Panama Adventures: Boquete mountain town

On the road again, we packed our wee sacks and said goodbye to sweet Santa Catalina...until we meet again.

It was time to pull up our growing roots and continue to explore this diverse country.  Three days away from the sea.  That is all we could handle.  Up into the mountains we drove, travelling on more fantastic Pan Am highway in a spacious shuttle van.  We used the Hola Panama tourist shuttle service for two of our cross country legs and we very impressed with the vans and the service.  For only a few dollars more than the slow and cramped 'chicken bus', the tourist shuttles travel direct, have comfy seats, plenty of room and spare travellers from the endless (and insanely loud) boom boom of the latest top 40 music videos.  We love us some chicken bus excitement but it is nice to have an alternate choice if and when the novelty wears off.  And for myself, being extremely motion sick, the shortest route on long windy mountain roads is most often my first choice.  

5 hours and $30 each later, we were dropped off directly at our Boquete home, just on the edge of town, Apartments de Los Pinos.  "Best location, great value."  Was the title of my trip advisor review this time.  The kind hotel manager, Emma, asked if we wouldn't mind adding our review to help them start building their online presence.  15 years in business but just a few months in the world of online reviews, Los Pinos has some catching up to do.  But this little gem of a hotel is sure to be booked solid once the word gets out to those looking for spacious and conveniently located, mid-range accommodation in Boquete.  

Our two story suite was outfitted with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen and our own little deck overlooking beautifully manicured gardens and the valley beyond.  All for only $65 per night.  It was just like having our very own little Boquete apartment and we have our pals Cale and Vicky to thank for the recommendation.

Boquete is a classic, mid sized, Central American town.  It is also one of the fastest growing retirement communities for ex-pat Americans and Canadians.  The only wheelchair ramps and designated parking stalls that I have seen in Central America are quite common in this remote mountain town.  We had a difficult time figuring out why so many retirees were packing up and investing here.  It just seemed like another little CA town.  A decorated town square, two good sized grocery stores, barber shops, restaurants, hostels, tour companies, bars, roaming dogs, uneven sidewalks and potholed streets buzzing with buses and taxi cabs in every direction.  Why, I wondered, were so many North Americans rushing to retire here? 

We walked into the town centre to find some supper and stumbled into crowds of locals partaking in a lively fiesta in the town centre.  There is always a reason to celebrate in small Central American towns, it seems, and Navidad was the likely excuse for this party.  It was also the peak of the coffee bean harvest in Boquete and mountain folk from the surrounding villages had flooded the town to pick coffee and enjoy some city life for a few weeks.  Colourful dresses and traditional sling bags made from natural fibres identified the Chiriqui and other mountain villagers amongst the Boquete locals and 60 something retirees.  It was a good night to get out of town early and a bad night to get some sleep.  Even though we were outside of the town centre, the post fiesta action spilled out of the city and spread into our quiet neighbourhood as mountain villagers stumbled their way home to pass out.  Hollarring, alarmed dogs, confused roosters and a breathtaking gunshot directly outside of our window made for a less than relaxing night.  A far cry from the sound of soothing waves that we had grown accustom to on the Pacific.  Oh city life. 

But it was Sunday and the party chaos had given way to the sound of church bells ringing.  Every 15 minutes.  All day.  Yup.  We enjoyed coffee on our wee balcony then strolled into town to sign up for one of many adventure tour options.  Hot springs, hiking, volcano treks, coffee tours, canyons and more.  Boquete is known as Panamas 'Eco-Adventure' capital and small tours were heading out daily while we were there. 

Our adventure choice?  Ziplining high above the jungle canopy with Boquete Tree Trek!  I had never zip lined and it scared me more than I I had to do it.  I am no adrenaline junkie and do not like the feeling of fear - my mountain biking peeps can vouch for me on this one lol!   There aren't many things that scare me, but I've caught myself choosing to flee from fear rather than face it over the past few years.  Nothing wrong with that.  But I don't personally like giving something that doesn't even exist that much power over me.  It was time to look fear in the eye and walk on by.  

Exposure gives me jelly legs.  Trusting strangers and strange equipment in a strange land makes me beyond uncomfortable.  Perhaps living with blind trust would be more fun, but man it goes against every fibre of my being!  So why not step into a harness you haven't checked yourself, let a man who doesn't speak English clip you in, lean back and step off of a ledge into the abyss 200-300 metres above the jungle?  Eeeek!

One of the guides went first and suddenly realized that speed was also part of this adventure.  Up to 60kms per hour, on 13 zip lines and covering 3.5kms of jungle vista!   When I found out that too much braking could result in getting stuck on the cable, resulting in a rescue I decided that speed would be my friend.  And so, I leaned back, closed my eyes and let go of all control.  My belly did a flip as the canopy opened up and my mind realized the size of the void below.  About halfway across, I surrendered and felt my body go limp in the harness.  Wow.  Who knew letting go could feel so good!  Much better than fighting and resisting all the way.

I made it to the next platform and although I was shaking like a leaf, I had done the hardest part and knew I would make it.  The rest of the lines went by in a blur and I had more and more fun as my trust grew.  Before I knew it we were clipping into our final line and I wished there were more!  The views were phenomenal and the feeling of walking past my fear was worth every penny.  Lessons learned high above the jungle in Boquete.  Yay.

We spent the rest of our days exploring the streets and restaurants of Boquete and even enjoyed a coffee tour at a small local farm.  After seeing all of the steps that go into a simple cup of coffee I now have a new appreciation for the cost of the precious beans!  And fare trade means that much more once you shake the hand of a local picker and see the challenges they face, first hand. 

After three days we were ready to move on from Boquete and head back to the warm weather we came to Panama for.  And although we discovered lovely villas, farms and gardens and enjoyed some delicious meals (at close to Canadian prices) we never actually understood the lure of Boquete.  Fun to visit, yes...but to retire?   Hard to put yourself in retired shoes, so we will stick with the coast for now.

Hotel: Los Pinos $65USD/night

Next up: Bocas Del Toro for a dose of the Caribbean dream.