August came around as it often does. Lots of thunderstorms but also some amazingly sunny days.
I started really getting to grips with the whole “responsible for an entire island” malarkey. Bill and Janis have been wonderful with their advice and wise council – there’s so much to do! Solar panels, plumbing, gardening, building, fettling the boat. With all that I’ve got going on I’ll be amazed if I get around to posting this blog before Christmas. 2015.
Being on my own is a bit weird, I’m defo not cut out to be a hairy hermit.
A week into August, my friends Dave and Victoria came over to stay on Jinja Island. Dave helped me with the chicken house that Ian had left a little worse for wear…
A little tap with a crowbar and it’ll be right as rain.
With the flush toilet installed and the chicken house sorted it was time to declare open Jinja Island OPEN FOR BUSINESS!!
Just a few days later I had a guy called Max come and take me up on my offer of staying on a private island for free – I had my first CouchSurfer!
On my journey around the world I CouchSurfed with dozens of people – I quite simply would not have been able to complete my journey without their help, and now it was time for me to pay off my CouchSurf karma… pay it forward so to speak.
A few days later I found myself hosting Felix and Steffi from Germany.
And then Conrad from the UK…
Who was joined by Timothée from France…
And finally, at the end of the month, Guillaume and Emeline, also from France.
We stayed up late, drank Panama beer, played cards, talked bollocks and marvelled at the starry starry nights that only come from living on an island 9 degrees north of the equator.
I do miss Casey though. It’s not the same without her.
I returned from Glasto with only a few days to run around and see everyone. The next day, my brothers Alex and Mike accompanied me and regulars Brian and Soraya for the Fact film quiz.
The next day I did the rounds, dropping in to Chester see a very heavily preggers Lucy, her husband Tim and baby Saul. Tim wants to call the new baby Saul II: Saul Harder.
Then it was one last night on the tiles with AB, Tom and Ste.
I came down to London a day early so I could grab lunch with another very pregnant friend of mine, Michelle.
That afternoon I took part in a photoshoot for the Australian magazine Frankie. We went to a workshop where they make bespoke hand-painted globes of the world. I was in HEAVEN. I also got some very cool pics of yours truly.
Afterwards I met up with Casey for one last night together.
The next day she drove me to Heathrow Airport. So this was it, as always, at a bloody airport. I hate airports.
As a parting gift, I gave her my hat.
And so back to Panama.
The plane left and landed on the same day. I got to Panama City airport and jumped a taxi to the Albrook bus station. Then it was a FREEZING COLD (as always!) overnight bus to Almirante, the port for Bocas Del Toro. I got back to Bocas before 8am, paid a taxi guy to take me back to Jinja and there I was.
Thankfully, my super neighbours Kent n’ Marcy and Bill n’ Janis had been looking after the animals when I was away. They rock my world.
But here I was. Casey-less. On my own.
Okay, so I’ve travelled on my own a lot, but I’ve never lived on my own. I was living with my parents until I was 18, then I was in uni for a few years, living with friends, then Mandy then Casey… I never really had a place to myself. And now, I’m alone. On an island.
It was strange.
And so to work, I guess. But nobody told me just how much it rains in July. It was insane.
And the thunderstorms. JESUS CHRIST THE THUNDERSTORMS!!! So there’s me up at 4am, crouched down in the kitchen, in just boxer shorts and wellies, torch in one hand, fire extinguisher in the other because the storm is DIRECTLY ABOVE THE ISLAND.
You know when you see the flash you start to count 1… 2… 3… waiting for the thunder? Have you ever had no delay whatsoever?
It doesn’t go KRACK-A-KRACK-A-RUMBLE it just goes BANG!!
And splits trees in half, like this one, just 50 metres from my house.
I spent most of the month just existing, adjusting, getting my head around all the mad shit that happened in order for me to arrive at this point.
I did a lot of digging, for some reason becoming obsessed with removing the hundreds of tree stumps that litter the island.
But all it did was make a nice big muddy puddle for bitey insects to breed. After this behemoth I decided to call it quits on the project – I’ll just leave them to the termites.
Three of the four new chicks were doing well, but the one we called Caska was having real trouble. She was a wee timid thing and the other chickens would bully her and steal all her food. So I let her hop up the stairs and come eat in the house.
She would come up every day at lunchtime, regular as clockwork, the cute little thing.
Every Wednesday and Thursday I do the weather on the radio for the “Bocas Emergency Network” (or BEN). Us landlubbers (or ‘dirt people’ as we’re known) team up with the yachties to present a show every morning at 7.45am on the VHF radio network. It covers any news, gossip, coming and goings, what’s for sale and what events are happening across the archipelago.
Doing the weather is quite fun, and a good excuse for getting out of bed in the morning. I like to make up ridiculous Grand Poobar-style titles for myself such as “Second Trombonist In The Coconut Army Choir”. Although I dunno if the Americans who make up the majority of people on the network get the joke.
A couple of Americans that did actually find me amusing were Dave and Tori, a young couple who had met working in Texas and were now yachting around the world on their lovely little boat the Eva Marie. They summoned me on the radio (my callsign is “BEN 63”) and asked if I wanted to meet up for shit and giggles.
Not long afterwards, the three of us found ourselves out in Bocas for a night of hilarity and destruction.
Afterwards I retreated back to Jinja and spent the next few days wandering around the island jabbering to myself. I’m not into all this solitude malarkey… I need to find me some house guests… some – dare I say it? – CouchSurfers.
The last blog entry was rather heavy, so let’s have some levity, eh?
As noted, Casey and I were now in Liverpool. So of course we had to give Cyrus, Ste and Graeme a call for a night on the tiles.
It was as theatrical as you might imagine.
We wound up on the roof of the old Far East restaurant waiting for the sunrise.
AND SO TO GLASTONBURY…!!!
Glastonbury is the greatest music festival in the world and I will fight anyone who says otherwise (especially if they’ve never been). This year was no different, we had superb weather, I hung out with Scottish Anna and her mates, which came in handy as my flag this year was the flag of St Andrew with “GO ON THEN, PISS OFF ;)” written in large friendly letters.
The lovely Casey dropped me off at the nearest train station.
I took the bus into the site for the first time in 17 years. Hell, I’m not complaining… it was free!!
I met my buddies at Block 9 and of course hilarity ensued.
Here are just some of the highlights of Glastonbury 2014:
At the beginning of the second month on Jinja, Casey and I awoke to a wonderful sight: four baby chickens! We called them Caska, Grey, Les and Ninja.
We also had some rather exciting visitors in June as globe trotters Alex Hennessey and Michael Graziano came to stay.
Mike and Alex are embarking on their “Global Degree” – a challenge to visit every country in the world before they hit 30. They filmed Case and I on the island and put together this lovely video of their time on Jinja:
You may have noticed in that video the quick shot of the composing toilet. It quite simply had to go. HAD. TO. GO. Seriously. Oh my God. Maybe they work well in a dry, arid environment, but here in the tropics it was the most disgusting thing I can imagine. So you lift the lid… and thousands of tiny flies emerge from… you know that bit you plonk your ass on? Yeah, that. Oh but that’s not all! Heaven forfend it might rain! Then you have these black leach-slug-woodlice THINGS sliming all over the outside of the loo, drinking the water, I dunno.
And then there’s the process of emptying the damn thing. So, people turn up at your gaff, leave their shit behind. You then roll it in some sawdust (like that’s going to do ANYTHING) and pull a lever and some of it will drop into the tiny plastic shelf under the crap barrel. You then pull out said shelf – full of shit and piss and sawdust and bugs – smelling like a Glasto portaloo on the last day – and CARRY THE [email protected]”%ING THING dripping brown urine through the kitchen, down the stairs out down the path to the far end of the island.
And then because the shit shelf was a fraction of the size of the shit barrel, you had to do that again. And again. Usually 6 or 7 times.
NOT WANTING TO DIE of dysentery or cholera or the bubonic plague, Case and I decided that enough was enough. Bill and his worker Edwardo were kind enough to run me to the mainland where I picked up a septic tank, a flush toilet and plenty of plastic piping.
It was time to right a terrible wrong. First up, I had to dig out a massive hole.
Then Case and I had to put the septic tank in the hole…
…fill the tank with water so it wouldn’t float…
…discover it wasn’t quite level so had to empty the damn thing before resetting and refilling it.
Then, back in the house, we had to reinforce the floorboards before cutting a hole in the floor where the composting toilet used to be.
Connect all the pipes, make sure the flush works and… eventually… voilà!
Casey and I were due to fly back to the UK near the end of June. I would be going to the Glastonbury festival. I’d be back here in Panama at the beginning of July, but Case wouldn’t be coming back with me. We would still be together, but she had stuff she needed to do.
We resolved to make our last week together on Jinja as magical as possible. And so we made our final pilgrimage to Rana Azul…
A few days later we took the boat over to Red Frog Marina on Basimentos Island.
From there we walked through the jungle to Red Frog Beach.
It felt like a story cut prematurely short – a great TV show cancelled in its prime.
My good friend Kendra (who I climbed the Great Pyramid with) had volunteered to look after the place while we were away. We had tried to get her friend Mohammed (who I also climbed the Great Pyramid with) into the country, but even though we got him a Letter of Invitation from my lawyer in Panama City, the Panamanian authorities would not let him into the country for love nor money (we tried both). So Kendra wound up looking after the place on her own. It was only for 10 days so we figured it wouldn’t be too bad – Kendra’s a hardy soul, originally from Boston, she’s been roughing it in Egypt for the last 5 years… she can totally handle herself. Mohammed would wait up in Guatemala (where he could fly) and meet with Kendra afterwards.
So Kendra arrived, four days later than expected. Bill and Janis took her under their wing and were even good enough to drop Casey and I off in town in the pouring rain.
Casey and I said our goodbyes to Kendra and our wonderful neighbours and then travelled back up through Costa Rica to San Jose.
We flew home via Houston in the USA.
And before we knew it we were back in Liverpool.
However, all was not well in Bocas.
On the first night Kendra was alone on the island something really quite terrible happened. One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to post this blog entry was that I’m new here and I didn’t want to upset anyone by blabbing about something on the internet that isn’t public knowledge. But one of our neighbours – a guy called Stig, who I had met once at Rana Azul, was set upon in his own home by 3 masked intruders who proceeded to beat him half to death and then set him adrift on a boat in Tierra Oscura bay.
Since this event I’ve heard several accounts from people as to why this happened, and that it wasn’t a random attack… but still… Kendra was alone, on a strange island, and everything was playing out in real time on the VHF radio network, it was a Saturday night, speedboats were buzzing past the island… if it had been me I would have run a mile.
Thankfully, our wonderful neighbours Bill and Janis took Kendra in, and made sure she was okay. This all happened while Casey and I were travelling back the UK. On the Monday Kendra decided to head to Guatemala to meet up with Mohammed and my other wonderful neighbours Marcy and Kent said they’d feed Campesino the dog and our chickens.
Needless to say, once I get back I won’t be leaving the island again for a long time.
Case and I were picked up by Ian in the morning on his little blue and white speedboat, the Sea Nile, a 1970s Luger – hilariously carpeted, as were all things in the 1970s.
Ian gave me a go on the run over to the his island… sorry, MY island… at least for a year… welcome welcome to Jinja Island.
No sooner had we dropped off our bags than we were whisked over to Jean’s place in Dolphin Bay (around the back of Jinja) for lunch. Jean’s a local guy with a lovely palapa-style restaurant which sits out on the water… inspiration for Jinja, methinks!
The burgers were bigger than Casey’s head.
That night we chilled in the warmth of our new home. Ian and Vanessa were good enough to give us the master bedroom while they slept on the couches downstairs.
The next day, the initiation began in earnest. Ian showed Case and I around the island, explaining how to maintain everything – the solar set-up, the water system, the composting toilet (that’ll have to go).
Sunday we went to Rana Azul – a little restaurant hidden away in nearby Terra Obscura bay – something of a weekly tradition for the ex-pats around these parts. On the way we met Ernie from the episode of New Lives in The Wild featuring Ian’s island. Once at Rana, Case and I learnt how to make cocktails as we would be replacing Vanessa and serving in the bar come next week. We met the regulars – Bill and Janis, Jane and Peter, Tony and Marilyn, Linda and Wayne, Cathy, Lyn, Axel, Captain Ron, Captain Ray… and of course Joseph, the Austrian guy who runs the place.
Then it was back to Jinja. Ian and Vanessa stayed at Bill and Janis’s for the night, giving Case and I our first night alone on the island. An island!!! This is mental.
The next day I started work – I had a crazy idea that it might be intelligent to remove the many tree stumps that littered the island. It would be a few months later that I would discover that the tree stumps kinda keep the soil together – it would be better to just dump soil all around them. But hey-ho, I was having fun with my pick-axe.
Case meanwhile was busy befriending Campesino, the surprisingly well-trained island dog, and the nine chickens that would be our early morning alarm clocks for the next year.
Ian and Vanessa left the country on the Tuesday… and thus Jinja Island was born.
Case and I spent the next week getting to grips with our new environment – the chickens, the geckos, the exotic birds, the boat, the long trek to town, the VHF radio network (our secret codename is BEN 63), Dolphin Bay… it was a steep learning curve. Casey made a lot of smoothies.
It would be less than a fortnight when we got our first proper deluge – the weather here is either sunny or monsoon, with little in between. I made a mental note to buy some willies.
We then scooted off to Rana Azul to serve some drinks.
That week we got to see just some of the spectacular sunsets that Bocas is famous for.
We marvelled at the bananas growing out the back, and fell in love with the baby coconuts and the tiny geckos running all over the shop.
All our geckos are called Gordon.
I cracked on with my anti-tree stump campaign afterward we chilled on the hammocks.
It had only been a few weeks before we got our first visitors – Ed and his buddies. Ed was a friend of a friend who was travelling through Bocas. It was a bit of a panic to be honest, we had barely got to grips with the place, and here we had four people descending on us… six people in a house that’s about right for two.
But they were a good bunch, they introduced us to Cards Against Humanity (which will be a running theme throughout the year) and we drank a good amount of alcohol.
At the end of the month we were invited to fellow Brit-Gringos Peter and Jane’s place at Split Hill, 10km south of Jinja.
We caught a lift there with Bill and Janis, our wonderful neighbours from the US who have kinda adopted us. They’re like the coolest neighbours EVER. We love them.
It’s a great little community down here in Bocas Del Toro. I like it. I think I’ll stay.