Off the coastline of Panama City, in between the shore-liner boats waiting to pass through the Panama Canal, awaits a ferry to the island of Taboga. Spending five nights in Panama City we discovered the tiny island after connecting with locals one night at the Mojitos bar in the old city. With a passenger ferry heading to Taboga daily, we felt it would be the perfect day adventure. In the early morning, we backed up our day bags, made pancakes at the hostel and filled up on our gluten filled breakfast hoping it would keep us full until the late afternoon.
We had been travelling along side two German female backpackers whom we had met back at the Lost & Found hostel located in the Panamas cloud forest. Making the trek together to the ‘big’ city, they joined in on the day adventure. Hassling for a fair taxi price to the ferry dock was simple and cheap; nothing out of the ordinary lives of a backpacker. By this time, Thomas had even grasped my amazing skills of bargaining. While we stood by the ferry dock, the old wooden slacks appeared to be withering away as the sea water splashed onto the dockside. The white, blue and yellow paint that marked signage had been slowly chipped away with time. The morning sun was beginning to heat our bodies but the sea breeze caused goosebumps all over my skin as we waited patiently for the ferry. Slow and steady we watched the little boat dock.
We were handed orange life jackets by the ferry crew, they motioned for us to put them on. Approximately twenty people took a seat on the handmade wooden benches. It wasn’t too long until I felt that back and forth motion of the sea as my body questioned that third breakfast pancake. But conversations with our new travel friends allowed my body to relax and my mind to wander as the ferry slowly made its trek to Taboga.
At first glance, Taboga appeared to be that enchanted getaway destination. Filled with charm, shades of yellow and white buildings and beautiful colourful flowers made me fall in love with this little island community. Walking beachside, I enjoyed picking up shells, finding the biggest one to take away with me for the day. Thomas was entertained by climbing up trees or finding sticks and rocks to throw into the splashing waves; caveman like activities. In the distance, you could see the shoreline boats and the bustling city buildings of Panama’s capital.
After playing around on the sandy beach, we walked around the quiet community in search of well… particularly nothing. I felt as though we were allowing our wanderlust feet make the memories as we passed by quiet little streets with no one in sight. When we reached any crossroad we randomly would choose left or right. Each decision put us in the right direction. When our stomachs began to grumble our decisions lied on one important thing…lunch time. However, soon we realized that coming to Taboga on a Sunday may have had some downfalls as we had no snacks, limited water and from the looks of it no businesses to be open.
Walking along a stone paved path we noticed some locals going into a house. On the side of the white painted home was red paint that wrote out various items of food “hamburguesa” “fruita asorta” “sopa”. The door was wide open and was completed by a painted blue fish on its door stating below “hay peces”. Thomas, Myself and the two Germans walked up the steps and took a peek inside realizing it was a home-based restaurant. As our heads poked in the doorway, an old man smiled back at us with excitement indicating to come in and take a seat. He pulled up four plastic chairs from the back of his home and as we sat down, our stomachs growled with excitement. The man welcomed us in Spanish and Thomas replied in his basic Spanish for the menu. With no menu available, Thomas sought out the menu options that were painted in red on the side of the house. Hungry, Thomas attempted to order in Spanish some hamburgers. None of us understood what the man said, but we understood we could not have hamburgers. Thomas attempted again “Quatro biftecs por favor.” Again, the polite old man replied in Spanish. None of us understanding what was being said. We understood, there was no steak to be had. Thomas attempted to order for a third time, “pollo”, or chicken in English. With a smile from the old man he replied in his best English “Today…Today we have fish!”. Looking around at the table, four hungry backpackers replied “vamos a comer peces”, “we will eat fish.”
We had no idea what kind of fish…
How much fish…
If it was cooked fish…
But Today. Today we were going to have fish!
…And there were no regrets.
After waiting patiently for thirty minutes our meals began to come out of the little kitchen in the hallway. Our plates included a whole fish on the bone and a side of fries or banana plantains. As I began to de-bone the fish and take my first bites, my stomach melted with delight. It was the best fish I had ever had!!! From the first bite taken, we knew it had been caught that morning and cooked with love from the wife of the old man in their kitchen. The old man even stepped out to purchase some Coca-Colas we had asked for as a beverage as he had run out of coca cola. He smiled and stated in Spanish that he would return shortly. Four ice cold Coca-Colas completed our amazing meal. Costing a grand total of $6-8US per person, depending on the size of the fish, we were so thankful for that homemade meal that our bodies craved from our travels. Heading to their personal washroom, I glanced into the kitchen seeing a little adorable lady that reminded me so much of my grandma. I introduced myself, thanking her for the perfect meal. The hospitality of these two local ‘restaurant’ owners made me feel as though I was a distant family member visiting. Thomas felt compelled to tip them and handed the man the only $20US bill we had. Being on a budget ourselves it was a small dent of gratitude for the best fish in the world. The man tried to decline the gesture but we insisted. They smiled with gratitude in return as we packed up and said goodbye.
We took the rest of the afternoon to hike to the top of Taboga, following markers along a pathway. When we reached the summit, the clouds had cleared up for us to see spectacular viewpoints completing the perfect day adventure. Luckily for us we had made it in time to take the only ferry heading back over to the mainland as our little hiking detour left us tired and slow paced. Taking a glance out from the water at this unique little island community, I reflected that we truly had gotten a taste of Taboga. I felt so fortunate that our not so planned day led us to the best fish dish I have ever had but more importantly the memory of the kind-hearted seniors who made us feel like family members in their home.