Bocas del Toro

Chapter 4: Building in Bali and Shipping to Panama

Theme Song: “Long Distance Runaround,” Yes

Our goal is to build a resort that is unique to the world.

That’s a tall order when social media is bombarding us daily with dazzling destinations and over-the-top design. Everything from glass rooms dangling off the side of a cliff to an underwater oasis that is like sleeping in an aquarium. How do you compete with that? To compound the problem our budget is the size of a Chihuahua when what we need is a Great Dane.

Talk about unique to the world! The Manta Resort in Tanzania has a floating structure with a room above the water and a bedroom below the water.

So imagine our happy dance when we found the answer in a small community of wood workers 11,000 miles (18,000 Kilometers) away on the tiny island of Bali, Indonesia. To put this in perspective, the circumference of the earth is 24,900 miles (40,000 Kilometers). Bali is about as far away as you can get!

Why Bali?

The combination of craftsmanship, distinctive open-air designs, one-of-a-kind design elements, and intricate wood carving capabilities in Bali are unmatched anywhere in the world. In addition, the Balinese are accustomed to building over-the-water structures that can withstand the saltwater punishment and be light enough to attach to pylons extending from the ocean floor.

The magic starts when these wonderful structures built in Bali are accented with Javanese and Balinese hundred-year-old building components and furnishings. All of this and the fact that we are building them over the water allows us to create resort villas and a restaurant that meet our goal of being truly unique to the world.

Sending the Check

Max and Emma, the Dutch couple living in Costa Rica who will be building and operating the resort in Panama, introduced us to their fellow Dutch expat friends Hans and Monique. Hans and Monique also live in Costa Rica, and they own a small business that builds structures in Bali, disassembles them, and ships them in containers to Central America.

Monique is also a gifted self-taught designer who understands Balinese building techniques. We purchased the island in December of 2017 and by the end of February 2018 Monique had the designs for the villas and restaurant ready to go. After submitting the designs to Bali, we found out it would take three months to build them and six to eight weeks to ship them from Bali to Bocas Del Toro, the port town near our island.

We had just started the long arduous process of applying for the environmental and building permits required to build over the water in Panama. Nevertheless, we wanted to get things moving so we took a chance and placed the order for the restaurant and villa. I had a sinking feeling when I wired the first payment to Hong Kong, though we did have a back-up plan if we were not approved to build in Panama. We would sell the structures in Costa Rica, obviously not ideal.

Balinese Craftsmanship for the Villas

Soon after placing the order we started receiving weekly pictures of the building progress. According to their custom, the Balinese start each day with a spiritual blessing ceremony consisting of a purification, welcoming of good spirits, and a final offering with chants in ancient Sanskrit.

Blessing our villas on the first day of building in Bali

The villas will use a combination of Balinese, Javanese, Panama Caribbean, and western design elements. The framing and shape most resembles a traditional Javanese Joglo home. We decided against a Joglo roof in favor of a steep Balinese top in the Panama Caribbean thatch style.

Mixing and matching woods will weave different textures and colors to create visual interest. The villas will use at least three types of Balinese wood including iron wood for the deck; teak for the posts, walls, and tumpang sari (a layered beam structure with an ornate inner band of beams that create a vaulted ceiling, a sign of aristocracy in Java); and the rest in bangkirai wood. All three of these woods are known for their durability, water resistance, and are immune to termites and ants.

Hand-carved posts for the Tumpang Sari in our villa, the only ones like them in the world

A Restaurant Unlike Any Other

The restaurant will be a satisfying mix of the old and new, accented with Balinese and Javanese antiquities, and will be situated four feet over the ocean on pylons.

The base structure of the restaurant will be an existing Indonesian building that is over a hundred years old. And since it is not large enough for our needs, we are having it extended with a new addition in Bali. At least three different woods will be used in the construction, like what I described for the villas. The roofing on the restaurant will be thatch so that it is aesthetically compatible with the villas.

The restaurant will be open air with the Caribbean Ocean on all four sides. It will have a dramatic gebyok entrance on the pier side. A gebyok is typically a very old, intricately carved teak room partition or entryway with a door from the island of Java. We have not purchased the gebyok yet, but I’ve included a picture of an example.

To top it off, we’re building three large antique tumpang saris strategically into the restaurant to create an atmosphere like nothing else in the western hemisphere.

The existing building we will be using as the base structure for the restaurant
Carrying a massive beam for the restaurant addition
This is an example of a gebyok. We have not purchased one yet.

Our First Priority

We understand that buildings aren’t everything. Our guests’ experience at the resort will clearly be our number one priority. However, we do not underestimate the importance of the physical structures.

We feel we are well on our way to building a resort that is unique to the world.

Questions: The resort will have a distinctly Balinese style. What do you think of naming the resort “Bocas del Toro”? How can we let our resort and restaurant guests know about the Balinese origins of the buildings so they can appreciate the care and hand craftsmanship that went into building these amazing structures?

Share this post

Signup: Blog Updates

Notice: Undefined index: selectCaptchaType in /mnt/data/home/ on line 732

Recent Posts:

12 responses to “Chapter 4: Building in Bali and Shipping to Panama”

  1. Heide Ulbrich says:

    I am looking forward to see this amazing dream become reality.
    I have been to Bali and was fascinated by the incredible artwork and craftsmanship of the local artisans.
    Needless to say I would be thrilled to find a little bit of that faraway paradise close by.

    • Dan Behm says:

      Thanks for your comment Helde. I agree – Bali is an amazing unique place. We are also going to include many additional Balinese elements at our resort such as a gong to announce arrivals. Lot’s more to come in future posts. There are not many over the water resorts on this side of the world so it will be fun to introduce our guests to both Bali and Over-the-Water at one resort.

  2. Karen Wood says:

    I am excited to see the progress! Congratulations on your design and construction so far. It’s beautiful. Bali has a special place in my heart, having been there twice with plans to go back again. Keep the blogs coming!! Waiting with baited breath…

    • Dan Behm says:

      Thank you Karen! There are lots of fun things happening with the resort – and some not so fun – it is truly an adventure! I appreciate your comment and am tankful to have you along!

  3. The best way to let your resort and restaurant guests know about the Balinese origins of the buildings is to find a historical, spiritual, or cultural connection between Bali and Panama.

    Perhaps Holland is the tie that binds — Dutch buccaneers frequently raided the islands off Panama, and of course the Dutch were deeply involved in the history of Indonesia.

  4. Dan Behm says:

    Interesting connection Brant! I am wracking my brain to come up with a direct connection between Bali and Panama without success. Maybe we will be making history. Thanks for your thought provoking comment. So glad to have you along on the journey.

  5. Marny says:

    Wikipedia actually has a page on the connection between Indonesia and Panama:
    What about combining the names somehow? Panesia? Or ?

    Fun to read about your progress. It’s wild and crazy and sounds like it will be an awesome resort.

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi Marny,

      As you can see – I am spending all of my time on the resort and not enough time on checking my blog comments. Thank you for sharing the Wiki Indonesia and Panama connection. That really surprised me, especially the fact that they each have embassies in their corresponding countries.

      It is great to have you along on this crazy adventure!

  6. Nancy Humphrey says:

    From the snowy wilds of the mountains in Idaho, what you are doing is such a wonderful thought!
    Having never been to Bali, think we shall head toward you, and combine all aspects of Paradise and an exciting experience. Wow! Truly impressed w/ the beauty, innovation, Craftsmanship and sheer joy
    Of all that you are doing! And having Scott there sure ups the fun factor and knowledge of how to run a great hotel! Nancy Humphrey

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi Nancy,

      Thank you for your kind thoughtful comments and sorry for my late response. Greetings to you in Idaho! We still have snow on the ground here in Michigan and wishing we were either in Costa Rica or Panama. We are having a blast with this project, but behind the scenes there are are a surprising number of challenges that we are battling through. Having said that, the joy and exhilaration far outweigh the difficulties and we are fulfilling our dream.

      You really get it when you say that Scott ups the fun factor. He is actually in Bocas Del Toro this week and we have already exchanged many texts and talked on the phone. I am so thankful for him!!! Scott will have overall responsibility for the new resort which is what will make it a very special place.

  7. CJ Lucke says:

    All of your neighbors are hoping we can come eat at the restuarant!

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi CJ,

      The resort will be all-inclusive which makes it difficult to open the restaurant to the public. We have talked about this, but have not come to a decision yet. I am open to ideas.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *