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Horseback Ride or Hike in Fresh Spring Air the Lush Green Tropical Mountains of Boquete,Panama

I am back wearing my gold down jacket in snowy 100 Mile House hauling wood, stoking up the wood stove and making my lentil carrot apple soup.I have been cross country skiing with my good friends Fay and Ann Marie. We enjoyed the comradarie of our last few ski days of the season. On the ranch I can hear the sweet call of the lambs, and can see a calf running and frolicking playfully across the field.I continue to write about our adventures to expat communities in Panama from my notes. Glenn and I are back to work full time, myself in 100 Mile House, and Glenn in Vancouver. Below are my Cariboo March 13/16 photos.

Now back to the panoramic vistas,mountains and serene valleys blanketed by lush rain forests of Volcan Panama!

Quetzal trail to BoqueteDriving from Volcan to Cerro Punta

We left Volcan in the morning after a beautiful breakfast at the Volcan Bed and Breakfast. Our destination next was Boquete. We knew at this point after previously getting lost looking for David that we needed to go back toward the Pan-American Highway  at La Concession turn left and seek out the turn off to Bouquet. Along the way we saw another car with a flopping mattress on top of it’s hood, as well as chaos with police after a truck went off the road. Glenn was careful to go the speed limit, and let the speeders pass us one after the other. There was a very low speed limit posted, however cars and mini buses were going 3 times as fast as the limit. The turn off from the highway to Boquete was a little strange for me. Glenn turned at the Boquete sign and then with no signs for any guidance he twisted and turned around a subdivision and then ended up on an overpass. “Trust me I have a feeling this is it, even if it does not make sense,” he said. I responded with “It seems like it could be it,as there is a well paved highway going in the direction of Boquete,but I will believe it,when I see signs”. After driving for a period of time we saw Boquete signs and we were launched! It took some detective work, but we were on the right track. We had discovered that what might appear relatively easy on the map may not be.

Drive to Boquete

The drive was smooth and easy, and we were very happy and excited to see Boquete. We had heard many positive things about this popular beautiful mountain town. We were not sure how to find the accommodation that we booked so we parked in front of the bank. Glenn went into a real estate office and not only found help the realtor offered to follow him and he will show us the way. He showed us to an entrance to the gated community and then waved a cheerful goodbye. To make a long story short, we got lost in a maze unable to find our accommodation.When we did find it, the maid was cleaning and we noticed the house house did not have any water.We  had difficulty tracking down the owner. We found her by phone after e-mailing and calling for a period of time. She apologized, and said the problem could take days to fix. We cancelled our reservation and launched a search for a new home in Boquete.

watermelons

We parked in front of a cafe that had internet so we could search for accommodation and hopefully find something else. We stopped at Cafe Central coffee shop with free wireless internet at Hotel Central. We had a great conversation with the owner Timothy, who is an expat who said he was a cowboy and a surgeon before he started his new life in Panama. We searched on Booking.com and found Villa Marita and booked it instantly.We then got in our rental car to drive find our new home.By the photos,it looked like a quiet place in the mountains away from the bustle of town, but not too far away.

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We went up a winding road near coffee plantations to find a beautiful location with a spectacular view. It had a kingsize comfortable bed, and a large deck. I was ecstatically happy that it had a little kitchenette with a fridge and a sink. We went to the  large deck and breathed in the incredible beauty before us and the musical sound of the birds!I watched the weather change from a cloud forest mist to bright and sunny in a matter of minutes. Sitting on the deck I saw an incredible sight of a Peruvian Paso and rider coming through the green of the coffee plantation, and with much “Brio” and salsa, they did  a fast running walk up the road.They were going so fast, I missed it with my camera.

After we settled in, we went for a walk in the neighbourhood. There was a light mist of  refreshing rain, and then the sun came out like spring. We saw several beautiful rainbows during our stay, as well as many hummingbirds and butterflies.

Rainbow

The flowers were also blooming and spectacular,with fruit trees lining the streets.

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Our walk in Bouquete

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The next day we decided to find the Lost Waterfalls. This was a hike to 3 waterfalls close to Boquete.We packed our snacks and our hydration packs as well as extra clothing.I took my Spot of course which is a safety device that can track your location. Glenn packed his camera equipment in order to get aerial photography at the waterfall locations.

Hike

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This was a beautiful and challenging hike with spectacular vistas and waterfalls.

waterfall

 

Some of the areas were very steep and we had to use both hands to climb. I was grateful to have my hydration pack of 2 litres of water and my sturdy hiking boots. I think when I do this over some day I would wear long light pants instead of my hiking shorts,or shorts that you can zip on leggings.

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We both have a good fitness level through weights,pilates and yoga, but I have to say this climb put us to the test!

Lost Waterfalls Hike

We were sweating bullets by the end and certainly felt it the next day. We had a relaxing evening on our lovely deck at Villa Marita, watching the sunset and basking in the feeling that we were on our second honeymoon.

One of the things I researched that we did not end up doing was horseback riding. Boquete Mountain Safari can take you through lush coffee growing regions on horseback in Caldera about 20 minutes from Boquete.This rural countryside has volcanic stone walls, golden fields and green rolling hills. There are miles and miles of open plains which are ideal for galloping  or strolling looking at the scenery. The temperature is also a little less cool than in Boquete and it tends to be a bit drier giving you the opportunity to appreciate a different panorama.With this horseback riding tour you will cross rivers and small streams, encounter beautiful landscapes and admire the Volcan Baru . At the end of the trip you will arrive to a look out point with panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains and serene valleys blanketed by lush rain forests. From here you will be able to observe the Pacific Ocean, Chiriqui’s lowlands and the Baru Volcano, all at the same time. Some say the scenery is the main attraction of the horseback riding tour in Caldera. Boquete has an equestrian organization called The Chiriqui Saddle Club. It organizes and promotes group trail riding in the pristine natural tranquil setting of the rural mountains. Members and guests are required to follow the principles of nature conservation, and avoid littering, damaging, or polluting the natural environment. All perimeter fences and gates they state must be returned to their original position after use, and all private property rights observed to the letter. I love this!

There is a  horse festival in Bugaba called the Calvagata.It is described in the local news ; “The parade becomes a crowd pleasing mass of equine movement with happy and rowdy horsemen and horsewomen showing off some of the finest horseflesh in Chiriqui.” There is of course, at this event,fireworks! Panama fireworks are traditional for many events large and small.

I am going to talk for a moment about the places we went to eat in Boquete town.I mentioned previously the coffee shop who’s owner Tomothy was a cowboy and surgeon before he started his new life in Boquete. There are many more expats who have set up business’s here.Big Daddy’s Grill was one of our favourites. They have large portions and serve their fish fresh from the boats of Boca Chica. We both had huge salads sitting outdoors with fresh dark green vegetables.

We stopped at the local bakery and sat outside,taking in the ambience of the town.

Bakery

We liked Retro Gusto Italian Restaurant. It is owned by a Canadian, and is friendly and spacious with a good atmosphere. The cook came to our table to make sure we got exactly what we ordered.

Retrogusto

Italian Restaurant

Boquete Art Cafe  on the main street.I felt at home in this uniquely decorated restaurant where the owners are very friendly and welcoming and the French based cuisine is delicious. The owner spoke to us for a generous period of time and touched on many subjects, including good tips on how to discover real estate through word of mouth and for sale by owner.

French restaurant

You can also eat as the Panamanians do in a restaurant with delicious and inexpensive meals. This place was very popular; Restaurant El Sabroson on the main street.

Panamanian Restaurant

One great place to visit if you like beer is The Boquete Brewing Company. They brew their own beer and have a fairly large selections of beer. They do not serve food, but they do not mind at all if you grab food from nearby restaurants and bring it in. They serve popcorn with your beer,  have high speed internet, and are very friendly and conversational. As we walked through town we could see a Panamanian selling toques! Note the traditional and colourful green dress in the picture below.

Toques 2toques

We then walked over the Calderas River Bridge breathing in the refreshing spring air.

River

We had the privilege to be invited to look at real estate with a couple who were seeking to become expats from their snowy location and lifestyle.The four of us left in the realtors car from our Villa Marita. I don’t have photos but I can tell you this- WOW to outdoor living space and classy well designed outdoor showers!  The really interesting part is that the realtor explained the differences in micro climates.

In Bouquet town it is like spring, not too hot or too cold, the temperature about 68. For many, this is perfect weather with breezes and ceiling fans a solution. Some enjoy the warmth of indoor or outdoor fireplaces in the evening. There is no heating needed, and most homes don’t have air conditioning.

As you travel further into the mountains to  areas like Volcancito, Jaramillo, Alto Quiel and Bajo Mano, there are those who find some evenings cold or chilly and and need of heat. We saw a young indian girl with a puffy down jacket on.

Descending from Boquete through Alto Boquete towards David, the air steadily warms with some hot afternoons.It is all very interesting research. If you are not careful about choosing your microclimate, you could find yourself in clouds and rain. Our villa Marita had the perfect climate!

Next I will post the last legs of our amazing adventure.We leave the rental car and take a bus through the Continental Divide from Boquete to Bocas Del Toro. We then travelled to Isla Colon,Isla Bastimentos and then flew to  the Gamboa area, to Panama City, and then back to Canada.

 

 

 

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Beautiful Horses in Panama and The Rich and Rolling Green Panama Valleys of Bambito,Nueva California,and Cerro Pando Mountain

Driving in Panama in the Chiriqui Highlands was an adventure with the largest capital A conceivable. Despite my previous post about gripping the map and hiding under the seat while on the Pan-American Highway, having the flexibility with a car to journey to these magical parts of the country is a top notch way to travel. Looking at our map, we started out from our bed and breakfast in Volcan.We drove through the busy flurry of Volcan town, and headed through the quiet and quaint town of Nueva California. The Barrilles site petrogliphs was shown on the map this way. We were told that it was family run farm. German settlers while farming found pottery and statues and stone artifacts like the barrel stone forms Barrilles in Spanish. These barrel stones were also found in Costa Rica. Many of these artifacts were moved to Panama city.We missed the turn to the Barrilles site and went on a different adventure!

Rio Sereno

I had Glenn stop as I saw the most beautiful Peruvian palomino horse. She radiated a warm,spongy,calm serenity and we bonded immediately. We locked eyes and I was in love! One day, I thought I am going to knock on the ranch door and see if she is for sale.Her eyes were soft,and it was a soothing balm for the heart and soul.

Palomino near Volcan

When I looked at the map it appeared we were headed in the direction of Santa Clara.The map which we had purchased at a family run hotel in Cerro Punta told us about a great place to visit in Santa Clara called Finca Hartmann. It is a family run private property dedicated to cultivation of highland coffee.They have identified more than 260 species of birds there. It is found in the area of La Amistad International Park.

The roads were winding with spectacular views. There were vehicles passing us dangerously and a motorcyclist came barreling around a corner in our lane, and Glenn swerved to miss him with fast reflexes. Glenn asked me to please stop gasping in horrer. I realized that was becoming a bad habit, so instead I shut my eyes when Panamanians were tailgating and going to pass.

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This picture is of a stuffed “person”called a muneco that the Panamanians put firecrackers in. They were everywhere in preparation for New Years. We spent New Years Eve in Volcan. You can imagine how many of these exploded on New Years Eve. We knew it was going to be a zany evening so we stayed at home at our cozy B and B and had a nice dinner. Ruthie and her husband came home after their potluck with other expats. Her and I talked long into the night with soulful conversation.I have always felt firecrackers  frighten animals and can be reckless in the hands of people not using them safely. Fireworks can be seen and heard in Panama at any time of year. A meneco shown below is a Panamanian tradition to make the doll represents a bad memory of the previous year, and then of course it becomes an explosive. It might be  fuzzy logic, but if you are trying to see someone else’s viewpoint on firecrackers, I can see how this may be therapeutic, and perhaps this could be seen as therapy throughout the year.

 

Volcan North(check town)Firecracker for New Years

We continued to climb and with the curvy road, with a massive rolling green panorama. It was so incredibly stunning, my eyes could not take it all in…when they were open that is!

Volcan-windy road to Santa Clara

If you look at the local map it is incredible.According to the map we were headed toward Cerro Pando a 4683 ft mountain peak.It ranks as the 18th highest mountain peak in Chiriqui  and the 32nd highest mountain in Panama. It was winding and twisting extremely on a paved but narrow road. We said almost at the same time “I think we should turn around” when we saw a broken guard rail that looked like someone had gone over the edge. I don’t know how Glenn did it but he managed to find a place to turn around. He knows when I can hear the thunder of my own pulse and am squeezing my eyes shut that it is a good sign to change the scenery.We headed back towards Volcan to create a new plan for the rest of the day. Here are  pictures after getting down from the mountain on the way back.

 

We stopped in Volcan and went to the park to evaluate our next adventure for the afternoon. The park had an exquisite pattern of benches we had never seen before.

Volcan Benches

We decided to go hiking in Bambito, as there was an intriguing area behind the Casa Grande Hotel.Bambito is dotted with farms and houses with roadside stands abundant with vegetables and fruit.It winds along the Rio Chiriqui Viego Valley on the western slope of Volcan Baru. The turn off is on the left between Volcan and Cerro Punta and it was difficult to see the sign. We had lunch there, and then trekked on an amazing hike.We started along the river, listening to the musical sound of the birds and feeling spring fresh air and sun. The temperature was perfect!

Volcan Bambito

The rocky trail road went up into a jungle area, and we thought we heard the unique sound of the Quetzal bird. The echo of tropical birds was intoxicating to the senses. Any challenge or difficulty in life melts away here, surrounded by beauty.We saw lush green jungle along a boulder strewn river, with dense forest,massive trees, and wildflowers.

Quetzal trail to Boquete

Then we heard the wild galloping of horse hooves and in a flurry of horse foam and boyish attitude headed somewhere fast blurred past us.

Bambito Trail riding home (1)

Soon after was another man with a big caring gentle smile on a Pinto that was his faithful steed. Glenn asked him where he was going. He said he was going home after work where he lived.He wore gumboots that had been hard at work, and his belongings were held strong and steady in a bag. A man honest and true, from the earth.If a few moments in time could be captured and frozen to remember forever, this would be one of them.

Bambito Rider going to river (1)

The Chiriqui Highlands was beautiful, living magnificent poetry, and a rich cultural experience that I will never forget. I will leave you with a poem by Robert Frost.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

My next journeys will be on our travels from Volcan to Boquete, and then our travel from Boquete to Bocas Del Toro on Isla Bastisimos and Colon. We then flew from Bocas to Gamboa then travelled to Panama City and then back to Canada.    Bye for now!

 

 

 

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Chiriqui Highlands a Panama Fairytale…Volcan,Bambito and Cerro Punta

“We all have one foot in a fairy tale and the other in the abyss.”  Paulo Coelho

Me in purple flowers 2

I like to think of myself as a resilient and adaptable person,however the contrast coming back from hot to freezing weather was surprisingly challenging. My fairytale is Cerro Punta, and  my abyss is a long and snowy winter. Here, in snowy 100 Mile House,B.C., I am continuing to post the blogs from my notes on our adventure in Panama for December and January . I am starting with the drive from David to Volcan. We are driving a Thrifty rental car that we rented in Pedasi. It had airbags,and was a very reliable vehicle.I am told that most Panama rental vehicles don’t have airbags. We drove from Pedasi down the Pan-American highway to Las Lajas then to Boca Chica and Isla Boca Brava,then on to David. Previous to renting a car we were in Playa Venao, Coronado and Panama City where we relied on public transportation and taxis. Renting a car offered us  convenience,flexibility and greatly increased the amount of area we could explore.It also offered us seatbelt which was not supplied in my experience with taxis and public transportation. As I mentioned in my previous blog about driving the Pan American highway,it does have it’s “heads up” or as a very good friend of mine says “eyes wide open hair straight back.”

Cerro Punta me in purple flowers

We left the maze of traffic in David,Panama and navigated our way back to the main highway. From there it was a 20 minute drive to La Concepcion . We knew where this was, as we breezed by it previously looking for David, and saw the Volcan turn off. From La Concepcion we turned right at the Volcan sign. It was a beautiful scenic 40 minute drive toward the town. It was a winding narrow road, that was well paved. People were passing on corners, with 2 cars passing at once on a curve. They seemed to be going at top speed and in a hurry. There were deep ditches without a shoulder to pull over for them to pass,so driving caution was needed.No pictures were taken due to the fast and furious passing us. We easily found our bed and breakfast Casa Volcan as it was on the main road leading to town. We were received by very wonderful hosts who gave us our private room with it’s own bathroom. They both made sure we had a map and directions to hiking, restaurants and other places to see in Volcan and surrounding areas. We organized our belongings and headed out to explore.

We stopped in Volcan town for water and snacks before finding our hiking spots. It is a smaller version of the artistic chaos that requires your full attention and eyes moving at all times.People pulling out randomly making their own rules,pedestrians crossing,similar to…and very close in chaos to 100 Mile House,B.C. ! The intersection where you turn to Bambito and Cerro Punta(right) is especially busy. If you stay left at the intersection you go to Nueva California, and Rio Cereno and other scenic places that I will mention later. Volcan has cool, springlike temperatures, and we saw a Panamanian selling toques! The place to buy all of your produce is at roadside stands between Bambito and Cerro Punta. You can get a massive bag of veggies for 3-6 dollars.Vendors sell sacks of vegetables, known as puercas.

Volcan town

We followed the map Ruthie gave us and turned right at the intersection toward Cerro Punta in search of hiking trails.

Driving from Volcan to Cerro Punta

The areas of Volcan and Cerro Punta in the province of Chiriqui is known as the Highlands  and are in the District of Bugaba which are 1000 meters above sea level. They have fertile lands of volcanic origin and producing the majority of produce for the country of Panama. Volcan has a beautiful view of Volcan Baru. Volcan is also known as “The Small Switzerland”,since many immigrants of Central European countries, as well as people from Yugoslavia and North America established themselves here in this beautiful area.The protected areas that are found in the Highlands maintain the forest and water resources of the province protecting important endangered species.

Cerro Punta view

The green valleys,forests and brilliant flowers reminded me of the Scottish Fairy Tale “The Land of Green Mountains”.It was like going back in time. We saw a beautiful sight of a Panamanian plowing his field with his horse.

Close up Horse plow

We were in search of the The Los Quetzales Trail. It can be hiked in either direction—from Boquete to Cerro Punta or from Cerro Punta to Boquete. The hike from Boquete is mostly uphill, while the route from Cerro Punta is downhill nearly all the way. It draws adventure minded people who love hiking and bird watching. The Quetzal is an exotic bird, and it was the season for sightings when we were here. It is a pigeon sized bird with emerald plumage. The male has brilliant crimson and trailing feathers.The Quetzal is found at elevations of 3500 feet in the cloud forest The Maya worshipped it as a sacred bird.It loves the avocado like fruit of the aguacatillo. In our search for the trail head we crossed a bridge over a river toward a very scenic and rustic country road. From there I was in celery heaven. You will see why when you look at these pictures of celery fields!

Cerro Punta Celery best shot

We decided to stop and take a hike up the quaint cobblestone road. The weather was like spring, misting,and then turning sunny and warm. Farmers were working harvesting and sowing crops on the steep hills. It reminded me of the Grimms fairy tale “The Elves and the Shoemaker”. I filled my lungs with the incredibly fresh air.

Cerro Punta Purple Flower pic 3

The weather misted and then went back to sunny again in a matter of minutes. Glenn brought his equipment and did aerial  photography that was excellent.I will post the videos he has done later separately.Glenn Cerro Punta

On the way back in Cerro Punta town we saw beautiful flowers and horses being walked by their owner.

Flower 2

 

 

 

Flower 1

Cerro Punta is home to two very important horse breeding centers. Haras Cerro Punta and Haras Carinthia are both located here and are well known for their thoroughbreds. We saw many different breeds of horses here. I fell in love with a Palomino Peruvian the next day, more on that later.

We then went to a good Italian restaurant recommended by Ruthie on her map and had a fantastic dinner at La Carbonera!

Volcan favourite restaurant

I had a huge dark green salad with a beautiful piece of salmon and house red wine that was full bodied and high quality. Glenn had a delicious pizza with a thin crust with many fresh vegetables. The next day  we planned to continue to look for the Quetzales Trail as well as explore other areas such as Rio Sereno. We were not far from our new comfortable home at Casa Volcan. We looked forward to sharing our adventures with our delightful and enthusiastic hosts.They are Canadians that moved from the cold of Canada’s east coast years ago to a warmer climate and a different way of life in a small town.This was a spectacular day for me as you can tell from the pictures at the beginning!

My next posts will be on Rio Sereno (close to Volcan), Boquete, a bus ride from Boquete to Bocas Del Toro, boating to Isla Bastimentos,Red Frog beach, our stay on Isla Colon, Bluff Beach,Drago Beach,and our flight from Bocas Del Toro with a finale of a stay at Gamboa prior to us going to Panama City and then flying back to Canada.

 

Valley

 

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Driving from Serene and Quiet Boca Chica to the Artistic Disorder of David

Country Road Leaving Boca Chica 2

We experienced  tremendous relief after finding the rental car key.The stranded feeling was gone, and the series of problem solving  clutter of strategies was lifted. We were given one key and I tied it to a large and heavy object.

The scenery on the way out of Boca Chica is very beautiful with gently rolling hills and big fields for cattle with shady trees for them to rest.

 

Country roads leaving Boca Chica

We did a quick stop at a local Mini Super outside of Boca Chica on a quiet country road to stock up on water and plantain chips and we were on our way. This was the grocery I wish we had of discovered earlier. There is an archway as you can see in the distance.

Quiet town outside of Boca Chica

Getting lost past David 2

We prepared for our trip by studying the road map we had bought in detail so that we could arrive smoothly at our next destination of David. We looked for ( mostly non existent ) road signs to towns, rivers, streets etc…..then check that against the map to establish where we were. Without signage and the benefit of altitude to spot rivers and towns it can be quite awhile before you get a sign or a clue. We saw a town La Concepcion, and then continued not seeing a David sign.

Getting lost past David

We stopped in Santa Marta and asked for directions at a local beauty parlour, and they redirected us to turn around and go back. Looking at the map a second time we had completely missed David, and if we had continued would have reached the Costa Rica border. We turned back and kept our eyes peeled for a David sign after passing again La Concepcion. We noted that that junction was our important turn to Volcan which was our next stop after David. Still not seeing a David sign, we spotted a large Reys market,and a truck crushed against a hydro pole with wire hanging and police on the road, and decided that this was David. There were directions on Booking.com to Hotel Ciudad in David which I had booked. It looked like a turn of from the main highway, but we could not find a sign with the street name. We stopped at a corner gas station and asked if they knew Hotel Ciudad and bingo! We got directions, and it turned out we were sitting right on the correct turn off.

We headed down the road, however we were not prepared for the quagmire of confusion and bewilderment.

 

You need fast reflexes when driving in a Panamanian city, as it is a kaleidoscope of busy where anything could happen at any given moment, so eyes need to be peeled at several things at once. In driving school they say “keep your eyes moving”, and this puts it to the test. As you can see the driving creatively flows at intersections in David and somehow works. I kept my eyes peeled for the hotel as it had very distinctive appearance with a large square red shape. We pulled over to ask directions from a local man and he did a left right left gesture with his hand, and we were on our way again, discovering a one way street. Glenn handled the drive with expert pilot skills!

I saw the beautiful sight of the red square building in the distance! We pulled over again to look at it, which was not an easy maneuver. The building looked like a department store with no hotel sign.We asked an expat where the hotel was and he said “It’s right here! “He explained that it looked like a department store with the mannequins but it was the hotel. The expat was a Canadian and Glenn had a nice long chat with him. We found it had underground parking by guessing, and drove under, and security guided us to a perfect parking spot. Glenn checked us in, and a staff took our bags and showed us to a beautiful hotel room with down pillows and comfortable mattress. We had spent many nights with sparse foam pillows, and made extras by stuffing tea shirts with our clothing. We took a moment to breathe and have complete gratitude for arriving safely. There was a spectacular breakfast included in the room price of 95 USD. It felt extremely safe, and it was a gloriously comfortable nights sleep. From the hotel there is a view of the University.

 

David university

Glenn patiently went shopping with me to buy a light cotton dress and sandals. My sandals broke, we glued them and they kept breaking.The bounce and rattle of the city was upbeat, and the Panamanians were friendly and welcoming. The journey into the shops was a delightful fun adventure.

We thoroughly enjoyed our one night stop in David before our trip to Volcan,Boquete Isla Bastistomos and Colon in Bocas Del Toro. The next morning we were headed to Volcan, and we already knew exactly where our turn was!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Indy 500 Pan-American Highway

It was time to take the plunge into driving in Panama after much research.We asked local expats about taking the bus to Las LaJas in Chirquiri and then on to Boca Chica. It appeared to be a tricky and complicated event for a bus journey, with long waits in the hot sun, and possibly not making it to our destination in time. We rented from Thriftys and purchased the extra insurance policy,paying a drop off fee in Boquete. We had a nice compact vehicle with air bags and air conditioning.

At 8:30 am we left our beautiful breezy and comfortable home in Pedasi and said our goodbyes to Christine and Wayne. The country drive out from Pedasi was very scenic with beautiful pastureland,cattle and rolling hills. This is Panama’s dry area with the sun beating down as hard as a hammer in the summer. One knowledgable expat said there may be very little rain until about June.Once a lush paradise,Azuero was deforested in the course of two centuries to make way for cattle.The peninsula is cowboy country, and we saw many cowboys on Paso Fino type horses with lassos. It feels western, and very spacious.

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When we looked at real estate with Mark Heilbron we were told that a cattle rancher just bought a big piece of property in Pedasi. We continued our country drive out. As we headed out of the quiet country town we realized quickly that the driver needs to stay very alert to the situation and keep eyes moving all of the time, and the passenger needs to be mentally sharp and be reading the map for reference points at all time. There may be little or no signage or it may be worn or covered. Looking for the small towns as a reference point was the key for me as my job as a navigator. I had tuned us into an audiobook, and turned it off, as our complete attention was needed. I observed dangerous passing and tailgating as well as vehicles backing into the road without looking or stopping suddenly to pick someone up. Las Tables the provincial capital and is the heartland of Panama’s folk tradition and is known for it’s festivals. Each July it hosts “The Festival de la Pollera”. A poller is a beautiful national costume ,an exquisite short sleeved rushed blouse and a two tiered full length skirt. made of fine linen. Flowers, birds or native designs are woven into the fabric with a large matching pom pom or “mota” entered at chest and back with 4 matching graceful streamers “galardetes” hang from the waist at the front and back. Five chains of gold coins “cabestrillos” hang from the neck to waist. A gold cross or medallion on a black velvet ribbon is worn as a choker. A silk purse is fastened to the waistline with gold brooches. To complete the outfit,she has on satin slippers,hair in a bun held in place by 3 large gold combs adorned with pearls and worn like a crown. Also worn are “quivering pins” patterned after flowers or butterflies, which shimmer with her every move, and the earrings are gold or coral.

We got lost in the chaos of this lively town, and pulled over to ask directions several times to Chitre. People were kind and cheerful, and helpful. One gentleman was too helpful in fact,jumping in the back seat to show us how to get back to the highway.Glenn asked which way, and the gentleman was pointing and gesturing. I found it very unsettling that he was in the back seat. Note to self to lock our doors while driving.I have had disturbing experiences in the past in my youth trusting people who seemed like good samaritans. Glenn very skillfully gave hime the message that although he was very kind it was unnecessary . He then called his son on the phone who spoke English, we got directions to the highway, and he then understood that we were not going to drive him anywhere and left the vehicle (on Panama time). With my adrenaline in check, we were on our way….but not quite. We took a wrong turn again and ended up in a Panamanian subdivision. We got directions in Spanish from a friendly elderly couple wearing traditional Panama dress, and were understanding now what left and right meant in Spanish.

The double lane freeway was a welcome sight, and it was clear sailing with both of us on high alert, and me clutching the map with eyes peeled for Chitre signs.

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There were absolutely no Chitre  signs, only one that said La Arena, so we kept going and ended up in the heart of absolute madness in downtown Chitre. What we should have done is stayed on the highway turn off that had the sign La Arena sign before Chitre, but who knew? La Arena is a tidy colonial village,lined with artisan stores famous for ceramic workshops using traditional spinning wheels and ovens.
Glenn was gripping the steering wheel pilot eyes moving, people were backing out, pedestrians holding babies crossing the road at the last minute. We went up a one way, actually and did not know it until a Panamanian driver flagged us and gestured and pointed.Glenn backed up despite complete chaos behind us and we turned around and pulled over and took a breath.This provided us with valuable learning opportunities!

Big trucks backing out into the street, everyone passing at once,it was like a video game Glenn said that was continual. The best was yet to come. We have been sheltered a little bit by taking buses and taxis through Costa Rica in previous years(even though I felt like hiding under the seat many times), but this was a completely different survival experience. We got ourselves routed out of the confusion of Chitre with direction from friendly Panamanians in Spanish and were back onto the highway toward Santiago. We were preparing ourselves as on the map the highway 1 looked like it was tangled in a big traffic circle, and taking the wrong turn could lead you into an insanely different direction. It was a yellow circle with the University on one side,an airport, several small towns in the mix. I had my eyes peeled as all Glenn needed to do was focus and drive, the signs were my job. At what appeared to be the Highway 1 near Santiago there was a stop check with a traffic jam. We had our passports ready, and checked through. Once the traffic after Santiago was moving we checked for David signs-still none.It appeared we were in the right direction and kept going-it had to be the main highway. I looked at my map and saw clues..Los Castillos, Ok we are good!

The piece between Santiago and Las Lajas turn off in my opinion takes someone with sharp and extreme sharpness,experience and mental toughness as a driver.

The road was surprisingly good in some spots and then seemed to disappear into a winding goat trail with small cars and buses passing two to three cars at once, large semi trucks passing semi trucks just barely getting into the lane ahead. We saw a bad crash with a dump truck, and then shortly afterward someone tailgating us in a threatening and aggressive manner. Glenn tried to let him pass but he would not as though playing a cruel game. Apparently if you tailgate you can save fuel that way.It has a name for it. Although I marvelled at how a highway could appear in the jungle in the middle of no where, I remembered what a Coronado car rental place said to me “Kim you don’t want to do that drive. If you break down and are on the highway overnight it is unsafe. In the dark with a break down it would not be good”. I now know what he was talking about. What was good about this is that we had an excellent vehicle from the Thrifty Car Rental in Pedasi, a full tank of fuel as there are no gas stations on the windy challenging highway between Santiago and Las LaJas. You are basically on your own, and stopping on that narrow road is not an option with Indie 500 top speed Panamanian drivers, reckless vehicles sharing the road with families with children that all want to stay safe. Ultimately the section of highway from Santiago to Las LaJas turn off in Chiriqui takes about 5-5 1/2 hours is winding one lane in each direction with construction, and irrational drivers. It has been said to drive this with caution and do not drive this section at night.The curves in the road are not to code and you can find yourself too close to speeding traffic in the opposite direction. The other disturbing part to me is that  repeatedly,buses and several cars would pass at once and I did not think they could make it back in their lane in time.

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For me I felt bladder shrivelling fear, and could feel my pulse the entire drive.Glenn, being a pilot was completely focused on our safety, alert and leaning to see the oncoming traffic which was coming at us with lightening speed with of course people passing. There were big potholes in the road in places where people are dodging at top speed.

We thought we would see a sign that said Las Lajas as it is a significant town on the beach, so all I can say is watch for a store on the right and a big ranch like structure on the left that is faded and says Las LaJas .I could not see any signs.For reference it as a left after the bridge with a corner store on the right. There was a small sign with a different town name…I can’t see the town on the map even now. If you are not paying attention you could easily breeze right through to David. We took the country turn off to Las Lajas and drove a lovely country road dotted with pastureland, trees and cattle, and arrived to a quiet family sanctuary on the beach. We were here for one night, arriving at about 4 pm, and saw an incredible sunset.The beach is a very quiet earth toned sandy beach 7 miles long, and very gentle and easy to swim. Off in the distance you could see far away islands.

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