Blog : Bocas del Toro

Bocas connections

Bocas connections

Panama visit – day 9. Things are really ramping up with only a few days left before we fly back to the UK, and still so much to do! Day 9 was a busy day on the Bocas islands, reconnecting with old Bocas contacts and making new ones – all for future collaboration with bíku.

bíku, a business to benefit Bocas

We haven’t written much about this yet, but we will run bíku as a social enterprise; ie a revenue generating business whose main aim is to address social issues. The profits from bíku will be reinvested in the local community, primarily to develop community led social businesses. There is already a lot of great work being done in Bocas for the conservation of the natural environment as well as the culture, especially of the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous community, and the history of the place. As they say, there is great strength in numbers. Since the inception of our bíku plans, we have been meeting with people working in Bocas with similar aims as our own – so that we can collaborate with them once we’re up and running.

One of these people is Angel – who we wrote about in yesterday’s blog. It’s always good to catch up with him; he is looking forward to seeing our project come to fruition. Angel knows everything about and everyone in Bocas! He’s at the core of a lot of the great work happening here. He told us about some very interesting developments in Bocas. In conjunction with the Panama tourism authority (ATP) a museum is being developed on the main island, Isla Colón, to share with tourists the rich history of the Bocas islands. The other is a work in progress regarding the restriction of tour boats going to Dolphin Bay (Bahia de los Delfines). The hope is that there will be a restricted number of tours a day, working to a schedule. This development is a long time coming and will be a huge benefit to the dolphins and other marine life in the area.

So fresh and so clean

Another of our visits was to Punta Coco, which is a small company that makes organic soaps and other toiletries from pure Bocas coconut! We were lucky enough to come away from the meeting with a number of goodies to try … Only local, and only the best for our bíku guests. And only things that we have tested and approved first!


Punta de Coco soap slab

Up in the hill

Finally, as you might have seen from our Instagram stories, we also visited ‘Up in the hill’ on Isla Bastimentos. After a 20 minute walk up the hill, making our way through tropical rainforest and stopping for the occasional photograph and insect / bird interrogation, we reached our final destination ‘Up in the hill’. This place is a real tropical hideaway – an ecolodge, cacao farm, coffee and organic product shop. It is run by a Scottish and Argentinian couple who actually met in Bocas. They originally came to Bocas, separately, some 20 years ago volunteering with the turtle conservation work. Anyone who comes to Bocas should definitely visit this hidden treasure. There is great coffee, chocolate, and conversation waiting for you after the long, uphill walk! And we completely agree with their slogan, ‘Good things come in the trees’!

Ariel tucked away at Up in the hill

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Until next time, #liveslow.

Waking up to the sounds of nature

Waking up to the sounds of nature

Panama visit – day 8. Wow the time really is going quickly – we only wish we could extend our stay for at least a month or more! Our four days in Panama City were busy, with meetings to discuss our project and following leads with potential investors. We’ve got another round of meetings lined up for when we are back in the City next week. Following an 11 hour bus journey from the City on Tuesday night, we arrived in Bocas del Toro (Bocas) early Wednesday morning.

For those of you hoping to travel to Bocas in the future, we recommend the 45 minute flight over the 11 hour bus journey! We will definitely be flying from the islands to the City on our return.

Bocas vibes

Bocas del Toro sits in stark contrast to the City. You won’t find any one-two hour (or more!) traffic jams (known as el tranque) here! The pace of life slows and even for the most hardened city dweller, it really is impossible to move at anything faster than a sloth’s pace once you set foot here. Bocas gets you … with the morning chattering of the migrating Bocas parakeets, the warm air, slight sea breeze and backdrop of cloud forest … all you can do is relax, breathe and take in the place, culture, people and nature. It envelopes you.

Business meetings exist in Bocas, of course, but they are of a very different nature and may last an afternoon – if not a whole day! Other than business – which is the reason for our trip – for Ariel Bocas is home. It’s a chance to catch up with his family – sister, nephew, mum, aunts, uncles, cousins and the wider town(!) – there’s never a dull moment. And much of the conversation revolves around food – namely what someone is going to cook that day, where they can get the freshest mackerel or other necessary fish / meat and who’s going to help.

The meetings continue

Today we’re heading from the port town of Almirante – where we’re staying – to the main Bocas island, Isla Colón. We’ll be meeting with a contact we met out here back in 2014, an Argentinian gentleman who has been living in Bocas for the best part of 20 years if not more, and who has seen an enormous change in the islands. He has dedicated his life to promoting conservation in the region, including working with Sea Turtle Conservancy, as well as protecting and preserving the way of life of the indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé community, through Alianza Bocas. We very much hope that he continues to be a friend and someone with whom we can collaborate in the future through bíku.

Stick with us over the next week to stay up to date with our project news.

Remember – sign up to our mailing list before 7 August and be in with a chance of winning a 4-night stay in the Cotswolds.

Until next time, #liveslow.

Bocas del Toro – what’s in a name?

Bocas del Toro – what’s in a name?

The history of a place has always fascinated me. The more you learn about a place’s history, the more you tend to understand traditions, behaviours and attitudes. You can begin to understand the people. How much about where you live or where you’re from do you know? Ariel is from Bocas del Toro, Panama, and knows it as the place where he grew up, the place that holds his childhood memories, and the place where his family still lives today. I know Bocas as a ‘newcomer’, in part through the eyes of Ariel – meeting his family and friends and experiencing local Bocas life – and in part as a tourist / traveller – seeing everything for the first time.

Our treehouse project has been and continues to be a fascinating journey for both me and Ariel, perhaps for different reasons. We are learning things about Bocas as well as ourselves! So, what’s the history of Bocas – and what’s in a name?

A brief history – Christopher Columbus

Bocas del Toro is a region of Panama, in the very north west of the country. For non-Spanish speakers, this name translates as ‘the Bull’s Mouth’, or ‘The Mouth of the Bull’. So, how did the province come by this name?

There doesn’t seem to be a definite answer but there are, rather, stories and speculation. Cristopher Columbus ‘discovered’ Bocas del Toro in 1502. I use quotation marks when I say ‘discovered’ as indigenous communities had been living in Bocas del Toro (as it is now known) for thousands of years before Columbus’s arrival. Columbus (re)named a number of the islands and the main bay: Bahía de Almirante (Admiral’s Bay), Isla Colón (Columbus Island), Isla Cristóbal (Christopher Island) and Isla Bastimentos (bastimentos meaning ‘supplies’ as Isla Bastimentos is where Columbus resupplied his ships). Read more about Bocas del Toro’s history on the Lonely Planet’s website.

Some say that Bocas del Toro was also named by Christopher Columbus. Some say the he named it after various waterfalls that had the shape of a bull’s mouth, some think he named it after a large rock formation on Bastimentos Island which has the form of a bull lying down, and others say it’s named after the sound of waves hitting the rock on Bastimentos Island – making a noise reminiscent of a raging bull!

However, others think the name comes from the Indian word ‘cacique’ which means Chief of the region – who was known as Boka Toro.

Indigenous community

There is little known – at least written or outside of the indigenous community of Bocas del Toro – about the original, indigenous names of the Bocas islands and other landmarks in the province. For any of you who follow us on Instagram, you will have recently seen that we posted about a gentleman called Mr Pineda. Mr Pineda is on a mission to shed light on the history of the indigenous community of Bocas del Toro, including the names of the islands and other sites in Bocas. If we get the opportunity, we would very much like to be a part of Mr Pineda’s journey to do this – and to learn more about Bocas del Toro before Columbus’s arrival!

Bocas del Toro visit

We’re heading to Bocas next week for our last recce ahead of the crowdfund for our project later this year. We will be posting live on Instagram and Twitter – and may be blogging daily!

Until then – can’t wait! Remember #liveslow. And – watch out for our next competition, starting next week, and see what you could win by just signing up to our mailing list this month!

Bocas chronicles – the young entrepreneur

Bocas chronicles – the young entrepreneur

From a very early age my mum made sure she taught me the value of work and independence. One of the ways for my mum to generate some extra money was to make tamales on the weekend. A tamal is a traditional Latin American dish made from a corn dough. So, you could say that my first ever job was to help my mum make and sell tamales.

Cooking tamales

To cook tamales the main thing you need is a banana leaf. This is what the tamal is cooked in. My first job on a Saturday morning was to take my machete – I was 13(!) – go to the forest (tropical) and cut down some banana leaves for the tamales. I remember watching the sloths in the surrounding trees while I was cutting the banana leaves. I would bring back the leaves to my mum, wash them, cut them down to size and get them ready for the corn filling.

My next job would be to grind the corn into a paste, manually. That was tough! My mum would do the rest. She would use a filling of either pork or chicken, which would have been cooked almost like a stew, along with egg, onion and olives. First she would put the corn dough / paste in the panama leaf, then place on top the chicken or pork, a few olives and egg, then fold up the banana leaf and tie the ‘parcel’ with string. She would then boil the parcel – for about half an hour to forty minutes. Then it’s done. Tamales!

The young entrepreneur

My mum would give me the list of the people who had placed orders. I would jump on my bicycle and go and deliver them. Without knowing it at the time, my mum was teaching me the meaning of entrepreneurship. I used to sell pattie for my Gran too –  as well as journey cake. But – well – that’s another story!

Until next time. Live slow!

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Bocas chronicles – memories of the Boy from Bocas

Bocas chronicles – memories of the Boy from Bocas

This little snippet is about me growing up in Bocas – and lets you in on a secret about what young Bocas school boys sometimes get up to on those hot island days!

I was bordering my teenage years – around 11 or 12 – and I remember one day at school a few of us decided to skip the last class and go for a swim down by the docks in Almirante. So the group of us left, still in our school uniform, got down to the docks and stripped down to our pants (underwear – for any American English speaker reading this!). This was what I can only describe as a complete care free, joyful moment – it was fun. We were jumping in the water, throwing each other in – simple bliss. All this until we saw our teacher walking down the road shouting our names. At this point we knew there was no point of running anywhere, we were caught, literally with our pants down!

The group of us went from complete happiness to complete terror of the consequences that were to come. All I could think was it was fun while it lasted. The worst part about it was still to come when the teacher said, ‘You wait until I tell your mum!’ The scolding was severe – but that blissful afternoon had been worth it.

Remembering moments like this is what makes me think that whatever you are doing make sure that you enjoy the journey, because life is too short.

Bocas boys will be Bocas boys

On our recent trip back to Bocas in March, I saw a similar group of school boys having the same kind of fun. Rather than the sea, they were swimming and jumping in the Rio Oeste river and balancing on (and falling off) a floating tree trunk. They hadn’t removed a single piece of their school uniform and were drenched. I hope they enjoyed it while it lasted … before the scolding …

Until the next one. #theslothlife

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Bocas chronicles – Meet Sergio

Bocas chronicles – Meet Sergio

I’m going to be writing a series of short blogs to introduce you to some of the Bocas people – for better or for worse. With b í k u, we want to give you a unique experience, a boutique experience. To us, and hopefully to you, that means meeting the Bocas beyond the beaches.

The people of Bocas is what makes the place so special. They create the vibrancy, the colour – and the craziness! Like any place, Bocas has its good, its bad and even its ugly! I want to share with you some of the local flavour – snippets of its everyday people. There is only so much that can be described with words – you’ll have to experience the rest when you come and stay in our b í k u treehouses.

In this first instalment I want to introduce you to Sergio. Like Cher and Prince, he needs no second name!

Meet Sergio

Sergio is in my opinion the essence of Bocas del Toro; he has a character like no other! I have known Sergio since forever, and can’t remember Bocas without him. As you can see from the main picture, like a true Bocas man, he knows how to stay out of the sun and not get burnt. The photo was taken on our recent March trip to Bocas when we went on a private Pepe Tour – I’d highly recommend it.

Sergio works for Pepe Tours, in Almirante – as a general boatman. The story of Sergio is one of ups and downs – like many people in Bocas – but he now has the opportunity to turn his life around in a positive way by working with Pepe and showing travellers his beautiful Bocas.

On our Pepe Tour – moored up on the beautiful Islas Zapatillas

Sergio – and people like Sergio – are one of the main reasons for us starting b í k u. I want to help empower people like Sergio as well as the young generation that are coming up, to show them that even though we may come from a small little town, on a tiny little speck of this world, we can still do big things and should not stop dreaming big.

We are not defined by our circumstance.

Until the next time – #slothlife

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3 ‘must tries’ when in Bocas

3 ‘must tries’ when in Bocas

Hi all, Ariel here. Today I want to share a part of the ‘real Bocas’ with you. These probably aren’t things you’ll hear from travel guides! Here are three things you must try when in Bocas. Heed this advice – it’s from a true ‘Bocas man’ – as we say.

 ONE – ‘dollar bag’

First things first, the famous ‘one-dollar bag’. This is actually now two dollars!! – inflation even reaches Bocas! Funnily enough, we still call it a one-dollar bag – or just ‘dollar bag’. This is Bocas’s version of a take away. It’s made up of fried chicken or fish and guess what else? … patacones! You can also have it with yucca, or as some of us may know it, cassava. I love this.

My mum getting our dollar bag in Almirante, Bocas del Toro. This is the best dollar bag around.

TWO – hot pepper sauce

Hot pepper sauce … Bocas style. This is not tabasco, it’s hot pepper sauce, Bocas style. This is on every table in every restaurant and in every household, used at every meal time. It’s Bocas’s equivalent of salt and pepper. As a matter of fact, you can skip the salt and pepper, but not the hot pepper sauce. And at $1.50 a bottle – it’s a bargain. Hot pepper sauce, love it!

THREE – agua de sapo

Now, this one is to wash down the dollar bag and the little bit of spice from the hot pepper sauce, it’s called ‘agua de sapo’. Translated this means ‘frog’s water’. Now I know it sounds gross, but stay with me. It’s called agua de sapo because it’s made from brown sugar mixed with lots of lime and water, so it has a misty, brown ‘dirty’ water look. But believe me, it’s the most refreshing, thirst quenching drink around!!! This might be a little bit trickier to find for the average tourist. But if you do find it, take a picture drinking it and post on Instagram with the hashtags #aguadesapo #bikutreehouse

Look out for a short video next week on our Instagram or Facebook, where I’ll tell you about patacones, and will try to do a video demo!

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