I've just returned from a magical place. A place where vines tangle around telephone poles, housepaint fades from indigo to aquamarine and the sound of waves never ceases. Or maybe I've just been reading too much Garcia Marquez. In either case, I give you small a glimpse of the incredibly good time that was, and is, Isla Bastimentos, Panama.
From a big plane to a small plane to a water taxi to an island with only a concrete walkway from one end to the other and a host of muddy paths to everywhere else.
While the island is about 20 square miles, the town of Bastimentos takes up only a tiny fraction at the western tip and the rest makes up part of the Bastimentos Island National Marine Park.
I am smitten by the Balboas, which replaced the Columbian peso as currency when Panama became independent in 1904 (with a little help from the U.S. who desired the building of a small canal).
To the right of the house we were staying at lay this concrete shell, abandoned at some point in the past and now sprouting 4-foot palm trees in roofless rooms where coconuts had fallen and taken root.
View from our deck of the fisherwomen and their handlines, mastering the art of throwing a rock tied to a fishing line with two cockle-baited hooks and a chunk of wood for a handle. Feel a bite and you pull that line up as fast as you can.
Success (with the help of a boat and a couple other fishermen) and the makings of a damn fine dinner.
Warm nights and jetlag always make for interesting antics.
Morning walks through the jungle.
Giant fire ants and incredible flora.
Especially as the path winds higher in elevation, in this case culminating with a visit to Up in the Hill, an incredible little hideout with coffee, the best egg salad sandwich ever (no joke, I'm now a lover of Katuk leaves) and an assortment of coconut oils they press themselves.
They also rent out a beautiful little cabin remniscent of a ship's quarters.
With this for a view.
Back down by the sea and through the cemetery.
The occasional lazing afternoon of arts and crafts.
And guitar playing. And book reading. And all that good stuff.
Found ourselves a real dead pufferfish floating in the sea and lured him to shore, whereupon we named him Spike and gave him a true Central American burial.
For some reason this kid kept waking up looking like a slot machine. Which, oddly, wasn't too far off as we found the island's "casino" one night and lost a cumulative $3.
A wise man once said "Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains."
And sometimes you you contemplate your good fortune with rum and pineapple on the deck of the Caribbean View Hotel while winning a few hands of Cruddy Slippa' (hint: it's a card game).
Made a new friend with a boat and went out for a few hours of fishing.
And swimming. The water must've been warmer than the air here in the city.
Satya dropped anchor, Vera dropped a line and immediately this guy was hooked. A breakdown in communication left Heidi and I staring blindly as she tried to pull the hook out of it's manically flipping body until I attempted to brain it with a flip-flop. Which of course didn't work, but probably stunned it into an indignant stupor.
I want to go everywhere by boat.
Another day trip to the other side of the island.
Red Frog Beach, a place of white sand and ridiculously clear water (and riptides).
Harvesting the local bounty.
Back on the dock in time for some dusky fishing.
Into the night with more rum, dinner at Roots, boat rides under the stars and some very drunk Nebraskans at Aqua Lounge in Bocas. The latter was everything you'd imagine with a spring break on spring break vibe and plenty of terrible jams, but somehow all of that seems more amusing than offensive when the air is 72 degrees at 10pm. Still, I'd take the The Point on our side over Aqua any day, with its basketball-court-by-day-and-ridiculously-big-sound-system-and-even-bigger-ladies-setup-by-night. I love it when you realize the lady giving you a $1 rum and coke is the same lady who helped you play the leprechaun game at the casino two nights ago and you're right smack in the middle of a small town good time.
Spent our last day on an expedition further afield, snorkeling at Coral Cay, where we found Pina Coladas to be excellent fish bait.
Matt, our fearless leader for the day (far left), moments before he sped us through the mangroves in his boat and barely dodged a manta ray leaping out of the water and trying to land in his lap. No joke.
Walked back along Red Frog so Relish could hit his favorite jumping log one more time, then hiked through the jungle back to our side of the island.
Our gang. Best last day ever.
So long, Panama. As that other wise man said "In Dreams, in dreams, in dreams".
Fantasy Island? It may not be for everyone, but it's near to heaven in my heart (and I think I'm not alone in that sentiment). It was 6 years ago that I first went to Panama and there's no way I'm waiting that long to return. In fact if those ladies never come home I may be there sooner than you think. Til then there's a coconut ring on my finger to remind me and a new year to look forward to.