Theme song: “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island” by George Wyle and Sherwood Shwartz
Scott, deeply satisfied with his morning workout, exits Frangipani Island’s air-conditioned gym onto a steamy palm-lined boardwalk. It is almost too quiet. Just 10 days ago, he could hear hammers pounding, workers shouting, and generators humming, creating a cacophony of noise and activity – the sound of progress.
He observes an empty resort on the verge of grandeur interrupted like a train screeching to a halt. The grounds are strewn with debris and mud from the final stages of construction. After 14 months of exhaustive effort, the project has been stopped just two and a half months short of the finish line.
A stroll to The Elephant House Restaurant lifts Scott’s spirits as the nearby villas perch proudly above the Caribbean waters. He’s immensely proud reflecting on the obstacles the team overcame to construct it all. Scott could write a book about what it took just to build those villa pools, let alone the structures themselves, shipped from halfway around the world.
Returning as hoped post-construction, several starfish rest in the crystal-clear waters below – a reminder that life will return to normal after the pandemic. It may be a new normal. But regardless of how the world changes, Bocas del Toro will flourish and bless the lives of those who visit.
The coronavirus pandemic strikes
In mid-February, we were scrambling to meet a May 1 deadline to open our over-water resort on a private island in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. Over 50 people were working on the island when the COVID-19 hit. Living full-time on Frangipani Island, General Manager Scott, Hotel Manager Gerson, and mixologist David were preparing to open the resort. The Panamanian government reacted quickly to the virus and shut down everything including roads and waterways.
Within days, Panamanian authorities issued warnings to stop all construction; workers would be fined if they disobeyed these orders. Construction halted on Bocas del Toro less than three months from the projected completion of phase one.
In addition to Scott, Gerson, and David, five tile installers from Columbia were stranded on the island with no way to get home. This totaled eight people – almost like the seven on Gilligan’s Island that included Gilligan, Ginger, Mary Ann, the professor, the skipper, Thurston Howell III, and his wife “Lovey.”
Life on the island
So this is the tale of our castaways,
They’re here for a long, long time (hopefully not too long!),
They’ll have to make the best of things,
It’s an uphill climb.
The first mates (Gerson and David) and his Skipper (Scott) too,
Will do their very best,
To make the others comfortable (the Columbian workers),
In their tropic island nest.
In some ways it felt like a weight was lifted off our shoulders when construction stopped. We were all feeling overwhelmed with the grand opening date looming. After working at a frantic pace for far too long, everyone could benefit from a little rest.
The eight people who remained on the island have decided to make the best of it. The Columbians were able to finish the tile work on the clubhouse pool during the first couple of weeks. Now, they’re working on the landscape with David. We do not have access to plants, so they’re digging a pond and using the dirt for filler between the clubhouse pool and boardwalk in preparation for sod.
Scott and Gerson have been planning the finer details of the resort all the way down to spoons and forks. Scott has also been working with Booking.com and Expedia to launch Bocas del Toro. The biggest challenge has been getting photography as everything is “almost finished” – not ideal for pictures. We also launched our website at www.bocasbali.com.
With most of the workers gone, the guys are enjoying the beauty of the island. In the quiet jungle, David and Gerson spotted three different kinds of poison dart frogs. While snorkeling to pick up construction debris, Gerson discovered a beautiful section of coral just beyond the last villa, where the water depth drops off quickly to create a kind of shelf. During the day, Scott and David excitedly spotted dolphins and an occasional ray from the villas. On one crystal clear night, Gerson counted over 30 shooting stars.
When asked about living on the island, Scott quickly points out, “Gerson can cook!” Also, “We really miss pizza” and “We watched Tiger King in one day!” Last Sunday, Gerson and David exercised their creative juices by responding to “the homemade cocktail challenge” from friends in Europe. You can view the video on David’s Facebook page. Many followers enjoyed the video, so Gerson and David plan to create more videos on Frangipani Island.
Bocas del Toro moving forward
In the region surrounding Bocas del Toro, no cases of COVID-19 have been reported. Far from any major city, Bocas Town has the advantages of constant breezes and warm, humid weather, which scientists are finding may help kill the virus and prevent it from spreading. Despite no coronavirus cases, the area is in lockdown like the rest of Panama.
Large resort projects like Bocas del Toro are susceptible to the devastating financial effects of a worldwide pandemic. Commercial mortgage payments and on-going expenses must be paid although there is no income.
Thankfully, Bocas del Toro is in an enviable position. We have no debt, we are 100% off the grid, and we have a 20-year property tax exemption from the country of Panama no property tax. This allows us to ride out the coronavirus pandemic for as long as we need to and open when the time is right.
This pandemic is teaching all of us life lessons. The last year of construction has been intense – the antithesis of Bocas del Toro. It is time to slow down and enjoy the warm Caribbean breeze. We have created something unique to the world; now we look forward to enjoying it with you.
When do you think people will be traveling internationally to countries like Panama again for vacation?