Today is our last day on Bocas del Toro – the question is how to fill it? Our flight isn’t until 5.45 pm, but the somewhat chaotic nature of public transport here means we don’t want to risk going too far and getting stuck. We decide to take a bus into town, and from there a water taxi to another island – Isla Carenero (Careening Island – thus named as Columbus’ ships were careened – had their sails repaired – here in 1502). As I’m so worried about getting stuck on the island and not being able to get back for our flight, we agree with our driver to pick us up at 3 pm, thus giving us plenty of time to reach the airport.
I attempt to disembark onto the jetty. First, my rucksack (bearing in mind, we have checked out, so this contains our passports, money, medication…). Just as the rucksack is hovering over the jetty and I am about to let go, the old man leaps out of the boat. The force created by 20 stones of pensioner lunging forwards causes the boat to lurch violently backwards. I just about manage to rescue the rucksack and all my worldly goods from going swimming with the fishes!
Carenero is an island of two parts; around the edges are tourist cabins and bars built on stilts overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Inland the islanders live in much less pleasant conditions. The old man is in ‘aimless wander’ mode and so we set off along a trail through a slum where children play football in the dust while the adults mostly sit around drinking beer. One man appears to be getting his kicks from abusing a chicken.
We head to one of the aforementioned bars on stilts (Bibi’s on the Beach) for lunch. The old man orders a whole fish. The only vegetarian option contains nuts, so I opt for fish fingers & chips. The old man points out that I’ve ordered fish fingers ‘which probably came from Iceland’. I argue that we’re on a tiny, tropical island surrounded by the sea – why would they import processed, frozen fish when it’s the only natural resource at their disposal?
Finally, after a long wait, our food comes. As anticipated, my fish is not processed. It’s not that great nice either; when you bite into each goujon, a stream of hot fat gushes out. But the chips are good.
We return to the jetty shortly before the prearranged meeting time. There is, in fact, a succession of boats, all of which we turn down because it seems rude not to wait for the driver we’d arranged to meet.
3 pm comes and goes with no sign of Lorenzo. So we take the next boat which claims to be returning to Bocas. The problem is thus; I hate boats. I had agreed to do this trip as it only takes a few minutes on the calm water between two islands close together. When I climbed aboard the boat, I had assumed we were going straight back, across a few hundred metres of calm water. However, he is keen to find more passengers. Hence, he sets off instead around the island towards the windward side, over the coral, into big waves breaking over the reef, in search of passengers. I don’t do waves (nor does my passport) and have a total meltdown, screaming at him to stop! At this point, in a bid to stop my screaming, the driver turns towards the island, out of the waves but dangerously close to the coral. Needless to say, we head back to Bocas without adding to our passenger tally and a I stumble shakily off the boat.
Once my legs no longer feel like jelly, we walk to the airport and check in for our flight. It departs early, which means we land in Panama City just as the sun is setting to a spectacular view of the city and the ships queuing to enter the canal. We catch a taxi back to our hotel, the Plaza Paitilla Inn, where we are reunited with our suitcase and our room in the sky (not so much sky this time, as we’re only on the 10th floor).
Leave a Reply