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Bocas del Toro Travel Blog

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dolphin bay

Am sipping a strong, delicious coffee from Lilly’s café, which is catty-corner from our home base at Hotelito Del Mar in Bocas Town.  It’s t-minus two hours until I hop on a Nature Air puddle jumper back to San Jose, and my heart hurts.  I am using the time I should be using for proper goodbyes to write about my week here, as it’s one of those places that I feel like writing about it after I’ve left, in retrospect, would be cheating.

When Sarah and I made the decision to fly to Panama for the last full week of our trip, we did so with the intention of squeezing in a couple more dives, procuring better tans to return to the real world with, adding one more stamp to our passports, getting a strong dose of Caribbean water that we agreed is the best soul medicine.

cayos zapatillas
  We wound up getting a hell of a lot more than we bargained for.

When we first arrived in Bocas Del Toro exactly one week ago and dropped our bags at Casa Verde, we learned three things.  One – that there were no beaches right here in town, nor was there really a place to swim.  Two – that Bocas seemed to have some decent food.  Three – that there had been a robbery (which we were told was commonplace) the night before in the very room we were supposed to sleep in.  And so we moved house to Hotelito Del Mar and started sussing out the local dive shops so that we could get some dives in before relocating ourselves to the nearby island of Bastimentos.

bathwater
 

After inquiring at each of other three dive shops, we walked into La Buga and met the owner, Ricardo Porras – the very same man who, when I called from Monte Verde Costa Rica, had convinced us book our tickets to Bocas in the first place by saying “It’s not the best diving in the world, and we’re not right on the beach, and it could potentially rain the whole week when you’re here, but right now it’s sunny and beautiful and I wish I could show you through the phone what I am seeing right now, because it would make you want to be here next to me.”  And so there we were, less than a week later, looking out from La Buga’s dock at the clear green-ish playground and plethora of islands from which we could explore it.

happy chica
 

I don’t have much time to write, as I need to pack and say some tearful goodbyes, but the highlights of the week are as follows:

Befriending Lilly.  We had eaten in her café several times before we met her, although we were already big fans of her ‘Killin’ Me Man’ homemade hot sauce and had grown quite fond of her daughters, Shayda and Frida, who had served us.  On Sunday morning, which was our first rainy day on the island, we planted ourselves at a table on the dock for breakfast, and asked the charming owner if she’d come sit and chat with us for a while.  This chat quickly secured us a new friend, and Lilly invited us to come cook in the kitchen at her home later that evening.  “Just tell any taxi driver to take you to casa de senora Lilly.

”  Lilly’s funky, comfy waterfront home had one of the most well-equipped, perfectly feng-shui’ed kitchens I have ever had the privilege of cooking in (Sarah and I made white bean and coriander dip, salmon cakes with an avocado sauce, a gorgeous garden salad and sausage, coconut, pineapple rice).  With Lilly’s three adorable grandsons (Angel, Shafir and Sion) in our laps, her puppy nipping at our feet, good wine and food and amazing laughter-laced conversation,  that night was the closest I’ve felt on this whole trip to feeling like I was at home with family. 

Diving.  After our first dive, we hopped back onto the boat a little disappointed by the visibility and lack of marine life.  We agreed that it may not be worth it to continue diving, and instead soak in the beaches.

  An hour later, when we emerged from the water after our second dive, our minds had been completely changed.  Four dives later, we are blessed with having seen a spotted eel, a school of squid, spotted drums (Sarah’s fave), sharp-nosed puffers (my fave), a Spanish lobster, outrageous coral, magnificent caves, and – on the last dive, finally, thanks to Marion – a SEAHORSE.  Not only was the diving fantastic, but the staff at the dive shop became our family here in Bocas.  For our last night, Ricardo dragged the grill onto the deck and let us take over La Bugita Café, where Sarah, Ricardo, Jose, Vicente and I whipped up creamy quinoua with crabmeat, chipotle marinated filet mignon kebabs, grilled fish, avocado dip and, of course, Sarah’s magical white bean dip.
where's sponge bob?

Six hour boat tour.  This day started out as a clusterfuck, trying to organize a semi-private boat with some friends who wound up flaking on the tour…and just as Pilo, the boat captain, was about to turn Sarah and I away, Robin, who lives in New York, showed up, and we were able to talk Pilo into taking the three of us for a few extra bucks apiece.  The tour started out at Dolphin Bay, where we hung over the egde of the boat laughing excitedly as flipper and his buddies raced with the boat, jumping over each other playfully.  Next, snorkeling at Crawl Cay, which had some of the richest, most vibrant coral I have ever laid eyes on.  And finally, Cayos Zapatillas.  Uninhabited powdery beaches surrounded by clear aqua bath-like water.

like mars...
It was the single most beautiful beach I have ever planted my ass on.  While I sat on this idyllic beach, I was overwhelmed with emotion – I couldn’t help to wish that I could share this place with my dad.  I think, of all the places I’ve traveled, that Bocas would be my dad’s personal heaven.  I had a good, solid cry, and it was the most I’ve really missed him in the ten years since he’s been gone.

There were so many other magical moments – a bike ride to starfish beach, we powered thru thirteen kilometers of hilly, jungle roads before Sarah unfortunately busted ass as the result of an inadequate bike chain – listening to and playing music in Toro Loco – a midnight boat ride to a party on Red Frog Beach, where we danced by moonlight waist deep in the crystal-clear sea.

the lovely lilly

There’s so much more.  Bocas Town is so full of flavor and color and art and music and it’s surrounds are truly paradise.  It is the first place on my trip that I think I could live, and a place that I know I’ll return to.  It’s time now.  I’ve had my coffee and I need to get my shit together so we can make our flight.  Insert long, sad sigh.  Pics to come.

ak5609 says:
so did you ever return to Bocas?

Alex
Posted on: Jan 05, 2014
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dolphin bay
dolphin bay
cayos zapatillas
cayos zapatillas
bathwater
bathwater
happy chica
happy chica
wheres sponge bob?
where's sponge bob?
like mars...
like mars...
the lovely lilly
the lovely lilly
the spread sarah and i whipped up …
the spread sarah and i whipped up…
lilly and frida
lilly and frida
our new bocas family
our new bocas family
angel and shafir
angel and shafir
cutie-pie
cutie-pie
shmoopy puppy
shmoopy puppy
jammin with my buddy angel
jammin with my buddy angel
shmoops
shmoops
bocas town
bocas town
en route to starfish beach
en route to starfish beach
starfish boobies
starfish boobies
starfish and boobies
starfish and boobies
starfish sans boobies
starfish sans boobies
jem and the holograms
jem and the holograms
our home in bocas
our home in bocas
nesta - the COOLEST dog EVER
nesta - the COOLEST dog EVER
lobstah
lobstah
toadfish...good eye, sarah
toadfish...good eye, sarah
spotted drum
spotted drum
shes a star
she's a star
spanish lobstah
spanish lobstah
cool coral
cool coral
seahorse - WOO-HOO
seahorse - WOO-HOO
jose and his guac
jose and his guac
marion and sarah with lotsa vino
marion and sarah with lotsa vino
happy primas
happy primas
rrrricardo and yo
rrrricardo and yo
filet mignon kebabs
filet mignon kebabs
nesta chillin
nesta chillin
iMmigration office
iMmigration office
enhanced seahorse
enhanced seahorse
flamingo tongue
flamingo tongue
the sharp nosed puffer...cutest fi…
the sharp nosed puffer...cutest f…