lovely plantation famed for growing Geisha coffee, named as such because of the Japanese love of this blend, and who, on one visit, signed a 5 year export deal with them. We were given a tour of the plantation and discovered how the beans are grown, harvested, packaged and exported. This plantation is particualrly inspiring mainly because the owner bought the land against all sense and support of his family. He had little money to fulfill his intensions to grow coffee as he couldn't afford the equipment to grow, harvest and roast. Yet he had a knack for machanical engineering and invented all of the machines and contraptions from recycled car parts, shopping trolleys, tyres and the like, all of which are still in use today. 90% of the coffee is exported to the States and Japan, which explains why Ross and I have yet to drink any decent coffee since being in Central America (we're counting on Colombia!).
We were keen to white water raft here, and the cheeky sods are selling 'white water rafting' jaunts knowing there is no white water. We later discovered that the dam has ruined the river, which now serves as a tranquil stream for nature lovers. I only cottoned on to this just as we were about to hand over US$60 a pop, when a traveller described her white water rafting experience as 'nice'. For anyone who has had fun on the white water, you'll know something's up when it's called 'nice'!
Instead, we took a bus 4 hours North to Bocas del Toro (Costa del Sol 20 years ago) onwards to the 'quieter' Isla Bastimentos. Bastimnentos might be sleepy but it certainly has an edge and the local store has its' fair share of altercations. Bastimentos has a strong Carribean vibe but this is no Barbados...it's just our Carribean dream on the cheap. The island is accessed only by boat, for which they charge a premium to anyone appearing to be a tourist, while locals who join our boat get to travel for free...it's nice to feel welcome!! We are staying in a cheap guesthouse run by a pair of apparent alcoholics (English guy, Colombian wife) who took no time upon us checking in to offer us weed, cocaine and just about anything else we may desire. The husband has several unfortuante facial twitches (hard drug usage I think), similar to that of Ozzy Osbourne, that are so bad, Ross thought he had a medical problem...I guess he does, but he seems to have his own medicine.
The wife is frequently drunk, sniffs far too much to pass as a common cold and has already during our stay managed to accidently stab herself with her own machette. Her only concern was that she had stabbed her 'fighting hand' which could impede her chances in fighting with a fellow Mum at the school their 7 year old attends. They are desperate to go out partying with us which we have gracefully avoided. We are astonished at how they are managing to run a relatively successful business with little effort and often being incoherent. Though it's been entertaining at times, their Daughter is clearly affected by it all and is quite a madam, which makes it all a bit sad.
Nonetheless, we are having an amazing time. The beaches are simply stunning, truly Carribean, with clear shallow waters for miles out, literally. We have visited Dolphin Bay where we got close up to Dolphins playing around the boats, one with her baby. We have a few photos, but the film is much better and we'll upload it as soon as we can. We saw some beautiful fish when snorkelling and although there is not enough surf (sorry Phil!), the body boarding has been great fun.
We both agree that if we were tourists rather than travellers, we probably wouldn't choose this as a beach destination, but as backpackers, we feel so lucky to be enjoying the Carribean beaches here and I think this has been the most beautful beach we have visited on our trip so far...if only it had the vibe of Zipolite in Mexico!
We will be here for the next week or so, but it's Ross's birthday just before we move on to Colombia, so I'm sure he will give you all an update before we go.
Take care for now,
Charlie and Ross.