From the sea level to 3,474 m above it

Trip Start Sep 06, 2010
Trip End Sep 04, 2011

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Flag of Panama  ,
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Once my stay on Bocas del Toro was over, I got on David bound bus to explore Panama's midland, to be more precise a mountain town Boquete. To get to Boquete a bus switch must be done in David, Panama's the second biggest city. Even if David has gained a lot of importance within the country, the town has nothing to offer to travelers. In my case, there was one reason, or actually two, to spend a day there :-). It all began on the bus to Bocas where I met two blond girls, Swiss and Austrian. Then again, we bumped into each other during one of those crazy Mondo Taitu parties. As we are young (not that much my case) and beautiful, we agreed to meet up again in two days in David. Not to make it too long, the meeting  turned to be a total fiasco, as I revealed my age, and girls theirs ( that super cute and tall Austrian girl was just 18 :-) ). As a result, the girls got really scared after that moment of truth, so I better pretended not to be there any more (without any synchronizing we happened to end up at the same hostel and a dorm :-)) ).
Regardless of this failure, I found one good reason for which it was worth spending a night in David. On my way to the supermarket, I discovered a Chinese run grilled-chicken place. Food looked delicious, so I did not hesitate to order a half of chicken with yuka (first time I have ever tested it), which came with some kind of garlic sauce. The entire meal tasted heavenly with scaring low price of $ 3.5. This is what I call a tasteful bargain. Hopefully now some of you are not any more concerned about my dietary habits during the trip, as that was one big portion of proteins and carbohydrates!

The next day, on Sunday, I arrived to Boquete, a small mountain-valley town with Rio Calder running through it. The town provide a homeland to 5,000 of its inhabitants, but regardless of its size it also offers a great number of hiking options in the nearby mountains, valleys, or volcano Baru - the main magnet for the most hiking-eager tourists. This town is also characteristic with an easily noticeable community of indigenous Indians living in the surrounding mountains. Indian women are easily recognizable from others due to  modest and colorful (pink, green, purple, etc) dress worn by them. As my guide told me, they (Indians) are very nice people who do not cause any problems.

Totally separate story is a weather in this lovely place. The Dutch couple we met during the catamaran cruise mentioned spending there a week, during which they were mostly grounded in their hotel due to daily downpours. As Boquete is located in the middle of the country, hot air flowing from both coasts meets up with cooler mountain air to create a lot of clouds and rain. I spent there 3 days, and every single day after 2 pm a rain came....simply there is no way that there could be a day without at least an afternoon rain. Therefore, if you wanted to do or see anything from the local mountains, you had to  unconditionally do it in the morning. Temperatures there were quite pleasant due to their similarity with European spring or autumn climate. That also meant that a fleece jacket and pants must have been worn in the evenings, and you could also appreciate having a thicker blanket to cover yourself at night. What a change from Bocas where I never covered myself with that super light-weight blanket giving to me upon arrival.
 After hearing all those discouraging updates about Boquete's weather, skepticism started to grow inside of me about a sense of my trip there. Fortunately enough, these concerns turned out to be plain, as I wisely fitted all my hiking program into morning or night "rain-free slots".
Right after my arrival, I set off for a first hike which lead through nearby valleys. The hike was not much scenic, but it let me to see local coffee plantations, river and signs of 2 year old floods. Speaking of coffee plantations, the coffee business is a major thing here, and the local coffee is apparently well recognized. After this 2hr hike I was ready for much bigger adventure. Earlier that day, I had arranged a hike to close by volcano Baru with its peak being 3,474 above the see level. As the hike takes around 12-13 hrs, and the entire ascend is conducted at night in order to see a sunrise, I better hired a local guide for $70. The hike started that night at 10.45 pm, and it was supposed to be over in 13 to 14 hrs after conquering approx 2,100 m ascend, and walking 13,5 km up and the same distance down. Hiking so hight, happily for me, allowed me to use all my warm clothes I carry with me. Thermo t-shirt was sufficient to wear at lower altitudes, but at around 2,000 m the fleece jacket had to be put on, and from 3,000m I had to use the waterproof jacket as the  final layer.
The hike by itself is nothing spectacular, especially the night part when you do not see almost anything. What makes this hike priceless is possibility to see both Pacific ocean and Caribbean see from the volcano's summit. Of course you had to be lucky with weather, as we were. After approx 6hrs of strenuous hike we reached the volcano summit plateau at 4.52 am. It was still considerably dark and cold at that time. Due to the high altitude, temperatures up there fall down to around 5 degree Celsius at night with daytime maximums between 10-16 degree. As the sunrise was expected only around 15 min to 7 am we spent another almost 2 hours walking/running around to keep ourselves warm. At the time of sunrise and a bit before, I could see some beautiful sceneries, including the whole north border line of Panama, and of course Pacific Ocean and Caribbean sea. We managed to be back in Boquete at 11 am (the net hiking time was approx 11 hrs). I must admit that it was one nice and enjoyable hiking trip, but at the same time very tough, as it required a lot of energy and to be in a good physical shape. I tell you that I have never been happier to take off my shoes to relieve my suffering feet.

As my plan was to leave Boquete the next day (Tuesday), two hours later I headed out again. This time to see and to dip myself in the Caldera's hot springs. To reach the springs, I must have taken the bus, and then to walk around 40 min through uninhabited country side*. These springs are located on a private property of  one farmer without having a decent path to them. As such, the last 0.5 km of was a "mud walk" when I was jumping from one stone to another one, or stepping on tree roots stretching on the ground. All that to preserve my sandals from getting ruined. Once I reached the springs, a downpour started (I knew I can get washed down for embarking this trip in the afternoon), plus the farmer's goat wanted to continuously butt me. Therefore, I set myself off for the way back without dipping into the water. During the way back, the rain got even heavier, but never mind, it still was a memorable trip.

*(A small writer note - walking around local villages or exploring countryside on foot is a part of my trip which fills me with a lot of traveler's enthusiasm and joy, as it allows you to see how locals live, or to get a glimpse of some nice sceneries you would never see as a normal tourist. I highly cherish those moments, and consider them to be the most important part of my RTW experience).

Once I came back at the hostel, I got into a discussion with my new roommate, a Dutch girl. She was really nice and we spent a few hours talking about traveling and our experiences. She gave me some useful tips for traveling in South America, and on the other hand, I made her to fall for an idea of visiting Nicaragua rather than spending all her remaining travel time in Costa Rica. I am very surprised how neglected travel destination Nicaragua is. Real pity! But you know that I am doing my best to promote that country as much as possible

The next morning was a time for my last hike around Boquete called Mono Bajo. Eventhough the trail is lead on the asphalt road, it was a really great hike featuring some great sceneries, including a few waterfalls. The attached pictures from this hike do not by far look that great, as what I saw in person. To me, the main highlight of this hike was the possibility to see how local Indians live. Unfortunately, their houses, or sometime I would rather call them slums, are in quite bad conditions. One of those slums was made of only plastic covers/sheets attached to nearby trees. Their kids were cute and a family could have up to 5-6 kids, most of them being very dirty.  I assume this is just a way of life they are used to for centuries. If you ever happen to be in Boquete, this hike is a must!

After this last hike, it was time to say goodbye to Boquete, and to leave back to David to get on an over-night bus to Panama City.

Sorry guys that this was not so colorful and enjoyable entry as the one from Bocas, but this time it was all about mountains and hiking ;-)).

Greetins from Panama City.
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Alex on

Amazing pics! My god these sunrises are so marvelous!

Wish I would be on top these volcano's instead of sitting in ugly Lux :)

Benjamin on

Petr - 'a small writer's note'... I love you! Best paragraph ever, so deep, meaningful and full of truth. If I was a girl, you'd have me by now...

luxguy on

I am really glad you liked it! I felt that this must be clearly stated, as those moments are priceless. So at the end I am not totally shallow :p

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