Today we’re (kind of) back on track as we’re taking our original flight to Bocas del Toro; a group of Caribbean islands just off the Panamanian coast. We had originally planned to return from there to San José by a couple of bus rides to keep costs down. But as we have only spent one night in Panama City, we will now fly back at the weekend for our rescheduled canal trip.
We get up and go for breakfast, which is served on the patio with a great view. The lady next to us coughs incessantly. She sounds like she has Covid, however she polishes off 5 plate fulls of food, so whatever her ailment, it certainly hasn’t affected her appetite. Breakfast is a non self-service buffet. The food is behind a screen and you have to ask servers to pass it through holes in the screen onto your plate. I ask for toast, she toasts bread and puts it onto my plate. At this point I realise the bread has nuts on and ask her to remove it and give me a croissant instead. She looks most unimpressed! She removes the toast and dumps the croissant onto a pile of nuts that fell off the toast. I retreat with a handful of butters and jams and despatch the old man to get me an uncontaminated croissant.
We store most of our luggage and check out at 9 am. Our flight isn’t until 1 pm, so we have sufficient time to visit Miraflores Visitor Centre first. This consists of a 4 storey museum (which is shut) with a viewing platform over Miraflores lock on the top.
We’ve timed it completely wrong; just before we arrive, a cruise ship turns up and nearly all its passengers disembark to watch it pass through the lock from the visitor centre, so we end up behind a queue of hundreds of elderly Americans and have to wait ages to be let in.
Eventually, the cruise ship is through the lock, the elderly Americans are bused back to rejoin it, and it’s our turn to access the viewing platform. We get to watch a couple of ships pass through the lock, complete with a running commentary, which is very interesting. It’s a crazy idea – a canal between two oceans, passing over a mountain, slicing a country in two! Apparently, the first attempt (by the French) was to build a level canal by cutting a hole through the mountain, but that failed because the engineer only visited Panama in the (short) dry season and once it started raining, 22,000 workers died (from drowning or being eaten by snakes/spiders).
We can’t stay long – even though it’s 4 hours until our domestic flight and the airport is only 3 miles away, the old man is fussing like an old woman about the possibility of not being able to find a taxi/problems at check-in etc. So we set off (our Uber takes 3 minutes to arrive, check takes about the same amount of time) and we are sitting at the gate 90 minutes prior to departure.
Some time later we board the tiny plane for the 45 minute flight to Bocas. On the way, we get a great view of the ships sailing along the canal and queuing in the lake for the next set of locks.
We land in Bocas. The runway runs parallel with a mangrove swamps which is filled with the most litter I’ve ever seen outside an actual rubbish tip. We disembark and enter the terminal building where an airport employee welcomes us to paradise. I like to think of paradise as being significantly less strewn with crap.
We walk into town and have a beer in a waterfront bar, then attempt to catch a taxi. In Bocas, taxis are not exclusive – there are already people in the taxi headed in the opposite direction who we must drop off first, and we stop to pick up more passengers along the way (as they won’t fit, he tells them to wait by the road while he drops someone else off, then we do a U turn and go back to pick them up). Eventually, it’s our turn to be dropped off. We are staying at the Villa Sevilla. As the old man’s Spanish accent isn’t great, the driver sets off for the Selina. Luckily, the mistake is quickly rectified and we set off for the correct destination.
After a couple of miles on the main (only) road, he suddenly turns onto a dirt track, drives a few hundred metres and stops in the middle of nowhere. At first I assume we’re being mugged, but then I see a sign on the gate – we are at the Villa Sevilla.
It’s a lot more remote than I’d anticipated – had I known, I wouldn’t have turned up at 3 pm without having lunch/purchasing provisions.
The accommodation consists of the owners’ house (a Spanish couple) and 4 cabins in a garden with a pool in a clearing in the rainforest. Once I’ve got over the remoteness of it (the owners are very hospitable and even offer to run the old man into town to the supermarket), we settle in to our home for the next 3 nights. Only one of the other cabins are occupied – so it’s like our own private accommodation. There’s even a bar (which consists of a fridge full of drinks and an honesty box) and we can sit and drink beer and eat chips on our veranda, whilst watching the wild life (monkeys, hummingbirds, bats and even a sloth – we paid $20 to see a sloth in Costa Rica, and now there’s one just hanging there in front of our bedroom!)
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