Random Travel Moment #2: Lunch With a Panamanian Beach Squatter/Wannabe Rasta


In a matter of minutes, I went from having a large/lovely beach pretty much to myself to having lunch with a leftover hippy/beach squatter/Rasta wannabe and then, briefly, being part of a quirky party he was having under his private lean-to.

How the heck did this happen?

El Toro Beach

Lean to

Well, Random Travel Moment #2 was no different than other quirky “rides”on the Chicky Bus. I was there, the beach squatter and his temporary buddies (locals, travelers and surfers) were there and something–that mysterious random in-the-moment travel mojo that happens off the beaten path–brought us together.

Here’s the story.

Where: El Toro Beach, Pedasí, Panama

Pedasí is a small town of locals and retiree ex-pats that’s a bit off the beaten path in Azuero Province in Panama. Its local beach (Pacific Coast side), Playa Del Toro, is about 10 minutes away. I was there a few months ago and was lucky it was a weekday; the beach was nearly empty–except for a few people swimming or walking and a group of about 8 people under a lean-to enjoying food, drinks and shade.

I couldn’t figure out if they were living there or just partying for the day. I must admit that I was mildly curious. I kept walking, though.

Truth be told, I liked what I saw in the other direction. No people at all.

When: Midday–When It Was Super Hot

But after a couple of hours, the heat began to get to me. My hat helped, but not much. I had water and a little food, but I was running out. I really needed to get supplies and find myself some shade–or leave the beach.

While contemplating my next move (call for a taxi? head back to town?), I walked back to where I’d entered the beach. Along the way, I met a Panamanian family and sat with them in a small pool of water that felt almost as good as a cenote might.

How: I Was Introduced by Someone’s Mom

I had a nice chat with the Mom, in English and Spanish and then, after a while, we got up to leave. “Come meet Arturo,” the mom said. “You can get water and sit in the shade.” She was pointing right at the lean-to I’d spotted earlier. “He’s a great guy…I’ve known him for years.”

Minutes later, I was shaking hands and speaking Spanish with “Arturo Cabeza” (his last name means “head), and saw what the scene was about. He welcomed me like an old friend he hadn’t seen for years. And I felt I’d joined a beach commune of sorts. And it was nice. For a while, anyway.

Who: Arturo ‘Cabeza’–a Bob Marley Shirt-Wearing, Midday Partying Hippy Dude

Arturo claimed that he owned the strip of land you see in the photos. Other folks back in town told me otherwise (they said he was a squatter). He sleeps in a tent (and sometimes a hammock), cooks food and offers it to anyone who might be passing by and runs in to town for beer, etc. He gets potable water from a nearby spring.

His ‘living space’ is rather unique. Various odds and ends, an old bike, photos of his granddaughters (who are beauty queens) and other random stuff. I felt like I was at a Salvation Army store –or maybe a bizarre garage sale–that happened to be on a beach.


What: He Offered Food, Beer and a Free Place to Stay

I was famished, so when he offered me some chicken he’d just grilled and fried sweet plantains, I couldn’t resist. It was good, too. I also accepted a cold beer from him. He then offered me chicken soup that was cold and looked a bit “off” (for lack of a better word). I declined. I offered to pay him for what I’d had, but he said no. “Just bring something to contribute if you come back tomorrow.”

Stove top cooking

Why: Arturo Is Generous/Likes to Have Company

Arturo is a hippy of sorts and has made it his goal in life to “share” with others–everything from water to food to accommodations. He loves Bob Marley and various aspects of the Rastafarian lifestyle. Not to judge a book by its cover (well, I saw the Table of Contents, too) I think he’s a wannabe Rasta.

What It Was Like: Enjoyable for a While, But…

It  was lovely being out of the sun, relaxing and reading. It was great hydrating, too. And Arturo was friendly and quite attentive to me and the others. At times, though, his behavior seemed a bit”off,” just as the soup had been. He reminded me of an over-eager waiter or a shoe salesman who worked on commission.

Eventually, as he did with the others, he offered me the option of sleeping there under the lean-to–in a tent or on a hammock. (Note: the Panamanian Mom who’d introduced us earlier had left by then.) I said “no.”

Why? Well, mostly, I wasn’t in the mood for an all-night party (which I knew it would be based on the beer, the changing dynamic, etc.).

Beer bottles

I loved the room I was staying in back in town (and looked forward to quiet and sleep). Also, there were issues of safety, etc. I didn’t know Arturo from Adam, after all. And there was the high likelihood of sand flies and/or red crabs visiting me during REM sleep. According to an Australian couple I met who been staying there for a week (they were on a super low-budget trip) both were an issue. When I saw the bites on her legs, I believed her.

After a couple hours of hanging out under the lean-to and chatting with locals and other travelers, I saw that the sun was about to set and sensed that the scene was going to transition into party mode…fast. felt the sudden urge to escape. I wanted to be alone again.

Food 'n' stuff

I thanked Arturo and walked away and then, randomly, ran into a couple who staying at my hostal who’d actually dropped me off in the morning. We went to a nearby bar with a pool and enjoyed the sunset in peace.

The random moment with Arturo Cabeza–or the series of moments, rather–had come to an end.

Beach sandals

Your thoughts/experiences?

Sunbathing Preferences

Do you prefer to stay at your hotel/hostal/hostel and relax under an umbrella with other people around–or do you like to find beaches that you can have all to yourself? Are you willing to pay more for this–as long as it’s clean/classy, etc–or risk it on a beach that’s almost too empty?

Alone or With People

If you were hot and thirsty on a beach and stumbled on to a group of people hanging under a lean-to, would you approach them or wait until you were invited? Or would you try to avoid them and just be alone? In this case, would you have done what I did? Or would you have gone back to town?

Partying at Night

Or…would you have stayed for the evening party? Why/why not?

Sleeping on the Beach for Free–or Back at Your Room for $$$

Last question….if you were on a super tight budget, would you have taken Arturo up on his offer and slept on the beach? Despite the obvious annoyances (sand flies and crabs), he did promise that it would be “tranquilo” (calm/relaxing). Would that plus being free be enough to entice you? :)

Like Random Travel Moments? Can’t get enough?

Here’s Random Travel Moment #1: ‘Getting Scarfed’ in Sanliurfa, Turkey


14 Responses to Random Travel Moment #2: Lunch With a Panamanian Beach Squatter/Wannabe Rasta
  1. Jarmo
    October 10, 2011 | 7:45 am

    I tend to prefer quieter beaches, but of course it depends a lot on my mood :) sometimes you want people, sometimes nothing can be a beautiful empty beach that you have just for yourself. The evening party could had been interesting tho ;)
    Jarmo recently posted..Bowling in Luang PrabangMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 10, 2011 | 11:30 am

      Jarmo–Yes, it’s nice to have a quiet beach, right? And in some parts of the world, it’s not easy to find one. That’s what I loved about Panama. I found several like the one in the post. The evening party might have been interesting–if the vibe had been a little better, I think. Thanks for your visit!

  2. Josh Aggars
    October 10, 2011 | 10:42 am

    Hi Lisa,

    I guess it all depends on your frame of mind at the time and who you are with. I think you made the right choice given you weren’t 100% comfortable and you have to follow your gut instinct. I probably would have stayed for a bit of the party to see what it was like and if the vibe was good just stayed on as have slept out like that on plenty of occassions and normally all good so long as you can keep the bites down (the hard part – I once woke up with a nose the size of a bugle when sleeping out under the stars in Mexico as it was the only part of my face left uncovered from the mozzies – boy did I regret that!)

    Nice addition to the random series. I look forward to the next installment.

    Josh Aggars recently posted..London Fact of the Day – True or FalseMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 10, 2011 | 11:34 am

      Hey, Josh! I agree. One must follow one’s gut in these situations–especially solo female travelers like myself. I’ve stayed late in other situations, but only when it felt 100% right.

      Have you slept (sort of) out in the open like that? I almost did in San Blas, but it ended up raining. There were no mosquitoes, believe it or not. And no party going on. It might have been OK. The bugle-sized nose sounds awful–ouch! Good thing it didn’t sound like one, right? :)

      Thanks for joining me again–hope to post another in a few weeks. Cheers!

  3. Erik
    October 10, 2011 | 8:29 pm

    Personally, I don’t sunbathe. I would hate to get harpooned… :-)

    But if I have to, I’d rather be somewhere a little more quiet.
    Erik recently posted..Photo of the Day- Wind Cave National Park, South DakotaMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 10, 2011 | 11:22 pm

      Hi, Erik. Ooh…a harpoon would hurt (just like the red crabs might–well, maybe not as much).

      I hear you re: the quiet–definitely!

  4. Gray
    October 12, 2011 | 12:45 pm

    Cool story, Lisa.
    Sunbathing preferences…depends on the crowd by the pool/beach. If it’s a mellow crowd, I’d stay there. If loud/noisy/obnoxious, I’d try to find a quieter spot.
    I would not approach a group of strangers unless I was invited, and even then, I’d be circumspect about whether I felt they were “safe” to associate with or not.
    No, I would not stay after dark, I would go back to my private room…for so many reasons.

    • CB Driver
      October 13, 2011 | 8:08 pm

      Hi, Gray. Thank you! Re: the sunbathing prefs, it sounds like we’re on the same page. Also, I was not comfortable approaching this group; I wasn’t sure what to make of them. Being invited to meet him/them by the Panamanian woman helped, of course.

      As for after dark, yeah–I hear you. :)

  5. Maria
    October 13, 2011 | 4:09 pm

    Great Job! Being open to, whatever created an environment where you ended up with little adventures not planned or even imagined. Thnx!
    Maria recently posted..Farming the WindMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 13, 2011 | 8:10 pm

      Thanks, Maria. I’m glad I was open to it. It was a lot of fun–especially early on–and being in the shade was great, too! I love relaxing on a hammock.

  6. Lenore Greiner
    October 13, 2011 | 4:40 pm

    Personally I wouldn’t have stayed – had too many ‘close calls.’. Alcohol changes the dynamic so much. Lessons learned from solo traveling.

    • CB Driver
      October 13, 2011 | 8:11 pm

      Hi, Lenore. I know exactly what you mean re: close calls. I’ve had a few, too, and wouldn’t want to be in that situation. I think that if you feel any hesitation at all, it’s best to leave. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Erica
    October 16, 2011 | 1:32 am

    I’m so glad you are telling all of your adventures like these! Seriously, what a character!

    • CB Driver
      October 16, 2011 | 3:35 pm

      Hi, Erica–so glad you’re enjoying this random moments! Yeah, he was a real character–for sure! :)

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