Bocas Del Toro is a large archipelago of islands and islets that has a history dating back to the dawn of the Spanish age of discovery. Christopher Columbus visited the area on his final voyage to the new world in 1502 and the names that he gave to many of the islands and bays are still used today. During the 17th century the secluded anchorages became a haven for pirates leaving tales of buried treasure in the area and in the 17th and 18th centuries old world disease and Spanish swords wiped out much of the indigenous population. During the 19th century the banana industry moved in and workers from the West Indies, Latin America and China were imported to work the vast banana plantations. The United Fruit Company created entire towns to house the workers and Bocas Town, where Mermaid is berthed, still has the look of a company town with the old, blocky building now painted in bright, Caribbean colors. Today, Bocas Town has morphed into a funky tourist destination and with the influence of the Latin, Indo Caribbean and Asian cultures it has the feel of a place right on the edge of the earth. Hipsters come to partake in the great surfing and diving and colorful water taxis are on the move from dusk to dawn toting tourists between the islands.
We had looked forward to spending time in Bocas for a long while. We met the marina manager years ago in Redondo Beach and heard how great Bocas Town and the Bocas Marina and Yacht Club were for cruisers. We had seen pictures of the clear waters, pretty buildings and the mermaid hanging in the Calypso Cantina in the marina and looked forward to our arrival on Mermaid. We weren’t disappointed. The staff was friendly and helpful. The rates are reasonable and the free shuttles to Bocas Town make things convenient and easy.
We arrived with David Stout, Kathy Ross and Holly Scott on board and began to explore the town while dodging rain showers. Holly had to scoot off the Pacific Northwest where she was running charters up the Inside Passage so the crew of Mermaid toured rain forests and beaches by day and held Mexican Train tournaments by night. When David and Kathy set off we filled our days with boat chores and staying out of the rain. One afternoon we heard Second Wind, whom we met in El Salvador, on the radio as they approached the marina and we had a nice snorkeling trip and a tour of a nearby chocolate farm. We celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary at the Calypso Cantina in the marina with other cruisers and staff.
We planned to return to Panama City by bus in mid August to take in the events of the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal so we buttoned up the boat and hired a marina worker to give the boat a weekly once over before heading out.