MORE MOUNTAINS AND ISLANDS, PANAMA STYLE!

After El Valle, we trekked over to Boquete. This particular trek consisted of a bus down the mountain, then flagging down a bigger bus going to David and after that jumping on yet another bus to Boquete! Always the adventure to get some where in Central America!

Boquete is a bit of a famed town in Panama not only because of its world acclaimed coffee, but all the damned retirees from the U.S. and Europe that have taken over the place. It has charm, but is also over priced and over populated. It took Jim quite a walk and quite awhile to find a good enough cheap enough place for us to stay to rest our weary trekking bones. You see, we have this agreement if we do not know where we are staying in a new town; I sit and have a cold drink protecting the luggage with my all life while Jim skips-to-his-lou around town looking for appropriate accommodations. Yes, I agree I have the better end of the stick, but two hot over-traveled cranky chickens do not make good company!

We found a place, settled in quickly and went off to make an appointment for a coffee plantation tour. Jim really wanted to do a tour of a coffee company and plantation. This day activity was going to be a treat for us at $14.00 a person, but low and behold when we got there, like I said this town was over-priced, it had gone up to $30.00 a person. We had to decline. I felt very bad for Jim as he was really excited about the tour, so I told him to go on his own. He did not want to support the exorbitant prices they were asking and still declined. We did indulge though, and got frozen sweet coffee drinks from them and a pound of their better blend coffee. At, mind you, over $11.00 a pound!!! Uh…it is from right down the street, they have no transportation or middle man costs! Why are they charging the same prices or more than in the states? Gouging the Gringos, reason #1 I am not fond of Boquete. Jim said, for that price, the beans better have been pooped out of a monkey.

The town was quaint with its main plaza, and small businesses scattered all around it. Not big by any standards, much larger than El Valle. We walked around town and came across a Peruvian restaurant. Jim just had to go in and see if they had Pisco, Peruvian liquor. They did and we treated ourselves to a drink each, again to our surprise way over priced. We then decided for a really cheap dinner to go. We ate in our hotel room watching a movie, it was nice not to be running around for once and getting gouged.

The next day we set out early. We had a tasty breakfast at a café overlooking the main plaza for a ridiculously low price. One thing about Boquete and maybe Panama in general, you cannot get a bad cup of coffee! Then we set out for a hike. We took a bus up the mountain, it was a wonderful ride. We were dropped off at a fork in the road to look for a trail leading to some water falls. We kept on walking up this mountain road, going up up up, until we found a sign that looked like it could be for a park of some sort. We found a trail and started walking it, not too long into the hike we ran into one of those retired expats living there and he helped us out. He was on his way back from a bird watching hike and told us that the trail was nice, but there were no waterfalls. He then told us the trailhead for the waterfall trail was right where we got off the bus but the sign posted calls it by a different name! Fortunately, he had a car and drove us back to that spot…not sure I could deal with the hour hike back down the rural, yet scenic, road. We finally started our waterfall hike and it was a lush one. Quickly into the hike we were in deep dense jungle all around with creeks and streams on both sides. We had to cross one or the other several times on make-shift bridges. It was all so beautiful. This part of Boquete, we really liked!

Since we had a side hike earlier, it was later in the day than we planned to start a full on hike, so we did not go all the way up to the falls, probably close though. We did decide to have a rest, and put our feet in the very cold refreshing water. After a bit, we then headed back, but right away we saw a group of people staring off into the trees. I looked and saw what they were looking at, a Quetzal! I have known about Quetzals for awhile, as it is the name of the money and the national bird of Guatemala. And how lucky it was for us to actually see the beautiful creature, especially since it had taken the bird watching Gringo we met up with earlier 10 hikes before he saw one! Now I know where the color teal was copied from, yes nature!

Click Photo below for Boquete Photo Album:

Panama – Boquete – March 2009

We successfully made it back to the trail head, but we were at a stand still because we did not have a ride back to town. We rested a bit, had a snack, drank some water and talked about what to do…then a car came by and I got up to hitch. No luck! We decided to walk down the mountain, we had heard it is a lovely walk, long, but do-able. I am not sure it was the best idea to start the walk at 4pm, but that is what adventure is all about. Do not get us wrong, whenever a car came by we did try to hitch. We walked for quite a ways enjoying the scenery, especially the locals working in the fields and after a while we were picked up. The people that gave us a ride had seen us on their way up the mountain. They were on their way to a finca (farm) to collect food for programs to help the poor in the area. Since we were still on the road they had to help us out. Thank goodness, but as we drove we passed so many great views I would have loved to photograph. There were great rock formations where people were climbing and the coffee farms and flowers that were along the roadside for miles! Que bonito! But, the ride was long and we were so very thankful for the lift all the way back to town!

After a cold shower, a rest and a bite to eat we met up with our German friends from El Valle at Zanzibar, an African themed bar in the middle of the mountains of Panama. Lonely Planet claimed it had good jazz, I am not so sure about that, but the reggae that came on later was nice. Although we had an enjoyable evening with Andres and Martina, we were all tired and called it an early night. Jim and I also had to get up early the next morning for more on the road traveling.

Our travels once again started early, with a bus back down the mountain to David, and then another smaller style bus over to the Caribbean coast. The bus/van that took us to the coast drove at a normal speed for the first third of the trip up the pacific side of the isthmus. Then he slowed down to the point that Jim was wondering what his problem was. This coupled with the repeating CD with only 2 songs on it was driving Jim crazy. After about 20 minutes of crawling along the mountain highway another bus/van passed us. A split second later our driver had our van floored and we were on the other vans back bumper. A couple minutes later it became apparent why the driver was going so slow. The drivers compete for fares. The slower he went the more people that would collect at the bus stops. The only trick is to stay in front of the next van. The race was on and it felt like we were on a roller coaster through the mountains. The van didn’t come to a complete stop to let people on and off. I have to say that this little bus carrying 30 or so passengers had quite the engine, it had no problem passing up slower vehicles while going up hills (yes, he could not see the oncoming traffic) or going around tight curves. And kudos to the driver as well, he knew the road and we got to our destination safely, a bit riled in the belly, but safely!

Next we hopped in a boat headed for the main island of Bocas del Toro. We sat next to Sonny, an old hippy sailing expat. He was quite informative and even knew an old friend from Daytona Beach, Tony, who sails his boat, Andiamo, out of the San Blas Islands. We were going to stay on Isla Bastimentos off the main more populated island of Isla Colon, but Sonny talked us out of it. Once on shore, Sonny gave us a tour and recommended some places to stay. Unfortunately the really affordable place was sold out, but we found another place a bit more in price, but closer to the water. The town of Bocas was fine, a bit too big and overpopulated for our island tastes though. In hindsight I wished we did stay on Isla Bastimentos, which later we found was very quaint.

After lunch we set out to look for the best snorkel and island tour deal. After meeting the sales girl (uh, an adorable grey haired expat) at the third place we could not resist, plus they also offered water and towels on the day long trip! With that all settled, we had a small dinner at a popular restaurant, Casanova’s. After that we went to look for the night life we had heard so much about, but did not find it for quite awhile until we came upon a small place with a live band. It was fun, crowded, and the music was good, so we stayed for awhile, but did not make it a late night in preparation for our next day of snorkeling!

We got up early, found a nice breakfast spot and enjoyed the morning. Then we headed over to the dive shop/tour office and departed the dock around 9:30am heading straight to Dolphin Bay. We took our time searching for dolphins, but after 45 minutes the captain gave up! We heard later that other boat tours saw dolphins, shoot! We were then off to our first snorkel spot, Cayo Crawl, which proved to be awesome. Actually, at first we were not impressed, but then came upon an area of wonderfully colorful sea life, brilliant oranges, neon greens, turquoise blues. Jim and I had our fun diving down to get closer looks and what we saw was breathtaking; tiny fish swimming in and out of sea anomies, colors even more vibrant, and strong coral growth! We did not want to go back in the boat, but after a while it was time for lunch!

Click the Photo Below for Snorkel Day Photo Album:

Panama – Bocas del Toro – Snorkel Day – March 2009

We went to this place right on the water; I mean the whole restaurant, kitchen and all, was built on a dock over the way-so-clear water. While they were cooking our camerones (shrimp) meal, Jim took photos of the fish from the dock and I started to snorkel. First, there were thousands of small fish hiding in the shade of the dock and I swam right through them. If the water was deep enough I swam over them and they did not even move. Then I went over to where there were bigger fish and it was like they were my pets. I wish I had some food because they were coming right up to me! There was this one long needle/bottle nose fish that was quite large, he kept his distance thank goodness. What an enjoyable lunch spot! After we shared the yummy shrimp lunch, we were off to Red Frog Beach.

We hit land, paid our $1 National Park entrance fee and hiked over some lush land to the Red Frog Beach. The Bocas del Toro area is quite famed among the surfing crowd as a good surf spot, we finally found out why. Normally, the Caribbean does not offer much in the wave department, but there were some good waves at Red Frog Beach. Apparently, there are beaches like that all over the islands for surfers to enjoy. We really wanted to take some surf lessons while in the area, but at $90.00 a day I figured we would hold off for the less expensive Nicaragua surf lesson opportunities. Anyway, the undertow reminded me of growing up in Daytona Beach, FL, quite stern, but still fun with the waves hitting at my back. After a dip in the water, Jim and I went in search of the elusive and endangered Red Frog. We hiked along the beach having to scramble through huge fallen trees, branches and waves. We came upon a closed Red Frog Information office, so passed that up for what seemed like a walkway around some rocks along the water. The wooden pathway/dock was in much need of repair, but we threw caution to the wind and continued on. We did not see any Red Frogs, but we did get a nice view of the ocean. After we got back to the beach area it was time to head back to the boat. Our guide asked us if we found a frog and we had to sadly say, “No.” He scurried off ahead of us and not too long into our hike back to the boat he came up to us with a tiny Red Frog in his hand. He let it down and we all tried to take photos, but the little guy would not stay still, so I picked him up and the photo shoot began. It was not until later that day, I found out the frogs are poisonous. I am either immune or the little guy did not see fit to try to kill me. Thank you little Red Frog!

Click the Photo Below for the Red Frog Beach Photo Album:

Panama-Bocas del toro – Red Frog Beach – March 2009

Back to the boat and we were off to Hospital Point, named for the nearby hospital built by the United Fruit Company. It was our last snorkel spot for the day. The water was quite rough and kind of murky, but we made the best of it and snorkeled our little hearts out. We snorkeled to the edge of the shelf and dove down the wall into the cool currents. We found a few other spots to dive down to so we could see the colors and sea life up close, but the most of the area was small and over crowded with other snorkelers. I was getting ran over by totally clueless vacationing children. They were just being kids, so I kept out of their way. It was nice, but not the best snorkel spot I have been to and after around 45 minutes it was time for us to head home.

That night was another low key one for us; we had dinner at the local cheap tasty eats place, El Chitre, and then just wandered about for awhile after dark. We enjoyed watching people walking and shopping on the streets. This one street artist had the coolest hats, a bit dear for my pocket, but very cool none the less. They were made out of this coconut tree fiber. He dyed the “material” and then shaped it into somewhat of a gnome / Robinhood style hats with different designs and decorations all about them. Very creative and a lot different than the usual beaded, weaved, shell jewelry you see rampant everywhere in Panama.

The next morning we went for breakfast at this place Jim was dying to go because of the write up in Lonely Planet, Lilli’s Café with their ‘Killin’ Me Man’ hot sauce, but we were not as pleased as the author was with the place. It was just okay and a bit over-priced, but right on a dock over the water so the atmosphere was pleasant. After that we lazed about in the “lobby” of our hotel reading the paper, hanging in the hammock, petting the white cockatiel, watching people pass by and basically doing nothing. When we got motivated we found a water taxi to Isla Bastimentos for the 1st Annual Races! Races of all kinds took place, paddling on surfboard races, dugout canoe races, water taxi races and who knows what else races! It was quite fun and even more so when we got out of the hot sun and onto a palapa over the water with a beer in hand! We met some nice people around us and we had ourselves a great day.

The laid back atmosphere, the old gap tooth guy playing music, the boats roaring by the dock racing each other, the warm weather, the fun people we met and the food….oh yes the food…all made for the perfect island day! Back to the food, I got a $12.00 lobster and it was not shrimpy-sized at all! Jim got a $7.00 fish! That cost was for an entire plate of food, not just the meat! And it all tasted really good. One of the best deals we got in Bocas del Toro! We had such a good time and when it was time to go we just walked to the end of the dock and a water taxi came by to get us. Our new friends talked us into stopping by Aqua Hostel and Lounge on another island on the way back to Bocas Town.

Click Photo Below for Race Day Photo Album:

Panama – Bocas del Toro – March 2009

This place was sooo cool! It is built right over the water with hammocks dangling right over the edge of the dock. All the hammocks were full with sleeping peeps. There is a dock with the center cut out to make it like a swimming pool with a platform for diving and a swing on the end to watch the sunset. The music was great too…very techno-lounge. It was a perfect place to enjoy the sunset in the Bocas del Toro islands. But it was not the end to our day. After a swim, a couple of jumps and talking to some new friends, we got on a water taxi to take the 2 minute ride back to our island. On our way back to our room, we stopped by our old friend’s place, Captain Tutix. After a sit and some jokes, we went to the room, showered and dressed for dinner, not that we went any where fancy mind you!

We hit this food van that had some really good looking sandwiches; we both had chicken since that was all he had! I love it down here, if they are out of something they do not announce it by putting up signs or notes in menus, or tell you when they give you a menu. They just wait for you to figure out what you want and then proceed to tell you everything they don’t have without apologies at all. We did not like that at all at first, now we are oh so used to it. The sandwiches were delish and afterwards we checked out Iguana’s. We enjoyed ourselves laying in the hammock and dancing to the music. Okay, Jim laid in the hammock and I danced to the music. I even contemplated dancing on top of something, but we were on a dock and none of the furniture looked sturdy, so I opted out. I have always said, “Safety first when it comes to dancing on top of things!” We were alone at Iguana’s and after a while we were bored with ourselves and looked for something a bit more happening. Even Mondo Bar and Hostel across the street from our hotel was quiet. We peaked our heads in to check it out and yes, it was quiet. We guessed everyone was saving up for the big party later at Aqua, but for us old folk it was time for bed! It was a grand and long day.

The next morning we had a 3 block walk to the little airport and on our way we saw something funny…a baseball field filled with kids playing ball right at the end of the runway. No fences or safety barriers of any sort between the airport, runway and baseball field…just one nice giant playing field. The kids did not even bother to look when a plane landed! After trying to photograph that disaster waiting to happen, we hopped on our little plane and headed back to Panama City where we would take another flight back to Honduras, our home for now.

Click Photo Below for Airport / Baseball Field Photos ;o) :

Panama – Bocas del Toro – Airport – March 2009
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~ by HenderBalz on April 23, 2009.

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