October 29th, 2010
It's a rainy, drip drop day here in Panama. We traveled yesterday to Changuinola. First we hitched a dinghy ride with another boater to Bocas Del Toro, the town nearest our marina. There we bought ferry tickets for the 30 minute boat ride to Almirante. At Almirante you either take a $1.00 truck/taxi ride to the bus depot and then buy a bus ticket, or hire a truck/taxi to take you where you need to go. Our $1.00 driver negotiated a $15.00 fee for taking four of us to our final destination.
When we arrived the commerce in town is situated on one long street until you hit the central market district and then it is two streets of shops and services. Our driver pointed out the shops we needed for boat supplies, paint for automotive use, a hardware store, 4 grocery stores, and a very good Chinese restaurant.
First we explored the main "mall" area. Here a mall is like Saturday market spaces where the owners display their wares on table tops and a piece of fabric/tarp hangs between them and the next vendor. The vendor has a strange collection of items--no rhyme or reason for what you may find. There may be locks with silverware, clothes and pans, shoes and guitars, but most shops also had a set of drums for sale. The famous music man (salesman) did a great job of convincing this town of the need for a drummer in the family. We found a dollar store where everything was priced from 35 cents to $35.00--must be an old sign.
Exploring further down the street we found the town square. All cities have a park like setting where festivals and gathering occur in this centrally located block. Benches and walkways criss cross through and surround the square. Old men sit on shady benches and young mothers watch their children from these seats. Being hot and thirsty we made our way to the AIR CONDITIONED restaurant. Here we ordered beers for lunch and toasted Mike's (from Respite) first social security check. The nice thing about is there is no hurry ever. We sat, talked, drank and ate for two hours. Around 2:00 we again braved the heat and began serious shopping. At 3:30 it was time to rehydrate in another air conditioned bar/restaurant. Around 4 we headed to the bus depot (the second busiest spot in town) and found an air conditioned bus ride back for $1.20 per person--we were the only non-locals and we were treated well.
The road took us through a jungle like preserve that lays in this area, and up and down the hilly terrain. We passed the local dump, guarded by a female mannequin dressed in a police uniform holding a dead plastic bird. (Their version of a scarecrow) Many of the vultures kept their distance and rummaged through the bags in the back of the dump. Once back in Almirante we arrived to the ferry and found 3 bus loads of backpackers (ages 18-45) waiting for the same ferry ride. The ferry stops at 5:30 and is first come first serve...we feared we were going to have to find a bed for the night. But a local hustler got us to the front of the line and on the last ferry of the day. We arrived back to our boat around 6 and poured a chilled drink to rehydrate and relax with before watching Matrix, part 1. Just another day in paradise.