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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Panama´s highlands and the world´s youngest backpacker.

Panama has been an experienece that has not stopped with the Kuna Indians! It is a country that has so much to offer, and as usual, we find ourselves saying, ¨We cannot see it all!¨ Having said that, we gave up trying a long time ago! The quest is to see, enjoy and experience, taking each day as it comes.

From Panama City we made our way to David, in the south west of the country. Although it was only a quick stopover , it proved to be quite interesting. Although it has few attractions in its own right, it is a great spot to people watch and see how the real Panamanians (as opposed to tourists) live their lives. An early morning stroll, showed me......fruit and vegetable sellers calling out their prices in a bid to capture the wholsale as well as the retail market, people going about buying poultry, live! There was a lot of hustle and bustle, and it felt fun to be part of it.



One of the main reasons we came to David was to see ¨Los Pozos de Caldera¨, the natural hot springs which lie only 14 kilometres away (from David). After a 30 minute bus ride, it was a further 45 minute walk, through lush tropical forest and a ¨healthy¨amount of mud. Nothing that our hiking shoes could not cope with! We finally reached the property where the springs were. No big entrance or doors, just a woman who came up to us and explained that it would cost USD $1.00 each to enter! I should quickly mention here that although the Panamanian currency is technically the Balboa, they actually use American dollars. As I looked around I was taken aback by the natural beauty and pristine nature of our surroundings. No fancy pools, just some stones built up against the few natural springs that were scattered over the property, which was being shared with goats, hens and other animals! I silenty wondered how long it would take before they became a McHot Springs! The attraction was in the raw beauty and the fact that they had not been commercialised...yet! And just for the record, our hot springs experience really did come without the fries!

Boquete was next, and with quite a different climate to the rest of humid Panama. As it is nestled in a mountain valley at more than 1000 metres above sea level, its climate is cool and fresh. The town had a totally different feel to what we had experienced thus far in Panama. Undoubtedly lush and verdant, it is home to some of Panama´s, and if I may say so, Central America´s , best coffee. Being a coffee lover, I must say that I had some exceptional coffee, one of them being from the Duran Cafe (Duran is one of the many coffee brands here) in the centre of town. As many of you would know, I am a fairly low maintenance backpaker, and whilst I need neither vegemite nor my mod cons......I will NEVER (almost categorically!) knock back a good coffee.

How is it that we seem to have a penchant for arriving in places when there is some type of festival going on, and which usually consists of places being booked out? We did it again! We had no idea that we were coming in on a four day festival to celebrate Panama´s independence from Spain (as opposed to Colombia), as it celebrates both. Panama actually used to be a part of Colombia, so it actually celebrates its liberation from both countries. Just to make it difficult, on different days! We finally found a place (there was some luck involved as somebody cancelled) called Hostal Boquete, right on the Caldera River. Let me reiterate, right on the river, as in when we ate our meals (which we often make ourselves, and/ or use kitchen when it´s available) our TV was the river running over big pebbles and stones infront of us, as it made the kind of sound you only hear in those 3-D Imax movies. Better than a flatscreen!

Boquete is home to Volcan Baru, the highest point in the country at 3475 metres high. Whist we chose not to do this hike, we did do the ¨Sendero Los Quetzales¨(Quetzals trail). The trail meanders 8 kilometres between Boquete nd Cerro Punto, another hillside village. We walked it both ways. Although quite muddy, the views offered were spectacular, and we felt as though we were in another world. Do any of you remember Enid Blyton´s ¨The Magic Faraway Tree¨? I felt transported. Nobody else was on the trail, so I felt a little like I had found utopia. Quiet, serene and surrounded by the movements and sounds of a tropical rainforest, I wondered if anything or anyone else existed. Although we did not see much wildlife, we did see a quetzal, a bird which although not that big, has a tail that can extend up to about 30 inches. It is a resplendant bird which is only found in the rainforests of Central America. I fleetingly saw an intense emarld-green flurry, before it disappeared back into to its utopia ! Check out the following website to read more about this majesic bird, http://www.travellog.com/guatemala/quetzal.html

Amongst several outstanding characters we have met on this trip, I would like to mention Bryce Ward. Bryce is an 8-year old American, who is travelling with her parents Lauren and Blake. They have all been travelling the world for well over a year now. They have basically been doing this trip backpacker style, each with their own backpack, including Bryce. So, this makes Bryce the youngest backpacker I have met! Bryce is funny, articulate and intelligent. She has thoroughly enjoyed travelling the world, and when asked about her experiences was able to recount them with passion and vigour.


Our time in Boquete was interspersed with good walks, good coffee, and the general hype that goes along with any major festival. People selling home-made food and local crafts during the day, and discos and clubs blaring their music by night. Alcohol is cheap in Panama anyway, and during this festival it was free flowing...how does a beer or rum and coke sound at USD 50 cents a can/glass? On the last day of the festival, there was an all day parade, where different high school marching groups compete with each other. This went on ALL day, with no repeat performances....and they just kept coming, and coming and coming. The day after it looked like a totally different town. All was quiet and subdued - the aftermath of days and nights of revelry. As we slinked away with our backpacks on our backs, I internally said goodbye to Boquete and thanked it for allowing us to experience what we did. As we jumped on the bus headed for Bocas Del Toro ( in the north-east, on the Caribbean side, close to the Costa Rican border) I wondered what would await us there. Life is good! (even without LG!!)

Ombi

(images: 1.Flower, Kuna Village, Panama 2. Ombi & Alex travelling to the next point, David, Panama
3. Natural hot springs, inbetween David and Boquete 4. Kid smiling, Boquete highlands 5. Quetzal trail - sprouting of a young fern 6.Quetzal trail look out. 7. L to: Blake, Lauren, Ombi, Robert, Alex and the world´s youngest backpacker ,
Bryce Ward.

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