As you know if you’ve read my other posts, for the past few months I’ve been living with my friend Hellen in a spacious apartment with 2 en-suite bedrooms on the Main Street within a few minutes walking distance of basically everything, for a total between us of $475/week. The other day, the landlord knocked on the door and I answered, and he told me we had 2 hours to pack our stuff and get out. I won’t go into details but basically he said it was because of some people Hellen invited over who didn’t behave well and the neighbour complained, and a few other things about her. Obviously this isn’t officially allowed, and you’re supposed to give people a few days’ notice so they can find somewhere else, but I knew there was no point disputing what he said and I went and told Hellen that we needed to start packing up and cleaning.
He gave us back our deposit etc and we decided to find somewhere to put our suitcases before hunting for another place to live. A nice receptionist in Alba Hotel (next door to where we lived) let us leave them there. It was hot and we were obviously a bit stressed out but we thought we should be able to find something that day.
The process of finding somewhere to live in Bocas is not what we’re used to in Europe. There are no estate agents here. You have to start by asking all your friends if they know anyone who has a vacant apartment/house/room, and if they all say no, you have to just walk/cycle round, and when you see a place with apartments you have to shout to someone you see in them, asking if they have the number of the owner or if the owner’s there, then call the owner and ask if there’s anything available etc. Often the owner lives on site in the main house and there are some smaller apartments attached to it which they rent out.
The problem is, it’s high season right now and Carnival is coming up so the island is full, so after about an hour of “no they’re all full” answers, we started to worry, and began to accept that we’d probably have to live separately and/or further out of town. When it got dark we gave up, got something to eat and decided to book 2 nights in the Alba Hotel and if we didn’t find anything after those 2 nights, we’d have to re-think our plans and look on a different island or just go back to Europe.
The beds were so comfy in the hotel that I basically didn’t move from mine that whole evening. The shower had HOT WATER! It was so weird, the mirror steamed up and me and Hellen were like “oh my God” because we’d forgotten that mirrors steam up, after showering with cold water every day in Bocas.
The next day it was ridiculously hot which didn’t help our mood, and we received so many more “no”s that we decided to just sit on the pavement with our heads in our hands. After a few minutes of that we realised it wasn’t going to help matters so we called our friend Richie who’s always helpful when we need his help. He lives a bit out of town in a studio flat (there are about 10 of them behind the owner’s house) and he said there are some free there and we should go and look. We didn’t want to have to live outside of town and that area is a bit more “ghetto” and there are more mosquitoes etc but we figured it was better than nothing and we may as well at least look.
When we walked through the gate I really felt like we were in Panama (sometimes in Bocas it just feels like a hotter version of Europe or something). There were people sitting outside their flats gossiping, water buckets everywhere, and some mud and random pieces of wood and other building materials. Richie asked the owner if me and Hellen could look at the vacant flats and she showed us the 3 available ones. We only looked at each one for about 5 seconds, spoke to each other for 30 seconds and then told the owner that Hellen wanted the $250/month one (with a comfy double bed, decent sized bathroom, big fridge, toaster, kettle, toastie maker, cooker, desk, chair etc) and I wanted the $120/month one (a lot more small and ugly with basically nothing except a bed with a thin mattress).
I asked how much the deposit would be for mine (expecting her to say $120, the same as a month’s rent), and she said “ummm, let’s say $30”. A $30 deposit for a studio flat! How cool! I don’t think I’ll ever pay one that low again in my life. She asked us when we wanted to move in and I said we’d already booked the hotel for that night so we’d come tomorrow, and she said “ok, well I’ll probably be here to give you the keys etc, if not just ask my sister or someone to sort it out for you”. I love how chilled/easy it was.
By the way, there’s one catch to the low price… She told us that the water only comes on in the flats 4 times a day for 1 hour at a time: 6am, midday, 6pm and 10pm. She said if you want water to shower or flush the toilet etc at other times, you can fill up a bucket from the tap around the back, which always works. You may be thinking I’m crazy for deciding to live there but I was just happy to find a place, and it was my choice to come to Panama so I’ll have to get used to sometimes not having running water etc.
The first thing I did on moving-in day was buy these cute bed-sheets to make my ugly room seem nicer:
This is my “kitchen”. The sink is smaller than the average frying pan, so I think washing up will be interesting (if I ever cook). The cooker is a gas cooker and there’s no gas canister thing. They cost $60 and I still haven’t decided if I can be bothered to buy one when I’m normally too lazy to cook anyway:
You can’t really tell from this photo I don’t think, but when you sit on the toilet your knees touch the wall in front:
This pipe thing is my shower. I waited yesterday a few hours for the water to come on so I could shower, but it turned out the water comes out at the rate of one of those rubbish water drinking fountains where it hardly has enough power to reach your mouth. I decided the bucket method (even though I’d never used it in my life) would probably be more effective, and I was right, so I’ll be having bucket-showers every day now. They’re really fine, if you want to save water you should also have a bucket-shower!
The window on the right is mine. This is where I’ll hang my clothes to dry etc:
This is out the back where you fill up your bucket:
(I think you can see what I mean about feeling Panamanian now).
One other slightly difficult thing is the lack of internet. Our other place didn’t technically have it but we managed to steal wifi from nearby hotels. There aren’t really any hotels near this place so that’s not possible. I have to write assignments for uni so I definitely need the internet. Obviously I can just cycle to town for cafes with free wifi, or for paying internet cafes, but it’s just a bit annoying to then have my laptop to take back when it’s raining etc, or if I want to stay in town and do other stuff. I can pay $90 to have internet for the 2 months I have left in Bocas, so I might do that even though it’s a bit expensive.
Once I’ve bought a torch to be able to fill up my bucket at night etc, I’ll be fine there, and I think it will be cool living in a less touristy part of Bocas.