This is going to be another of those blog posts where, in the main, the pictures speak for me. You will see a lot of flora and fauna and some lovely views which, Sheila at least [and maybe some others], will be glad to see aren’t of beaches! In fact there is no sea and no boats either because, having become thoroughly dispirited following engine problem after engine problem, we spent some time out in the inland town of Boquete.
To get to Boquete we had to go via Panama City once again and so our first stop after leaving the marina was the Colón bus terminal….
…… a bustling place [but probably better visited during daylight hours].
We arrived in Panama City in time to lunch local style…
….before wandering along the main shopping street which kind of joins the old town with the new and about which there is nothing particularly positive to say. It consists of shop after shop of cheap clothes; US type “diners” [think capital M and Colonels!] and modern buildings [mainly banks]. The most interesting thing was the “tardis” lookalike……
which we found particularly amusing as only the previous night, with Mark and Michelle [on their boat “Reach”], the conversation had obviously taken an alcohol induced turn to the ridiculous as somehow we had ended up talking about “Dr. Who”.
The weather that afternoon, unlike during our previous short visit two weeks beforehand, was really good for seeing the old town at its best and we enjoyed a walk out to Plaza de Francia….
….and with Gordon and Elise [“C-Lise”]who are currently moored at Balboa Yacht Club and planning a trip to Peru, which is where Debbie [sitting between Mark and Michelle and who’s Cruisers Casa we stayed in last time] is also going.
There are buses approximately every hour from Panama to David [the capital city of the Chiriquí Province] and although the “Lonely Planet” said to expect a six to eight hour trip, ours took nine and a quarter – so its a good job it was a comfortable and air-conditioned coach. From David it was a relatively easy one hour to Boquete but we were still pretty travel weary by the time we arrived as we had left our hotel at 7.30am that morning.
The beautiful mountain town of Boquete lies nestled in a small fertile valley at an altitude of approximately 1,200 metres [3,900ft].
It is now “home” for many ex-pats [mainly North Americans but some Europeans]who either live there all year round or who visit for the summer months to get away from the hotter southern states of the US. As a result it abounds with restaurants, supermarkets selling things like “Jello”, “Betty Crocker’s Cake Mixes” and “Southern Style Pork ‘n Beans” and gated communities galore. That said, it retains a local feel and, as it is also a popular stopping off point for backpackers- due to the many adventure activities available nearby- there is a real mix of people wandering around the small centre. It has long been a town of some importance and once had a railway line running to it though all that now remains are a couple of carriages.
It was to one of the gated communities that we were headed because our friends John and Diane [“Jasdip”] have rented a two-bedroom apartment for six weeks and they had invited us to join them for a few days. The condominium – to give it its US “title” is in a lovely side valley with a stream running through the grounds and along the back of their property.
The complex includes a nine hole golf course [we didn’t play], a gym and pool [we didn’t use – though John and Diane do], a hotel and restaurant [we didn’t try], a bar [we didn’t visit] and a small open air theatre [not in use whilst we were there]. So, what the heck did we do? Well, we wandered round the grounds, looked at the little church and saw the Koi pool being cleaned out.
We relaxed, read, had BBQ’s, cooked Steak and Kidney Pie- because there was an oven hot enough to make decent pastry and ate succulent ribs and a pot roast both made in the pressure cooker we had persuaded John and Diane to buy because they didn’t have one and they are so brilliant to use on the boat.
We also went for lots of walks. It is very much like walking in the UK – including the clouds and occasional rain!
One of our favourite walks is called “The Pipeline”, basically because there is a water pipe running down the valley which is all mossed over and looks a bit like the world’s longest fallen tree trunk. The trees are very old and reminded us of “Fangorn” and the other “Ents”….
However, this walk will always be remembered for our sighting of four “Resplendent Quetzals”. These birds are on the endangered list and are hard to find. We looked for them in Guatemala [where they are the national bird] but hadn’t managed to see any. We think we were really lucky to see them and, as my camera did not do them justice at all I have included this photo taken from the internet….
As I said above, we were often reminded of the UK, most especially when we came across various fungi…..
…which brought to mind our mushroom foraging with Dave, Maggie and Andrew when we were last in rainy Ramsbottom [well, it was on that evening!]
We saw trees with unusual bark…
We saw hundreds of plants growing in gardens and along the roadside that I thought were courgettes…..
We came across an abandoned car….
Round one bend we came upon this little house which, we were told, is occupied and which was recently burgled.
Talking of the indigenous people…….. the Province of Chiriquí, which borders Costa Rica to the west, is the home of the Ngobe-Bugle people. The majority [men, women and children] work for very low wages as seasonal coffee pickers but several now seem to grow vegetables in the incredibly fertile volcanic soil. There were small holdings all through the valleys around Boquete and Cerro Punta and Mike managed to work out that there were farming co-operatives [by translating what looked like the words for “post office” but meant “collection point” on the side of two separate large buildings we passed]. Diane bought a huge bag of mixed vegetables weighing about 15lb [7kg] for US$5 [£3] which was full of potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, cucumber and peppers. We also indulged in a little roadside treat of strawberries which came with local yogurt or cream….Yummy….
The traditional dress of the Ngobe-Bugle women is apparently based on the clothes worn by early missionaries. These simple dresses come in every colour imaginable, but are never patterned, and are decorated by co-ordinating braid or embroidery. The collars are wide and almost like a half shawl at the back.
The strawberry fest was the culmination of a really nice day spent touring the valleys and mountains around Volcán Barú, Panama’s only volcano. It is no longer an active volcano and, in fact, the last eruption was so long ago that there is no record of it – though it has seven craters so it must have been rather active at some time! Cerro Punta, the small town half way up the volcano [at 1800metres/5400ft] is within the cloud forest…..
This altitude and climate, as well as being good for the already mentioned fruit and vegetables, is also excellent for orchids and we spent a very happy couple of hours wandering the colourful….
I won’t bore you with all the photographs but have selected some of my favourites…..
Probably the most spectacular was this orchid tree – each of these flowers was approximately six inches in diameter.
I am not sure whether the following flower is an orchid or not, but I was really taken by the colour scheme, as I was with the variegated leaf which looks like someone has come along with a paint sprayer….
Now, if I was to ask you to name the “Finca” [farm] which housed all these beautiful flowers I bet you would never come up with what it was actually called….
I said above that the local people are coffee pickers and Boquete is renowned for its cool fresh climate, ideal for coffee growing – so much so that it is often spoken of as the Napa Valley of Coffee. No visit to Boquete is complete without learning the secrets of a perfectly blended coffee so we took the short [45 minute] “tour” of Panama’s most famous “Café Ruíz”.
The young woman who showed us around was knowledgeable and amusing – especially her jokes about “Starbucks”. She explained in detail about the 16 step process from tree to cup and, in particular, how the roasting time affects the taste, acidity [bitterness] and aroma of the coffee. It was really quite fascinating though, as you might expect, Mike was particularly interested in the machinery…
He was also very much at home in the apron and cap…..
So, there ends our trip. We had an absolutely lovely time and managed to recharge our batteries. As well as fun and friendship with John and Diane we also managed to catch up with John and Jerie [“Peking”], members of their family visiting from China, and Max [“Confiance”] who we had last seen in the Rio. They are at Bocas del Toro which, as you know, is where we were supposed to be but, fortunately for us, they had also taken time out in Boquete. [Thanks to Jerie who took the photo]