February 16th-18th, 2015
I was glad that I had scheduled a shuttle out of Bocas as it was another rainy day as I departed. As we waited at the dock for our water taxi to begin the first leg of the journey, a skiff with four military men towed in another boat. It turned out to be one of the two boats of the company I was travelling with so although I was called to get on the first boat to head to Almirante, we had to wait about an hour there as that boat whipped back to Bocas and returned with the remaining passengers and then finally we were off.
Sitting beside me was Chris from Sacramento and across the aisle was Coby hailing from Montana with his fiancée Amanda, and they had just gotten engaged the day before! Behind us were some other American characters, skater looking Ryan with his girlfriend Jenny and his sister Mandy. The trip reminded me a bit of my shuttle back in Guatemala as it turned into a bit of a party as the bus climbed its way up into the clouds on the windy road snaking through the rainforest. Once we crossed the summit we were greeted by mostly clear skies revealing the dry leeside of the mountain range. As we continued downhill towards the city of David (hey, great name), we could see the huge bank of clouds seemingly stuck on the mountains. Then came the rainbow. It got more and more intense and lasted more than a half hour as we started to cruise back north into the mountains.
Boquete itself is a bit of a strange town. Squeezed by a valley it has an upper and lower section that are quite narrow so there are only 2-3 main streets running north south. My first night I stayed in the Mamallena Hostel which was associated with the shuttle company. It was a decent place, right on the border of the central park of town. I discovered a good restaurant next door with decent pizza and pretty wicked live music almost every night. The core of the group were locals but they invited expats up to play. There were a couple of older guys who wailed on the electric guitar and this one white fellow, probably in his 30s with dreads down to the back of his knees (that’s commitment!) stood up and belted out some great solos on his trumpet. Never judge a book by its cover!
The primary activities in this small mountain town revolve around hiking. The big one is to climb up Baru Volcano where, if you’re lucky, you can see both the Caribbean and the Pacific at the same time. Everyone I spoke with who recently hiked it stated that they had not been able to see both bodies of water. Add to that that the trail up essentially was a bumpy gravel road and I have to admit I was not enticed to do it however now I’m kicking myself as this guy I met at the hostel named Eric from Ottawa asked if I wanted to join him, starting at midnight (in order to summit at sunrise) and I declined as I planned to hike the famous “Sendero de las Quetzales” trail the following day. Turns out he did see both oceans…damn it.
So the Quetzales trail, named after the strikingly colourful bird that is not only the national bird of Guatemala but also the name of its currency, supposedly requires a guide, or at least it’s highly recommended. A few years back a couple of Dutch women in their early twenties got lost and months later their bones were discovered. However most places charge $60-75 for a guide, for one person, which is a bit exorbitant for a simple hike. I decided to first hike the “Hidden Waterfalls”, a trail that does not require a guide with three waterfalls to visit. I hopped in a cab for the 6-7 kilometre ride out of town and just ten seconds after we started off the driver almost ran over a 55 year old white woman. She was slowly walking across the road, some ten meters from the crosswalk and happened to be just in the blind spot of the roof strut on the left side. It didn’t help that I had just asked the guy if he spoke English and he was trying to respond. I saw the impending calamity but clammed up with my Spanglish and just said “Whoa, whoa…” and finally he stopped, as he just moved into the lady at about 5 km/hr. She was not happy (even though I think she was partly to blame) and took her plastic grocery bag and slammed it twice against the hood and some plastic plate or something flew out onto the road. We just continued on. No harm no foul I guess…at least in Central America.
The cabbie ended up dropping me at the wrong waterfalls hike, one about 1.2 kilometers before the one I intended on hiking. I didn’t realize this until I’d already paid my $3 entrance fee but figured it didn’t really matter, it looked like a lovely valley to hike up and the lady claimed it was lovely and to keep my eyes open for the lovely Quetzal. Part way into the walk I passed a couple of older women and a man who were obviously birders. They each carried binoculars around their necks and were peering up into the trees. I asked them what they had seen and it was a flycatcher, not the big prized Quetzal. I continued on and just a few hundred meters ahead I spotted a blue and red coloured bird on a naked branch. It didn’t sport the long feathered tail of the male Quetzal but I wondered whether it might be a female. The bird then flew to a slightly lower branch and was mostly hidden behind leaves. The three bird watchers finally came up the trail and shortly after I tried to point out the bird to them, a male flew up and perched on a nearby branch, confirming my earlier guess. Awesome, a mating, or at least courting couple. One of the ladies was kind enough to lend me her binocs and wow, it is an impressive looking bird.
A nice ranch house at the start of the trail:
The view up the valley:
The female Quetzal:
The male has joined. He doesn't look too stunning in this photo from my little point and shoot camera, but trust me...gorgeous. The female is just above him to the right, behind some leaves.
Some cool trees:
I continued on to the waterfalls which were nice, but perhaps I’m getting a bit waterfalled out on this trip. I only spent a few minutes in the chilling mist before beginning my walk back. About five minutes later I ran into Montana Coby which was a nice surprise. He tried to entice me back to the falls with the offer of a beer in his backpack but I ended up meeting up with him and Amanda later that night back at my favourite Boquete restaurant with the pizza and music.
My first view of the waterfalls:
I changed hostels after the first night to one called “La Polilla”, which means the moth. Kind of an odd name for a hostel. It is affiliated with the original hostel that I had booked online called “El Refugio del Rio” and I had received confirmation from the third party website but it turns out there is a disconnect there and they were in fact full. However a guy named Juan emailed me and offered a room in the moth place, which was obviously run by the same owners. It turned out to be a lovely little place, managed by Argentinian Juan and his girlfriend Nati along with help from a young couple from Ontario, Jamie and Dan. They were lovely people and although the place is a work in progress, I enjoyed my stay there.
La Polilla Hostel:
The view looking back the other way:
Paps, the hostel dog:
The backyard area:
A sculpted tree:
Nati (with the pot on her head), Jamie and Juan...beautifying the place one day at a time:
I had still planned on hiking the Sendero de las Quetzales trail but the night before I was going to go I was crossing the main street coming back from the grocery store and smashed my foot into a small embankment on the side of the road causing me to fall down and crush my newly purchased eggs. Wearing only flip flops I did some good damage to my big toe plus I blew out the flip, or was it the flop. These suckers were from India and I’d only paid $4 for them and they’d lasted about 2 years so they owed me nothing but I would need to quickly replace them. So the hike was out, no point in hobbling around a trail looking for a bird I had seen the day before.
A chilled out day rounded off with a final pizza dinner at Baru Restaurant finished my stay in Boquete, it was time to head southeast to Santa Catalina, to hopefully scuba dive with whale sharks!