Tuesday, April 6, 2010


It’s not so much thought or planning that determines the things I do. More often than not, it’s conversation, followed by impulse. While this may sound like the thought process of a crazy person, I’ve gotten pretty good at trusting my instincts. I mean, I can hardly argue with the results –life is pretty sweet. This entry, recorded mostly for posterity, should serve as the record for the origins of a future expedition.

“Jeff started dating a crazy Spanish lady who almost broke his knees,” Ben said.

A pack of illiterate Moroccans bayed obscenities at one another from the street below my window. Jeff and Ben’s travel packs sat conspicuously below the shutters. They’d arrived from Madrid and Paris, respectively, earlier that afternoon.

“Spanish chicks are awesome,” I said.

“No, like, we-almost-had-to-move-when-Jeff-broke-up-with-her crazy,” Ben clarified.

Jeff nodded and began to expound. “It’s hard enough to run your own business anywhere in the world.” He paused and gathered his thoughts. “Imagine the hurtles a single Western woman would face running a dive shop in Central America.”

I nodded in appreciation.

“Well, in the absence of a clear system for resolving commercial or personal disputes – typically called a ‘legal system’ in countries like ours – business owners are left to explore other avenues of conflict resolution. ...How do I explain this?” He asked himself.

Ben: “There was a phrase we heard once in a while when we lived there. If someone were to say, ‘I called a guy from Almirante’, it meant that they were having a problem. Almirante is on the mainland, so the person they called would be outside of the locus of reprisal of the island community. They would come to the island and solve the problem.”

“Usually by stabbing or knee-breaking,” Jeff said.

“Right. Like this coke dealer we knew...” Ben reached backward over his head and tapped somewhere near the top of his spine. “...right between the shoulder blades.”

“Fuck,” I said. “Like a hit? How do you know that wasn’t a regular drug-related shanking?”

“Oh, it was almost certainly drug-related. But it was also definitely contracted. Everyone on the island knows each other.”

“So if a strange Panamanian shows up and stabs a guy and then leaves, it was likely the whole purpose of his visit.”

“That makes sense. So what did you do to the Spanish lady?”

“Well, previously she paid $40 to have a guy’s knees broken. He was harassing her customers and trying to extort money off her to stop – generally being a dickhead and making her life miserable.”

“So she called a guy from the mainland?”


“What makes it even better is that this story didn’t really come out until Jeff was in the process of dumping her.”

“’You can never leave me.’ ‘We are together now.’ ‘You have no idea how much you’ll regret this.’” Jeff mimicked.

“Fuck,” I said again.

“Boca del Toro is nuts. Wild West meets Spring Break.”

“Does it get many tourists aside from guys like you?”

“Almost no Americans (of course) outside the sailing community, but definitely a fair handful of Europeans, Aussies and Israelis. It’s kind of situated at the end of the Central American circuit. And it really is beautiful. Crystal blue water, warm all the time. I bet the numbers only go up over the next few years.”

Jeff: “When we were there, a boat full of Argentine college girls pulled in and just dropped them for a week. Argentine girls all over the place – just laying out on the docks like caught fish.”

“Overall though, way fewer tourists than you’d expect. I lost count of our beach trip days where we were the only people on this 6-mile stretch of pristine sand.”

“I told you we were only going to be there for a week and a half, right? We met this bartender the first night who told us to be careful because ‘Boca will suck you in’”.

Ben laughed as he recalled the line. “Yeah,” he interjected, “We burned our return tickets the next day and lived there for two months.”

“We saw this apartment listed the 2nd day we were there... $300 a month, 2 beds, internet... and waterfront. With its own boat dock. What the fuck kind of $300 apartment is waterfront in a tropical paradise with its own boat dock?”

“It was stupid.” Agreed Ben.

“So we lived there. We just couldn’t come up with any reason not to.”

“Also, the one we took was $300 because we’re ballers, but you can go as low as 75. And those are just a few streets back from the beach. Little shacks with coconut trees and hammocks in the front yard.”

“I’m going.” I said. I was serious (and still am). I’d already partially tuned out, balancing logistics in my mind while they went on digging the hole I was wandering down.

“Two of the top-25 party hostels in the world are reachable by water taxi from our dock,” Ben dug.

“I drank rum from coconuts,” Jeff added.

“Done,” I said. “Seriously, I’m setting up fare alerts tomorrow. Where do you fly into?”

“Panama City. No direct flights that I know of to the islands, but the little Cesna shuttles out to them are cheap.”

“So done.”

“Keep me posted on that, man – I might go back down there with you. Still have a lot of friends down there.”

“I wonder how Edwardo is doing,” Ben said.

“Which one is that?”

“Our coke dealer friend.”

“The dude that got stabbed in the spine?”

“Well, it missed the spine. He’s good now, I think.” Ben said.

“That’s good.”

“Edwardo was kind of a dick.”

“Did you guys see much else of Central America while you were there?”

“Not as much as we’d have liked. Guatemala, Nicaragua – that’s why I want to go back.”

“I want to sail to Cartegena,” Jeff said.

My interest level shot up again. “Sail to Cartegena?” I gesticulated a sort of map with both my hands and pointed toward the bottom of it. “That’s in the Northern bit of Columbia, right?”

“Yep. The whole region is a huge hotspot for the ritzy sailing crowd. You either catch or pay for a ride down there with one of them. Or I guess there are a few commercial outfits that do it too.”

“How long does it take?”

“Five days if it’s done right – island hopping all the way down.”

“That sounds awesome.”

“And once you get there, I got the number of this hostel that organizes these five-day treks into the jungle where you can explore a lost city. Pre-dates Machu Pichu by 600 years, and no tourists.”

“Are you just making this up now?”

“No man. And if you pay the guy $6 extra, you can visit a cocaine processing plant.”


“Yep. The guy who gave me the phone number has a picture of Facebook of him just laying in a big pile of coca leaves.”

“Ugh – goddamn it. Why am I not doing all those things right now?”

“You have a job,” Jeff accentuated the word job with about three times its weight in scorn. Both he and Ben laughed at me.


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