Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Key West of Yesteryear

If ever there were another place like the Key West of yesteryear, it would have to be Bocas Del Toro (the mouth of the bull). One can’t help but smile in the laid back bohemian pedestrian based outpost of the Caribbean. Bocas got its start with the upstanding corporate citizens and land stewards, the United Fruit Company. Clearing huge tracks of rain forest, filling in the mangroves to build the town and employing workers at near slave labor wages and working conditions to bring you bananas. After abandoning the turn of the century outpost it fell into a state of despair and disrepair. Former cruisers and now marina operators stated that just 15 years ago they were the only boat to sail into this area. Since that time, this island outpost among hundreds of mangrove atolls, islands and mainland mountains has been “discovered”.

Today, Bocas is a backpacker’s destination via planes, buses, and or water taxis from the mainland. Activities are surfing, beaching, snorkeling, ethnic dining, tours, hiking, hippy culture, Rasta culture, art culture, bohemian culture, counter culture, indigenous culture, etc etc. By reading some of the tourism and real estate propaganda, you’d think the place has been overrun by Gringos. By the numbers there are only a few hundred residing in a region of over 10,000. But Gringos tend to leave a big footprint compared to the single room organic homes inhabited by the Indians. Many homes are large Panamanian style while others are Mc Mansions.

Today the Gringos more or less coexist with the locals. Through the centuries, the Indians have continued to lead sustainable lives fishing, hunting, planting and making babies. Everyday Indians paddling there hand carved log canoes to their fincas or settlement over the water coexist with Gringos that have restored and gentrified the once derelict colonial town. Just a few minutes by boat and you are transported deep into a maze of mangrove islands which you could meander through for days. And in that time you may come across an Indian fishing or a water taxi in the far off distance. The area is lush lush lush.