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Entries about boquete

2017 FEB - PANAMA: SANTA CATALINA TO THE CENTRE OF PANAMA

We leave the coast for a couple of days in the cooler air of the mountains.

DAY 13 SATURDAY 18TH FEBRUARY

Our shuttle van was not due until 12.30 so we had an easy morning, with Lyn cooking poached eggs and fried bread for breakfast. The power was out again but we had a gas cooker in our room and we needed to use up the rest of our food.

We decided to book a shuttle van to take us to Boquete for US$35 each. In a shuttle the 275km will take 5 hours of travel time. The alternate would be 4 buses and about 10+ hours of travel time if we managed to line them up correctly. Which we had little chance of doing and the cost would be around US$20, so the van sounded like a better, faster and more comfortable option.

Boquete is a small town in Panama. It is located in the western-most Province of Chiriquí, about 60 kilometres (37 mi) from the border with Costa Rica, and lies on the Caldera River, in Panama's green mountain highlands. Because of its elevation, some 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) above sea level, its climate is cooler than that of the lowlands. Its scenic location, temperature, and natural environment make it popular with Panamanians and attracts tourists and retirees from all over the world.

The van was late showing up, arriving just before 1pm. But we were happy to see there were only 3 other passengers (Germans) in the vehicle. This made it even more comfortable as we could spread out a little. The air con was pumped up when we took our seats and I was already thankful we had chosen this option to get us to our next location.

Just an hour into our jouney when we had reached Sona we were advised of a 20 minute lunch stop. Guess the driver had already driven down from Boquete this morning so this was the allocated lunch stop. Ok with us as we had not eaten since breakfast and we ended up in a restaurant where the driver ate and had suggested. It was the first real authentic local place we had eaten. And it was not bad either. Managing to read a couple of things on a black board menu we chose the chicken and salad for US$3. Turned out we received chicken and rice with beans but it sure as hell tasted good. And we washed it down with a 50c bottle of coke.

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Stomachs full we were rounded back up into the van and drove off heading north on a minor road, which I must say was in very good condition. We were driving sort of parallel to the coast but did not see it until about another 2 hours into the drive. We had been traveling through hills, up and down and around, did not see any flat ground at all. The jungle like countryside we drove through was sparsely populated with housing very similar to what we have seen in rural Philippines or Cambodia. Besser block square boxes with breeze blocks as windows for light and ventilation. The locals were also not afraid of painting their houses bright colours either. It was not unusual to see a bright orange house then a bright pink or blue or purple. Like all the paint colours that never sell are used as exterior colours here.

Soon we turned inland a little and met up with the InterAmerican Highway which stretches from Panama City all the way to Mexico. This is a wonderful 4 lane highway but for some reason only half the road was being used with traffic in each direction only having one lane each way. We were stopped at only one road block where a nice policeman came to us in the back of the van asking which country we were from and requested our passports. This we (us 5 passengers) all gave in turn and he checked everyone's entry stamp, smiling as he handed passports back.

Another 2 hours later we arrived in Boquete, having driven though light rain the last half hour. Lucky for us the shuttle van stopped directly outside our hostel so we did not have far to drag our luggage off the barely raining street. This accommodation I had pre-booked and is right in the middle of the town. I had booked a double room with shared bathroom for US$33 a night, however they managed to up sell us a bigger room with separate beds and ensuite bathroom for just and extra $5 a night @ US$38. We were happy to do this as room included breakfast and a hot shower.

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After dropping off bags into our room, (thankfully the wall colours were a little toned down compared to our last place) we had to venture out in the rain to find an ATM to get more cash. Its possible to pay with credit card here but they charge 7% fee and as it's only costing about 1% to draw cash from ATM we decided that was a better option as we needed more cash anyway. We found a bank and had no worries pulling the cash and went back to pay the receptionist.

The rain was only light so we did a quick lap of the main square of the town, found a supermarket that sold rum and cola cans so we knew instantly we were going to like this place. After our filling lunch we opted for a sausage on a stick @ US$1.50 with tortillas for our dinner.

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Even though sitting in the van most of the day it seemed like we'd had a long day and were very grateful for the hot shower as the temp is a little cooler here than it was down on the coast. It's Saturday night so there is quite a bit of noise around, so different from our last 4 quiet nights in Santa Catalina.

Most of the noise died down by midnight, but I think we were probably already asleep by then.

DAY 14 SUNDAY 19TH FEBRUARY

Included breakfast consisted of cook your own pancakes, which was ok but the fry pan I got was a bit of a shocker so my pancake ended up a bit mangled. Still tasted ok with a generous helping of syrup, Lyn fared a little better as her pan was a little better.

So the morning was spent chatting online with a friend in England and another friend in Spain trying to work out what the hell was the problem with my laptop and why it died. With the help of both Andy and Dean I managed to get it sorted and back online again. Whew, what a relief, was not real happy with having to carry a dead anchor for the rest of the trip. Thanks again guys.

The rest of the day we just spent having a good look around town. it's not too big so did not take very long, but we are in no hurry to do anything much in a hurry. There are a lot of paid activities you can do here in Boquete. For example zip lining for US$65, lots of hiking which start at US$25 or coffee tour US$25. Seems a little odd to me that you have to pay to hike, but apparently you must have a guide for most hikes are they are through the forest, cloud forest or private property.

A cloud forest, also called a fog forest, is a generally tropical or subtropical, evergreen, montane, moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover, usually at the canopy level.

We are going to attempt a small walk tomorrow that needs no guide. We just have to catch a bus or van 10km to the trail head and then find our way back. Sounds easy enough.

This afternoon we stopped at a coffee shop to try the 'best coffee in the world' !? To tell the truth I was not all that impressed. Not that I am a coffee expert, but I've been know to like a coffee or 3 and this was not mind blowing by any means. it was locally grown but I will need to try more from perhaps another café before I will make the decision that its great coffee.

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We bought some supplies from the supermarket and Lyn cooked dinner at the hostel. Smoked pork chops which ended up tasting like ham steaks. Nice.

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DAY 15 MONDAY 20TH FEBRUARY

During our communal, cook your own pancakes, breakfast I overheard a Swiss girl we had met last night telling someone about going to visit the hot springs. I decided to eardrop and then invited Lyn and I along for the ride. The hostel here does tours to hot springs and a mini canyon for US$25 but we thought that seemed a little steep, much cheaper to find our own way there on public transport.

We were advised which bus stop to go to and just find a collective van that was going to Caldera. As soon as we approached the general area touts approached us saying Caldera, Caldera so it was easy to find the correct transport. The van left at the correct time of 10.45 as advised by the hostel receptionist, perhaps the fact that it was full may have had something to do with it too. We drove for about 45 minutes out of Boquete and the driver stopped at a side road and motioned for us to get out, pointing up the dirt road that we had to walk up. This fare was only US$2 each. Again the hostel receptionist had advised it was a 20 minute 2.5km walk to the hot springs. I'm not sure at what speed he is walking but there is no way we were going to get there in 20 minutes.

The road was dirt and rocky and mostly unshaded and it took us a good 45 minutes to reach the spot where there was a house and a guy with his hand out for the entrance fee to the hot springs. I guess it was on his land and why not charge the gringos to go sit in his free hot water from the ground. It was only US$5 per person which we still thought was better than the $25 tour price, although not sure if this is the same hot springs the tour went to. Didn't matter there were hot pools to sit in (well 2 anyway) and a cool (ok cold) river to dip in so we were happy. It was a beautiful setting surrounded by trees so the pools were shaded and the river although it was shallow it was enough to cool off in. Actually it took me ages to get fully submerged in the water. Even though the day was very hot the water was like very refreshing. Giant boulders were in the river up and down as far as we could see.

It was a great way to spend a couple of hours and I managed to get a bit of colour as taking my time to get in the river water was out in the full sun. Not too badly burnt but my tan is definitely on its way now.

Luckily the American guy that was with us (or actually we were with him, having crashed his outing), anyway he could understand enough Spanish to fathom that the van driver had said that the return transport was at 3pm. Just as well as the hostel receptionist has advised us 4pm and it would be a very expensive taxi back to town had we not had the correct information.

Lyn and I made sure we left in plenty of time to walk back (as there were a few hills along the road to navigate) and envisioned it would take more than the 45 minutes to get there so get back to the bus stop. And it was hot. But we made it back to the road in plenty of time, but better to be early than miss the last bus.

Back in town (cost US$2) we headed straight for a place to eat. We had seen this place on our walks around town and yesterday the locals were lined up out the door, so we knew it must be an ok place to eat and at a good price. And the fact that it was almost 4pm and we had nothing to eat since breakfast pancake just about anything would have appeased our appitite. It was easy to make a selection by just pointing to whatever we wanted in the hot box. Now as a rule we never eat food that is sitting in hot boxes or food warmers, but the fact that we know this place had a high turnover we felt it was safe to eat. I had chicken (coated in something yummy) with coleslaw and a squirt soda, Lyn had chicken (cooking in something yummy), vegetables and rice and a can of coke for the total price of US$8.40 for the both of us. The food was good and the price was good and we were happy.

Stomachs full, we headed back to the hostel via the supermarket to purchase some Radler beers sixpack for US$4.42 and started to feel a little weary. Today had been the most movement we had done for days and we were now starting to feel it. So the rest of the afternoon we had a rest, reading in our room while sipping on the beers.

After such a late lunch dinner was of no concern until I could smell someone cooking toast in the kitchen below our room. Toast sounded like a good thing for dinner so we managed to pull ourselves up and out the door to another supermarket to buy some bread. Just about all of the bread here is sweet but we managed to find one that turned out

No toaster so Lyn toasted the bread in a flat frying pan and we had vegemite and tomato on toast for dinner.

A great day today and I think we are both going to sleep well tonight.

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DAY 16 TUESDAY 21ST FEBRUARY

After a hostel breakfast of pancakes (gee Lyn is getting good at making these) we had another active day today. I found what was said to be an easy hike in the cloud forest - Pipeline Trail. Yes as the name suggests its a trail alongside a pipeline and all accounts on the internet said it was easy and good for pensioner walkers - this sounded exactly like us to we decided to give it a go.

Back to the same collective van stop, but this time we needed to go in the opposite direction as yesterday so a different van was needed. Hostel receptionist had written on a piece of paper where we wanted to go so we could show the driver where we needed to be dropped off.

There was a short wait while the van filled up with locals and other tourists and then we were on our way. Up, up, up - we were thinking of maybe walking back after our short hike but after seeing the distance and the narrow winding road we would have to walk back on we thought maybe not, or we will see when we are finished.

The Pipeline Trail is only 5km return so we did not feel too intimidated by it. After about 25 minutes in the van the driver pulled to the side of the road and advised this was our stop and sure enough there was a sign for the trail head. This was great, cause it meant we did not have a long walk to the start of the walk.

There was a US$3 entry fee which Lyn paid to a lady in a little shed at the gate. This is private property so the fee is supposed to pay for trail up keep and why not charge gringos to go walking through your land if you can get away with it. Its all above board as we even received a receipt.

The sky had clouded over a bit and it looked like it might rain, of course we did not bring rain gear with us, but remember this walk was in a cloud forest. At least it was cooler to walk through the forest and not in full sun. We got quite a bit of sun yesterday so this was a nice reprieve.

The 2.5km in was all up hill. It was not too steep but we knew we were walking and sometimes climbing. We caught a glimpse of the monkeys up in the trees, but these little fellas move so quick we did not manage to get a good photo. But is it just cool to see at least one animal while we are out in the wilderness. Along the way we saw a monstrous tree which they claim is approximately 1000 years old, but it was not the only giant tree we saw along our walk, there were lots. Maybe the others were not as old but they were so impressive.

At the end was a waterfall, which was a little of an anticlimax as there was only a trickle of water coming over the top. But the walk itself was good enough that we did not need a bonus as the end.

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So the 2.5km on the way back was of course all downhill so it went a little quicker and easier. As we neared the end of the trail it did look like the rain was about to start and we felt a few drops. We were hopeful that it would not be too a long wait for the van to come past again. About 50 meters out from the road a van passed and lucky for us he saw us and beeped. We waved arms to indicate we wanted the ride and soon we were on our way back to town again. Great timing.

Back in town at about 2pm it was time to go have lunch again at the same food place we visited yesterday. The lady serving the food gave us a smile as she remembered us from yesterday. I had chicken & rice with a 'squirt' soda, Lyn had chicken & potato - both costs US$6. Bargain.

After picking up dinner supplies from the supermarket, we returned to the hostel for a bit of a rest, heading out again at about 5.30pm. There is a tourist office at the top of the hill before the road winds its way down into Boquete town. We wanted to go up there to see the view, as we had seen it while driving past and thought it would be a cool view of the town down below. Not wanting to climb up the hill we found a van that was heading in that direction and I had a map showing where we wanted to get out. It was only about a 2 minute drive up the hill, but it would have been a 1 hour walk up there for us I'm sure. The van was just 60c each so well worth it. The view was worth the trip as we could see out over the town with the cloud forest hills in the background.

The tourist office was already closed, but the coffee shop was still open so we decided to give the local brew another go. We had café con leche (coffee with milk) US$2 each and it was ok. Having not been impressed with the local coffee and considering we are in the middle of the coffee growing area of Panama we wanted to stay open minded about it. The coffee is ok, it's just that it's different taste to the coffee we have back in Australia. The taste is just different, not bad just not what we expect.

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After our coffee we headed back down to town via the back roads.

Lyn is cooking dinner now as I write this, we are having another smoked pork chop - yum.

We have had a great time here in Boquete, tomorrow we are travelling to the Caribbean Coast to the island of Bocas del Toro.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 23:40 Archived in Panama Tagged boquete Comments (0)

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