Solo Ink / Pukalani Hostel

So… they say that living abroad changes you, and I wasn’t sure if it was true or not but I definitely do some stuff on this crazy island that I would never do back in England. Anyone who knows me could confirm that the thought of tattoos really freaks me out and I always said I’d never get one in a million years. Even injections are a big deal for me.

My flatmate Hellen already has a little tattoo and had been wanting to get one on her neck since a few weeks ago but wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted etc. As the days went on we spoke more and more about tattoos and one night I was bored (couldn’t sleep) and tattoos popped into my head so I was thinking “if I wanted a tattoo, where would I get it and what would I get?” (literally just as something to think about because I was bored). I decided if I was to get one, I’d get a little palm tree on the side of my stomach because they represent the Caribbean (and Bocas) and I just really like them. Suddenly I realised that I was actually thinking about this as if it was going to happen in real life, and then I decided it would be quite cool and maybe I should do it in real life.

When I mentioned this to Hellen of course she approved and from that moment it was basically decided that I was also going to get a tattoo. When I (spontaneously) decide that I want to do something, I always make sure I do it as quickly as possible because at that time I think it’s like the most important thing in the world. Hellen also really wanted her tattoo “NOW” so we went round town asking everyone we knew if they could recommend us a good tattoo artist in Bocas.

Unsurprisingly, the hunt for a tattoo artist was a lot harder than it would be in Europe. They all told us about the same person but we decided not to go to that artist because when we saw some of her tattoos on our friends, we thought they looked kind of bumpy and not as good as some other ones we’d seen. After we posted the same question on the Bocas Facebook group, a lot of people recommended us a guy called Juan who has a studio called Solo Ink at Pukalani Hostel just outside of town. There were some other recommendations of people who just did it in their houses but we figured it was a safer option to go with someone who’s more official.

We found the number of Solo Ink online and called them up that afternoon asking if we could come straight away for one tattoo each, but Juan said he was busy (he also hand-makes surfboards and has a lot of orders for Christmas) and that we should call back at midday the next day and he would tell us a time to come that afternoon. Being Europeans, we set our alarms and, as instructed, called at midday the next day, but in typical Bocas style, Juan didn’t answer the phone. His wife who owns the hostel answered and said he’d gone surfing. Great! She assured us she’d call back when he was finished, but a few hours (a few more hours of sleep for us) later, no one had called so, our hearts set on getting our tattoos that day, we called them again. Surprise surprise he was still surfing and 3 hours later we had still received no call.

We decided that if we want these tattoos we have to go and make it happen, so we cycled to the hostel because we thought our persuasive skills would be better in person than on the phone. It’s about half an hour away from Bocas Town (on the way to Playa Bluff). We arrived just in time because Juan was just leaving again. Somehow he knew straight away that we were the girls who called him the day before. I put on the face of a 13 year old girl who wants ice-cream and told him we just had to get our tattoos today and we’d wait as long as it took for him to come back. He sighed and said something like “ok fine wait 3 hours for me”. We sat on a sofa in the hostel bar for 3 hours, mainly talking about how cool we will be once we have our tattoos and what clothes we’d wear that night to make sure they were on show to everyone.

The hostel was really different from those in Bocas Town… way more quiet and not so party-ish. It even had a swimming pool:



It felt more like a nice resort than a hostel, and the bar was more expensive than the normal ones in town but me and Hellen said we might stay there for one of our birthdays or something because it was so chilled and pretty. The shared rooms are $15 in high season.

Anyway, Juan came back around 3 hours later and we ran over to him thinking we were about to be tattooed, but he said he couldn’t do it that day but if we paid him a $20 deposit each and emailed him the pictures of what we want, we can come back for our appointment at 3pm the next day. We were heartbroken but had no choice but to say yes.

The next day was today so we cycled there at 2.15, got to the hostel at 2.45, and Juan appeared at 3.15. By this time I was absolutely terrified (the half an hour wait at the hostel didn’t help because it was just more time to think about it) and when we walked into the studio my fear was multiplied by 10. I’d never even stepped into one before in my life and when I pass them on the street in England I’m always like “ewwww” in my head. The studio looked really clean and proper and everything was in packets etc so that was one positive thing.

He drew my palm tree and once I said it was ok he basically did a temporary children’s tattoo of it on me to see if I definitely wanted it in that exact place etc. I shrugged and said “porque no” (why not) when he’d put it in its place because I didn’t really know exactly where I wanted it anyway, just somewhere on the side of my stomach. Hellen’s favourite animal is a dragonfly (you’ll have to ask her why), so that’s what she wanted on her neck. He did the same temporary tattoo thing on her and she said it was fine. He could see that I was terrified so he called Hellen over to the table first. I was kind of relieved but also worried that I was going to back out.

The machine was loud and scary, like a drill, but Hellen sat there calmly while he carved into her as if nothing was happening! I was freaking out more than her and nothing was even happening to me. She was done in about 10 minutes and after he changed the needle etc (I wasn’t looking so I don’t really know what he changed), it was my turn to go to the table. I wriggled around for a few minutes telling them how scared I was but Juan told me in a serious voice that I had 2 minutes to stop being stupid otherwise he wasn’t going to do it. Hellen held my hand and I put my other hand under my neck and he started. It was soooo horrible and her hand and the back of my neck were full of scratch-marks at the end. I don’t know what to compare it to but it’s really not nice and I will never do it again.

Juan told us we can’t swim in the sea for about a week but we can shower as much as we like and he told us the name of the cream to buy from the pharmacy and use twice a day. I think in England the artist would have given us a piece of paper with more information than that on it, but I’m sure we’ll be fine. Here they are:


They took about 10 minutes each and now Hellen says she wants another one! I definitely don’t, but I’m still alive and I have a little palm tree on my stomach so it’s all good 🙂 If you need a tattoo artist in Bocas then I guess I would recommend Juan (although to be honest I have no idea what makes a good/bad tattoo artist).

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