When dreams can come true!November 17, 2020
We are arriving at the so-called tourist high season in Bocas but unfortunately we are still surrounded by this Pandemic that is the CV. Bocas resists very well, let’s face it, few cases are detected on the island right now and the sun is shining high so what are you waiting for, to find your little paradise in Bocas too?
Surfing the net in recent months, I found this blog and I immediately found myself in tune with what they wrote because it is clear, detailed and very simple but above all positive. Bocas is an island but sometimes we forget what it means to live on an island, with its defects and merits! Bocas has been able in all these years to come out of very strong problems and improve creating very strong social initiatives that have also had an impact on a global level (look at the guiness book of records for the plastic bottle village, no plastic bags), a small tourist oasis but there are also those who cannot enter or perceive what it is to live in an island, because it rains heavily or because the service is not 100% and unfortunately they leave with a bad memory. Drew, owner of the new Hotel Sol Bungalows, (https://solbungalowsbocas.com/bocas-del-toro-blog/), has instead managed to make many passages clear and simple. This is to announce that among the many Bocas del toro.com news, that we will announce in these days, we are happy to present a full collaboration and partnership between the two websites, an exchange of ideas, info, to improve tourism in Bocas more and more.
As Drew was returning to Bocas with his life partner Tamara and the little baby of the family, we had the idea of creating a small video showing that even in this difficult time, entering Panama and Bocas is perfectly under control.
But first let’s have a chat with Drew and you will understand why more and more we are very happy to collaborate with him!!
Who is Drew Berger? When did you come to Bocas and why?
I am originally from Baltimore, Maryland, and I came to Bocas in 2015 to work as the Volunteer Coordinator for the local NGO called Give and Surf. Give and Surf works with the local communities to empower them through education and community development.
I came to Bocas del Toro after working in Thailand for one year as a kindergarten teacher. I learned from my experience in Thailand that I needed to live somewhere that was tropical and good for surfing. I also knew that I wanted a job that was helping people in some way. A quick google search of, “NGO and Surf” found Give & Surf and that was that.
Why did you fall in love with Bocas?
I fell in love with Bocas (and in Bocas) for many reasons. My first love was the surf and the boating lifestyle that is so unique to the islands. That plays a big part of my life and is one of the main reasons I have stayed in Bocas.
Secondly, working with Give and Surf provided me with countless opportunities to grow as a person and I really feel that I matured into who I am today because of my 4 years with them. I was able to work side by side with the local people in every large community throughout the islands. Whether it was building classrooms, teaching them to surf, to speak english, or just running around playing mud soccer with the kids; it was an endless period of new experiences that pushed me way out of my comfort zone.
The connections I have formed here and the history I have are another big reason I chose to stay. Maybe one day we will be ready to move on and start a new adventure, but for the foreseeable future Bocas is definitely our home.
What you would like to change and what you would not want to change?
There is a huge list of things I would like to change in Bocas and also many things I would never want to change!
I love how undeveloped it is and I really pray it never turns into a location with big resorts and high-rise hotels. This will totally ruin it in my eyes and tourism is a double edged sword in this regard. While everyone wants more tourists to come; it also inevitably changes the place that we love. Our job in the tourism industry is to make sure that the change is positive and sustainable.
I hope Bocas continues to go in the “green” direction and I really appreciate all of the local initiatives that have started up over the years. I love that the local government banned plastic bags and also that we have a place like Plastic Bottle Village helping Bocas become world famous. Plastic is a huge global problem and it’s awesome to see that Bocas is at the forefront of tackling this problem.
It was also really incredible to see how our community banded together during the COVID-19 Crisis (which is still ongoing). People immediately started helping those in need through food donations, cleaning supplies, tablets for kids who couldn’t be in school anymore, ect., the list is very long! We are strongest in Bocas when we are united together and I think COVID-19 has taught us this lesson.
Why would a young boy like you with a new family decide to risk and open a business so big in Bocas!
The decision to stay and start our business here was an easy one pre-COVID-19. Tourism was rising and Bocas was gaining a lot of attention on an international level. We saw no problem in being able to rent out our two overwater bungalows for most of the year.
My travels throughout tropical surf destinations in the world also helped me see the potential of Bocas. I’ve been to Bali several times, lived in Thailand, been all over the Caribbean and Central America. Bocas del Toro is truly unique to all of these places and the fact that it is still largely undeveloped and unheard of makes it a good time to start up here.
However, now is different. Tourism is one of the most negatively affected industries in the world. Hopefully it will come back in the next few years, but as of now it is undetermined how a new business in tourism will do… Maybe I should have sold insurance!
And your partner in crime is?
My partner in crime is Tamara from Switzerland. She came to Bocas to learn to surf after traveling around South America for several months. Her first few days here were one of those times when the weather was really stormy and grey. She was actually ready to leave Bocas to go back to Medellin in Colombia which she adored. Tropical Storm Otto however, had other plans; as it was passing North of us in the Caribbean and the government shut down all transportation out of the islands.
She was literally stuck now. The waves picked up and the sky cleared after the storm and she instantly fell in love with the Bocas surf lifestyle. We met surfing at Carenero Point soon after that and now we are married with a 10 month old baby girl!
What and why a young father can suggest to other parents to start adventure in Bocas with a little baby!!!
You definitely want to come and rent here for a few months (or a year) before deciding on selling everything to move here. Bocas is not for everyone and you’ll find out quickly if it is a right fit for you.
I would also recommend having a steady income outside of Bocas. If you can make US or European level money while living on a Bocas budget you will be much more secure. Starting a business in Bocas is very difficult, especially restaurants and hotels which are extremely over saturated!
In terms of being parents, we are really excited for the life that our daughter will have here. We are a part of the local surf community and there are a ton of expat and local parents in this community that have young children and it seems that more are on the way every day! There really is something in the water here!
We are also happy to have our daughter grow up around such immense natural beauty. We are very excited to teach her to swim, surf, dive, and fish (if she wants), and to have her be more disconnected from technology and consumerism. She will also be able to get a good education for at least her first 10-12 years at Tangerine International School, so we have time to figure out the next step in that regard. Maybe by then there will be enough kids in the islands to have an international middle and high-school also!
Lets talk now about your blog “The Bocas del Toro Blog” and why did you decide to start it?
The Bocas del Toro Blog is a Bocas del Toro focused travel blog I started at the beginning of the Pandemic. I built the website for Sol Bungalows and then started putting all of my knowledge of the islands into travel guides to help promote and accurately portray Bocas.
I decided to start the blog because I found a handful of negatively toned articles written by prominent travel bloggers about Bocas del Toro on the first and second page of Google. It made me think about how many people might be deciding to go somewhere else for their vacation instead of Bocas del Toro due to reading these articles. The thing that really got my attention was just how inaccurate, uninformed, and irresponsible these articles are. They are full of incorrect information and the bad experiences that these bloggers had in the islands can be purely attributed to their lack of understanding and knowledge of the area. The scary thing is that once these articles are on the internet, they can be damaging to a destination’s reputation for years!
The #1 goal of The Bocas del Toro Blog is to honestly and accurately portray Bocas del Toro through insider information and travel guides so that visitors can have the best possible stay. I believe that by doing so I can help people have more positive experiences in the islands which will, in turn, help tourism as a whole. I want every single person who visits the islands to have the best possible experience so they can go home and tell their friends and family to come! In order for this to happen they need to be well educated on where to stay, which island to stay on, what to do, where to eat, when to come, how to get here, ect. Then they can make informed decisions that are best suited to their personal interests!
What is one message you would like to leave for someone who will visit the islands?
I think the most important thing to understand is that Bocas del Toro is a developing destination. We have many problems in the islands and none of them will be changed overnight (although we are working very hard on them)! Bocas del Toro is not a perfectly manicured resort bubble where you will only interact with resort staff and everything is seemingly perfect. Bocas del Toro is a real destination, filled with real local people and unique experiences, and that may or may not be what someone wants on a vacation. As they say, “Panama is for travelers, not for tourists!”