Changes by Allene Blaker

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Bocas Breeze. Current editor Nicholas Corea asked me if I would like to an article for the January 2019 issue. I was honored and quick to confirm. With January’s theme being “change,” I decided to focus simply on changes in Bocas del Toro over the last 15 years; the life of The Bocas Breeze newspaper. I surveyed 15 people in honor of the newspaper’s anniversary. My respondents come from seven different countries, with Panama strongly represented. Some have been born and raised here, with many generations of ancestral roots.

What are the best changes to happen to Bocas throughout the past 15 years?

Huge praises have gone out to Unidos por Bocas for installing trash cans throughout the islands.

“People are more aware of the trash problems and are disposing of trash properly.” “No more plastic bags are used at stores.” “The banning of plastic bags, straws, styrofoam containers, and single-use plastics in general.” Workers are “cleaning and weed-eating the streets, raking and also clearing the trash.” Being able to “buy food and building materials on the island,” “having a daily ferry.” Having the garbage dump “moved off the road to Bluff and having garbage picked up more regularly.” The streets of Bocas and the road to Drago have been paved. Along with this have come curbs, sidewalks and wheelchair ramps.

Workers paving 6th Street

Bocas Education Service Organization (BESO) – one of Bocas’ first non-profits-blazed the trail for future organizations currently in operation such as: Floating Doctors, Friends of the Asilo, Unidos por Bocas, Give and Surf, Darklands Foundation, Caribbean Coral Restoration Center and the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

The indigenous population here has more awareness of “the environment, the need for good education ,and how to be more organized and vocal about reclaiming their rights.”

Other exemplary changes include Super Gourmet, Dra. Gloria, resident veterinarian, Dra. Herrera, the new private doctor, Mailboxes Etc (MBE) fast delivery, the rip current signs which Larry Shane implemented. And there are more shakas!

What are the most unfavorable changes to develop in Bocas over the past 15years?

All of whom were surveyed agreed on the next point being their first and most passionate misgiving. “Uncontrolled development.” The Caribbean style, one of the most special characteristic aspects of Bocas Town, “has almost disappeared in favor of flavorless, colorless boxes.”   “Buildings erected in town disregarding building regulations our classic Caribbean style.” “Businesses opting for faster building practices rather than the traditional Caribbean style.” With all of this being said, there are many businesses, new and old, which are opting for new buildings while still including classic Caribbean architecture and design elements.

What would I change about Bocas if I could?

Many of us here hold nature and the environment in the highest regard. “Nature is what draws travelers here in the first place. We need to strongly protect that fact. It is important to keep our beaches pristine without distasteful signs, loud music, and anything else disrupting the natural beauty of this land.” “Make conservation of our natural resources a top priority. A proper conservation plan needs to be established as the one we have is not enforced well. Strict conservation laws and an entry fee to help cover the cost of enforcement (such as the one the Galapagos Islands implemented) would be beneficial.” “Set fines for littering.” “More local interaction with the community and the police.” “Have machines to rake the town beach to rid the sand of sludge and seaweed and make that once  beautiful beach usable again.”

What about Bocas do I hope will never change?

There is an excellent custom in Bocas, as well as throughout Latin America, simply called “Greeting the Room.” Upon entering any area, a doctor’s office waiting room, a bus, a taxi, a place of business, etc., one will smile and nod and greet the occupants with “Buenas” or “Hola.” This is a form of courtesy acknowledging all those already there. They will smile, nod back and return the greeting. This courtesy is so ingrained here that we cannot go to town for a quick run to the grocery store and hardware store because we will run into friends everywhere we go and of course you must greet them, along with any and all casual acquaintances, and what might have been a five-minute quick stop will turn into a two-hour tour. It is a beautiful custom which we have come to love, admire, and adopt as our own.  Other aspects which I and others hope will never change are: The “architecture of Old Bank,” the “lack of cruise ships,” “diversity of people,” “the town park,”  “the natural beauty, uncrowded surf spots, the slower-paced vibe,” “the street vendors’ fried chicken,” “the small-town feeling,” and “the simple lifestyle to never be taken for granted.”

But the most important thing everyone agrees with and hope will never change, is Bocas Day. This is the best day of the year. Everyone celebrates together, with an all-day parade featuring sharply uniformed marching bands with, what seems like, every brass  and wind instrument and drum. Gymnastic teams premier their new daring pyramids and flipping routines with talented majorettes spinning their flags and batons. And after a few hours of rest, the sun sets,  and the parade and party begin again.

Change is the only constant, they say. Change whatever you want, but don’t ever change Bocas Day.

Bocas Day 2018

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Printed monthly in both English and Spanish with a circulation of 5,000 free copies distributed at airports, hotels, restaurants and various retail locations throughout Bocas del Toro, Panama City, David, Boquete and Costa Rica. Also published on the Internet on a daily basis.

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