There was torrential rain during the night and it was still very wet and overcast this morning as I prepared to move on. Rather than take the easy option of booking an air conditioned shuttle bus to Boquete, I thought I would do things the difficult way today. This involved a water taxi, Collectivo, bus (air conditioned when not climbing mountains) and ‘chicken’ bus and plenty of potential for waiting for up to an hour at each connection.
After breakfast, at the German bakery just for a change, where I had pancakes and wondered again why I had ordered them as they are always thick and dry, I headed for the water taxi. I waited for about 20 minutes for the next one and just as we were approaching departure time, about half a dozen seriously overweight, white male tourists arrived along with their seriously overweight large suitcases/bags. Some passengers had to shuffle around to balance the load, the boat sat somewhat too low in the water for me not to be concerned and some of the locals donned life jackets. A little disconcerting to say the least!
My worries were unfounded, however, and we sped across the water and arrived safely in Almirante where there were a number of taxis and Collectivos waiting to transport the boat passengers. I was directed to one of them and we set off for the short trip to the bus station for David. We didn’t quite make it, though, as the bus to David approached us and our driver flagged it down for me. I was shunted on to it and off we went again, with me hoping that they weren’t intending to drive the whole 4 hours to David without a ‘rest’ stop!
Luckily, we did stop somewhere (possibly Chiriqui Grande) for 10 minutes and everyone rushed to buy food and queue for the toilets, along with the other bus load of people that arrived at the same time. It was a very busy stop!
The scenery, from what I could see of it through the clouds, was wonderful as we drove up and down the very green mountains and past some small, very poor looking villages. We were accompanied by a Sylvester Stallone film that was playing very loudly on the television screen above my head and from which there was no escape. With the exception of me, everyone, especially the school boys that we had picked up along the way, seemed riveted to the torturing, stabbing, electrocuting, drowning and knifing that is typical of a Stallone movie. He should have been dead a 100 times over. Needless to say, there was a happy ending and then we moved on to a Nicholas Cage one of similar ilk, but at least it was in English, with Spanish sub titles and wasn’t quite so loud.
As soon as we arrived on the other side of the mountains, the sun came out and the landscape changed to the typical dry terrain of the Pacific coast. We arrived in David at about 1.30pm and the bus station was bustling with people and, of course, buses. The transfer was very simple, as I just had to walk through the courtyard and on to a local bus, which was the inevitable old American school bus. I was the only tourist aboard, which makes this type of travel much more interesting. The bus was ‘directo’ to Boquete but still managed to make quite a number of stops along the way, so wasn’t exactly fast!
I got off at Plaza San Francisco, as directed, and made the short walk along to the hostel, which is attached to the Spanish Language school. Here, I was shown to my room and made very welcome by the Dutch manager. I intended to go for a walk into town (the hostel is a little way out) but the wind was very, very strong and it was much cooler than I expected, so I took the easy option instead and had a coffee, visited the supermarket and then returned to the hostel, where I spent some time chatting to a Swiss girl who had cycled all over the place and had spent a lot of time in NZ.
There are also a few teenager-ish boys in the hostel (which is actually very small), who were speaking a language totally unfamiliar sounding to me, but which I suspect is Scandinavian of one variety or another. They are all here to attend classes and I am feeling a little guilty at not learning more Spanish. Boys being boys, they were watching a film on their laptop quite loudly and quite late, which was a little annoying but that is the penalty of staying in a hostel.
I was woken this morning by the students arriving for their Spanish classes, so waited until they had all started and then had breakfast in the kitchen. I struggle to cope with hostel kitchens at the best of times, so only ever have breakfast in them. The thought of cooking dinner in a possibly less than clean area, is too much for me!
After breakfast, I spent some time on the internet to keep a certain blog reader in Rarotonga happy, and then went for a walk into town. I took what was, apparently, the scenic route, which was along the river. The ‘road’ was more of a farm track, although judging by the amount of rubbish distributed along the wayside, it was, at the very least, used regularly, if only for the dumping of rubbish. It was extremely windy again and there were constant light showers, so the volcano remained hidden behind the clouds and I could only guess at its location.
I did have one fairly alarming incident along the way, however. My mind had registered a stick on the road and, for some inexplicable reason, I stopped a couple of paces away from it. Thank goodness I did, as the stick was, in fact, a large snake and if I had taken any more steps, this blog might have come to a very abrupt end. It was only when I had gone a little further along the road and was recovering from the shock, that I thought I should have taken a photo but, at the time, that was furtherest from my mind!
I continued on to Boquete and was quite relieved to get to town – not so much danger of snakes there! I wandered around and had a coffee and wandered a bit more. I wasn’t very enthused, though, as the weather was very inclement, so I walked back along the main road to the hostel. This was a lot further than I thought and the road was very busy, so it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable walk and I was glad to get back.
The rest of the afternoon was spent doing very little apart from playing Scrabble online with my friendly opponent in England and reading. In the evening, Marjolein, the hostel manager, had invited me to go out to dinner with the Spanish students, some of whom were staying in home stays and some in the hostel. This proved to be a very enjoyable evening, with a mix of nationalities, the majority being Dutch, and, whilst there were only two of us that were native English speakers, the common language was English. (Who needs to speak another language!?) I discovered that the unidentifiable language that the boys in the hostel had been speaking was Icelandic so it is not surprising I didn’t recognise it. It was well after 11pm by the time we returned to the hostel, which was well past my bedtime!
It was an early start today for yet another quetzal hunt. Feliciano, our guide for the day, was ready to leave at 7.30am. He had arrived with the inevitable machete and his left hand in a big bandage, a result of a prior incident with this implement, whilst tending his coffee plantation. It didn’t seem to handicap him though!
He confirmed, from my description, that the snake I had encountered yesterday was likely to have been a Ferdinand and venomous. (For future reference: as a general rule, if the snake moves slowly, it will probably be poisonous and if it moves away from you quickly, it is likely to be harmless. This snake took its time!) Apparently, the snakes are moving up the valley because there are so many fires down on the plains.
We, being Marjolein, the Dutch hostel manager, and Christina, the Swiss cyclist and I, were driven by Feliciano’s son about 13km out of Boquete to the start of the Quetzal trail. It was a blue sky day with little wind, which was a lovely change after the last couple of days.
We started off doing a little detour into the forest, where there was some beautiful bird song but no quetzals. After we had progressed further along the trail for quite some way, we suddenly heard the very gentle sound that the quetzal makes and were lucky enough to spot not one, but three, including two males together, which is apparently very usual. As can be imagined, we were all, including Feliciano, quite excited to see them, and it made all those mosquito bites worth while!
They are quite spectacular birds, about the size of a large wood pigeon, with red breasts, a patch of white and their backs are either blue or green, depending upon how the light catches them. Unfortunately, my camera could not quite cope, as it does not have a good enough zoom to be able to capture them in all their glory, so all I have got is the black silhouette, showing its long tail feathers.
We continued along the trail, somewhat reluctantly, meeting a few other hikers along the way, one or two of whom were not very suitably attired for a hike in the forest.
We stopped for lunch at a clearing (and a very welcome break it was) at 2,200m and afterwards, continued on up what seemed like a vertical track with some very steep steps. Feliciano expressed his disgust on more than one occasion at the workmanship that had gone into the construction of the fences and picnic tables along the way and considered there was a lot of money being wasted by the Government. The whole day had turned into not only a hike, but also a language and political lesson.
We arrived at the top near Cerro Punto, where Feliciano’s son was waiting and extremely disgruntled at having had to wait for an hour for us because we were late. The views here were superb and reminded be very much of the Kaimais at home.
There were some soldiers staying at the Ranger’s hut, who apparently came from Darien and were all dressed up in balaclavas etc because they thought it was so cold here! There were also a lot of the most beautiful little humming birds in one of the shrubs with orange flowers, so we stopped to watch them for a while.
On the way back to Boquete, which was about an hour and a half’s drive, we stopped at a strawberry place for, not surprisingly, strawberries, which were very tasty.
We arrived back at the hostel about 6pm and I then got a taxi to my next abode on the other side of the town. This is owned by an American and his very quiet Panamanian wife. It turned out to be not at all what I had expected from their website. The room (or ‘suite’, as it is called) is actually part of their house. I could use their kitchen but was not comfortable doing so, although that was what I had originally intended to do.
Unfortunately, I have booked for a week, so will have to stay.
I spent the morning doing what I do best at the moment, which is wasting time on the internet, although it was not all wasted as I Skyped my sister and researched the next move.
I eventually decided that I ought to do something a bit more active, so walked the 4km into town, which was actually a much more pleasant walk than I anticipated as there was a pavement the whole way, the scenery was very attractive and I didn’t encounter any snakes. I had also thought it was going to be cold and had taken a jacket but, in fact, it was a beautiful day, with blue sky. (I obviously hadn’t looked out of my bedroom window properly!)
The town was reasonably busy, given that it was a Sunday. There were quite a few tourists, as well as local people, including the Chiriqui indians in their brightly coloured dresses. Some people were in the plaza just chatting whilst others were obviously out shopping. The Indians apparently come to Boquete to work on the coffee plantations, primarily for the picking season, and then go back to their villages when the season is finished.
I stopped for a coffee at ‘Sugar and Spice’ and then went to the supermarket for essential supplies i.e. wine and another shop for sunglasses. Mission accomplished, I wandered back to my hostel, where all the relatives, who had been staying, were leaving and so it became a lot quieter. (Hopefully, the internet will also speed up without the children playing on it!)
I caught up with the blog, spoke to Thomas, had a (plastic) cup of wine and generally wasted a bit more time before having dinner, cooked by my hostess, Marilin. This was good plain fare with lots of vegetables, which suited me well tonight. After a chat to Peter (my host) and an attempt to watch some news on the television (obviously the wrong time of evening for news) I retired once again to my room.
This morning I went on a very informative coffee tour to Finca Dos Jefes. I was collected, along with a Canadian and Panamanian couple, by Gary who took us to the farm, situated on the road up to Volcan Baru.
He, firstly, gave us a presentation on the history of coffee and the economics and process of coffee growing, before taking us for a walk round the plantation. They are fighting a constant battle against a rust fungus and, at the moment, are replacing a lot of trees each year. The picking season was coming towards the end and there were large tables of coffee beans set out to dry.
This is a comparatively small operation that really makes its living by selling roasted coffee beans and conducting tours. There is apparently no money at all for the small coffee growers selling the green beans, as the large coffee companies dominate the market. For this reason, many of the growers in Boquete have pulled out their coffee plants and have changed to growing vegetables instead.
Once the tour was over, we went back to the cafe to sample coffee, comparing a medium and dark roast, which were quite different from each other. We all decided we preferred the dark, so adjourned inside to roast some for ourselves, which we were then able to take home. The roasting takes about 15 minutes and then the beans are left to dry for about 8 minutes before they are packaged. Whist waiting, we were offered a beer – this was turning into a very good value tour!
Gary then started driving us back to town, but stopped a little way along the road and pointed out a track that he thought I might prefer to take (having mentioned that I like walking). It was a shortcut that the schoolchildren take and I think I startled one or two smaller children when they unexpectedly came across this strange foreign woman on their track!
I went back to my room briefly, and then walked into town again. I had a very late lunch, a bit of a wander around and then walked back up the hill to my accommodation. I felt that I had done my exercise for the day by this stage so spent the rest of the evening doing very little.
I walked a different way into Boquete this morning by taking a road going the opposite way out of my Casa, up to Los Arcos and then around on the other side of the river valley, which was not quite as populated as the side I am staying on.
It was another beautiful morning and the scenery was very attractive, with high green mountains towering above. Once on the other side of the river, there seemed to be a number of very large houses, no doubt belonging to some of the multitude ex-pat Americans that live here.
I encountered some (or even, most) of these at the Tuesday market, which must be the weekly meeting and social point for said ex-pats. There were a number of jewellery stalls, (some even run by locals), a second hand book stall (fatal, for me) and a few fruit and vegetable stalls.
I managed to find a couple of books, thankfully, as I am going to be at the beach next week and will need something to do!
After this, I felt I needed coffee and have finally worked out what type of coffee I need to ask for, assuming the cafe does it. I have had difficulty knowing what to order, as there doesn’t seem to be a happy medium between espresso and latte here, long blacks being unknown. Coffee drinking is so complicated, especially in a coffee producing place….!
I walked back via the supermarket and then had a bit of a rest in my room before tackling the track up the hill behind the house. I had some difficulty finding the start of the path as they were obviously clearing land to build more houses and had managed to clear the path in the process. I therefore trekked back down the hill to ask my hostess and then back up again to do the walk, so I got even more than I had bargained for.
I had been warned that the path was steep. It was vertical and very dry and dusty, with absolutely no flat bits. It wasn’t long before I had acquired a little Indian boy as a guide. I had passed their house on the way up and a couple of minutes later, I was joined by Abisima (at least, I think that was his name!). He looked about 7 but told me he was 10. He scampered ahead of me like a mountain goat and then sat and waited for me to catch up. This was quite a slow process on my behalf, so he did a fair bit of waiting. The best view was about three quarters of the way up, so I didn’t even need to go to the top but I did, of course.
On the way down, he slid down the dust, as if he was skiing and swung on branches, whilst I picked my way slowly, trying to find terra firma. Even so, I managed to get very dusty and dirty and I pitied his poor mother, who would have had to hand wash his dust covered clothes, no doubt in an outside stone sink or the river.
Once back at the house, I felt I had done enough for one day, so read for a while before having a very tasty chicken dinner cooked by Marilin. Whilst I was eating, a party of 7 Dutch people arrived, who all decided they wanted a meal, so at 8pm, Marilin started cooking again and the new arrivals seemed quite surprised when they were told it would not be ready for an hour!
I went to bed and left them to it.
I had a slow start today and only got going at 10.45am. This morning, I took the same road that I took yesterday, but branched off before I got to town and went to the Explorador gardens.
Marilin had told me about them (although I had also read about them somewhere as well). They are owned by a lady that likes recycling objects in her garden. She obviously also liked smiling faces as they seemed to be a plague of them on buckets, tree trunks, sewing machines, handbags and everything in between! The garden was a little odd, to say the least, and some of the ‘artefacts’ had definitely seen better days, but I was the only visitor and it was very pleasant to wander around on my own. The weather wasn’t quite so good today and it was extremely windy, with the occasional shower, but that is probably better for walking than the heat.
Before I started walking around the garden, I stopped for a coffee and a chat with the girl running the cafe, who was desperate to practice her English. Luckily, it was better than my Spanish, as I’d used up most of my vocabulary in the first two sentences. She was very enthusiastic and had her mother with her in case a group came in and she couldn’t manage on her own. (Given the total lack of anyone else the entire time I was there, I would have to wonder on this one…!)
Afterwards, much to her amazement, I continued walking along the road, which was of a type very similar to the one on which I had encountered the snake last week, so I kept a careful eye out for slithering sticks. Luckily, there weren’t any!I found a path that took me very steeply down into Boquete, where I bought a much needed cold drink and sat in the plaza and watched the people for a while.
Next stop was my favourite cafe where I was intending to have a coffee and buy my mini-baguette for lunch the next day. It was closed. Disaster! No lunch tomorrow! I headed back to the house, stopping at a different supermarket that was very obviously the locals’ one, unlike Romeros, which is definitely geared towards the ‘foreigners’.
When I arrived back, Peter was in the process of setting up a homemade machine for juicing corn, with which he was then going to make soup for dinner for the, as I later discovered, the Czech people staying at the house. I was invited to join them, which I did, and had a most unexpected evening.
There were 5 older people in the party and a young couple, of whom only the young couple and one other lady spoke English. Once the older ones had gone to bed, I started talking to the young couple, who were, in fact, travel agents and the tour leaders for the group. They had travelled all over the place, including Katikati, where they made the mistake of stopping at the Naturist Camp to ask for accommodation and were a little taken aback when they realised the male receptionist had no clothes on! They didn’t stay, needless to say, and moved on to Waihi Beach.
They ended up opening a bottle of rum and we had a very chatty and quite late evening, whilst it poured with rain outside.
The day started badly. It had been pouring with rain overnight and I had left my boots under the veranda, thinking they would be safe and dry. They weren’t and I do not like wet feet when I am hiking! Plastic bags on the feet solved the problem temporarily.
I walked up the road and managed to get a taxi, with a couple going up to the Quetzal track, for the 15 kilometres to the start of the Three Waterfalls track. Unfortunately, the taxi driver genuinely didn’t know where the start of the track was or was trying to con me. Both he, and the old crone on the gate who took my $5, assured me this was the Three Waterfalls track. It wasn’t.
I found one waterfall and walked further on up a very steep hill and some metal steps, after which the track stopped at an Indian’s farm. The men working in the field waved at me to go back and, as I could find no traces of a continuation of a track, I had no choice but to return. I was not happy by the time I got back to the road, especially as another farm worker then told me that the Three Waterfalls track was further up the road.
I decided, somewhat reluctantly, that having come all this way, I would go and find it. It was probably only about another 200m up the road. Another $5 later, (the money collector having been alerted by a small boy that a visitor was coming) and I was climbing up yet another steep hill. I just about managed to get to all the waterfalls.
The path was extremely muddy and slippery after all the rain, particularly between waterfalls 2 and 3, where there were also ropes you could use to swing yourself up and down the track. I was very, very tired by the time I got back to the road!
I had been trying not to think about how I was going to get back to Boquete, as there was no real transport and I really didn’t want to have to walk to the nearest village and wait for a bus or taxi to pass by. I was somewhat astounded (and could almost have come to believe in miracles), when I walked on to the road and there was a Collectivo right by the track.
It was quite a circuitous route to return to Los Naranjos, and we picked up a few more people and a couple of very large boxes of lilies, along the way. From Los Naranjos, I walked back up the hill to the house and did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day!
The last two mornings I have been woken up by other guests having breakfast and leaving early and, on neither morning, did I have the inclination to follow suit! I had already decided that I was going to have a lazy day today, my last in Boquete, as I had done more than enough walking for one week. I am certainly ready and looking forward to moving on tomorrow and I am hoping there aren’t going to be quite so many Americans in Santa Catalina.
Marilin, my hostess, suggested a massage today, which I naturally thought was an extremely good idea. Peter made an appointment for me at 10.30am to have a hot stone and deep muscle massage at a spa in town, so I did my diary and then had a quick walk down the hill to Boquete. The spa was run by an Australian, who rather alarmingly, picked up on the NZ twang in my accent, (I still regard myself as having an English accent!) and the massage was given by a Panamanian lady. It was excellent! I have never had a hot stone massage before and combined with a deep muscle one, it is thoroughly to be recommended.
I came out afterwards feeling very relaxed and went and sat in the plaza for a while. Here, I watched a few classes of schoolchildren playing a fairly basic team game that involved brooms and a ball and that provided them with a great deal of fun. It was a very competitive game!
It was coffee time after that, so I walked down to ‘Sugar and Spice’ for the last time and bought coffee and a mini baguette for lunch. This was followed by a gentle stroll around town, before making my way, very slowly, back up the hill to the house.
Peter and Marilin were mass producing empanadas that had mashed yucca instead of pastry for the outer covering. Marilin apparently makes them for a neighbour when they have parties and today she was making over 100. A new recipe learned for me, although given the lack of yuccas in NZ, I suspect I will not be making them often!
The rest of the afternoon was spent doing very little (seems to be a pattern this week). As far as I know, I am the only person staying here tonight, but there are apparently 28 people arriving tomorrow and I have difficulty visualising where they are all going to sleep.