Bastimentos Island

Polo’s Beach, Panamá

One day while staying on Bastimentos Island in the Bocas del Toro area of Panamà, Julie and I set out in search of a local legend. We’d heard about a man named Polo who had staked out an area now know as Polo Beach for 65 years. He lived alone but welcomed company and would prepare a meal for anyone who happened to be by (and had $5 to spare). The hike from our tent lodge was pleasant though long and scorching hot. We traipsed along the beach and through jungly brush not really knowing if we’d find anything, until we spotted a sun-bleached sign tacked to a coconut tree “polo bihe [sic] / agua de coco / comida / cerveza”. Yes.

Once we arrived we were in for an experience. Polo ranted in a thick Patois and waved us over with a smile. He showed us his make-shift beach kitchen, wooden hut, lime-soaked sanitation system and huge pile of coconuts. In no time we were licking our fingers, nibbling on freshly caught blue-boned needlefish and sipping coconut water with a straw.

Stories about Polo swirl—he left civilization behind when he was 10—he sold part of the island for $1.5 million—but all I can be sure of is that it doesn’t take much to be happy on an island as beautiful and plentiful as this.

FYI: We subsequently found out that the walk from Red Frog Beach to Polo’s can be dangerous, particularly for women alone. Tourists have been mugged by thugs, though no one was seriously hurt. I’d say go, but be cautious and leave anything worth stealing behind.

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Polo at Polo Beach, Bastimentos

Polo in his element

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Nothing here is wasted, Polo even melts used straws into a paste that keeps ants away

Nothing here is wasted, Polo even melts used straws into a paste that keeps ants away

Lunch at Polo Beach, Bastimentos Island

An unlikely gourmand in his kitchen

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A meal of needle fish, rice 'n' beans and fried bread, washed down with a pipa

A meal of needle fish, rice ‘n’ beans and fried bread, washed down with a “pipa” from the tree

Before leaving, we scrubbed our tin plates the natural way, with sand in the sea, and dumped them into a bucket of lime water

Before leaving, we scrubbed our tin plates the natural way, with sand in the sea, and dumped them into a bucket of lime water

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An enviable way to live. Thanks for lunch and the lesson in self sufficiency Polo!

An enviable way to live. Polo, thank you for lunch and a lesson in self-sufficiency!

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UnaPolo’s Beach, Panamá

Comments

    1. Author
      Una

      It really was! Afterwards we followed Polo through the bush looking for red frogs. He could really move, it was hard to keep up.

  1. Marcus

    Thanks for this post! I stayed at Polo’s about fifteen years ago, and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Panama. I’ve often wondered how he was doing these days. I’m glad to see he’s still as energetic (and possibly crazy) as ever. Here’s hoping he can keep doing his thing for another 65 years!

    1. Author
      Una

      Hey Marcus. Polo seems to be happy in his own world on a remote beach on Bastimentos. He is definitely still very welcoming to visitors though I don’t think people stay with him anymore, but just drop in for lunch. Hope you get to see him again!

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