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The Stars That We Could Reach

October 2016

Towards the end of September, I was treated to a visit from my wonderful friend Vicki from “over the water” as us Liverpoolians call Birkenhead. Vicki’s an exceptionally talented graphic designer and stayed with me for a couple of weeks.

Vicki and I had a boss time together. We attended the annual Chili Cook-Off at The Bocas Brewery (won by Robin and the Toro Loco bar team)…

We went ziplining through the Red Frog Jungle on the isle of Bastimentos…

On the way back from the zipline, we found a little sloth that had fallen from a tree. Our guide said it happens all the time, and that they rarely hurt themselves. He was dazed for a little while, but he soon started climbing back up the tree in the most incredibly slow, meticulous and adorable way.

After our zipline adventure, we spent the rest of the afternoon drinking Sangria at The Palmar Tent Lodge bar with Aaron and Sebastian. We were supposed to be taking the 6pm boat back to Bocas Town, but we missed it by 1 minute. ARGHH!!

We ended up having to hang around for another hour waiting for the staff boat to take us back… which was lucky as if we missed that one, we’d be stuck on Bastimentos island for the night (not really, I would have called Ariel the Boat Taxi Guy to come pick us up, but it would have cost a small fortune).

However, I was a little, shall we say… “refreshed” after all that sangria. When the boat stopped in Basti Town on the way back to Bocas, I thought we were in Bocas. It was only after I had jumped out of the boat and walked a good way along the wooden jetty that I realised that nothing looked right. I turned around and walked (staggered?) back to the boat, failing to notice that one of the deck boards was missing.

I fell straight through the gap like a stone, absolutely twatting my ribs on the way down. I managed to grab hold of the board in front of me so I didn’t completely fall in the water (although my legs did… with my phone in my pocket). I struggled up, felt utterly humiliated, got back to Bocas and got on with the job of drinking the night away.

It wasn’t until the next morning when I awoke that I realised that I had totally broken two of my ribs. I spoke to the Bocas doctor and he told me there was no point in going for an x-ray as it would just cost me money. The only thing I could do is have lots of bedrest and wait for them to heal.

Bedrest? Bedrest?! Have you even met me?!

So obviously I accompanied Vicki on her trip back to Panama City that afternoon. We cadged a lift with a guy in Almirante who was driving that way, all we had to do was chip in for petrol.

It's a bit of a trek.

About 50km from Panama City we ran out of fuel, it was all a bit of a nightmare. But got there in the end.

I'm in so much pain in this picture. You can't imagine.

The next day morning I took Vic (and my broken ribs) to check out the ol’ Panama Canal.

That evening, Vic flew back to the UK and I headed back to Bocas to work on my book. The manuscript was finished, now it was all about typesetting, maps, graphics, cover design etc. Vicki had been amazing with all the help she gave me (I just look as though I know what I’m doing, I really don’t), you honestly can never have enough friends who work in design.

Great kerning, Panama. I approve.

The overnight bus back to Bocas would have been uncomfortable without two broken ribs. As it was, it was a bloody nightmare.

The following two weeks were ones of abject agony. I couldn’t sleep on my side, only flat on my back. When I woke up in the morning, I was like a turtle that had been flipped on its shell. I had to rock myself left and right before I gained enough momentum to roll out of bed.

Here’s me having never broken a bone in my life and then I break three in one year in increasingly ridiculous ways. Go to hell, 2016.

I took a break from my woes (and book editing) to celebrate Josh’s birthday at the Los Amigos fried Chicken Joint with Chad, Justin and the two Megans.

Then I had me a couple of visitors to Jinja Island; Brian and his girlfriend.

(You need to take the top off the bottle, Bri!)

Not long afterwards, Bocas had its last ever Oktoberfest at Rana Azul.

Josef, the guy who runs the joint had decided to cut and run, off for a new life in The Philippines.

Josef of Rana Azul

We had a good few drinks together once everyone else had left the bar. Being a fellow European, Josef, like I, was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the extreme views that were being espoused by a lot of the people we had regarded as friends over here — mostly our older American friends, a good number of whom were openly supporting the vile sex-pest Donald Trump to be president.

If I had huge misgivings about Brexit, my misgivings about Trump were off the charts. Amongst other terrible, cruel and mean-spirited things, his election would set back our ability to tackle climate change by a decade, a decade that has been called critical by every climate scientist worth their salt.

I don’t think people grasp the gravity of the situation here. It will only take a sea-level rise of a couple of feet in order for us to lose pretty much every beach on Earth, not to mention the Maldives, Tuvalu, Kiribati… and render much of London, Paris and New York uninhabitable.

Remember these? Your children won't.

I wished Josef fair winds on his travels. I’ll miss his pizzas and Sunday afternoons at Rana. Yet another victim of this terrible, terrible year.

A couple of Americans I did still get on with were Nico and Crazy Dave from the Bookstore. Their annual Halloween tradition of digging up a dead rock star to perform their greatest hits for our amusement was alive and well, so on October 31st I headed over to Bocas for the annual gig-from-beyond-the-grave.

A lot had changed since the start of the year. The Deja Brew Café had closed down, Lizzie and Martin had moved away, Mundo Taito was gone and with it Max and Greg who used to run the place. The Bookstore was under financial pressure because of an insane new rule on live music and Selina’s backpackers had been quietly muscling all competition out of town. Rebeca was still here, thank heavens, but those bright, clear, carefree days spent with my favourite Bocanauts were a thing of the past.

Of course I’d make new friends, but the outside world was getting to me. Brexit was getting to me. Trump was down in the polls, but if the Americans here in Bocas were anything to go by, he’ll walk the election next week. I hate the selfishness of it all, the blithe cruelty. These old people who’ve already lived their lives, they’re done, retired. But instead of just kicking back and having fun, they’re maliciously kicking the ladder away for the younger generations. Making them suffer… for what?

At the end of it all, I’d like to ask them if it was worth it.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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