Though I greatly enjoyed the Canal, the history of Panama City, and the youthful, mellow Bocas vibe, I looked forward to the higher, cooler, less humid climate of our next stop, Boquete – where Becky had just completed her six month long Peace Corps assignment.
There are many ways to travel from Bocas to Boquete, none of them short and few straightforward. We opted for the water taxi/private car combo, the short water taxi ride followed by a 3+ hour drive through jungle and rainforest, over the continental divide.
From the dock at Bocas, we caught a water taxi to Almirante, a straggling village on the mainland, its polluted harbor filled with floating plastic beverage bottles (plastic water/beverage bottles are a HUGE problem in Panama) and other trash. As usual at transit stops, many kids vied to move our luggage a few feet to earn a tip, or open a taxi door while they requested a quarter. Sympathy trumped exasperation and I unloaded all my bits of spare change while we worked our way down the street to the private car and driver Becky had arranged to meet us.
Our driver, Luis, was an engaging young man who quickly loaded our luggage into his company-owned Yaris – and away we sped. Luis knew about as much English as I do Spanish, and expressed an interest in conversing in English to improve his vocabulary and grammar. Before long, though, Luis and Becky chatted in Spanish, with me following about half the conversation and Pat mostly lost. Lots of misunderstandings and lots of laughs made our drive whiz by.
Panama has two seasons, wet and dry. Wet is longer than dry, and much of Becky’s time in Boquete was during the wet season: sunny, dry mornings gave way to torrential afternoon downpours. Not too long ago, the river in the photo below flooded, washing away one of the few bridges in town.
Yet, because Boquete is in the mountains so doesn’t suffer the intense, humid heat of the sea-level elevations, the “clima” (Spanish for climate, and the word every Panamanian spoke when we mentioned going to Boquete) of Boquete is of great appeal to Panamanians and travelers alike. Pat and I had timed our arrival in Panama to coincide with the beginning of the dry season and the wonderful weather we experienced no doubt contributed to my strong attraction to Boquete.
Too bad for us, the continental divide was completely wrapped in cloud cover, so no fabulous view of the Caribbean to the north and the Pacific to the south as we dropped over the spine of the mountains. Another half hour and the sky cleared, the humidity dropped, and we were under the spell of the dry, highlands climate – the mild temperature, the wafting breeze, the sunshine. As we dropped into the valley, we caught our first glimpse town, and Becky sighed with pleasure at the sight of home.
I loved our little “roundhouse” at Isla Verde, our lodgings for the five days we spent in Boquete. Though it looked like a small, square cottage from the outside, the inside was ingeniously designed to maximize space and we three companions moved around comfortably without bumping elbows. Of course, Becky and Pat may have felt somewhat more cramped than I did; those of us used to living in a tin can have a warped sense of residential spaciousness. :)
This photo doesn’t do our abode justice, as I have the contents of my suitcase spread over the loft railing (no closet up there). Becky and Pat shared the downstairs bed; the roomy bathroom is through the door straight ahead. Our little kitchen is visible on the right, and out of view is the dining table, next to a TV (never used by us) and a futon sofa. My back is to the front door; a closet, dresser and safe are along the wall between me and the downstairs bed.
What gave the roundhouse its spacious feel was the ceiling, which followed the roofline up to a peak, capped with a skylight that flooded the room with light during the day. My loft was tucked into the cone of the roof, giving me sufficient room to stand next to the bed on the overlook side, where I had a great view down at Pat and Becky as they worked on their laptops at night. :)
From Isla Verde, we could walk to all parts of Boquete: the Mercado, where we bought fresh pineapple for $1.25 and fresh papaya for less; Romero’s grocery store, the largest in town and always an experience; Sugar & Spice, a bakery and favorite gringo hangout; all the shops along main street; the river; and the multitude of coffee shops, each specializing in a particular brand of locally–grown, ultra fresh coffee. Starbucks addicts, eat your hearts out!
Becky and Pat Zumba’ed at a little gym near our lodging on Tuesday and Thursday, and we joined the Monday morning hiking group for a couple-mile walk to visit a hydroponic garden to buy fresh lettuce. As always, food was a premier interest, and I’ll cover our tour of Finca Dos Jefes (coffee) in a separate post.
Lettuce doesn’t get any fresher than this! The grower cut it to order for us; we were eating our salad a couple hours later.
Becky (right) and two members of the Monday morning hiking group as we head back down the hill towards town.
Though exploring on our own was fun, visiting with friends Becky had made during the prior six months was another highlight of our stay in Boquete. We learned a considerable amount about the politics and history of Boquete and of Panama from ex-pats and Panamanians alike, and met several American and Canadian ex-pats volunteering (or working) in their adopted home (I particularly admired the couple who started a recycling center in Boquete).
Several years ago, Odel and I spent two weeks in Alamos, Mexico, taking Spanish lessons. We both remember that period as a highlight of our fulltiming travels. In Boquete, I found Habla Ya, a Spanish language school a few blocks from Isla Verde. Is a trip back to Boquete in our future??