Bocas Del Toro

We flew from Santiago to Bogata, Columbia and then to San Jose. From what

we can find out the damage from the earthquake a few weeks agp

at Santiago was at the airport. The airport is a mess with a lot of the

parking damaged and the main building is closed and they are operating out

of tents and other building that were not damage so badly they can not be

used. Bogota is an interesting airport in that things are outrageously

priced and they do the check in from the hall into the rooms quite often

so we ended up sitting on the floor in the hall until the flight ahead of

us left. They searched everyones bag. That all took so much time they

just let us board with no checks other than the check in out in the hall.

They definitely need to work on this. We got a good look of Columnbia

from the air. North of Bogata it turns to mountains and jungle and is

really green. We could see no towns so it seems thinly populated in this

area but of course most places in Columbia have lots of people. It is

quite safe now in most parts of Columbia. We met two girls from Canada

who had just finished traveling by bus and airplane all over Columbia.

We we got to San Jose our one check bag did not show up. People in Costa

Rica are not very service orientated and really don't take things very

seriously. You can ask for coffee and they say they are busy and ask

later or they are busy and will come later but they never come. There


no one from Avianca at the baggage claim area. Someone from another

airline was kind enough to call and said it would be 15 minutes. It was

more like 30 minutes. Edith went outside as we had a ride waiting from

Melrost B&B. That was a hassle with the customs but we solved that by

filling out two forms where normally it just takes one. Eventually they guy

showed up and called to be sure the bag was not somewhere else and

confirmed it did not show up. I filled out the form and of course they want

to know what is in it which you just don't remember exactly. They needed

an address. I had it in the bag which was outside with Edith so that is

a lesson to keep the place you are going to stay and phone number on you.

Anyway I said I would have to go out to get it and once I

did I could not get back in. He did not want to take the time to go out

with me. I went out and found Edith and the ride from Melrost who had

now been waiting 45 minutes and apologized to them. The Avianca rep

said he would be upstairs in there office. I had a hard time getting into

the entrance as I had no luggage and worse yet no ticket but talked my way

in and found the office upstairs. Well he was goine and they did not

have my form which I had to have as they had taken my claim tag. They

made a copy of the address and phone number where we would be for one

night and then we were leaving for Bocas. They said he was downstairs at

the entrance but I went down and he was not to be found so I went back to

the office and by now I was getting frustrated! They sent someone with me

and she got us back into the secure bag claim area but with a good deal of

difficulty and I had to show my passport several times. We finally found

him and I got the form and they wanted to send it to Bocas if it did not

show up before we left. We said no as we could just see it getting lost

again if it was found. I told the fellow he should keep his word and be

at the office or at least leave the form as it is very

difficult to move around in an airport with all the security.

Fortunately for us we were coming back to the Melrost B&B after Bocas for

a couple of days so they can just deliver it there or keep it at the airport

if they won 't do that.

Bocas Del Toro is a group of islands off the coast of Panama in the

Caribbean. They are just southeast of Costa Rica. We took a bus from

San Jose but a road had a mudslide so it took much, much longer than

expected and when we got to Sixaola on the border it was closed so we had

to stay in a hotel that less than 1 star. This area of Costa Rico on the

Atlantic coast south of Limon is very tropical and is the most jungle

we have seen anyway. There are a huge number of banana's produced here as

well as lots of fruits and vegetables as well as monkeys and sloths.

The roads are full of potholes and most of the people are black but speak


You check out of Costa Rica and cross a run down bridge on foot and find

you can not check into Panama without a ticket back out. This regulation

is in some other countries and is a hold over from before computerization

where people went to a country and never left and because there really

was no way to identify them they often could stay permanently. Anyway we

had to buy a ticket back out. There just happens to be a ticket office

to do this just a few feet away.

These borders always have "TOUTS" that say they are helping for free or

working for someone but eventually they want a big tip!!! They will tell

you whatever you want to hear so don't count on it being accurate.

They wanted $30 to get a shuttle to the boat to Changuinola but ended up

getting a taxi for $25 which was not so bad as it is a long ways. He got

us to the water taxi in Almirante to Bocas Del Toro which costs $4.00

each. It is about a 20 minute ride.

The main town is on the island of Colon which is called Bocas Town. At

Bocas town we ask for directions for Hotel Angela which was recommended

by Louis and Yadi we know and visited last year at Boquete, Panama as

they used to run a tourist business in Bocas Town. Interest a fellow is

talking to us who says he works for Hotel Angela and he will walk us there

as people have trouble finding it. Well on the way we find he also does

tours. Of course we get to the hotel and then he wants a tip!!! These

"TOUTS" are really slick!!! He lied about working for the hotel just like

the guy at the border lied that he worked for the water taxi.

At the hotel Claudio the owner was gone but the receptionist knew about

the e-mail he had sent us. She gave us the Senior discount which is 50%

so instead of $70 a night it was $35. We met a nice couple here from the

US who had retired and sailed the Caribbean and have settled down here

and lease and run the cafe here. They have great food! It was not cheap

but nothing in restaurants are cheap in Bocas. However there is a bakery

called Johns where you can get chicken or hambergers, fries and a drink

for less than $5.00. The other option is to buy some things at the

grocery store so there is usually a way out if you are getting out of


We took a boat tour to the north end of the island to Bird Island and

Bocas Del Draco which is scenic and to Starfish Bay where we seen lots of

Starfish. We were not able to swim or snorkel because our swimming suits

and sunscreen were in our lost bag. It was not worth all the money to buy

as sunscreen cost $15.00 here. The snorkeling in our opinion was not that

good for coral reefs or fish here. The good snorkeling and places to see

fish at the same time in the world is the Great Barrier Reef of eastern

Australia, Belize Reef of of Mexico and Belize east coast, Andian Reef

near San BLas and Provincia Island in the Caribbean, Ningaloo Reef of the

NW coast of Austrailia and Pawalan Reef in the Phillipines to name some.

We took another tour and seen dolphins and some nice beaches. It is

hotter here than we liked but the air conditioning in our room was good

and on boat trips they had a canopy and there was generally a sea breeze

when we were not moving. Micheal the chef and his wife Babette were

wonderful! They close about 10 am and opened again at 4 pm but during

those times we could be in the cafe and relax and enjoy the sea breeze,

bring our own banana's or pineapple and use there stuff to cut them up and

wash things up afterwards. We toured a Botantical Garden called Finca Los

Mones and the Smithsonian Station on the Island. Finca Los Mones is

private and is run by a couple. She was from England and he

is from Australia. They traveled the world and settled down here in 1998

and started these gardens with plants from all over the world. They give

tours twice a week and for $10 each the two hour tours is just the

greatest. They also have lots of monkeys and some Sloths. You can do a

search for Finca Los Monos and learn more about it. There are also

some pictures on the web site www.

We spent 4 lazy days in Bocas Del Toro. We had sea food all the time

which made it much more expensive but it was good. The trip back was

again a hassle at the border with long lines and we had to show we had a

ticket out of Costa Rica. When we got back to Melrost B&B they had our

bag and they had got our Chile money changed to Costa Rica money which was

no small feat. There seems to be only one bank in San Jose that will do

it. We did not change the money in Santiago because the fellow at the

hotel said we would get a much better rate at the airport but we found the

airport all tore up from the earthquake and we could not find a money

place that early in the morning. Based on our experience last year of

having a lot of Costa Riva money left when we got home we

found it is nearly impossible to exchange in the USA other than one

airport place will do it but they have an outrageous 25% fee.

So as we wind this trip down what new things have we learned about

traveling. Most robberies are opportunity ones and these people are very,

very good. They distract you and make noise and someone else takes your

stuff. There usually are more than one. Often someone you would not

expect are part of the team such as a bus driver, taxi driver, tour

operator, you child with a mother, etc. etc. We heard two first hand

stories of someone making noise and distracting a driver while another

opened a back door and took everything out of the back seat. Another was

sitting on the hood of a car with things in it and a group were diving and

making lots of noise and getting his attension while someone pried a

window open and got the car door open. Remember his job was to watch the

car. Another lady said she did not notice that her bag in the over head

rack was being moved toward the back of the bus. This bus had a back door

and a guy grabbed the bag and ran out the back door and dissappeared into

the crowd. We were at a bus counter at Arica, Chil

filling out our Peru immigration forms with our three bags by us and

someone came up along side 0f us like they were waiting to be helps which

must of sheilded the outside red bag enough that another person was able

to pick it up and walk away with it. The point is to hang on to your

stuff and not be distracted You could run into this sort of thing on a

cruise or a tour bus on a cruise, tour buses where and how ever you travel

or with a rental car. Of course having a vehicle broken into in the USA

is a common thing. Keeping things covered or in the trunk helps.

Another potential place are hotels, motels, sports and other events,

shopping, etc.

One solution that really helps is you can get a back pack or fanny pack

that has wire mesh in it so it can not be cut. It has a cable on it with


combination lock. You can put the cable around something that is solid

like a bus rack, pipe in a hotel room, major piece of iron on your car

seat or in your trunk. Most of the time there are looking at a very quick


It could happen in an airport but of course all the securty makes it less

likely to happen. The bottom line is that this sort of thing does not

happen that much in the USA except for some areas in big towns. It also

does not happen a lot in Europe, Australia or New Zealand our southern

chile and Argentina. It seems to happen a lot, lot more in the rest of

the world. As Americans or Europeans our white complexion and especially

our speech makes us stand out and usually when you add it up we have quite

a bit of valuables. Before I forget often guides for tour operator work

with 0thers. One would think cleaning people in hotels would be a problem

but we have not heard off any. However an in room safe is great for

things. We always carry our passports, money and have our photos backed

up on a flash drive and carry it with us on a body pouch. However

somethings need to be used and more handy. The best would be the special

wire mesh with cable fanny pack or document holder that can

not be jerked off you. A zipper pocket with a velcro flap is not bad.

Obviously be aware of your surrounding and be with other people as there

is strength in numbers and daylight. By numbers I don't mean large crowds

or crowded places as that is where pick pockets work. Here you can shield

each other so people have a harder time getting close to you. Obviously

try your best to not show you have money or valuables.

Why do I say all this because most of us in the USA are pretty nieve when

it comes to this sort of thing. So remember snach and run, distraction

which can be part of the above, giving oportunity, break ins be it a

hotel or vehicle and pick pockets. The truth is unless you are in a

terrible part of town or a very lonely place it almost never happens.

Also ask the tourist information places, the place your are staying and

locals. We have had several instances of locals going out of there way to

tell us to be sure and watch our stuff or don't go there!!!

We could tell you lots and lots about bus travel but most of you don't do

that so we will skip that. One thing even if you have a rental car you

should have the address and telephone number where you are staying. It

can help you get directions back, or get a taxi back or give the proper

information if your bags are lost.

We have found ATM's are the best way to get money as banks charge about

the same when it is all said and done. One problem with either is the fee

is about the same for a small or large amount so we always try for]the

biggest amount but remember the goal is to leave the country with

none of there money and this is not an easy thing to do. Be sure you know

the exchange rate. For example in Costa Rica it takes about 528 colones

for $1.00 so to get $300 worth of Colones 158,400 colonies. It can make

you a little nervious punching in 158,000 on the ATM key pad so

you need to be sure of what you are doing. If possible use an ATM

that does not take the card internally.