In Bocas del Toro, we had met a cool couple from Houston. Shane and Shana were traveling Panama on their 10-day vacation and we’re trying to figure out where to go next. We told them we were heading off to Boquete the next day, and offered them a ride. So again, we were glad to have some passengers and easily fit 5 in the bus.
Boquete was named in some retirement publication as a great place for Americans, so we were half-expecting a fully Americanized mountain town. But, apparently the gringos live out of town in giant houses with gardeners, housekeepers and chefs. In town, it still looked like Central America. Also, a few weeks ago there had been a big flood and the town was still cleaning up from that. The river was raging.
There wasn’t much to do in town, but lots of adventure trips you could book if you had the money. Whitewater rafting and canopy tours weren’t on our wish list this time, so we took a few day trips. We found a natural hot spring about 45 minutes away. The landowners had a pet monkey. We also tried to hike to a waterfall, but I think we got the wrong trail.
Remember this guy, who said every gringo in Costa Rica was a pedophile, druggie or low-life? Well, we’re starting to think he’s on to something, except I think they’ve moved on to Panama.
Back in Bocas, we heard the tale of an America recently arrested for multiple murders. He chose victims that no one would report missing (likely on-the-run) and transferred the paperwork of their possessions or businesses to himself. That was, until his last victim, a well-known American business woman in the area. His capture had happened a few weeks before our visit, but it was still big news there.
Here in Boquete, we arrived at our hostel at the same time as the owner from Florida. Clearly there was some tension at the hotel, but we blew it off as the usual Panamanian service. The next night, while we watched football and made sandwiches in the closed kitchen, we got to chatting with the owner and heard quite a tale.
A few years ago, the river flooded and did a lot of damage to the area. The owner worked for 2 months trying to repair the damage. Alongside him, a new friend Dennis worked day and night. At the end of this, the owner entrusted Dennis with managing his hostel while he took his family back to Florida to deal with the damage from the latest hurricane there.
For 2 years, Dennis had made the deposits into the bank account, though the owner suspected there was a lot of money he wasn’t depositing. Busy with the repairs of several rental houses in Key West, he let it slide as the mortgage was paid for and the reviews on TripAdvisor and the like were good.
Cut to a week ago, when he gets an email from a neighbor of the hostel. Dennis had been taken into custody by US Marshals 4 days before. He was charged with skipping bail while waiting on a retrial for a sex with a minor charge (he’d been in jail for this before, and for some reason after 4 years of a 45 year second sentence, they let him out to await a retrial). He skipped bail and fled the country, worked in Costa Rica a while, then moved on to Panama.
Dennis was featured on America’s Most Wanted (under his real name) and a couple from Wisconsin who’d stayed at the hostel tipped off the police. Dennis was dating a young Panamanian girl who also worked at the hostel, but failed to call the owner when he was arrested. She had also gotten her brother on staff as a watchman and her mother working in the kitchen. The kitchen was small, in the back of the hostel and was meant to only serve guests. Dennis turned it into a gringo hang out where old white men would come with their young local girlfriends for breakfast, then stay all day getting drunk. In fact, when we checked in their was an old man stumbling drunk around the lobby. He was yelling ‘Happy Birthday’, so I just figured he’d imbibed a bit too much at a party there, but apparently that’s what he yells everyday when he’s drunk at 4 pm.
The owner closed the restaurant first thing and fired the staff. We got to witness him telling several clients to leave, and the restaurant would be opening for hotel guest only. Every now and then some retiree would walk in to meet his ‘girlfriend’ and was told to beat it. They looked lost.
The owner was quite embarrassed by the shenanigans, and had apologized to all the neighbors and was set to talk to the mayor. He’d lived there for a few years, and had helped coach and sponsor the local little league team, so I think he’s pretty well-loved in the community. Hence, I didn’t want to give his name or the hostel name in the story. Rest-assured, by this time, it is a fine place to stay! And what a great story we heard!