My diligent publisher, editor, employer, paymaster…your mother, reminded me that I had not done an entry on Bocas del Toro. I always find it easiest to write about a subject that inspires me, and unfortunately, Bocas del Toro does not inspire me.
Touted as the fastest growing tourist area of Panama, Bocas is located on the NE of the country right beside the border with Costa Rica. The area is an archipelago of islands and mangroves which could have been taken right out of a scene from Apocalypse Now. Dark murky water with channels through the mangroves and inlets stretching deep into the rainforest under swarms of mosquitoes and no-see-ums. The islands are rich with vegetation and the cacophony of calls from the various frogs, birds and other wildlife fill the day and night. The type of sailor who finally arrives at these paths less traveled, is either just a little more adventurous than the crowd we met in the Eastern Caribbean or they are staging to cross the canal into the Pacific. One of the local resort managers called it the land of misfit toys, folks escaping life ashore, or finding a comfortable and affordable place to grow barnacles. In truth, there are similar groups of these folks in the North, in Alaska, and at other stops along our sailing route, and they are often the “Captain Ron’s” of the world which give a place its character and distinguish it from your local yacht club back in Ontario. Bocas Town itself was largely populated with workers from Providencia and San Andres and has accepted immigration from all over the world since, most notably a large Chinese community who came to build the canal and now control all the local commerce. Besides their obvious ethnic heritage, they have completely assimilated into the Panamanian way of life.
Bocas town has developed into one of those rare backpacker stops where small towns are inundated with young travelers who all read the same travel guides. There are dozens of hostels and the streets are full of twenty-something “wanderers” and the occasional thirty-something “never made it out”. Tattoos, dreadlocks, surfboards, and body piercings are the style of the day, and there is surely a group of these folks who will eventually migrate to long-range cruising and continue the Bedouin lifestyle. We arrived in Panama with 4 Coconuts and had reserved a slip at Red Frog Marina for the summer. Initially we thought we would explore the area a bit before going into the marina, but when the rains came in sheets, and the thunder and lightning lit up the sky, only to be replaced by 35 degree heat, we headed for the comfort of the marina, A/C, shore power and WIFI. Soft North Americans without a doubt or pretense otherwise. Red Frog Marina is on an island and has access to a wonderful beach and a dozen cruising kids, so school would end at noon and there would be a flurry of activity ending up either on a boat playing a board game, making cookies or off to the beach to swim.
The island is rich in vegetation and wildlife, and mommy took some great photos of the local inhabitants. Interesting how the sloths hanging in the tree were initially cause for great excitement and after several months generated no more attention than a red squirrel back home. One thing that the photos cannot convey is the amount of noise that these little animals generate and the jungle is a constant symphony of calls, croaks, screeches and whistles.
One of the real advantages of Panama is the access to fresh produce. Ripe tomatoes, pineapples, peppers, lettuce, avocados, onions, melon, and a multitude of strange and wonderful tubers filled the local markets. A panga would come to the marina twice a week and the selection would rival the best store at home and for a fraction of the price.
We finished classes on the 18th of June, (no strike, reduction of services, or elimination of extracurricular activities) and both mommy and I were really happy with your progress. You exceeded our wildest expectations and the homeschooling continues to be the highlight of the trip (ok maybe not health class..). We joke that homeschooling lets us brainwash our own children, but we had a fascinating discussion during our “Walk around the World” class, when we discussed the drastic drop in the price of oil, the reason that Saudi Arabia was flooding the international market and the economic ramifications. Kathryn had a thoughtful look on her face and asked, “If the supply is increased won’t the cost go down?”. When I said that it would, she hesitated a bit as she was formulating her next question,”Isn’t the Canadian economy heavily dependant on oil?”, to which I again nodded. Finally connecting the dots well beyond the maturity of her age she asked, “If the price of oil continues to fall, and this hurts the Canadian economy, won’t my investments also go down?”. Another proud moment for your parents.
To celebrate the end of school we again dipped into your inheritance (there is a continuing theme here) and took you both zip lining. From the look on everyone’s face, it was a fitting end to the second year of our trip.