At the moment, Julie and I are shacked up in a little casita on Isla Carenero, a tiny island opposite Bocas Town, the largest town (with all of about 3500 citizens) in this far flung province of Panama. This is our third night here. We’ve been settling in, exploring and we’ve begun making deposits in our overdrawn sleep debt account.
Our place is on the water, surrounded by the shacks and tin houses of the local community. The setup provides a great view into how the locals live–they outnumber the tourists by at least twenty to one. Young couples chastely walk by, long motorized canoes deliver wood and kids play soccer, all outside our front door.
In terms of tourism, this region is relatively under-developed. I was talking to the house manager, and he said the region was like “Costa Rica, 25 years ago”. That’s the feeling you get when you walk down the main drag of Bocas Town. There’s a few rickety hotels, a bunch of open-air restaurants over the water, and a handful of eco-tourism services and surf shops. There’s also one nightclub–the only downside we’ve spotted thus far. The club’s rumbling bass carries across the strait all too well.
There’s a Subway restaurant in town–the only franchise I recognized. It feels like the advance guard of a wave of international money that’s likely to visit the region in the coming years. Hopefully they can retain as much of the local character and charm as possible.
An Ethnic Stew
This region has a fascinating ethnic mix. The Spanish never consolidated their hold on this part of Central America, so while there are plenty of ethnically Spanish Panamanians here, there are also many descendants of Afro-Caribbean immigrants. Combine those with the (sadly declining) people of several indigenous tribes and a smattering of grizzled gringos, and you’ve got a interesting ethnic stew. As you might expect from a Caribbean town in the middle of nowhere, everybody’s extremely laid back. I don’t think race relations are an issue.
The Latest End of the Earth
That’s Punta Laurel, a little group of buildings built on pilings about 1500 feet off the coast of Isla Popa. A mostly unpopulated island in the southern most part of the Bocas archipelago. Our guidebook gives the island a single sentence:
Isla Popa is crawling with fer-de-lance and other poisonous snakes. It should be visited only with a good forest guide.
We’ll stay out on the water, thanks. We’ll be there for about two weeks, off and on, and plan to do a whole lot of nothing (besides, you know, writing a book). To my shock, they usually have satellite Internet access on Punta Laurel. I was pleased to hear that it was out of commission at the moment–I’m trying to disconnect for a while.
I’d upload more photos, but we’re using a pretty dubious web connection at the moment. I’ll just post one for now, and save the rest for a fatter Internet pipe.