With everyone now gone flights back to the UK or travels up towards Mexico, I am on my own. The archipelago of Bocas del Toro, off Panama mainland is my home.
I spend my days working through the Economist’s EIU city surveys which Jon has sent me. An easy bit of freelance work. Two or three hours working everyday, a stroll down the road to connect to WiFi, to send and receive files. Pick up some groceries or drop my washing off with the old guy, running a laundry several doors down. Then it’s lying in my hammock reading, jumping into the water to cool off. A gentle current runs past the end of the dock, I can swim and stay static alongside until I have had enough exercise then jump back onto the dock, lie on the warm wooden boards drying off.
Water laps under the dock and seen through the floorboards of the living room and kitchen. Simple living couple of sofas, a long wooden dining table hanging from the ceiling. Kitchen in a corner to one side, large fronted floor to, ceiling windows at the front with door onto small deck and long narrow dock to the end sheltered cabana at end with hammocks.
To get into town or home late at night, from any of the bars or restaurants, it’s a small water taxi with room enough for four passengers, just $2 or $3 if it is late. A swift ride through the warm night back home, the light at the end of the dock guiding us in.
In the morning, a local guy rows up to my dock, his canoe filled with an offering of fresh lobster, crab and crayfish. I have zero idea how to cook any of this living offering…. enquiring about the price just $10… for the entire catch!
Donna’s clients come and go, stopping for chat. Most are American expats escaping US taxes for easy living in the islands. Sitting at Mike’s, a large fishing boat converted into a bar restaurant, drinking El Cano whisky and coke, eating steak like only the Americans can make, a lot of tall stories mixed in with nefarious gossip about who is doing running from a variety of authorities… wives.. the taxman… the FBI. Like fisherman, the boasts are how big is their hidden loot piles.
Today, Arabella, long time friend of Donna’s arrives for haircut, in a trap without escape. Her very wealthy abusive husband and now son treating her miserably, but she has been with him for so long and with no means of supporting herself cannot see a way out of it. The gilded mansion in the hills outside town, stuffed with a rich man’s paraphernalia and her.
Most of the neighbours are local Panamanians. Homes are larger versions of the boathouse but always on stilts over the water. My next door neighbours are a retired schoolteacher and a large extended family of several generations.
Next to them an American couple with their child, who run restaurant on the far side of the island. Some ferocious arguments float across the water in the evenings, all is not well in paradise. A few more doors down another guesthouse with a salty old guy, Donna’s ex, with large platform dock, WiFi and legendary large toes… very friendly. Donna tells me he recently had to be taken to to hospital when viagra produced a permanent embarrassing state. To the right, a lean hard Israeli woman and her American husband have set up a Montessori primary school which most of the young expat kids attend. She trying to get as far away as possible from middle eastern politics.
Yesterday I got an invite to a party amongst the yachties. Many of them stopping up in Bocas before heading for the canal and the Pacific. Most end up staying a lot longer than anticipated, easy living. Amongst the reprobates, the Floating Doctors… a steel hulled boat crewed by volunteer medics, which sails around the islands providing medical care to the indigenous population. The Indians are definitely third class – in a society of Americans, tourists and local Panamanians – slipping quietly invisible in their canoes between the water taxis buzzing up and down.
The floating doctors anchor up at Donna’s dock once a week and head to the old age home nearby to assist. I join them and it is a sobering experience, the elderly no longer able to be looked after or who have no family to look after them, laid up in a huge dormitory of beds, no privacy and little to do except lie listlessly under slow large fans.
Many different lives, it’s easy to see how people end up staying. Donna jokes I will be next… it’s possible, but it’s a long way from friends and family.