Bocas del Toro is an island off the coast of Panama. It's actually a series of islands. There are two ways to get there from Panama City. You can take a bus (11 hours) and a water Taxi, or you can fly. I chose to fly. It was more expensive than riding a bus, but I decided to indulge myself. I flew in on Thursday, November 20 on a 50 seat prop plane. It is a tiny airport on the island and you can walk into town. It was weird seeing people standing in the grass on the runway. It was raining, but I kind of expected it. All the information I'd read stated that Bocas has unpredictable rainy and dry seasons.
The town had a good vibe. It is not overly developed and still has a small-town feel to it. Friday was 80's power hour at a local bar. They had a tape of 100 music videos from the 80's, edited down to one minute each. Every time the video changed, everyone took a shot of beer. Kind of a shorted version of the century club. Everyone was loving the 80's songs and singing them word for word, even though only about 25% of the crowd looked like they were old enough to have gone to see Bon Jovi on the Slippery When Wet tour.
It rained, and rained, and rained. It did not stop raining for any noticeable length of time since I got there. By Saturday, phone lines and internet service to the mainland were down. The ATM was also not working. The locals were saying that this is the worst storm since at 1991. It's funny how when it rains really bad the locals always say it is really unusual and they haven't seen storms that bad in many years.
On Sunday I was supposed to fly back to Panama City. From Panama City, I was going to catch a bus to Colon and then another bus to Puerto Lindo, where I would meet my sailboat. I got to the airport, and found out that no flights had landed or left since Friday. At around 2:30 that afternoon, the announced that no flights were coming in. Be back tomorrow. I checked into a hostel that was closer to the airport. I found out later that night that the road connecting Bocas del Toro to the main road had been destroyed by flooding and landslides. A couple of German girls had taken the bus out and after about two hours, the bus stopped and the driver said they would either have to wade through chest high water or go back to Bocas. They went back to Bocas. The Costa Rican border to the north was closed as well due to the floods. So the only option for getting out of Bocas at that point was by airplane.
On Monday, I got to the airport at 7:00am and was informed that they would board passengers in the order of their original tickets. So the Saturday passengers would board first, then the Sunday passengers. One plane landed, gathered passengers, and took off. They checked the next group in and I got a boarding pass. At 3:30 they announced that no other planes would be coming in and to come back tomorrow at 6:00. I walked back to the hostel and checked back in. By now it was evident I would miss my sailboat. This was probably a good thing since I didn't pay a deposit and with the bad storms moving south, I would probably not want to be on a sailboat anyway.
I've been passing the time playing cards (and drinking games) with people at the hostel – mostly Canadians, Europeans, and Australians. People are taking it in stride. The grocery stores still seemed well stocked. However, people are starting to run out of cash. I was getting a little tired of drinking anyway. Also, I needed to conserve cash. I was down to about $50 and wasn't sure when I was getting off the island or when or if the ATM would come back on. Spending $3.25 on a 6 pack was getting hard to justify since I might have ended up needing that money for food. Word on the street was that the town was powered by a generator and they were expected to run out of fuel on Friday or Saturday.
On Tuesday, I got to the airport at 6:00. The crowd at the airport, a mixture of Europeans, Americans, Canadians, and Panamanians, was extraordinarily calm. No one got visibly upset. That is, except one time, a dog wandered into the airport and some old man proceeded to beat it with an umbrella trying to get it to leave. Other then that, people were very calm and understanding, but tired.
I checked in and got a boarding pass. At 12:30, the plane came in, we went through security and boarded the plane. I was finally going to get off the island. Although I kept thinking about Gilligan's Island and how every time they got off the island or thought they were getting off the island, something happened that brought them back. I finally landed in Panama City on Tuesday afternoon. I will travel from Panama City to Medellin, Colombia by plane on Thursday – Thanksgiving day. I'm really looking forward to leaving Panama.
Happy Thanksgiving. I'm thankful that it was not worse and hope for the best for the recovery effort and for the people who had it a whole lot worse than I did.