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Back to Bocas, the quest for dinner

With a complete day to spend exploring Isla Colon Dan, Deborah, Myra and I set out walking. We decided by happenstance we followed the perimeter road that hugs the coast in the direction of the Bocas Airport.. The Airport on Isla Colon is walking distance from most hotels on the island and is open again.

Our first encounter was with a new 36 unit building that was listed as townhouses on the ANAM impact sign. As we looked we were greeted by Hans, the owner of the project. Hans discussed his project, the opportunities on Isla Colon and other islands and mentioned the market for hotel rooms was strong, while now, the market for land was weak. The message, according to Hans this is good time to buy land in Bocas del Toro. There is a new, controversial law someplace in process that will affect property rights of ROP owners. Hans thinks it will be a good thing, I have heard others say the opposite, so I would do my research before opening a check book.

After bidding goodbye to Hans we found our first public beach and as it was approaching noon and hot our first cold beer of the day. The first beach is just after you pass through an arch marking the beginning of the Isla Colon fairgrounds. In 2008 I went to the fair, this time we just found some shade,some chairs and cold drinks. The restaurant has a full menu at local prices and beer was $0.75 a bottle. From the beach I saw a large building across the bay and I was told it was the Playa Tortuga Resort. A quick use of my Iphone found their website and thier listing on Trip advisor. $347 a night seemed out of sight for Bocas but worth exploring so we decided to walk there.

On the road we encountered the National Police Station for the fair and more important the only restaurant I ever really enjoyed on Isla Colon, the Caribbean Burger truck, home of GREAT friend chicken. This truck, flat tires and all was parked at the park in town for several years dishing out great food after sundown. The new mayor decreed it gone and we found the relic. It is probably used at the fair inSeptember.

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We hugged the coast, Myra hugged Dan and eventually we made it to La Tortuga. It was far less impressive than either the website or the image from across the bay.IslaColon09.jpg

But it did have a nice bar, a great view, good service and cold beer. The bonus is that when you spend $347 a night for a hotel room you can buy cold beer at 5:1, that is five time the price at a local bar.
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After leaving the La Tortuga Bar we started the walk back and were saved by a taxi. Seeking lunch the taxi drivers first directed us to a local hangout in the fairground and then a chicken with rice place near the airport. An abbreviated version of the Culturas / Amigos lunch; Chicken, rice with lentils and a salad, pasta salad was $4.

With the heat of the day came a siesta, followed by my determination to followup on the comment of a taxi driver that Caribbean Burgers had a store front on the far side of the park. We found it, it was closed.
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Caribbean Burgers was located accross from a bar called Toro Loco, a gringo bar that seemed to have a lot of local gringos as clients, the Culturas of Isla Colon They had a bar food menu, cold beer and they became our first stop of the evening. Service was good, the menu had clearly marked food prices and no listing of drink prices. When the bill came it was verbal and we have no idea what drinks cost but the total was realistic and we decided to find dinner.

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For this second night we decided to try something more touisty for the experience, We started and planned to end at the new rather glamorous Bocas Bambu. The place was crowded but we were given a table immediately, given menus immediately and then ignored. The waitress, we think there was one, came an went. She took orders from around us, brought drinks to others and ignored us completely. If I had not showered shortly before I would have believed it was offending odor. In time after feeling socially inadequate we left. The man who seated us was very concerned but not enough to do anything about the problem.
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Next the new restaurant at the Laguna Hotel, Cocina Exotica. Nice menu, we seated ourselves, a waiter brought over menus immediately and once again we were ignored for a long period of time. As 9 pm approaced we resigned ourselves to my initial lust for Caribbean Chick, if they were opened and left. In a note of irony the same waiter who had ignored us was at the table in seconds collecting our well perused menus.
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Sadly, for me, Caribbean Bugers was still closed so we returned to Toro Loco for a late dinner of friend this and that. I was told Caribbean burgers usually opened by midnight and stayed open to about 5 am, go figure. I did try to return at 1 am for my grease fix but was denied egress from my room by Myra, I will need to wait for another time for artery clogging fried chicken.

Our return the next day was a four hour replay of the ride to Almirante with the exception of Myra doing some banana negotiations along the way.
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We ended up with two large stalks of banana, guineos criollio (local non chicquita brand bananas) and the small thumb sized bananas that ripen very sweet. You do not find these little bananas int he stores here but you find different, new and often exciting expereinces along the roads throughout Panama.

Isla Colon, Bocas Del Toro, Panama Revisited, again

School in Panama begins on March 9th, My friend Myra is a Professora, a teacher and her vacation is coming to its end. We decided to do a fast trip from Boquete Panama to Bocas del Toro, to Isla Colon, the most populated of the islands commonly called Bocas del Toro. We were joined by some other friends, Dan and Deborah, escapees from Valle Escondido.

We drove and briefly said they are continuing to repair the road between Gulaca and Chiriqui Grande, several new bridges are going into span the washed out road bed. When done it will be a vast improvement, for now the construction coupled with the dense fog that we encountered makes the ride slow and perilous. With flights having resumed from David direct to Isla Colon I would really recommend flying. IslaColon02.jpg

After parking the car we headed for the BMT, Bocas Marine Transport and took a water taxi to the island. I noticed a rather dramatic change, radios in the boats, new tops and enforced mandatory use of life jackets.

Myra and I stayed at the Hotelito del Mar, dead center in town. I have been there before and nothing has changed. If is perfectly located if you want to be in the center of what has become tourist town Bocas del Toro.The Hotelito was full so Dan and Deborah ended up about 10 minute walk out of town at the Angela Hotel. If I were to rate the Hotelito del Mar a 6/10 the Hotel Angela might make it to 4/10. Their room included three beds with a shower in the same room, non functional AC. Despite to offer of a free breakfast posted in the room, they discovered the hard way there was no such thing as a free breakfast in the Hotel Angela.IslaColon04.jpg

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After settling in, we started a Bocas pub crawl in pursuit in eventual pursuit of dinner. We started at the Buena Vista for some happy hours Pina Coladas, they were very nice at $2.50 except they appeared to be missing the rum. After a round and some fried calamari we moved down to the Reef at the other end of the street. Rum was $1.50, six chicken wings for $6. The wings were really six, half wings. I requested the check and noticed the rum was billed at $2 each. this brought back a memory, they did this last time I was there also, that time for food. I need urge caution if you value your wallet t the Reef.

My reason for this line of commentary is the sum up that Isla Colon has become a tourist trap; unless you know where to go.

Deborah suggested heading off the beaten path and with a phone call to my friend Helena from Garden of Eden we were directed past the Reef, around the bend to the Ultimo Refugio. We actually missed the entrance until a man on the street asked if we were looking for the restaurant.IslaColon06.jpg

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The wait was long but discovering the new drinks being offered at bar folded time and eventually a table cleared. The inside was charming, busy and fun. There were no tables but we were offered bar, drinks and the next opening. The white board menu was short and the theme fresh and fish.
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Dinner was served well and in a reasonable time. Dinner was very good, the venue and service excellent and in all the experience great.

On Isla Colon head of the tourist path. More of that tomorrow in a day of walking, exploring and searching for another dinner worth eating.

Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro

I have made the trip from Boquete to Bocas del Toro several times in the past. This time was different in a couple of ways. I went with people who know the island and for the first time in over a year I drove.

Allow me to suggest flying. The road trip is about 4 hours and the road from Gulaca to Chiriqui Grande is in rapid deterioration. There are some huge “speed bumps” due to settling of the tarmac. If you drive please be really careful or you may lose a front axel.

This weekend we visited not only two beaches, one wonderful and the other adjacent to the Isla Colon International Fair. Yes it was fair weekend in Bocas del Toro. If you ever get the wild urge to go there for the fair thinking it might be better, bigger or even different than those in David or Boquete, save your plane fare. It was a great disappointment. Very small, sparse and nothing like either David or Boquete.

I will however attest that I was introduced to some Caribbean culture for the first time in Bocas del Toro and it has a different flavor than the Pacific side of the country.

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I stayed a very nice small hotel located right near the water taxi and the Police building.
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The Hotelito del Mar is only a few rooms, that cost from $55 up depending upon the number of beds in the room. The staff was wonderful, the rooms clean and there was never a shortage of hot water. There was also no problem asking for and receiving the jubilado descount. I recommend the Hotelito del Mar if you want a spot literally right in the center of town. They also have free wifi, a plus for the laptop addicted set like me and a continental breakfast if you are also like me addicted to food.

We ate in several places the one worth mention was the Reef. It is on the far end of the town near the ferry dock and I have eaten there many times. The food is good, the service is bad, no make that awful and the prices are high. I was surprised when my check came and although I expected to have a 10% propina (tip) snuck in already I was surprised that the price of a fried fish went from an already high $9 on the menu to a higher $10 while it was being eaten. The fish was excellent but the price increase was hard to digest. Using my improving Spanish I complained and remarkably the bill was rewritten by the same scowling waitress who served lunch but never considered bring a menu. Welcome to Bocas del Toro where every tourist even a native born visitor is a target.

The beaches were fun. There was a large police presence in all the tourist areas with police coming from Panama city to help out during the fair. We took a launch to a small island off Isla Colon for a quite beach and I was surprised that a two man police patrol was walking the beaches there also, Panama is really trying to protect it?s tourists from the thieves who do not have licensed businesses!

Some more Photos

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