March 21, 2017
We arrived in Boquete which is only about 40km/25m from Neil’s garage. On the drive you can see Volcán Barú with clouds blowing on and around the top. We had really hoped to be there several days ago, but such is life and timing in Latin America.
We arrived at Pension Topas hostel around 3pm and parked in the camping area next to Mark & Christine.
This place is run by a German man and has a few buildings with various types of room and a small grassy area out front that fits four campers at most. There are other grassy areas for tents too. There is a nice covered shared relaxing area with tables and chairs where you can get on the internet. It also has a small kitchen area for use by guests. There are two dogs living here as well as a parrot in a large outdoor walk in cage that loves to say “hola” and cat call whistle.
We enjoyed a chat then Doug and Mark went off in Mark’s truck to look for motor oil changing places for their truck while Christine and Fran went in of a computer repair place (for Christine’s laptop) and a jewelry repair shop (for Fran’s ring – centre stone has fallen out ). We found the former but not the latter. Upon returning to the campsite, it was time for happy hour and we drank and chatted until dinner time.
We are at about 1100m/3600’ here so it’s much cooler and the air is fresh. No need for AC as it only reaches mid 20’sC/high 70’sF during the day and dips comfortably at night. It’s sprinkles on and off when it’s cloudy and it’s weird cause it’s like a sun shower: rainy in one spot, sunny five feet away from it.
Boquete has become popular with expats and there are many gated communities with many Americans and Europeans and many of the shops have bilingual signage. This of course, means you pay a little more than the other towns for services/products. It’s a dusty town as the wind blows almost constantly and many of the roads are dirt and there’s a major sewer pipe renovation going on so there’s always a block of two of dirt road closed somewhere.
Wednesday, we took some laundry in (sheets & towels), Fran and Christine took in a yoga class, Mark had an oil change done and we hung around the campsite for the day. As mentioned before, Doug wants to climb Volcán Barú and Christine and Mark have decided to do the same so watching the forecast, it looked like there was a good window of opportunity to see both oceans Thursday morning with a break in the clouds so they signed up for the 11:30pm shuttle to the park entrance and hike up in the dark.
The hike up Barú involved 1700m/5500’ of elevation gain over a distance of 13km/8.5m. It was very strenuous, pretty much all uphill and quite exhausting. They arrived two hours before sunrise where all the transmission towers are located and it was too dark to continue safely. It was darn cold but luckily they were able to wait for sunrise inside a utility building with about a dozen other hikers all trying catch some shuteye which was not possible for Doug as it was too cold and uncomfortable. Sunrise came and the Pacific came into view immediately, the Atlantic was clouded in and they made their way to final peak in the daylight which required some hand over hand scrambling. Most others left quickly while but Doug, Christine and Mark waited for the clouds to shift enough to see the Atlantic; they were rewarded with occasional breaks sufficient to see the coastline. Both coasts seemed unexpectedly close; it was rather eerie as the land is so narrow here and Barú is pretty much right in the middle at this point.
Due to the steepness, the walk down was slippery with rocks and dust; a few close calls but no one fell. They passed others that had left earlier and they were walking at a good pace but it still took 3.5 hours to get back down. All were happy and grateful to get off their feet; all three of them had sore feet the next day. Fran had driven Marks’ truck up to the end of the paved road and picked them up in the late morning. Doug was super happy and he’d completed an item on his bucket list: to see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans from one point at the same time.
Friday, Doug went with Mark into David to get Mark & Christine’s truck new tires and alignment. They started out at the place we’d had the work done, but ended up elsewhere as they did not have the correct tires. It ended up taking even longer than our new tires and alignment did.
Fran and Christine chilled at the hostel, went for a walk, Fran went for a pedicure, another walk and bought herself a new small purse and later that afternoon a Brazilian couple joined us at the hostel. Cirilo & Cirana were headed north; she is going home in a couple of weeks and his father was rejoining him on this way to Alaska. After dinner the four of us went to a local bar to listen to some live music which was quite good but unfortunately, in order to hear ourselves over the band we had to sit at the back out of sight of the stage but it was a nice evening.
We also met a Danish woman staying at the hostel; Leeze is here trying to sell a property she bought years ago and returns to Denmark next month.
Saturday morning, Christine, Fran and Doug drove to the trailhead of the Sendero Los Quetzales in Christine’s truck (Mark wanted a day of R&R) and we walked the 5.1km to the Mirador. The drive up and the first part of the trail were quite beautiful as you follow the river and there is a set of falls at one point on the road and a cool rock wall before you hit the end of the road and the park entrance. The trail is within the borders of the Volcán Barú national park. This trial is described as the most beautiful hike in the country. We lucked out with the weather and the sunshine held all day adding to the beauty of the scenery. After almost 2km on the trail/road/path, you turn into the cloud forest and walk on a trail.
For about another 2km it’s a decent sloping trial with a few rocks, bridges, roots and the like but not strenuous, THEN you hit the dreaded stairs (Fran speaking here!). Her knees began giving her pain but she pushed on and we made it to our destination, not the end of the trail (another 2km further) but the lookout called Mirador Los Rocas.
We had a lovely view looking down at the mountains with some clouds and you could see the Pacific. It took us three hours to walk up there and almost another three to get back to the truck. On the trail we met some locals whom when we met them on our way back had seen two quetzales. We had heard at least one but never spotted it. Then we met Tim, an older man, at least 70, who’d hike this trail twice before and was headed to Boquete that day. We offered him a ride into town rather than him walking the 8km back. Hope we are still hiking at that age! On the drive back we stopped at the cool rock wall for pics and enjoyed hot showers at the hostel that afternoon.
Sunday was a chill day for everyone and we mostly hung around the hostel. Fran did go out to see the church and caught the last few minutes of an English mass (dang!) and we both did some walking and Spanish. We met a young British couple backpacking who’d come from Colombia and picked their brains about the sailing option through the San Blass islands that they had taken. John and Alex were heading north. He actually had been bitten the prior evening by one of the dogs the owner has here and had to go to the doctor. The owner reimbursed him his expenses for this, but really there should be a sign to warn about the dog in the evenings; he apparently has bad eyesight and one shouldn’t approach him after dark.
Sunday the weather held despite a forecast of rain all day (we did get a short sprinkle across the road in the later afternoon, but not at the hostel). Some friends of the Brazilians arrived today also headed the same direction so the camping area is pretty full. Chico and Carla are also headed north and both speak decent English. Cirilo and Cirana were celebrating their 3 year anniversary so we surprised them with heart balloons and macaroons as well as singing the Flinstone anniversary song.
The four of us went for dinner tonight, found a recommended pizza place and the pizza was good.
As mentioned, it’s cooler up here in Boquete and there’s pretty much a constant breeze, but it does not linger into the nights. It’s certainly not hot, but wished it was a little cooler for sleeping. Tonight we’ll try leaving the truck windows open and using our screens to hopefully allow more circulation.
Monday the weather got cloudy but the sun poked out a lot in the morning and the rain held off until….. We enjoyed another chill day after running in the morning and doing a bit of laundry. Doug was quite lucky this morning; upon returning from his run and sitting down in Tigger, his Garmin Fenix fell off his wrist; the strap had split but waited until he got back to completely break and fall off. He did go searching for a watch strap in town but was told to try David which makes sense. He did go and find a barber and got a beard trim though.
Tuesday we all jumped in Mark’s truck and went for a little drive before hiking “The Lost Waterfalls”.
There are three waterfalls on this hike and we were told although the trail is muddy, it’s a fairly easy hike; well it might be easy IF you don’t have bad knees – there was a lot of stair climbing and Fran was feeling it almost right away; must have been too soon after Saturday’s hike and running on Monday morning.
You walk past the first water fall only seeing it through the trees and then at the second waterfall, you can walk to the base and then the hike gets worse to the third so Fran opted out and sent Doug up with Christine & Mark while she gave her knees a rest.
We met a Canadian couple here from Surrey and chatted with them for a while. Jennifer & Rob are here on vacation.
On the way back, we found the loop trail to the first waterfall and stopped there for a while before completing the trail and returning to the hostel. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon and we were starving and Fran was craving a burger so after showering, we went into the village for find sustenance. After asking a local gringo where the best burgers were we found the JuiceMi restaurant (yes a juice place) and it turned out to be excellent.
Tuesday after brekkie, some internet time and chatting with Christine & Mark, we unhooked and made our way via a different route to David to do some errands (including looking for a watch strap for Doug – no luck) and then went back to Norm’s place about fifteen minutes north of David where we’ll spend a couple of days.
Norm warmly welcomed up and allowed us to do some laundry and take a dip in his pool. We took him out to the local “family restaurant” up the road for dinner. Last time we were here, the bar next door was open and we purchased beer to have with dinner as the restaurant is not license but today the bar was closed although we saw the bartender out back. Norm called through the bars across the front doors and the bartender, invited us out back and sold us beer; pays to know the locals!
Thursday morning we walked about 3km to the local rum factory but it was not staffed for tours today; the guard told us to rather walk another 20 minutes to the sugar cane factory and they had tours. NOT. It was getting pretty hot and humid and we’d forgotten to bring water with us and Fran got quite light headed. We finally found a patch of shade near a house and she sat down on low brick wall and Doug kindly went to ask for water. He kept trying to flag down a cab as well, but none stopped. When we got to the main intersection of the village we bought more water and made it back to Norm’s where we changed and jumped into the pool.
We need to renew our TIP on Friday as it expires on Sunday so on Friday we went back into David and things went really smooth; less than fifteen minutes to get new insurance and even less at the Aduana to renew the permit. Sometimes, it all clicks.
Now we’re back to the beach on the Pacific.