Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Review: Alvins, Bastimentos Island, Bocas del Tor, Panama

After a couple of days relaxing in Cahuita, Costa Rica, we heard that there was a group of islands further south on the carribean coast just over the border into Panama where you could relax in tropical paradise.  We saw a few pictures in a magazine whilst having breakfast one morning and decided we would leave the next day!

The journey over the border is an interesting one.  You must first stamp out of Costa Rica and then walk across a ‘bridge’ to the Panama side.  I was so excited to get to Panama that I didn’t at first notice the state the bridge was in….the gaps between the slats became larger and larger, with the odd missing plank here and there!  This didn’t seem to phase the ‘local’ looking people crossing for what looked like the millionth time, they casually strolled and biked across, like it was perfectly safe and stable.  You’ll be happy to hear that we made it to the other side with all our belongings, limbs and shoes!  The next challenge was that we had to prove we were leaving Panama before they would stamp us in…so we all purchased return bus tickets to Costa Rica for later in the week.  (luckily for us we were actually heading back to Costa Rica, but for many this is a wasted purchase and something to bear in mind if you are going to be making this crossing).

On the other side we negotiated two small mini vans to take us to the dock where the boats leave for the islands.  The drive was beautiful, through mountains and lush green forests.  At the boat terminal the drivers waited eagerly to pounce on us.  They also did the classic price game – agreed a price per person, and once we and our luggage were on board the boat said the price was only for the people and not for the bags so we needed to pay a dollar more each!  Finally we were on our way.  The boat ride was longer than suspected and initially we sped past houses built over the water where we waved at children playing.

We headed for Bastimentos Island – one of the ‘quieter’ less touristy islands as we had heard that Bocas itself was fairly chaotic and just covered in bars and touts trying to sell you everything you could imagine.  This was definitely a good decision; we pulled into a jetty with a small wooden hotel where we first met the ‘Jaguar’.  Totally Caribbean friendly guy who had enough rooms there and next door for the 13 of us!  It seemed too good to be true!  A couple of us checked the rooms and negotiated the price but we were very happy to be there.  Through some of the floor boards you could see water and the hammocks and beach loungers at the end of the pier allowed you to relax and take in the stunning scenery.

We were really hungry when we arrived so took a wonder down the path.  A local passed us by and asked if we were hungry – sure, we said, a little suspicious as always!  But he said he had a restaurant that was very good and so we thought why not!  We followed him down a path and through the back of a wooden house we never would have noticed out onto a beautiful small veranda…we couldn’t have picked a better spot if we’d have tried.

Admittedly we did have to wait quite a while for our food, but we didn’t mind as the sun was shining, the views amazing and the balboa beers cool.  It was definitely worth the wait however and it encouraged us to revisit the restaurant a few more times during our stay.

A popular choice was the popcorn chicken or fish.  The chicken was so popular that gradually every time we visited the restaurant the options available became less and less!  Another good choice was the carribean fish – different to that I had eaten in Cahuita – more tomato based, but also very tasty.  She also made very tasty batida’s – these become more and more important to you the more you travel and drink good ones!  Banana is my favourite!  The only criticism of this restaurant would be that they did get confused over orders for a lot of people and you might not always get what you asked for!

If you have the chance to visit Bastimentos Island then definitely don’t miss a meal at Alvins.


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