Authentic Panama – the real deal!
After a hearty breakfast in Boquete and an official group photo, we were back on the bus for our trip across the Continental Divide from Chiriqui province to the neighboring province of Bocas del Torro. One of the real pluses of the Panama Relocation Tour is the opportunity to visit the primary places where expats call home, however this kind of boots-on-the-ground tour involves a lot of travel time. A good bus with a capable driver and a small group of less than half the bus capacity make the trip as comfortable as possible. Time on the road gives a good opportunity to talk about relocating in Panama, discuss pluses and minuses of various locations, and answer the many questions about expat living in Panama.
In Panama you always need a back up “Plan B” . . . and “C” . . . and “D” . . . etc. People can tell you this in a conference about living in Panama being held in a comfortable ballroom in Panama City, but when you are on the ground and confront the real need for alternate plans . . . “upfront and personal” . . . you understand!
Coming over the Continental Divide we stopped at Fortuna Dam, a giant dam part of a huge hydroelectric project. Panama gets most of its electrical power from hydroelectric plants. As Panama grows there is demand for more and more electricity while at the same time the hydroelectric companies are selling power to neighboring Costa Rica. In Panama all mineral and water resources belong to the government. So the government authorizes giant companies to create dams to create electricity . . . or authorizes the construction of what will be the second largest copper mine in the world. Giant dams often displace and disrupt communities in their path, and when much of this expansionist development is proposed on land granted to Indigenous groups who were here before Columbus arrived, the Indians protest.
After you’ve crossed the Continental Divide there is only one narrow two-lane road for the ride of about an hour to the place where you catch a boat taxi for about a half-hour ride over to Bocas and Isla Colon. When we stopped for lunch we heard that the Indigenous had closed the road until 3 pm to demonstrate against proposed hydroelectric projects that would put their communities underwater. “Plan B”: if we can’t get to our boat, try for an alternate. Extra “scenic” tour. Two places, boats, but our bus driver pronounces them as unseaworthy. “Plan C”: another location, another boat. Seaworthy but, no captain. “Plan D”: Back to the restaurant for our driver to see what he can find out. Bad news. The demonstration originally “scheduled” to end at 3 pm may continue to 6 pm. Decision time. Do we wait it out, or go back to Boquete. 3 hours back over the mountains? Two-thirds of our group are planning to remain in Bocas after the tour concludes and fly from Bocas to Panama City. We have no reservations in Boquete. “Plan E”: give it a try. Maybe we’ll get an afternoon rain that will drive off the protestors. Maybe the road will have cleared. Maybe they’ll let us through. Maybe we’ll wait it out. Maybe the protesters will stay all night and we’ll have to turn around and go back anyway. “Maybe” is a big part of any plan in Panama! The taxi boats stop running at 5:30 pm. Will we make it? There are lots of group suggestions. “Stay at a hotel up the road.” Folks don’t know there ARE no hotels. No Holiday Inns along the way!
So we go! About an hour along a winding, narrow road surrounded by tropical jungle. No cell phone access here. And then we come to the road block. Thankfully we have an air-conditioned bus! Some of us walk up and as best we can communicate with the demonstrators. We are sympathetic to their cause. “Why don’t they demonstrate in Panama City?” Good idea, but many of these people scramble just to buy rice. They can’t afford the $20 or so bus ride to Panama City let alone a place to sleep and food.
“Plan F” The bus driver reports that news is that the demonstration will continue until 6 pm, meaning we will miss the last boat to Bocas, there are no hotels on this side of the water, which would mean turning the bus around, driving all the way back to Boquete, hoping that once we get a cell signal, Jackie Lange can find us rooms in Boquete, and everyone will scramble to adjust plans and flights. We decide to wait it out until 3:20 pm, declare that beyond 3:20 pm we’ve reached the “point of no return” and rather than risk spending the night in the bus, would turn around and head back to Boquete.
Understand that by this time everyone, except for a few men who adapt more easily to the customs of Panama, are “holding it” having consumed soda and drinks at lunch 2 hours earlier. I explain the “facts of life” in Panama and except for a few adventurous guys, most folks decide to hold on a little longer. Great group!
“Plan G”: 3:15 pm, 5 minutes to go. The driver returns having talked to the Indigenous “chief” who promises the road will be open by 4 pm. So we wait. Hoping.
“Plan H”: 3:55 pm we start moving forward. The last boat to Bocas is 5:30 pm and we are behind a truck on a windy road in a bus without enough power to even attempt a somewhat risky pass. There is no cell signal anywhere.
“Plan I”: We roll into the place to get the boat taxi along with everyone else who was stuck in the road block. It is mass chaos. I finally get a cell signal, call Jackie and have her call the hotel and the restaurant and let them know we will be arriving 2 hours after the times scheduled. We make the 3rd boat and . . . finally! . . . make it to Bocas and check into our hotel.
All’s well that ends well
I guess all is well that ends well. We have an hour to decompress before boarding a local water taxi to take us across to another Canero Island and BiBi’s restaurant on a hut out over the water. I have to say they make the best Passion Fruit Margarita’s I’ve ever tasted. A few drinks and everyone was relaxing and in the spirit of Bocas del Torro.