Boquete, Panama. Wednesday 16th May 2012
Today was an epic journey which starts at 7.15am with a water taxi ride to Sierpe taking about 80 minutes. Then a taxi to Palmar Norte to catch the bus to Cuidard Neilly, which is near the border of Costa Rica and Panama. From there we catch a bus to David and then onwards to Boquete, arriving eventually at 5.45pm. We have to factor in a time difference of an hour, Panama is an hour ahead of Costa Rica and 6 hours ahead of the UK. Everything went well, but it was very tiring and the connections were sometimes so smooth we forgot to eat or drink.
Once in Boquete Andy went to find accommodation, as we had not pre booked although had sussed out a couple of options. He chose Hostal Refugio del Rio, a Swiss chalet type design of a hostel sitting right next to a small river, with lovely gardens and views. We have an upstairs room for two nights then had to move downstairs, both with their own bathroom. The owner speaks some English and is helpful and very friendly. In fact so far Panamanians seem to be a very friendly people, even the bus drivers who let us know where the connections were etc.
Boquete is nestled in the mountains at 1060m and so is cooler by day and night, which is a welcome break. It has always been a major centre for commerce and agriculture. They grow strawberries, orchids, root vegetables and coffee here. It has a huge German & Dutch influence as it has become a retirement option for 'Baby Boomers' during the 90's. The surrounding mountains are green and rugged, thickly forested in parts and are home to rivers, waterfalls, hot springs and abundant flora and fauna.
As we were so tired and hungry we decided to eat somewhere cheap and local, we found a buffet type cafe - we opted for pork chops, rice and plantain.
Thursday 17th May
We had a sleep in which makes a change as we are normally awake with the dawn chorus. We decided because the Hostel has an adequate kitchen we would self cater breakfast for the first time, so a trip to the supermarket was priority of the morning. We then sat and ate breakfast in the garden by the river watching the children play in the school field across the way.
We then went for a recce, to check out the local scene and any worthwhile trips. Thermal pools and Tree Trekking (Zip Lines through the forest) are on offer so they sound good.
Thermal pools this afternoon about an hour away in a 4x4. There are 3 small pools of varying hotness and a cool, fast flowing river to swim in. We also found a thermal pool that led into the river, so we could experience hot, warm and cold all together. Andy said it was a surreal experience as it was like lying in your bath next to a river in the open air. He really enjoyed it and stayed there for 45mins. On our way back to the car we had an encounter with a very friendly monkey, she was apt at somersaults and once she had caught you unawares with that trick she grabbed your leg with her tail and proceeded to climb up your body. We have some great video footage, very entertaining.
Tonight we ate at a local Peruvian restaurant that comes highly recommend by guide books and locals alike. Andy had Parijuela- a powerful seafood soup with prawns, fish, squid and sea snail. To follow this he had Yellow chicken, which consisted of a walnut sauce with parmigian and yellow chilli, very unusual. I had Red snapper fillet stuffed with jumbo prawns in a bechamel and nutmeg sauce. I also had a typical Peruvian cocktail called Pico Sour - pure white rum, egg whites, Angus bitters, lemon juice whisked together with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. It was very potent and went straight to my head - Wow!
Friday 18th May
As the Olympic Torch lands in the UK we take a trip to Boquete Tree Trek. A journey to 1800m into the forest with 12 zip lines of varying lengths and speeds, the longest one being 450ms and reaching speeds of up to 60mph. On the walk up there we saw different species of plants including the worlds smallest orchid - the flowers were about a third of my fingernail. Blue mushrooms and a gigantic looking Rhubarb type plant. The scenery was very beautiful, I wish I could say the same of the zip lines. There were two easy ones to get you started and then a long fast one, by which time I had got myself into a real stew. I don't like heights and I'm not much of an adrenaline junky, I forgot to breath, turned a strange shade of green and unfortunately tears were the order of the day. The next one I did tandem with a guide to get my confidence and by zip line 8, I was more relaxed and breathing, just in time to complete the big one.
Andy enjoyed the whole experience, even giving his silly wife a big cuddle.
Friday nights at home are traditionally take away and wine night, so tonight we decided to have pizza at a local restaurant, especially as the heavens opened and it wasn't too far to walk. In the supermarket we found some fairly inexpensive Chilean Rose - what a treat first glass of wine since leaving the UK.
Saturday 19th May
Today we should have been leaving but as it is so restful here we decided to stay another day. This also gave us time to plan and book hotels for Cartagena and Bogota in Columbia.
The UEFA Cup Final is being played today, the teams are Chelsea and Bayern Munich. We decided to offer our support to a British team by watching the match at the hotel. Chelsea won after extra time and penalties, not sure if they were the better team on the day and I always think going to penalties is such a waste. It was a good way to rest and a stay out of the rain.
Sunday 20th May
We start our long trip to Panama city with an early bus ride to David, which takes about 75minutes and then from there an 8 hour bus ride to our destination. The bus or coach I should say had reclining seats, air conditioning and a film. We also stopped along the way for lunch.
We arrived at Panama City just after 7pm to the biggest bus station I have ever seen , it's obviously fairly new, well organised and huge. We got a taxi to our hotel which is about 20 minutes away, safest way at night in this City. Once we were settled we wandered the near by streets for 10minutes realising that again it is Sunday evening and most places are closed. As we don't know the area we found a McDonald's and reluctantly ate there.
Monday 21st May
Today we visited the Panama Canal at Miraflores Locks, about 20 minutes taxi ride outside the city. Here there is a museum and viewing platform all for the price of $8 each. It's a great feat of engineering and cost billions of dollars to build as well as 22,000 lives. We watched several tankers and a few little boats go through. The Canal is 51miles long, cutting panama in two and enabling ships to sail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific in about 8 to 9 hours by means of several locks and a lake..
Initial construction was started in 1881 by the French but abandoned 10 years later because of soaring costs both financially and man power - due to Malaria. The Americans took over the job in 1904 and completed the Canal in 1914. It was handed over to the Panama Government in 1999. There is a rail road that runs the length of the Canal, originally constructed to carry equipment and supplies during the construction of the Canal and nowadays to transport goods and tourists. Building started in 2007 of more bigger locks and widening of the Canal to enable the 21st century giant ships through.
We headed back to the hotel to explore the area and historical buildings in the day light. We ate lunch at a restaurant/cafe that is frequented by locals on their lunch break. Luckily for us with our limited Spanish it's buffet style and we can point and smile. Good cheap food - Andy had a the chicken soup and rice, which was more like a stew and very filling. I went for the beef slices in gravy served with mixed savoury rice, green salad (more like vegetables) and plantain.
Towards the end of the afternoon we walked towards the sea front and discovered a new, very modern walkway/cycling/jogging path that links the new high rise part of the city with the old historic centre. We watched the sunset and headed back to the hotel to eat.
Next step on the journey sees us leave Central America and enter Colombia in South America.