The best things in life are…relatively cheap

They say the best things in life are free. I beg to disagree.

I suppose ‘they’ mean that abstract things such as love and happiness and spectacular sunsets are free. Unless, of course, you happen to live in an east-facing town that is cursed with fog. In which case, you have to spend money to reach a western-orientated location renowned for its sunsets. And if you can afford to take someone you love with you, then the happiness meter rises that extra bit, doesn’t it? Plus, if that someone is teetering on the edge of “Do I or don’t I love him/her too”, then that romantic gesture might just tip your loved one towards loving you back; money helped with all three. But I digress.

Travel, one of the very best things in life according to me, certainly isn’t free. But once you’ve forked out for the flight and accommodation, it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Simple pleasures are the best.

Take today for example. We’re in Panama’s most popular, and expensive, holiday resort, the Bocas del Toro, a Caribbean archipelago close to the border with Costa Rica. Isla Colón is the most expensive island within this (locally) notoriously expensive area: ex-pats own a disproportionately high number of the properties here; swathes of posh restaurants, hotels and bars cater to both domestic and foreign tourists; the cheapest breakfast I could find this morning was just under US$10 (all I wanted was coffee, juice and granola with fruit). For a bit of perspective, compare that to Boquete, a Panamanian highland town, where four of us polished off a Mexican meal, complete with shared nacho starter, four burritos and four beers, for a little under US$30.

Fortunately, activities on Isla Colón can be relatively cheap. This morning we hired bicycles and set off to explore. Not just any old bicycles – these were retro, bright pink wheels with back-pedal brakes, perfect for a laid-back Caribbean island. Even better, each bike cost us just US$1.50 per hour.

View video: A cycling escapade on Bocas del Toro, Panama

In a rather Monkee-esque escapade we cycled, proudly upright, through Bocas del Toro town and along the sun-soaked coast road that marks the beginning of the sea and the edge of the island’s eastern coast. At times the narrow beach and the road were indistinguishable, with foamy surf washing the sand from our tyres.

We didn’t waste our time on Playa El Istmito, the beach closest to town (we had heard that it’s infested with sand flies…), instead cycling on around Punta Puss Head. Here we paused to watch the surfers and drink a can of Atlas beer (US$0.60) whilst perching on a log washed smooth by the sea. The beach was too narrow for the serious lounging we intended to do – one of my favourite things to do is seek out beautiful places to read a good book (I’m a cheap date) – so we cycled on merrily, at times under cover of dappling sea-front jungle, to Playa Bluff.

Playa Bluff was our Beach of the Day – a five-kilometre sweep of throbbing greenery and fine, golden sand pounded by waves that have faced no obstacle since they were born in the Atlantic. The sand was incredibly soft, which translates into ‘very difficult to push a bike across’, so we set up camp/sarongs and settled down with the rest of our luke-warm beer, books and view of pounding Caribbean surf (not a phrase you’ll hear too often).

When you’ve finished foaming at the mouth with envy, consider this. It was a Saturday in the height of the peak season in Panama’s most popular destination; we saw four other people on the beach. That kind of exclusivity you just can’t buy. Unless, of course, you’re the kind of happy chappy who can afford your own Caribbean island.

So how did we finish our near-perfect, relatively cheap day in Bocas del Toro? With a sunset view, of course. And cocktails. In a west-facing bar. Expensive habits die hard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: