Hi everyone, this is my first blog post in this new part of my website. I'm currently in Isla Bastimentos in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro in Panama. I was due to return to England on 28th April via San Francisco, but with the international travel ban due to Covid-19 extended, it may be not until June or July that I am able to return to England. It's day 49 of quarantine here and we have thankfully had no cases of the virus on the islands, though there have been about 25 on the mainland of the province.
Panama responded fast to the outbreak thankfully, however the lockdown is serious here. For several weeks people have only been allowed out of their houses 2-3 times a week to shop for essentials at times specified by ID or passport number. Beaches are closed and it's not been possible to get out and paint, but life has not been too tough here. I have had the fantastic view of sea, and there have not been any shortages of food or water.
This area is Panama's largest tourist destination after Panama City, the economy depends on it, so I wonder how life here will change in the future. I'm hoping the uncrowded beaches of Bocas del Toro will be an attractive option for the tourists when the borders eventually re-open and businesses will be able to re-open. Tourism here is mid -range and mainly backpackers rather than high end or package style holidays. I hope they'll still be able to afford to get here once the restrictions lift and bring some financial relief to the area.
Isla Bastimentos has no roads, it is reached by water taxi from the nearest large town, Bocas town, on Isla Colon. These days few boats go back and forth, the sea between here and the neighbouring island Solarte is unusually quiet. Large pods of dolphins have been spotted nearby recently, so I keep one eye out on the bay as I work on my designs, in case I'm lucky enough to spot some enjoying the calm waters. I live in the middle of Old Bank, a lively town, but with the bars closed, it's frequently silent, which is at times a blessing and others rather eerie
I have been taking the time to recharge after a frantically busy start to the festival season, starting with Costa Rica's Envision Festival in January just after decorating a music venue here in Bocas. Starting the build there in January, I looked forward to a full season of painting at festivals both here in Central America and in England. Coronavirus was barely in our radar until it hit here when I was enroute to Tribal Gathering during it's last week of it's several days long schedule. At it's remote beach location there had not been any cases. After a few days there, it became clear that the country was poised to go into complete lockdown and I was lucky enough to make it back to Isla Bastimentos just before that happened, socially distancing myself at home for several weeks just in case of anything picked up on the way back.
We've been in lockdown over 6 weeks now, and I'm so grateful that the islands have not seen the casualties of most other parts of the world. Separated by sea, I hope that this continues to be the case. Hardware stores are due to open soon, so at least some maintenance work can continue and people can keep busy until the restrictions relax. It's hard to socially isolate when it's clear that there is no sickness here, but I guess it's easier to put restrictions in place than relax them. I'm looking forward to the moment I can shop for vegetables in a supermarket without rushing back for a boat home before curfew. And also for the hardware stores to re-open so I can buy paint! Still, these do seem to be small worries in comparison to those unable to visit sick relatives, working in hospitals or stuck in city apartments. Until my next post, take care and stay well!