Bocas del Toro: A particularly cramped and grim night-bus from Panama City takes us from the Pacific coast to Almirante on the Caribbean Atlantic, from where we get an early boat ride across to the Bocas del Toro islands.
After a sleepless night punctuated with police checks, food and toilet stops (for the passengers whose unusual nocturnal habits include eating full meals at 4am), and the usual Arctic air-con, we’re disappointed to be refused entrance to our overpriced hostel by the surly German owner, because check-in isn’t till 1pm.
We kill the seven hours slowly, in cafés and walking around the small town of Bocas. It’s a mixture of painted timber shacks and pristine hotels bursting with loudly enthusiastic American jocks and their girlfriends.
Locals are a mixture of Spanish speaking Panamanians and English speaking West Indians with a lilting sing-song accent that’s as difficult to understand as it is charming.
The beaches within walking distance of the town are littered with rubbish and the occasional sleeping drunk. Our first impressions of the island are not good, so we head to the island described in our guide book as the perfect idyllic retreat, Bastimentos.
We’re greeted at the tiny jetty by incredibly loud music from competing loudspeakers at bars near the jetty. The beaches here are even filthier and the population seem less friendly, so we retreat to our earlier island and consider the options.
The best thing about Bocas is that the sun is shining, and there are huge forests we still haven’t explored. We’ll give it another day or so.