This Week in Bocas – October 25, 2021 – Edition #8 – “100 Years”
It was 100 hundred years ago this month that a 19 year old musical prodigy from Carenero Island boarded a steamship in Panama bound for New Orleans and would be end up becoming a pioneer of jazz music in the United States. His name is Luis Russell and in this issue we celebrate 100 years of this life-changing journey of his. Russell’s legacy was recently honored with a street mural on Isla Colon by the artist Madmagos. He has once again returned to the province and is currently in Almirante creating a tribute to another Bocas del Toro born musical legend, the King of Calypso, Lord Cobra.
Local indigenous culture was celebrated in a big way with the 5th annual Naso Tjër Di So cultural fair, October 14-17. We share a recent first hand account of a Bocas del Toro resident going through the COVID protocols to enter Panama from the now “high risk country” of the United States. Panama celebrates all November long every year Fiestas Patrias and we have the details on what each patriotic holiday is all about. Enjoy this culture and history-packed edition of The Bocas Breeze! Read more on all these stories, events and promotions from our beloved business communities as you keep scrolling along, highlighting the happenings in our favorite community: Bocas del Toro, Panama!
Luis Russell’s Fateful Voyage to New Orleans – 100 Years Later
At the turn of the 20th century, in the height of the “Banana Boom,” there was a real connection between Bocas del Toro and the south of the United States. Bocas del Toro was a vital outpost for the international banana conglomerate United Fruit and as a result of this commercial activity, Isla Colon was a bustling international port. According to Bocas del Toro history aficionado Ariel Pérez Price, there are records of around 200 direct transits between Isla Colon and New Orleans from the year 1897. These transits continued during Bocas del Toro’s “golden age” well into the 1920’s.
Luis Carl Russell Machore is a character that would emerge out of Bocas del Toro’s golden age in extraordinary fashion. Born on Carenero Island on August 5, 1902, Russell began his career at 15 years old playing piano and leading a band in the Broadway Theater in Bocas Town. He accompanied the silent movies of the time and went on to be a successful composer, a recording artist with dozens of original tracks, and the band leader for the great Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. His career blossomed along a path that led him through the great United States jazz cities of the time: New Orleans, Chicago and New York.
Luis Russell’s US adventure started exactly 100 years ago in October of the year 1921.
Thanks to a passenger manifest for the steamship “Athenas,” it is documented that on October 12, 1921, Luis Russell embarked on his fateful voyage to the United States, accompanied by his his sister Thelma and mother Judith and departing from Port Cristobal in the city of Colon. At that time, the ships would depart from Colon; heading first to pick up merchandise and passengers in Bocas del Toro. From there began a 5 to 7 day voyage to New Orleans.
In an interview with The Bocas Breeze, Pérez Price discussed how these frequent transits between New Orleans and Bocas del Toro were an exchange of not only bananas and money, but also represented the traffic of passengers and an interchange of culture. Panama’s Caribbean communities could have actually played more of a role in the development of jazz music than most people realize.
Whatever the case may be, we do know is that Luis Russell grew up in a Bocas Town that frequently received passengers from New Orleans – possibly including traveling musicians and, as a young man, Russell felt compelled to take his musical talents to New Orleans.
It all started 100 years ago, on October 12, 1921, and we have this ship manifest to document it. The rest is history.
Restaurants, Bars, Cafés and Delis in Bocas del Toro
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Madmagos Returns to Bocas to Create Another Mural in Almirante
Luis Russell’s legacy was honored with a magnificent surrealism style street mural in July of 2021. You can now stroll down 1st street, in front of the fire station, and appreciate a tribute to the Bocas del Toro pioneer of jazz who is today referred to affectionalte as El Bocatoreño Universal. The project was an amazing community effort, with many residents and local businesses pitching in to raise money and provide goods and services necessary to make the 80 foot mural possible.
The Luis Russell mural caught the attention of Almirante mayor Derrick Echeverría and the municipality of Almirante was inspired to don their community with an artistic creation of their own. There was actually a decent amount of paint left over from the Luis Russell mural, so it was perfect that our friends in Almirante wanted to do a mural of their own. The amount of paint wasn’t enough for a complete 2nd mural, however it was enough to greatly reduce the costs of creating another one.
Lord Cobra, The King of Calypso from Patois Town
The organizers in Almirante decided to honor Bocas del Toro born musician, but on this occasion it would be The King of Calypso, Mr. Wilfred Methusiel Berry Gonin, better known as Lord Cobra. Lord Cobra was born in Almirante in 1926, in the district known as Patois Town, which he would later immortalize in an original song with the same name.
Calypso is an Afro-Caribbean style of folk music with origins in the English speaking West Indian islands, thought it was made Panamanian through the voice of Lord Cobra. Out of all Calypso singers in Panama, Lord Cobra is easily the most well known and successful. One could consider Lord Cobra another “Universal Bocatoreño,” with his art taking the Almirante born singer to perform in US and Europe.
Madmago’s artistic interpretation of Luis Russell made front page news of La Estrella de Panama and is adored by the community of Bocas del Toro and its visitors. We are looking forward to his rendition of Lord Cobra in Almirante. The inauguration is set for October 30 at 5pm in Almirante and all are invited to participate in this grand celebration of art and Bocas del Toro culture.
The Luis Russel Mural in Bocas Town, created in July 2021 by Madmagos and Diana Top, organized by Isla Colon Raices y Vivencias, Fundacion Cultivando Futuros and The Bocas Breeze Newspaper.
Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro
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Naso Tjër Di Cultural Fair: Celebrating the Traditions of the Last Remaining Monarchy in the Americas
Residents from our community made the trip to the mainland to accompany the Naso Tjër Di indigenous tribe for their 5th annual cultural fair in the village of Bonyic. The fair was held October 14-17, 2021. And yes, you read correctly, the Naso are the last remaining monarchy in the Americas, led by their king Reynaldo Alexis Santana. The king is elected but must come from the royal blood line, the Santana family.
Kelly Berube de DeCaro attended the this year’s fair and has visited before as part of her work with the foundation, Cultivando Futuros. Kelly shared with us some photos for her time there and taught us a little about one of Panama’s seven indigenous peoples.
The Naso live along what is known today as Teribe River. Teribe is a word the Spanish adapted from “Tjër Di” in the native Naso language. This essentially means “water goddess” (which we think makes a pretty good name for a river). Tjër is a word that could be translated as a cross between grandmother, godmother and witch; and Di means water.
The fair is held in the village of Bonyic, but there are stands for artisans to come from all of the other villages in the Naso Tjër Di comarca. No alcohol is sold. What is sold is an array of traditional foods, locally grown produce, medicinal plants and other handmade crafts. There was quite a lot of contests: from raft and dugout canoe (cayuco) racing down the Teribe River, to chocolate stone-grinding competitions, live wood carving, a speech contest and archery. There were adult and child dance groups. It was a complete display of what the Naso Tjër Di people are all about. We loved learning about it and looking forward to attending the 2022 fair!
Tours & Fun in Bocas del Toro
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Traveling from the United States to Panama: A Recent First Hand Account
Disclaimer: The rules for entering Panama are subject to change based on the COVID-19 situation. This article was published on Ocotber 19, 2021 about a resident’s experience entering Panama on October 20, 2021. Always consult with the official tourism website of Panama and your airline’s policies before traveling.
Cinda Scott recently traveled to the United States and shared her experience of what it was like entering Panama.
“For anyone traveling to Panama from the US who is confused about entry requirements, here is what I can share based on my arrival today:
1) You must complete the online affidavit and fill in your vaccination information in full including date of administration and which shot you got prior to departing the US.
2) If you are a resident be sure to put in your ID number on the online affidavit form (use the dashes between the E and the 8).
3) Once you complete the affidavit, you will receive an email with a QR code that you need to show to authorities prior to going downstairs to immigration.
4) Once at immigration, you will be asked to show your QR code. Since you already put in your residency info and vaccine info, all they do is scan the QR code from your phone and you are all set.
5) You do not need a negative COVID test to enter Panama from the US as long as you are vaccinated.
The entire process took 10 minutes.”
The United States is currently on Panama’s list of “high risk COVID-19 countries.” Any traveler that has transited through any of the high risk countries that does not have proof of a full COVID-19 vaccine schedule must test for COVID-19 upon arrival and quarantine for 72 hours in an approved hotel by the Ministry of Health. It is a quarantine of 72 hours if the COVID-19 test is negative and 14 days if the test is positive. The traveler will be tested again after the 72 hours and must test negative again in order to be discharged. A positive test will result in having to complete a 14 day quarantine. Unvaccinated travelers coming from non-high risk countries do not have to quarantine automatically, though must present a negative COVID-19 test before entering.
Essential Services in Bocas del Toro
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Fiestas Patrias: What are these days all about?
November is approaching and in Bocas that typcally means holidays, parties and a lots and lots of drumming. Also, many of these days government offices, banks and a lot of businesses will close for the day, so plan accordingly. November in Panama is definitely not easiest month to get business and dilligences done, however there is -in a pre-COVID world at least- a lot of fun to be had. You may have noticed the little ones practicing their drumming these past few weeks and you might be asking yourself “What is it all for?” (among other questions). Well, this is what the excitement is all about:
November 2nd Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead) Although not one of the “fiestas patrias” (patriotic holidays), it is a special day in Panama and all over Latin America. This is the day people pay homage to their loved ones who have passed away. Traditionally, Panamanians go to the cemetery, visit the graves of their friends and family, bring flowers and gifts and make any necessary repairs to their tombstones (like new paint). It’s also important to know that this is one of the “dry” Panamanian holidays. Bars close at midnight on November 1st and stay closed until midnight the following evening. Sale of alcohol in the province of Bocas del Toro is prohibited on this day.
November 3rd Separación de Colombia (Separation from Colombia) What we recognize as the nation of Panama today didn’t come to fruition until the year 1903. November 3rd of that year marks the day that Panamanian separatists proclaimed their separation from Colombia.
November 4th Dia de la Bandera (Flag Day) The flag of Panama was drafted in secrecy and presented the day after the separation was proclaimed. The red and blue rectangles represent the liberals and the conservatives (respectively), the two political parties of the time. The white stands for an agreement of peace between both factions. The blue star symbolizes purity and honesty and the red star authority and law. Make sure you hang it correctly, which would be horizontally with the blue star and red rectangle on top.
November 5th Día de Colon (Colon Day) This is a commemoration of the day that the separation of Panama from Colombia was secured. Five-hundred Colombians under the command of Colonel Eliseo Torres were trapped in the city of Colon (Panama), which began the talks of Colombian troops vacating the isthmus altogether. Juan Antonio Henriquez sent a telegram that day stating “Only now, 7:30 pm, can it be said that the independence of Panama is assured.”
November 10th Primer Grito de Los Santos (First Cry of Los Santos) Officially this date marks an uprising in the village of Los Santos in the year 1821 and is recognized as the first step toward independence from Spain. Legend has it that during the battle of Los Santos a woman by the name of Rufina Alfaro was the first to scream “Somos libres !” (We’re free!) or “Viva la libertad” (Long live freedom!) or “You can take our lives, but you will never take our freedom!” (Ok, that was William Wallace from the movie Braveheart), but whatever she might have said, everyone paid attention and 2½ weeks later; they were free (from Spain at least).
November 16th Dia de la Fundacion de Bocas del Toro (Bocas Day) The province of Bocas del Toro was founded on November 16th, 1903, only 14 days after the creation of Panama as a sovereign state, making it the first province to be established. Bocatoreños are super proud and this day marks quite the local celebration. In pre-COVID times there are normally parades starting in the morning with schools from all over Panama visiting and competitions with seasoned adult marching bands in the evenings. The competitions are intense as there are prizes at stake; intense but not tense, as everyone is feeling loose and having a great time. The favorite day of the year for locals and expats alike.
November 23rd Dia de Bastimentos (Bastimentos Day) Bastimentos was founded in the same month (November) during the same year (1903) and much like Bocas Day, this is a day full of parades, parties and pride, and it’s absolutely lovely. The only difference is that it takes place in Old Bank (Isla Bastimentos),
November 28th Independencia de España (Independence from Spain) What began with the “first cry of Los Santos” resulted 18 days later in the proclamation of a new nation, independent from Spain: Gran Colombia. Gran Colombia consisted of modern day Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. As such, Panama has two Independence days; one from Spain and one from Gran Colombia.
What to Do in Bocas del Toro
October 25, 2021 – October 31, 2021
Cradles for Newborns by Rotary Club Bocas del Toro
In commemoration of the 102nd anniversary of the Rotary Club in Panama, by tradition, the Rotary always donates small cradles to newborn infants in the maternity wards throughout Panama. The Rotary Club Bocas del Toro has launched a campaign in our province and would appreciate your support. See the information in the above flyer.
Map of Featured Businesses in Bocas del Toro, Panama
Happy Hours in Bocas del Toro
Barco Hundido – 5-9pm every day | 1$ Miller Lite | 2 X 3$ national beers | $1 shots: gin, seco and clear tequila | 2 x $6 whisky on the rocks
Bocas Brewery – 7-9pm Tues-Sun | $3 mixed drinks | $1 national beers | buffalo wings or nachos $5
Buena Vista – 5-7pm every day | 2×1 margarita, rum, piña colada, whisky sour, screwdriver | 2x$3 beer | 2x$6 wine
Calypso Cantina @ The Bocas Marina – 4-7pm Mon-Thurs, 4-9pm Fri | $1.25 beers
Coco Fastronomy – 5-7pm Thurs-Tues (starting Oct 15) | 2 x 1 national beer, moijito, Cuba libre, caipirinha, margarita, sangria | bandeja boquitas $14.50, a sample of house specialty appetizers for the table to share
Endless Breaks – 2-5pm Mon-Sat | $1 beers | $3.50 cocktails
El Ultimo Refugio – 4:30-6:30 Tues-Sat | 2×1 national beers | 2×1 sangrias
La Buguita Ocean Lounge – 5-7pm Tues-Sun | 2 beers x $3.50 | 2 x $7 mojito, caipiroska, margarita, gin & tonic, Cuba libre
La Neta Caribe – 4-6pm Mon-Sun | $5 whisky sour, Cuba libre or sangria
Restaurante Yarisnori & Sunset Drago – Wed 9am-6pm $12 Heineken cubetazo (6 beers on ice in a bucket) | Thurs 3-6pm 2 x 1 margaritas
Tacos Chingones – 4-6pm Tues-Sun | $1 tequila shot | $1 national beer, $2 Mexican beer | 2 michelada x $6 | $3.50 margarita, Cuba libre, gin & tonic, daiquiri of the day
Tequila Republic — Mon-Fri 12-8pm and Sat 3-8pm | Every hour until 8pm is a happy hour with a different special. Try them all!
Toro Loco – Every day 12am-12pm $1.50 national beers and $3 well drinks
Recent Bocas del Toro News