Bocas del Toro is a famous Panama destination. It is internationally known as a stellar surfing location as well as a backpacker’s Central American pit stop. It is made up of a mainland and nine islands, all seeping with a warm, lazy, idyllic Caribbean vibe. Bocas Town, on Isla Colon, is the main drag. It consists of a lot of cruiser bikes, fresh juice stands, quirky, brightly painted buildings, a slew of bars and cafes. It’s rough and sandy around the edges and seems to have a cult following. Isla Colon is where the tiny propeller jets land 45 minutes after leaving Panama City. As the planes swoop in low over turquoise waters, landing on what basically duels as a neighborhood baseball field, passengers disembark onto the tarmac, squinting into the sunshine.
Up until last month, I really didn’t like Bocas del Toro.
Since living in Panama, we have made three trips to Bocas. The first time, I was 7 months pregnant and after a minor accident while swimming in some big waves I ended up in the “Emergency Room” (more like a sketchy island clinic) where I paid a whopping $8 to have a mini surgery performed on my foot. Upon our second visit, we and our group of friends literally sat inside of our rented house for 4 nights playing cards and drinking beer, wearing every layer of slightly wet clothing we had brought, which wasn’t much. It turned out that the biggest storm of the year was sitting on top of our cold (cold!) heads and it literally did not let up until the FINAL hour we were on the island. After those two trips, I had pretty much vowed that there was a hex put on my potential love affair with Bocas del Toro. Every time I flirted with that flame, I couldn’t help but imagine a creepy witch doctor laughing in my face.
But then we met Margaret, Henry, and Lucho.
There really aren’t many words to describe this family and their life in Bocas del Toro. Margaret is a lovely, kind, cool woman from England who turns everything she cooks to gold. Henry is a fun, witty guy from the U.S. who knows a lot about a lot and seems to get all the more excited to learn about something he doesn’t already know. Their son, Lucho is a barefoot, toe-headed sweetheart with the imagination of, well, a kid who’s been living the young life of Robinson Crusoe and who dances like Barry Manilow. They own an incredible Lodge and Cacao farm on the island of Bastimentos, where they run a hotel complete with any service you could imagine in a deluxe tree house. To say this place is magical is an understatement. Through the warm winds of good fortune, Margaret, Henry, and Lucho became our friends. From the moment we met them, they have been nothing less than genuine, candid, interesting and easy to be around. Upon hearing about my Bocas del Toro hex conspiracy, in addition to the news of our impending move to Guatemala, Margaret and Henry graciously invited us up for a visit to the farm, promising that they could change my perspective. It’s almost ridiculous how sensational our weekend with them was.
Their hotel La Loma Jungle Lodge and Chocolate Farm was closed for vacation during our visit, so luckily we got to have a lot of time with them. They put us up in a casita in the trees; incredibly clean, gorgeous, tropical, and tasteful. After a long, hot day basking on white sandy beaches we would come home to a warm shower, a beautiful meal, wine, home-made bread, chocolate, music, and good conversation. Mornings we were awoken to the sound of one million different birds, and a mama sloth and her baby casually lounging long on a nearby limb. We would explore our way down through the trees for a breakfast of coffee, fresh fruit, and my newest favorite thing of all time: toasted coconut and oats topped with cacao nibs and almond milk. Ingredients are local and made with that touch of love that makes everything taste better. We were treated like family and witnessed first hand what it truly means to be hospitable. Lucho was like a big brother to Joaquin, sharing all of his toys and showing him the smallest of secret nooks and crannies. They took us on trips on the boat, and they opened their home to us. I think at one point I asked if we could move in.
Margaret, Henry & Lucho, thank you all so very much for such an unforgettable four days. I can now wholeheartedly say that I LOVE Bocas del Toro.
Three times is DEFINITELY a charm.