A Travellerspoint blog

El Valle

Just finished our few days in the mountain town of El Valle. We planned to spend time at the beach, but decided the mountains were more for us. After the beach town of Santa Catalina was a bust, we studied our travel book and found El Valle. It didn't have a lot of hype, but it sounded like it had a few nice things to offer ie.. artisan handicraft market, waterfall hike, hot springs, and cooler temps. We hopped back on a nice hot, sweaty "coaster" (a mini bus) and started to make our way toward El lValle. We stopped over in Santiago, a larger city along the interamericana highway. The next morning, we got in another 2 buses and finally made it to El Valle.

As we were speeding through the winding mountain roads, holding onto our big backpacks on our lap, we were greeted by beautiful green mountain landscape views in evey direction. We hopped off our coaster and walked off the main road to find our lodging, Los Capitanes. It was on a quiet road about 1/3 mile off the main road. What a great place it was, set on a beautiful lot with lush landscaping and magnificent views of the mountains. We were greeted by the owner, Manfred. He is a retired German sea captain who is spending his retirement running his hotel and restaurant. When he first met us, he thought were Dutch. Funny, because that is not the first time Sonia and I have been mistaken for Dutch girls on this trip. It was the third time! Strange... Manfred was a nice man with lots if interesting life experiences to talk about.

We walked alot while in El Valle, exploring the surrounding areas. There are several really expensive, large homes there as it is a weekend retreat for wealthy Panamans and home to many expats. Yesterday we hiked to El Churro Macho waterfall. There were several Tarzan-like bridges scattered throughout the forest. One trail ended at a natural spring pool where we took a dip. We made our way back to town and had lunch at our favorite little coffee shop. After lunch we wandered the handicraft market, where Kuna Indians sold handcrafted Molas, which are pieces of cloth with hand sewn,brightly-colored intricate designs.

Sonia and I have been fascinated by the many Expats we have met here in Panama. While we have enjoyed this country over the past 2 weeks, we both could not imagine moving here permanently. A quality we noticed that they all seem to share is an entrepreneurial spirit. They have tapped into the underdeloped tourism industry here, We met Jim, a 30-something guy from Colorado who runs Boquete Outdoor Adventures that runs rafting, hiking and other adventures tours. We met Manfred, a retired German sea captain who now runs a hotel and restaurant. We met a Russian man who runs the cute European-like coffee shop with good chocolates and food. Last but certainly not least, we met Michelle and Steven Walker who own and run a Howler monkey rescue center in the Chiriqui jungle called Alouatta Lodge. They welcome tourists to come and offer lodging for overnights. They are originally from New Zealand and have lived all over ther world. They have chosen to settle in Panama and raise their 2 teenage chidren. We have thoroughly enjoyed meeting and learning about all of these fascinating people.

Now we will make our way back to Panama City to conclude our whirlwind adventure in Panama....until next time, hasta luego.

Posted by Kristinh 20:29 Comments (2)

Monkey Rescue Center

Alouatta Lodge

So far the highlight of the trip for me has been our day and night at the Alouatta Lodge in the Chiriqui jungle. On our rafting tour the day before, we met 3 people that we staying there, one of which was the son of the people who run the lodge, Gareth. The other 2 were Kevin and Sophie, a couple from Los Angeles. This is the third time they have been there and have become friends with the family and are seriously considering buying a part of the property. Gareth told us to call his mom if we wanted to come and he gave us directions about which buses to take and where to get off. Amazingly, it worked and we ended up at the bottom of the 3 km road up to the lodge. We schlepped ourselves and our big packs up the mountain. I have never sweat so much in my life! It was super hot and humid and we were walking up with a lot of weight on our backs. Turns out it was well worth the sweaty trek.

We were greeted by Michelle, the owner, and 2 howler monkeys, Cat and Google. We sat out on their deck and hung out with Cat and Google for a while. Later, the rest of the troop made their way up to the house. They had been snoozing up in a tree down the hill. The others were Macy who had a one month old baby attached to her at all times. There was also Kiki, Novy and Yahoo. They were very playful and crawled into our laps or climbed up onto our shoulders. The best way to describe them is they are like 2 year olds who will never grow up. Michelle treats them like her children and they need discipline like kids. They some times nip at your arms when playing or if they don't like you. Cat had some issues with me. He growled and bit at Kevin and Steve (the owner). They had to assert theirmdominance back at Cat and then he would be ok for a while. After a while, we became very used to monkeys hanging out on our shoulders and leaping onto our arms as if they were tree branches. I thoroughly enjoyed the monkeys!

We stayed overnight on the property in a bamboo hut with two cots. Sonia and I have been fascinated about the lifestyle this family leads ever since we were there. Steve and Michelle have 2 teenage children, Becky is 15 and Gareth is 18. They have been living here for 4 years and before that have lived all over the world. The kids have to travel to David for school which is a 25 minute drive. Their school is in 100% in Spanish. The family built everything that is on the property. The house is 3 independently standing structures, one with the kitchen and Gareth's bedroom, one is Becky's room and the third is Steve and Michelle's room. They brought plants in from all over the world which line the pathway up to the lodge and are scattered throughout the property. There is only one bathroom for the family and guests.

After dark, Steven took Sonia, Gareth, Kevin and I on a night jungle hike. Once we were equipped with headlamps, we were on our way. Little did we know that the next hour would be straight out of a National Geographic magazine. Let's just say the trip included getting cut in my toe by a

cutter ant, passing a deadly bullet ant, stepping in a fire ant nest, seeing a tarantula, a scorpion and a giant hissing cockroach. Did I mention we were wearing flip flops? We assumed our attire was adequate as we took the cue from Gareth and Kevin who were both in shorts and sandals. We should have taken our cue from Steven who was wearing long pants, a long sleeved shirt and rubber boots. Live and learn!

We slept in the hut which was up a stone pathway from the house. It was made of bamboo and screen. We had a view over the property, mountains and valley. We could also see the Pacific in the distance. We fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle and awoke to the howls of the monkeys at 5 a.m., a typical occurrence as we were told.

While we never felt so dirty in our lives after a day and night in the jungle, playing with monkeys, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. It was one of the most unique things I have done in my travels.

Posted by Kristinh 06:09 Comments (0)

Boquete

Boquete has been an adventure for Sonia and I! We spent our first day with the intention to do the 6-7 hour hike up to the top of Volcan Baru. Mother nature did not cooperate however and after about an hour of steep uphill climbing it started pouring rain. We kept going for another half hour and then came to our senses and turned back. We decided to keep going after we got back to the trailhead and walked the 5 miles back down into town. The rain let up and it was a pleasant walk. In retrospect, I truly don't think I would have made it to the top even if it hadn't rained. 6 hour straight up hike?? Yikes! As we have talked with people, we learned that many (far more hard core) people start the hike at midnight and walk all night to get to the top at sunrise. Can you say "loco"?! Even with our 3 hour walk that day, I have been really sore for 2 days.

Yesterday morning we did a 2 hour walk on a loop up into the hills around Boquete. We got to see some different scenery, some nice houses and also some Ngobe tribe people. in the afternoon we went on a coffee plantation tour. A Dutch man and his wife own a coffee plantation in the hills just outside Boquete town. Hans picked us up at our hospedaje "Valle Primavera" and then we picked up one other woman named Christine. She is from Maryland. She is teaching English for a month and her son works in Panama City. The tour was very educational. It is quite amazing what goes into making a good roast of coffee. Hans did tell us at the beginning of the tour that we would be coffee s obs by the end. While I already thought I was a coffee snob, I am more of one now!

Finally today we had our biggest adventure of all, whitewater rafting in the Chiriqui River. I have done this before in Ecuador and in Colorado. This time was definitely the most harrowing. A short time after we got started, we hit a huge rapid and Sonia and another guy from our raft flew out. Ni big deal normally, but we had a hard time getting ti them to pull them back in. Sonia ended up going through 2 sets of rapids before we could get her back in. She got tossed around in the rocks and now has a few scrapes, bumps and bruises. I think she thought she was going to drown for a moment. Her lifejacket wasn't on tight enough and the buoyancy wasn't good. She was freaked to say the least. I fell out later in the day in a huge rapid, but the guide was able to pull me back in pretty quickly. It's quite exhilarating bouncing out of the raft into a wild rapid! I can say that because I was back in safely quite fast. I'm pretty sure exhilarating is not the word Sonia would use, probably more like terrifying!

We are off to a monkey sanctuary in the Chiriqui hills tomorrow. We'll be lodging in a tree hut with open walls covered with mosquito nets. Our beds, as we understand will be hammocks. Hmmm, this will be a first!

Posted by Kristinh 14:03 Comments (2)

Panama City and onward...

We are already out of Panama City and have settled into Boquete for a few days. First I will tell you a little about our experience in the "lovely" Panama City. I put lovely in quotes because it was definitely not lovely in our book. Imagine the feeling of hot humidity kind of what its like in the Cities right now, but with tons and tons of people, traffic, honking, club music blaring and random people shouting in the streets. That pretty much sums up what it was like there. Our hotel was in the Casco Viejo neighborhood, old town. The travel book said this was a good place to stay because it has character and lots of restaurants etc.. We never found all the restaurants, but parts of it did have character. It reminded us of New Orleans, with the buildings having similar architecture.

Our first day in Panama City we wanted to go to the Canal of course. We turned left when leaving our hotel with the plan to walk a little until we could hail a cab. After about 2 blocks, a local man popped his head out of his store and gave us a strange look, then suddenly another local man waved his arms erratically at us and came running across the street yelling "muy peligroso para ti, zone rosa", in English meaning very dangerous for you, red zone. We were inadvertently wandering into a dangerous slum area of the city where it is very dangerous for gringos. Then, 2 tourist police descended upon us out of nowhere. They instructed us that we should not go that way and they helped us hail a cab. After this potentially dangerous adventure, we made our way safely to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal. There was a visitor center there where we were able to watch a ship go through the locks. I was fascinated with the enormity of this great engineering feat. The country of Panama has a very diverse population, mainly due to the many people from different countries that cam to work on the canal in the early 1900's. A large % of the workers were from Barbados. They are currently widening the canal in 2 different places to allow for bigger ships and more cargo to pass through. This project is slated to be completed by 2014, exactly 100 years from the original completion. Just a few fun facts!

We had enough of Panama City after just one full day and caught a bus out yesterday. It took about 8 hours to get to Boquete. 7 hours were on a very comfortable, air conditioned bus (it kind of smelled bad though). When we arrived in a town called David we had to catch a bus to Boquete which was about an hour from David. This is where the bus situation took a turn for the worse. It was an orange school bus, not air conditioned, and stuffed to 3 people per seat. Ugh!! Good thing this was only an hour ride. Also it only cost $1.75! Guess you get what you pay for!

Boquete is a small mountain town with much cooler temperatures. We actually had to put our coats on last night. It feels so great after the stifling heat in Panama City! We started a long hike up Volcan Baru this morning, but were forced to turn back after a couple hours due to torrential downpours. It gets a lot colder the higher you go and we were drenched. We decided to call it quits and head back to town. Had our breakfast for lunch at our B & B and are now taking a little siesta.
Until next time, adios!
Kristin

Posted by Kristinh 12:02 Comments (2)

Departure Day

My summer international trip has finally arrived. I'm going to Panama with my friend Sonia. I met Sonia on a previous summer travel adventure in Peru. Sonia and I were enrolled in the same Spanish school in Cusco. Along with some other fellow students, we took a couple weekend trips ..Machu Pichu, Lake Titicaca. We traveled well together and spoke about taking another trip together some day. This summer seemed to work for both of us, so here we are!

I leave tomorrow, layover in Atlanta and then arrive in Panama City tomorrow night. The tentative itinerary is to spend a couple days in Panama City and take a boat tour up the canal. Then it's off to Bocas del Toro for some tropical island fun. I hope to take surfing lessons and do some snorkeling. After Bocas, we'll take a bus to Boquete, a mountain town with a volcano to hike. I'm going to drag Sonia on a whitewater rafting trip outside Boquete. Then it's back to Panama City to depart for the US. It will be intestung to see how close our trip comes to our very tentative agenda!

I hope You enjoy my blog! I hope to post some pictures as we go :-)
Kristin

Posted by Kristinh 19:17 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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