My real hope for this blog is to share others’ stories of travel; of finding off-the-beaten path locations that don’t come up in google searches. It took me a long time to pick something that I felt was worth blogging about, but I really feel this is worth it! Not only because there are more interesting people out there with more interesting lives than my own (how many tiny house things are there actually to talk about?), but also because there also some amazing, undiscovered gems of places to travel to. I intend to not only highlight really cool, down to earth places, but also to highlight the mindset of those who find them, because we can all learn to be more adventurous without replicating their trips. I’m starting off with one of our favorite places we’ve found so far, because it took a little risk and adventure to get there.
Tell us a little about yourself! What do you do when not traveling, etc.
Tim and I are tiny house dwellers on a mission to see as much of the world as we can, but we also work our asses off Monday-Friday. We made the decision to go tiny with the purpose of travelling more. Tim is a Product Line Manager at a local tech company that builds radios for military applications and I am a High School Teacher, teaching English to speakers of other languages.
When did you first realize you had the travel bug?
Check out the About Page to read about our honeymoon, which was our first major adventure. I wanted to buy plane tickets and a rental car and have no other plans whatsoever, but Tim, at that point, wasn’t enjoying the feeling of the unknown in a foreign country. We compromised on the first week at a combination of Finca Rosa Blanca, a coffee plantation and a villa in the jungle (“Tim’s week”), followed by a week with absolutely nothing planned (“my week”). No hotel, no planned location, nothing. After roadside ceviche, fish tacos, and doing laundry in our hotel shower, Tim was hooked on my travel methods…
How did you find Bocas Del Toro, Panama? Was it accidental or on purpose?
Last summer, Tim and I were contemplating our annual anniversary trip. We were celebrating five years of marriage, so we wanted it to be awesome. My good friend, Fabian, a tico (Costa Rican) was living in Panama and sent me a text one day saying you guys should come to Panama! That’s all it took. We booked tickets with no solid plans besides drinking plenty of cervezas with Fabian, but since he works crazy hours as a high-powered corporate attorney (hustlers unite), we had some time to go off adventuring while he suffered in legal-land all week. One day during our planning stage, I may or may not have been floating around Pinterest, and a place called Bocas Del Toro popped up. As soon as we saw pictures (just google image search it), we knew we needed to get there STAT.
How did you get there?
Our first flight was into Panama City, where Fabian lives. We
drank stayed there for a few days, wandering about the charming Casco Viejo, dancing to reggaeton, and drinking bloody mary’s eating the most epic pulled pork-on-patacones sandwiches ever for brunch. We also drank at scoped out the Panama Canal, which of course was super impressive and historical.
Going back in time to U.S. soil, when we first decided to go to Bocas after Panama City, we quickly discovered that getting to Bocas from Panama City wasn’t as simple as renting a car since it’s an 11-hour car ride. How about no. We almost aborted mission when we found out that a solid option was to take a sardine-can packed overnight bus without air conditioning. The most pleasant option was taking a little puddle hopper out to Bocas. We opted for the flight option. The tickets were around $200/person through Air Panamá round trip, and when we were booking them we almost aborted mission again because the website is in Spanish and it’s just kind of weird and confusing, even with me being a semi-fluent Spanish speaker. Plus, when booking a plane ticket in a foreign country sight unseen, it’s hard to know if you’re actually getting a ticket or getting scammed. We also read stories of people showing up at the airport and their tickets were given away (show up early to avoid this?), which didn’t help the credibility situation. We went for it. Turns out, Panama Air is the bomb (except for confiscating my selfie stick), and they serve everyone booze and snacks. It’s like going back to the good old days of flying, including the fact that the airplanes are old school. Maybe not for the fearful flyer, though…
How would you describe the vibe of Bocas? What made it so memorable?
Even though we only stayed a few days, it was easy to pick up the vibe. It was relaxed, down to earth, and full of interesting people from all over who had wandered into town and never left. It’s easy to see why. No one was in a hurry, not even the construction crew working on Sheila’s property on the addition of a new over-water bungalow, much to her dismay, but also to the credit of the Panamanian people: F*%$ all that being in a hurry nonsense! Bocas was charming, bottom line. It was the type of place where you look around and think, I hope resorts never come to this place and ruin the awesomeness.
Where did you stay?
We arrived in Bocas, and took a water taxi (this is how you get everywhere) out to “The Blue Coconut,” which is where we were staying at our most memorable yet affordable Airbnb to date. Our host, Sheila, a Canadian who is living a pretty awesome life, greeted us, and showed us around. The property consists of an island with a restaurant/bar that closes at sundown, and two over-water cabanas. It’s an eco-friendly joint, and everything runs on solar power, so we sometimes didn’t have electricity, but who needs that when you’re here? We were also provided with snorkeling equipment and access to SUPs. Our days were spent SUPing around with rays jumping around us, snorkeling coral reefs, enjoying delicious cocktails while the restaurant was open (settle your tab at the end of your stay), and then at night, enjoyed the total tranquility of the place with the sound of the water lulling us to sleep. Heres the best part: Every morning, a little cooler with breakfast and a thermos with coffee was delivered to our back door so we could enjoy a private breakfast out on the deck over the water.
One of our favorite nights was when we stayed at the restaurant with the staff after closing,
getting drunk playing dominoes (Panamanians are quite competitive), and listening to Latin music. Lots of stories were told, most of which Tim didn’t understand a word of, because they were in Spanish. Here’s what he did understand: that Roger, our non-English speaking property security guard, would rather die than lose a game of dominoes.
Top three things you did or experienced here?
- Spending time soaking in the surroundings at our over-water-bungalow AirBnb; obviously that was awesome.
- After meeting a local bartender off-duty at the Blue Coconut, and hearing about it from a British traveler, we went to Bocas Aqua Lounge on our last night to party and jump off things (how they haven’t been sued yet is beyond me… go before they do). This would be a fun place to stay if you wanted to party the whole time. Personally, one night was enough for me to butcher the Spanish language (and my Spanish is pretty good) to our water taxi driver on the way home, go for a late night swim, and be dead on our flight in the morning.
- We took some recommendations from Sheila, and took a water taxi into town on the main island to have an awesome dinner, be serenaded by a local reggae guitar player, and bar hop without a plan.
Did you meet any fellow wanderers that left an impression on you?
We met this amazing Australian family who had taken their three kids (ages 6-10) out of school for a few months (yes, months), and were traveling all over Central America. I made friends with the kids one day while getting flipped off my hammock by Finn, the youngest boy, and ended up talking to the parents for a while, who explained that Australia has distance learning systems in place for kids that live out in the bush and can’t make it into schools every day, and that they were able to use that system to essentially home school the kids and snail mail their work off to their teachers every other week or so. Amazing! Seeing how adventurous and fun these kids were was super inspiring, and I loved that the parents made no excuses to do awesome things, and that other countries seem to have so much more flexibility when it comes to travel. I don’t get baby fever often, but the way this family prioritized travel made it seem possible.
Also, we met another American couple who had taken the aforementioned overnight bus from Panama City to Bocas Del Toro, and said it was just fine. So there you have it. Get lit and sleep on the ride?
Words of wisdom for wanderers looking for off the beaten path locations?
Don’t be afraid to book your transportation and lodging and that’s it. Don’t even look at things to do. Get there, start talking to people, and that’s how you’ll get the best information, or end up getting your ass kicked in dominoes: the universal language.
Finally, don’t worry about the sketchy flight, especially when you make an emergency landing at a different airport (our airport was “closed”), and have to enter an airplane graveyard/back door entrance, only to take off about 10 minutes later and head to the original airport. I’m not sure what was going on there, but I can make some guesses.
Guess what? This blog isn’t about me. Do you or someone you know venture into the unknown when you travel? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or get in touch. Next up, I’m interviewing my sister. She lives on a sailboat, so whatever she considers an adventure is bound to be interesting. Stay tuned.