The town of Old Bank, known to many simply as “Bastimentos,” is on the west tip of the island, not far from Isla Carenero and Bocas town. Most of its residents live close to each other in crumbling, zinc-roofed homes perched on the waterfront or on the hillside behind it.
Its residents are mostly descendants of West Indian immigrants, and the place has a mellow, strongly Caribbean vibe. There’s always loud music playing—sometimes live, if you’re lucky.
The town is poor, trash-strewn, and has little to see, but it still has lots of local color, and it’s the best place in the islands to hear Guari-Guari, a Bocas-specific variety of so-called Panamanian Creole English. It’s fascinating to listen to and nearly impossible for the uninitiated to make much sense of, even though it derives primarily from English.
Old Bank is not for everyone, especially as a place to stay. Some people love it, particularly backpackers and surfers who want to experience the “real” Bocas. Others find it dirty and a bit squalid, and the vibe sometimes less than friendly.
On my last couple of visits, I’ve been disturbed to encounter a couple of truly drug-addled characters. But a little friendliness can be warmly reciprocated, and there are some wonderful people among the residents, both local and expat. Roots Bar and Restaurant is a good place to meet friendly folk, beginning with the smiling staff.
Two parallel concrete paths extend the length of town. There are several places to stay and a couple of restaurants and bars. A trail to the north-side beaches starts at the east end of town. The town is even a bit cleaner these days, and the sewage problem is allegedly being brought under control.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition