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L.L. Bean Backpack, PacSafe Fanny Pack, Sanuk Flip-flops

While I'm still on the road, I want to recommend three totally-tested-out pieces of travel gear.

1. L.L. Bean Deluxe Book Pack. I have probably gone through 7-8 of these (same model) over a 20 year period. I carry a lot of stuff on my back, usually including books, and this one has pockets, and compartments, places for pens. I've even put a tent and light sleeping bag in it. It seems to hold limitless stuff.( Ignore the red color of the one shown on Bean's website, I like the black.)
Click here

2. The StashSafe 100 Hip Pack. The best fanny pack I've had (been wearing fanny packs for many years). This one is especially geared to prevent theft, like someone cutting the strap with a knife and running off with it (the strap has stainless wire embedded), or a thief unbuckling the strap (the catch is hidden). You can also lock the zippers shut, It's also got lots of compartments and pockets inside for wallet, camera(s), pens, penlight, pocket knife, etc. Click here

3. Sanuk "Summit" Flip-flops. I bought these the night I left and have worn them every day for over 5 weeks. (I gave away a pair of running shoes as I just didn't need them (or the weight). I'm amazed at how comfortable these things are. I went for a 6 mile hike in the jungle, hiked up a canyon to a waterfall, have worn them in San Jose, Costa Rica and Panama City. http://www.sanuk.com/ (Click on "Men's Sandals," then "Summit." Sanuk also makes the most comfortable shoes I've ever had. Look for them in surf shops or outdoor stores like REI.

Detroit's Beautiful, Horrible Decline

Two French photographers immortalize the remains of the motor city on film. Photographs by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. (I just picked this up on boingboingfrom Time Mag.

Roberto Duran's Sparring Partner, Basi and His Boat, and Backpackers and Island-Hoppers' Paradise

Roberto Duran's Sparring Partner. I was sitting on this bench in the park this morning and a guy walked over and sat next to me. "Hello, I'm Simon," he said, and we shook hands. He had a genuine smile, was built like an athlete, had on nice shirt, slacks, shined shoes. I had my own agenda, was going through photos I'd shot earlier this morning, of waterside houses, shacks, and hotels on nearby Bastamiento Island. But there was something about Simon that drew me in. He lived on a farm about a day's bus journey from Bocas del Toro and had come here looking for construction work, but there wouldn't be work for another week. He said he had been a boxer and was Roberto Duran's sparring partner for 8 years, that he had worked with Duran for one of his bouts with Sugar Ray. I believed him. He was broke, needed money to get back to the farm… I slipped him $5. We talked for 15-20 minutes, I'm having conversations in Spanish where I get maybe 30% of what they're saying. That's OK. Simon was a really good guy. I can see his face as I write this. Sometimes it's good to not get out the camera.

The Skinny on Bocas del Toro The wooden stilt houses of Bocas town were built about a 100 years ago by the United Fruit Co., the banana conglomerate (Chiquita). They aslo built "…schools, homes, restaurants and clinics for its workers. French speaking canal workers from Martinique and Guadalupe as well as West Indian railroad workers from Jamaica, Barbados, and Antigua moved to Bocas Del Toro Panama to work on the Banana plantations." ((Reference for quote)) A Banana fungus wilt, latter called Panama Disease, wiped out most of the banana industry in the '20s and '30s, and the thriving place got to be not-so-thriving, and it was pretty relaxed and wonderful until tourism hit big time. I had people diss it as "…backpackers, real estate brokers, condos, too many people." But here's what I found: This is a lovely archipelago of islands, with lush forests and white sand beaches and yes, surf. On the streets of Bocas town at any time are 100's of milling visitors, over half backpackers. It's almost like a theme park, of boat trip operators, rentals of bikes, motorscooters, kayaks, and surfboards, scuba diving tours, and many other adventures and trips available. Tons of restaurants and bars. A Caribbean Reggae beat in spots. It's artificial, but it's also OK. Interesting people here, from many countries. Boats are continually zipping all over. You can go to nearby Bastamiento Island for a few dollars. There is a huge range of hotels. Many hostels. A bunch of internet cafés. You can also stay on outlying islands. Many buildings and houses painted in vivid colors of the Caribbean.

To Bastamiento With Basi. A 22' fiberglas panga with a 70 hp Evinrude, Basi picked me up at my hotel's dock at 8 this morning, then he picked up 4 passengers and we headed across to Bastamiento town. Basi ran along the waterfront so I could shoot photos of houses built on the water. Turns out he was was born on the island, as were his parents and grandparents. He spoke pretty good English; he'd worked on cruise ships and would go into port in the U.S. Basi's websiteis a good place to check out not only boat tours, but hotels in Bocas.

"Killin Me Man" Caribbean Pepper Sauce

"Hot like the Caribbean to wake up your passion"

Pink Window Trim, Banana Leaves

Fixed-up Old Buildings, Bocas del Toro Town

View From the Deck

This is the first blue sky I've seen in maybe 10 days. Come to think of it, Isla Grande, the little island I was on for 3 days, was battered by a tropical storm. Not strong enough to knock down buildings, but everything got knocked around a bit. The first night I was here, it started pouring when I was walking back to the hotel and I ducked under the porch of a restaurant with three young guys. Did I want ganja? Nope. At least in Costa Rica, there's real low grade Columbian weed g,oing around. I'm staying at Hotel Las Olas, really nice, polished wooden floors, a breeze off the water, killer breakfasts included, good wi-fi. Owned by Israelis.

Had dinner last night at El Refugio, dimly lit entrance, you'd never know it was there without being told, the place was packed, good vibes, 100% gringo, two guitar players, '60s music, good food. I'm going out later today to see if I can get a small boat to take me to outer islands. There's a lot to do around here.

Bocas del Toro Islands, Panama

When I came to Costa Rica 18 years ago, I intended to visit both coasts, but when I saw the black sand beaches and the acquamarine-colored Caribbean, I never made it over to the Pacific side. On that trip I remember someone telling me about Bocas del Toro, the main town had 100-year old buildings on stilts and there was surf, and it was fairly deserted. Well, of course, since then, the world has discovered this place and it's a heavy tourist destination. But it still has its charm, and is gateway to dozens of small islands, villages, reefs, and beaches by boat. It reminds me of Hong Kong, there is a continual stream of boats ferrying people in all directions. It's got a reggae vibe. You want ganja, man?

I'm once again glad to be back in internet land and will post photos when I can.

There are lots of traveling sailboats anchored here (Bocas del Toro Town). There are lots of great old boats, along with the fiberglas pangas. There must be at least 50 restaurants, all competing, some very good. It's got the Panama tranquilo (trahn-kee-low) feeling.

The older guys were pushing the little ones and they were improving by the minute.

Blog Layout

I'm continually frustrated by the limitations of blog layout. It'd be different if I were devoting all my time to it, but as an extracurricular activity that I need to do rapidly, I have to use Blogger photo tools, and never quite know how things will line up or look. All the below photos and text would look way better if done as pages in a book.

Isla Grande, Small Island off Coast of Panama

I was on Isla Grande, a very small island off the Caribbean coast of Panama without an internet connection for 4 days, wrote the below from the island, and am posting these from Bocas del Toro (a Panamanian island close to the Costa Rica border on Monday (on which, more to come):

Thursday — I love the good big cities — exciting and inspiring, but after about 5 days I need country air. (Surfer Stu, who doesn't love cities, told me the other day that he's a "country slicker.") I got up at 5 this morning and caught the trans-Panana train, which runs from the Pacific {Panama City) to the Caribbean (Colon). From there I got two buses way out to a little port town and then 20-foot-long fiberglas boat like a Mexican panga) powered by 15 hp outboard to a small island off the coast, Isla Grande.

Left, the Sister Moon hotel in Isla Grande
Below, view from my deck hammock

Below that, one of the many island boats for ferrying passengers back and forth. Nada es Etorno (Nothing is Eternal). So true.

I found a funky room in a quirky hotel with deck and hammock practically hanging out over crashing waves. I'm absolutely in heaven. I'm going back and forth from the hammock to wandering with camera. There are 300 black people on the island, English-speaking West Indies descendants like Jamacians and Triniadians. There's a Bob Marley open air nightclub, and the place is full of whimsical architecture and gardens. A bunch of Watts Towers type seashell and tile mosaics. The island is filled with tall coconut trees.

Friday — Dinner last night at the Congo Cafe, a bar/restaurant with thatched roof and beachcomber deco set on a pier over the water. Squid cooked in creole coconut milk, rice, a Balboa beer. 5 locals were there watching grainy TV show from Mexico. I was the only customer.

It started blowing last night and by this morning a full-blown storm hit. Sheets of water. Ocean has gone from green to grey, big waves, wind howling. Air is warm! I'd forgotten about the Caribbean. It's green and lusty and exotic, beaches with black sand, waves that come out of nowhere. It's more passionate than the Pacific, more gutsy, soulful.
Sunday — Isla Grande is about a mile across by maybe 2 miles long. No roads, not one motor vehicle. There's a slippery rocky path along the shore from my hotel into town, and it's been getting battered by waves the last few days. By now a certain amount of reality has set in. There's a fair amount of garbage on the beaches and trails. And with many of the black people, there's an edge. They're not jumping through hoops for tourists. Like the Kuna Indians of nearby islands who have been resisting the exploitative incursions of gringos for 500 years. No video cameras; you pay them for each photo you shoot. My friend Leo told me that over 40 years ago, when he landed on the San Blas Islands, the Indians wouldn't let him and others get off their boat.

Right, below: chapel on the ocean in Isla Grande. Now here's a church I can go for. No priests, no sermons, no dogma, no guilt. Hallowed be thy essence, oh mighty Ocean

I found an immaculate little restaurant on the edge of town, El Nido Postre, and the chef, Olga Ehrens, is a native Tica who studied cooking in France and Spain. I had breakfast once and two dinners there and they were extraordinary. The kind of cook where you say, bring me whatever you want.

From where I live, it's 3000 miles to get from one ocean to another. In Panama it's less than 50 miles. Found a white-sand beach at sunset last night, went swimming. In the warm water I'm relaxed and swimming with more power. The foam was like whipped cream.