25 Feb Bocas Del Toro, Panama – water taxis and toilets
Arrival in Panama was interesting, to say the least. I took the Tica Bus from Costa Rica across the border to David, Panama. First of all, to even get a ticket on the Tica Bus, I had to try to find the agency that sells this unicorn ticket in a country that doesn’t use addresses. If you don’t know what I am talking about, please refer to this post. After getting my ticket, I had to take a taxi the next afternoon to ‘the bus stop in front of the mini super’.
No signage, I just stood in the sweltering heat wearing my SPF 85 sunscreen hoping this bus would show up. Naturally, it arrived an hour late.
The bus was rather cramped, but still nice, it had this blessed thing we take for granted: A/C! It was also playing a movie, Fast and Furious – Tokyo Drift. I didn’t really get why it was dubbed over in Spanish, but subtitled in English….
We got to the border pretty late in the evening and the bus driver abruptly stopped and told everyone to get off, no instructions, nada. You are left to fend for yourself. Let me tell you, this border is a circus! Zero signs, no stop lights, just people trying to sell you cans of soda, and insane traffic.
I had read that one has to pay a Costa Rican exit tax at the border on land crossing – this is usually included in the cost of an international flight – but I could not find any such place. Well, whatever, I just skipped it. I got my exit stamp and then made my way over to the Panamanian side where there was one window open for everyone entering and exiting Panama. To give you an idea, there were probably 50 people on my bus, and there were several busses crossing. It doesn’t cool down at night, you just stand there like an idiot sweating bullets hoping you get your turn. After I got my entry stamp I sat down next to a girl from Holland who looked just like my niece to wait further instructions. I asked her to take this photo for proof. My niece is three years old, but I have a feeling this is what she will look like when she grows up.
Suddenly all of our bags came off the bus and we had to go get them and then file into this cramped, windowless room. Creepy, sweaty, we got handed immigration forms. Then the immigration officer leaves and closes the door. N0t concerning at all that we are locked in a room. He comes back about 15 minutes later and starts giving us LINE BY LINE instructions on how to complete the customs form – by this time everyone had already completed their forms and we were just staring at him. He really liked hearing himself talk so we sat as he gave us the blow-by-blow, please write your name where it says name, please write your nationality next to nationality, etc.
After this, two immigration officers went through each bag, one by one. Could this take any longer? Finally we were all cleared and 45 minutes later we arrived at my destination – David. We were supposed to arrive at 6pm, before dark, but we arrived at 10pm, nice. I hate arriving places after dark, but luckily there was a Swiss girl traveling to the same hostel as me so we got a taxi for $4 to our hostel.
On to one night in the worst hostel of my life where a massive spider lived in the bathroom. Too late to move, I just decided I would leave ASAP for my final destination. I promptly left at 7am to head to Bocas del Toro. A seatbeltless bus ride through the mountains with a 12 year old managing the luggage and I arrived in Almirante.
From there I had to take a water taxi to Bocas town. Then, yet another water taxi to my destination, Bastimentos Island. Let’s take a moment to describe a Panamanian water taxi…this is basically a tug boat with makeshift life vests, a motor spewing diesel fumes, and an oar – you know – just incase it stops working mid-sea. Super comforting. Clinging to my luggage I braced myself over the wakes just hoping my stuff wouldn’t fly out. Why on earth did I book a hotel with water taxi access only?
BastimentosI’ve experienced water shortages on this trip already but not bring-your-own-sea-water shortages. You can see below that the water was turned off during the day, but on my second day, there was no water, period. To use the restroom, you simply had to go the dock and fill the bucket up with sea water and then fill the toilet. I really should’ve jumped into the water to pee, but I felt like everyone would know I was peeing and I couldn’t handle that type of judgement, so I didn’t do it.
I took my own water up to my second floor bathroom and poured it in the toilet. Since this was my first time providing my own toilet water, I poured it in the bowl, when it didn’t flush I started to panic, OMG why isn’t this working I thought!? Then I remembered how toilets work, and filled it up from the top. Phew, it flushed. I felt like I was on an episode of survivor.
Since Basti is only accessible by water taxi I stayed mostly on the island, lounging in hammocks, swimming in the ocean, and listening to live music at my hostel. My hostel also had a pretty happening restaurant and night life for the island. I only stayed two nights, but that was plenty for this little place!
The next day I took another water taxi back to Bocas town, wheeled my suitcase to this baby airport, and hopped on a plane to meet my friend Amanda in Panama City! Click here to keep reading.