Hidden Treasures: A Pepsi in Panama

Joel Carillet's picture

At the geographical bottom of Central America is Panama, and at the top of Panama, just 20 miles shy of Costa Rica, is one of Panama's biggest tourists draws:  the Bocas del Toro archipelago.


Joel Carillet

The colorful morgue exterior, which I passed on my way to drink a Pepsi


While close to Costa Rica, these Caribbean islands feel worlds away in that there are no mammoth hotels, no familiar fast food chains, and, in short, not nearly as many tourists.  The islands have a decidedly lazy feel--a contagiously lazy feel.  The only things that move quickly are the speedboats, their outboard motors propelling locals to work and school, or visitors to the likes of Wizard Beach (where visitors gazing out to sea will have their backs to jungle rather than hotels) and Dolphin Bay (where you will indeed see dolphins). 


Joel Carillet

The cemetery



I visited most of the archipelago's highlights during my one-week stay, but one pleasant experience, which would involve a Pepsi, required just a 15-minute one-way walk up the beach from my hostel.

Turning right out of the hostel, I passed several homes and a small guesthouse or two.  Then I came upon the hospital, next to which was the morgue, next to which was the town's cemetery.  I slowed at the cemetery and walked among the headstones and tropical blossoms.  Soon I emerged at the cemetery's far end, where an open-air bar and café faced the beach and, like the rest of the archipelago, played its music so loud that you wondered how anyone raised in the islands could hear beyond the age of, say, thirty.

Braving deafness, I stepped inside and screamed an order for a Pepsi, which set me back 75 cents.  (It came with a cup of ice--a welcomed touch given the baking sun outside.)  Next, after being drawn by the eye's of the woman serving me the Pepsi, I screamed out one of the few Spanish phrases I'd learned so far:  “Puedo sacar una foto!” (May I take a photo!)  After three screams she heard and understood, and she said yes.  I dug out my camera.


Joel Carillet

Student with his guitar


“Her husband will kill you,” said a man at the bar who looked to be around forty.   I took this to be a dry sense of humor.  “Do you know she was my teacher when I was a student?”


Joel Carillet

The retired teacher


As I took several photographs, I learned that she had indeed been a teacher, and that many of the patrons arriving this hour were students getting out of school.  One brought a guitar; several brought their cell phones and began texting people I imagine they had seen only minutes earlier.  As for me, I had brought a book of poetry and soon pulled it out to read.  But it wasn't long before I put it away.


Joel Carillet

Several young folks at the cafe liked to do what to my ignorant mind looked like gang symbols -- all sorts of fascinating finger combinations. All this kid wanted, though, was to sell me a boat tour.



Now I held only a cold Pepsi in my hands, and I looked around the café and out on the beach at the people around me.  Which is to say that I looked out at Panama, at least the slice that can be seen late in the day outside a small café in Bocas del Toro, where the music was loud and the sun still hot.


Joel Carillet

A young woman at the cafe


Joel Carillet

And of course, kids were playing on the beach in front of the cafe



Joel Carillet, chief editor of wanderingeducators.com, is a freelance writer and photographer based in Tennessee. He is the author of 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia. To learn more about him, visit www.joelcarillet.com.    


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