Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The wonders of Bocas del Toro...not just another tropical vacation spot

While some people crave a week, just laying on a white sandy beach, others want their tropical paradise with a little action too! Bocas del Toro has the best of both worlds. Last weekend our friends were visiting and on the last day were saying how three days were just not enough! When we asked why they had booked for such a short time, they said they didn't want to just 'lie' on a beach for a week... well when they heard what all they'd missed because we didn't have time for everything, they were surely sorry! While the backpackers are starting to discover the wonders of Bocas, the rest of the world is just slowly starting to catch on. From white sandy beaches to racing a quad bike through the jungle, Bocas has a little for everyone!!

So, before you book your trip to the same old tropical 'hot spot', take a look at some of these fantastic hidden gems!

Quad Biking
Want a little adrenaline rush this tropical vacation? You've come to the right place! Rent a quad from Flying Pirates and cruise through acres of private jungle land, blast through mud pits, swim in blue lagoon, and even take a little hike to a private beach. We happen to have also seen a sloth when we went so keep your eyes open!

Chocolate Tours
Ok chocolate lovers, get ready to go to heaven!! There are lots of choices for this one!
Up in the Hill - if you don't want to really travel, take a quick water taxi ride to Old Bank on Bastimentos and talk about a 20 minute walk up the hill. Here they have an organic cocao farm to tour and some fantastic brownies for after too.

I have not had the yummy pleasure of being on other tours, but know they are worth noting:
Green Acres Chocolate Farm -
Oreba Chocolate Tour -
Cacao Plantation Tour -

Red Frog Beach
While the water can be quite rough with riptides, the beach is pristine white sand, little huts for shade, and a couple places for your tropical drinks. What more could a beach bum want?!
Bluff Beach

Playa Estralla
Starfish beach or Playa Estralla as known here, is the best place for a relaxing afternoon, hanging out in the water with a rum coconut in your hand. Little shacks line the beach with various fish and patacones dishes for sale and some will even set up at the edge of the water for you! Today sadly, there are only a few actual starfish left at this beach because of the boats and tourists, but it is still worth a trip. To see fish and other sea life, see my Blue Coconut section!

Cruising the waters and islands
Whether you rent a private panga with some friends or charter one of the local catamarans, I highly suggest spending a day out on the waters, being immersed in the peace and tranquility of the islands. It truly is breathtaking to see, and this is what makes Bocas such a special place!

It's definitely worth a quick trip out here! They are two uninhabited islands off the tip of Isla Bastimentos with white sand beaches, fantastic snorkeling and some trails to hike.

The Blue Coconut

A quick water taxi from town and definitely worth a visit! The restaurant is built out over the water off a mangrove island. They feed the fish and ensure that their waters stay safe and clean for optimal snorkling, and just to plain and simply help the ecosystem. Off to the side there is also a coral reef to snorkel around, paddle boards can be rented by the hour, and there is even an over the water cabin that can be rented nightly!

Sunset from the Blue Coconut and one of their dogs Molly!

Staying outside of Bocas Town
This is a must!!! Many people will get caught up with the comfort and convenience of town, but be assured, you haven't really experience Bocas until you get out into the other islands. To paint you an idea... I'm sitting here writing this blog, listening to parrots fly by, a slight breeze and looking out on to the tranquil waters. You will never find a better office and it's a great place to hold up in a hammock and read that book that you've been wanting to for months! You may even get to experience a bad at a local pool party or a sloth posting up for the afternoon on the deck for some sun!!
You never know what you may see and experience...this is where the real fun happens!!!


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Our transition to the expat lifestyle

Having been back in California now, even for just a few short days, you realize the pros and cons of living abroad. For six months we've been traveling the world and during the seventh month we started to experience what the expat lifestyle is all about. Some people may think this way of life to be out of the question, while others may be searching for that new job to take them abroad.
The hopes for this blog are to give people an idea of the pros and cons we have come across so far in our ventures.

Having traveled for the past six months we were very used to living on a budget and with very little 'stuff'. This greatly helped us adapt to our new 'island way of living'. Bocas del Toro is a great spot for vacationing and living, but the standards are much different than in places such as Los Angeles or New York City.
The first thing to get used to is always being sweaty and slightly dirty. There is very little city water and the rest is collected from the rain. Having long hot showers or multiple showers a day is simply not acceptable here. If you are going to move to any island or even country that has a water system such as this, keep that in mind. The next aspect is attire. You can look nice, but having the latest designer fashion is pretty much laughed at and you may not get it back from the laundromat anyway! The basic essentials are all you need. It is quite acceptable to show up for a business meeting in shorts and a tee-shirt or simple sundress. For those in major cities, the attire may be different. Just be sure to read ahead on what's acceptable and what's not.
From a business standpoint one of the major no-nos we've discovered is that you don't go into town trying to 'change' the way business or life is 'done'. Take your time, learn the ways of the culture, and establish how you can make improvements for your own business.  After spending a month in Bocas, one thing we discovered is that people really appreciate if you take the time to understand why things are done in certain ways. You may be at the top of your industry in the States, Europe, or Canada, but if you don't take the time to understand your new surroundings there could be a great deal of resistance from the local community. 
Some of the best advice we can give is to take a little time and talk to the locals! They are the individuals who could become your best friends or worst enemies. 
Good luck!

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Sloths *The most adorable creature on the planet!*

I decided to write this blog because over the past year I have fallen in love with these little creatures and wanted to become more informed. Lately, sloths have gotten a bad rap in movies and on t-shirts, so wanted others to become more informed as well!

There are two main types of sloths, the three-toed, as seen in the above photo, and the two-toed sloth. The three-toed sloths are smaller with the pygmy sloth being the smallest. The two-toed sloths are larger, tend to have slightly fluffier fur, and longer noses.

The claws! One of the greatest assets for a sloth are their claws. They don't only look super cool, but they are what help them cling onto branches and are their main defense mechanism. I once heard a story that a sloth became agitated over a wild dog barking so slit its' throat. It's sad, but it also shows how careful you need to be around them!

Hanging on tight!
In Columbia we had the wonderful experience of being able to hang out with a baby sloth. While we had a blast, we did learn you have to be careful with the adult sloths. If they have not been raised around human contact, being held can raise their heartbeat, which can become harmful for their health. Some are also much feistier than others so be aware! In the above picture, because the three sloths were raised around humans, they were very comfortable being held.  

In the above picture to the left is the baby Colombian sloth climbing back up to his perch in the trees. He was originally found in a papaya tree by the owner who was getting the fruit for our morning snack. The sloth on the right is a little guy from Costa Rica who put a on a show for us by climbing down the mangroves to take an afternoon drink! You will often see sloths closer to the water as they are better swimmers (the breaststroke I've read:-) than walkers due to their front arms being stronger than their back thighs. On land their long claws also give them difficulty, making them very slow and leaving them much more vulnerable to attack by other predators. 

From the picture on the above right you can also notice the hints of green in the fur. This is algae that grows on them due to their slow nature.  As they live in the high branches of trees for most of their life, it actually acts as an extra element of camouflage to protect against preying vultures and predators. 

Above are two little babies, the one from Colombia and the other we saw in Bocas del Toro behind the Smithsonian's fence. They are both probably a little older than six months old which is when the mother will start to leave them. A mother can only give birth to one sloth and the pregnancy is usually between 5-6 months for the three-toed sloth and as long as 11.5 for the larger two-toed sloths. While I couldn't see for sure, I believe the sloth on the right was a two toed-sloth. The fur is a little fluffier and the nose a little longer. 

To wrap things up, a few fun facts about these funny little creatures!

- sloths only have 25% muscle in their bodies so they are unable to shiver
- they can climb at the rate of about 6-8 feet per minute
- their stomach consists of four compartments and it can take up to a month to digest one leafy meal
- both mating and giving birth happens in the trees
- sloths only sleep about nine hours a day 
- they are not social creatures 
- according to the San Diego Zoo one species of sloth could initially grow up to the size of an elephant but they became extinct about 10,000 years ago

*All photographs were personally taken in Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica*

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Thursday, February 11, 2016


As I recently had my first snake encounter here in Bocas, I thought it fitting to learn more about these reptiles and inform the average tourist. My first sighting was a baby Boa who was taking a nap, wrapped around some empty Panama Beer bottles. One of the workers who knew how to handle the boa was able to pinch it below the head where it simply coiled itself around his wrist like a bracelet. Not my idea of the latest fashion trend, but…! That did get me thinking that I should be a little more informed and be able to identify some of the main snakes here on the islands.
Before I go into each snake, here are a few basic tips. Here in Bocas most bites occur in the months of September and October during the height of rainy season. Snakes are also nocturnal reptiles so you have a greater chance of spotting one in the evening or night time hours and beware of the babies because their venom is actually much more lethal than the adults. With this said, it's still more likely that someone working in the overgrown fields or dense jungle areas will get bit opposed to your average trail walker. Snakes tend not to like the shorter grassy areas and are much easier to spot in the cleared jungle areas.
The Boa Constrictor

  • Not a poisonous snake!
  • Mature female adults can grow up to twelve feet long
  • They are brown, grey, or cream colored with reddish- brown patches
  • Found in hollowed out logs or abandoned animal burrows
  • They are excellent swimmers so don't rule out surrounding water areas
The Bushmaster

  • One of the most dangerous snakes in the area
  • Classified as a pit viper
  • This aspect of the snakes is what they use to smell their prey
  • They will stay coiled in one spot for several days waiting for their prey
  • Will coil near fallen limbs, the butt of trees, or even trails
  • Can grow up to twelve feet long
  • Can survive on fewer than ten large meals per year
  • Venom is poisonous!
The Fer de Lance
  • Member of the pit viper family
  • An aggressive reptile
  • They will attack anything that is warm blooded
  • Will lie in wait for its prey
  • They have a crossing pattern on their back
  • Can grow to approximately six feet long
  • Prey includes frogs, rodents, and lizards
  • Many bites happen from people stepping on them
The Eyelash Viper
  • Member of the pit viper family
  • Poisonous venom
  • Fairly docile in nature
  • To identify, look for scales that almost look like eyelashes over the eyes
  • Tend to be green, red, and white or bright yellow
  • Usually only two to three feet in length
  • Will usually be a couple meters off the ground in the vegetation or mossy, leafy areas

The Coral Snake

  • Highly poisonous
  • Simply leave it alone!
  • Usually feed on other species of snakes
  • They have rings of black, red, and yellow along their bodies
  • Approximately two feet long
**A couple more!**
The Cat Eyed Snake
  • Mildly dangerous due to slight poisonous nature of its' venom
  • Pupils are vertically slit (like a cat which gives them their name)
  • They are usually two to three feet long
  • Brown or yellow in color with brownish/black spots that go along the back

The Tiger Rat Snake

  • Mainly seen near rivers or agricultural areas
  • Can grow over seven feet long
  • Prey on birds, small mammals, reptiles, and frogs
  • They swallow their prey alive
  • Can be very fast and aggressive
  • Yellow/orange in color with slight black in patterning
  • They can rattle their tails and flair their necks to look twice their normal size
  • Their venom is not poisonous to humans
While there are many other species and sub-species throughout Bocas and the rest of Panama, these seemed to be the main reptiles to speak of. When doing any sort of jungle trekking please go with a trained guide who knows what they’re looking for and in the worst case scenario, who will know where to go if you are bitten. Also, ask your guide before heading out what type of attire should be worn. When we went trekking in the high jungle in the Amazon of Colombia we were in knee high boots, long pants, and a long sleeve shirt. While this attire may not be the most comfortable in a hot and humid climate, it may save your life!
Happy trailing and be careful!!
In the comment section below I'd love to hear other people’s snake experiences in the Bocas islands and any other additional information that may be helpful!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Traveling Bocas

Having been a tourist and a business person in Bocas I thought I would take the time to inform the average tourist what to expect. Just recently Bocas was deemed one of the top tourist destinations for 2016. With that said, you are still looking at a 2nd/3rd world country, so you can't expect all the luxuries of home in every establishment. In this blog I will try to touch upon the basics for food & beverage, accommodations, and transportation for the budget and mid range traveler.

The local eateries. At these places you can find a full meal for between $3-$5 and pretty cheap coffee and tea. These meals are heavy on the rice, but the flavor is pretty decent and it will certainly fill you up! There are some other 'street' style places to eat that usually open a little later in the evening for dinner and are pretty decent, but again not too healthy for you. Then you get into the restaurants and bars. These places will start around $6 but usually aren't more than $18 for an entree unless you're sharing a large seafood platter. Food quality certainly varies so ask around to some of the local expats about where they think the 'good stuff' is!

Beverage is a little more to the point; $1-$2 for a local beer, usually $3-$5 for a glass of wine and anywhere from $3.50-$8 for a cocktail. There are some places with slightly more innovative mixed cocktails, plenty of tropical tiki style drinks and of course a plethora of the national beers.

Accommodations... now things get interesting! Know your budget and do some research online ahead of time. Hostels will range from about $25-$35 a night for a private, dorms are, of course, cheaper, Some lower range hotels will be $30-$45 a night depending on the season, but the rooms will include the bare minimum and you will probably see the occasional cockroach! For all the above options you may have hot water or you may not and sometimes the establishment will only turn it on during certain hours. This is something to remember because you are on an island and the city water is minimal. Almost all establishments also catch their own rain water but if it hasn't rained in several days this can become a problem for the entire city. Please also note that even at the more expensive establishments this can become a problem, though most have figured out ways to deal. PLEASE, don't waste water! For the mid-range traveler there are lots of options between the $65-$105 price range and not only on Isla Colon. You may even want to spend a few nights on various islands to get a real feel for the Bocas nature. These establishments will get you the basics but with a nicer room, usually breakfast, and depending where you are, hopefully an ocean view!

This doesn't completely relate to accommodations but I did just want to note about the waterfront. The Bocas islands do not have many of your pristine white sand beaches with tranquil waterfronts. Most beaches are great for sunbathing but have mean riptides in the surf so be sure to read the signs!! There are certainly some restaurants and cabins that have the calmer water around them and are great for snorkeling and paddle boarding!

And finally, for transportation... how does one get to these marvelous islands?? The fastest way is to fly from either Panama City or San Jose, Costa Rica. Neither of these flights will run you over $200 for a round trip and run multiple times a day. The second way is by bus. From Panama City there is a 12 hour overnight bus that really isn't too bad. It's WELL air-conditioned so have plenty of layers on, but other than that, there is decent leg room and a bathroom on board. With this option you get dropped in Almirante where it's a quick $1 taxi ride to the boat taxis. There are a few different boat taxi stations that run to Bocas and they're all decent. Taxi 25 I'd say is one of the most efficient and have better boats than the others but.... The price is $4-6 though we've not seen the $4 one yet!

Bocas is beautiful and rustic! It has not yet been taken over by large resorts and still has a quaint feel to the atmosphere. My husband and I love living here and we hope you will enjoy your time here too!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A new restaurant epidemic

Being back in LA for the past month and a half in a hip LA restaurant not only has me yearning to get back to traveling and being abroad, but has lead to a realization; people have lost all respect for the 'dining experience', not to mention one another! It is on a regular basis that food goes cold table side because all parties involved are on their phones, not eating, not talking. From my personal experience when I go out to dine and am spending a pretty penny on what I'm eating I want to thoroughly enjoy the food and the company I'm with.
In the future I see this as a real challenge for restaurants, not only in having people properly enjoy the food and beverages but in table turn times because minutes are being added in every step of the process, from taking pictures of the food to messaging their entire family half way through the first dish!
The other aspect of this epidemic is that there is now apparently a new dining utensil that needs its' place at the table. Large cell phones! Restaurants do everything they can to keep things neat and tidy at the table but today people just move their share plates and  silverware so that they can lean on the tables and have their phone right next to their hand at all times! What happened to general tableside etiquette? 

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Restaurant etiquette

I'm a writing this blog today because of a particular incident that happened last night at the restaurant where I am working for the next month. The experience really made me realize how important it is to teach your children manners and restaurant etiquette.
This gentleman was rude, condescending, and demanded personalized attention from both myself and the manager for a better part of his meal. It was not due to the food or beverages being poorly timed or poorly executed, but simply because he wanted to see what we would do for him that was out of the norm. Even this I can take. Between myself and the manager, his every need was met and drinks and dishes were prepared from off the menu. And he 'loved' everything! Now what was so disheartening was the fact that he then proceded to tip a mere 5%. In a culture where 20% is the norm and more if the server goes above and beyond. 
While of course I was disappointed, that didn't bother me as much as when I thought about the poor girl he was dinning with. She couldn't ask a question without his prior approval and she seemed legitimately uncomfortable the entire evening. 
I do hope one of these days an individual is able to educate this man on how to properly dine in public.

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