Mark’s take on Running the Isthmus (Cubed): Part 2, Bocas del Toro

Running:      Paradise-Found

Running: Paradise-Found

The heading for this blog post could arguably be entitled “Running on the Isthmus (Bocas), in the Isthmus (Panama), of the Isthmus (Central America).”  After spending one night and most of a day in Panama City, on our first trip to Central America, Valerie and I took a late afternoon flight to the beach town of Bocas Del Toro.

The 40 minute trip in a 37 passenger Air Panama Saab 340 turbo prop went smoothly and when the Bocas archipelago and Isla Colon came into view, it was a spectacular sight.  I was astonished by my first glimpse of the runway in the middle of Bocas Town, and taken aback by how close the runway seemed to be to the buildings on either side, as well as the water.  Granted, I am somewhat challenged with smoothly backing a car out of long driveways so I may not be the best judge.

My amazement was further heightened as we approached for landing and there, right on the edge of the runway, were a soccer field and baseball diamond with dozens of young athletes in spirited competition.  It didn’t appear that the participants were in the least bit fazed by this plane passing right over their heads, but talk about focus!  Hitting a baseball is hard enough without such a distraction.

Landing strip drawn to scale? We ran the isthmus on the upper left of the map, between Bahia Saigon and the Caribbean

Not sure if the landing strip is drawn to scale! We ran the isthmus on the upper left of the map, between Bahia Saigon and the Caribbean

After landing, and making our way via taxi to our hotel, Valerie and I settled in for the night after an exciting yet exhausting day. The next day we awoke early, had a light breakfast at the hotel, and tried to plan our itinerary as rain pounded outside.

Of course, once again, one of my biggest priorities was getting in a run.  Concerned by the torrential rain, I asked our young waiter, who happened to be the son of the hotel proprietors, if the rain would lighten up any time soon?

He comically licked his index finger, confidently walked outside, stuck his finger in the air, looked at the sky, and strutted back to our table.  With a huge smile on his face he brashly stated that the skies would clear up by 10 am.  It was actually his way of saying that he had no idea and most likely neither did anyone else.  It is what it is and you deal with it.  However, it was also a performance for his guests.  Okay, not so much for me, but for my wife, with whom he was obviously quite smitten.

Rain, Rain Go Away!

Rain, Rain Go Away!

Remarkably, the rain did stop by mid-morning, and Valerie and I were able to get out for a run.  Bocas Town itself is not very large so we quickly covered the streets within it and set our sights on the outskirts of town.

"Won't you take me to---Funky Town"

“Won’t you take me to—Funky Town”

We trotted along Avenue G North past the regional hospital and cemetery.  We’ve since heard that their location right next to each other is no coincidence. Shortly thereafter, we went around a bend and proceeded onto a narrow strip of land which piqued our interest.

On our left was an inlet of the Bahia of Saigon which was fronted by colorful wooden buildings of various shapes and sizes.  On our right was the Caribbean Sea and the closest beach to town, Playa Istmito.

Not knowing how suitable the beach sand was for running, I took the lead and decided to run along the side of the street with the buildings.  While taking in our eclectic bohemian surroundings I suddenly took note of a large brownish-orangish furry figure ahead.

Upon drawing closer I saw what appeared to be a massive English Mastiff dog lying in, uh, dominating the sidewalk.  Does Hercules, AKA “The Beast”, from the movie “The Sandlot” mean anything to you??

A face only a mother could love?

A face only a mother could love?

Yes, this was to be my first of many pulse quickening encounters with canines in Central America.  As I proceeded towards this behemoth I saw what appeared to be a heavy gauge steel chain lying beside him.  Feeling just a little less vulnerable, I moved off the sidewalk, over the curb, and slightly into the street.

My sense of security proved to be premature. When I got within ten feet of this over-sized puppy, he not only lunged at me but started to quickly gallop towards me, growling loudly.  I am not sure if the chain was just for show, if the imposing specimen broke loose or if someone just neglected to secure him, but he was free as the Caribbean breeze and heading my way!

Luckily, at that moment there were no cars coming in either direction and I scurried across the street in an attempt to avoid the massive figure hurtling itself at me.  Maybe he was trained not to go into the street or maybe he just ran out of steam, but suddenly, the Mastiff  stopped his pursuit, and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

One of my favorite quotes is Satchell Paige’s “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”  I generally heed this message but in this case I had to turn around to see if Valerie had seen this harrowing encounter.  I was sure that the big fella was not in good spirits and a bit worried that Valerie’s presence would further tempt his demeanor. As a devoted husband, I was of course prepared to insert my body between hers and the dog’s, but certainly hoping it wouldn’t come to that.

Luckily, Valerie is both less intimidated by street dogs than I am, and more observant about those sorts of things. She had witnessed my close encounter and taken the necessary precautions to avoid a repeat encounter with the massive pooch.

She crossed over to the other side of the street long before I did and caught up with me as we continued away from town.  Shortly thereafter we turned around and headed back towards town taking every care to avoid any repeat encounters with our canine friend.

We ran that route, and well beyond, many times during our six week stay in Bocas.  We encountered many more runners along that stretch of land, which leads out of Bocas Town, than in any of the other areas that we have visited in Central America.

Breathtaking-everywhere you look

Breathtaking-everywhere you look

I presume that is somewhat due to the younger visitors that are drawn to the eclectic environs.  But, there is also no doubt that a brisk early morning run through the funky town, onto the isthmus and past several enticing beaches can be absolutely alluring at any age.  This allure may even prompt one to risk further encounters with a huge dog that seems anything but welcoming?

With only one route out of Bocas Town, our running took us past the cantankerous Mastiff practically every day.  Of course, we approached his domicile with great caution and more than a wary eye.  But, from that day forward, on the days where he was outside we never heard as much of a whimper from him.  Maybe I was too harsh in my judgment and he just has a unique way of greeting new visitors to the island!

Rounding the bend

Rounding the bend

End of the road, time to turn around!

End of the road, time to turn around and head home!

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