Published: April 27th 2012April 15th 2012
UK and Ireland
A superb description.
Dear Blog Readers,
I forgot to mention the state of the toilet in one of the bars in Santiago. It was without doubt the worst toilet I've ever seen. It rivals the one in Jaipur which was on a main road and was just a white tiled wall with men behind it taking a leak. This one was a wooden door which fell off it's hinges as I entered and before me was a white tiled floor and a wooden trelless that was soaked in piss and floating on the bodily fluids that emmanated below it. I was going to wash my hands but the colour of the liquid in the sink suggested that most people had foregone the plank in front of them and opted for a quicker exit. (It didn't take long for the blog to turn into such matters now did it?)
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, we arrived in Boquete - a small picturesque town in the middle of the Chiriqui highlands. Not long ago, a forgotten but blissful town but since being mentioned in an American magazine for pensioners as the
place to retire to, it has now turned into a weird hybrid
Rock climb to the top of the waterfall and a 9m drop down.
town. On one hand, you have enormous pensioner villages scattering the hillside and prices in some shops to match the aging man or woman. On the other hand, you have tours selling white water rafting, hiking, canopy tours and other high adreneline stuff. I can only imagine that the magazine explained that if you're wanting to cop it at 97 then you book yourself on white water rafting tour and leave this Earth on a high.
We stumbled into the Mamallena. The Aussie manning the guest seemed friendly enough. Instead of telling him his country's cricket team is rubbish, we decided to book a room. It was on the town square and in a small but very comfortable room and a great atmosphere. We wandered around town and found a restaurant with a queue of locals outside it. This was the place for us. We had a traditional meal of rice, beans, salad, chicken and a fried banana. Mental but delicious. It only cost a couple of quid too!
The next day we hopped on a local bus out to Balneario Majagua. It's actually about 20 minutes out of David but the bus drops you on the middle
Mi Jardin es Su Jardin
A couple of pensioners admiring the gardens.
of a highway in the middle of nowhere. We looked around helpessly and then discovered a staircase leading us down. To our surprise, there were two policeman there. To their surprise, there were two foreigners there. Before us was a beautiful waterfall and plungepool that we had all to ourselves. The wat was blissful, the plunge pool was deep and we were jumping off the rocks in no time (after checking that there were no crocodiles). We then sipped on a cold drink at the deserted bar which must be heaving at some point because there was litter everywhere. Some Hondurans turned up about an hour later and showed us some of the best places to jump from (including the top of the waterfall!). Laura couldn't quite make it to the top but I started a rock climb and half way up realised there was no way I could make it back down so I had to get to the top. Once there, the fear of not getting back down almost extinguished the fear of jumping off from 9 metres!
We had a lie in the day after (9am!) and made some pancakes. Today was going to be relaxing
Loads of fish but no chickens.
as we had a slightly more energy exasperating plan ahead of us. We had a wander around the town, saw the church and went up through the other side of down and to Mi Jardin es Su Jardin. A rich couple have opened their gardens to the public and once we got over the unnerving feeling of stumbling around somebody else's property, we began to enjoy the beautiful gardens (we sound like right old farts now - maybe we should retire here?). They had plenty of fish, a stream running through the centre but no chickens (Mum will be disappointed). We got back to the hostel and slept for most of the afternoon. Laura wasn't feeling 100% but we'd been planning to hike the Volcan Baru that night so we tried to rest up as much as possible.
Volcan Baru is, at 3475m, the highest point in Panama. At 11:30pm, a Candian, 3 American girls, 3 Germans, a fellow Brit, Laura and I piled into a minivan and took the trip to the starting point. Ahead of us was to be the most horrendous ordeal I think we have both faced in our lives. In hindsight, I will try
Top of the World/Panama
6am, the sun is rising and we are on top of Volcan Baru.
and draw out the positives as this is what I hope we will remember. But for every positive I write, just read it with a hint of absolute dread and desolution for what we were feeling like. The hike started promisingly. The night sky was absolutely spectacular with little to no light pollution. The 3 Americans were hilarious and already falling apart after 15 minutes. We night-hiked our way up with just out torches and regular stops on the way up. We started as a group which soon fizzled out.
At 3am, we were at breaking point. Only about half way to the summit, Laura was feeling much worse and we seriously debated stopping and going back. Laura insisted she'd come this far and wasn't turning around so the two of us took it really slowly. Fortunately a couple of the American girls were also struggling so we had a group of us who were as broken as each other. We struggled on and by about 4:30am we could see the lights at the summit which spurred us on. By the time we reached the rangers station at 5:30am, we found out we were only about 20 minutes behind
Our group at the top. Superb effort all around.
everybody else. We all huddled together in the cold and slept for 20 minutes before making our way to the summit to see the sunrise.
A scary and narrow climb to the summit followed and as we reached the huge cross the sun began to rise. It was truly spectacular. If only we weren't so exhausted! We could probably have stayed there all day. On good days, you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic coast from the top. Alas, we were not so fortunate but the views were still spectacular and it was without doubt the best toilet stop that I have ever had - it put the bar in Santiago to utter shame.
I did learn one thing during my Physics degree - what goes up, must come down. After about an hour at the summit, we begrudgingly began out descent. The Canadian and three Americans went before us and a Spaniard who had raced to the top ahead of us joined us for the descent. We were hoping to see plenty of wildlife come out for the morning air but they were surprisingly lacklustre in their attempts to wow us with their beauty and we
Laura at the hot springs attracting monkey attention.
saw pretty much nothing. The way down was beyond awful. Now that we could see where we were going, the route seemed endless and we just kept going and going. Laura still was struggling but pulled through heroically and actually got down before any of us! Amazing! We had to trudge another kilometre to the bus station because the ranger station at the beginning had closed. According to the guys at the hostel, we may have been the first group ever to actually have got a bus back instead of ordering a taxi so we have that achievement to add to the list!
The next day (which is confusing in itself because we'd been hiking all of that day...but anyway), we decided to get a hamburger and chips for $1.50. A bargain. We waited in the queue and once there, were informed the offer wasn't on. Damn them! We got a traditional style dinner instead having been lured in by their false advertising. We booked ourselves on the Hot Springs tour to try and relax our now bulging and aching muscles. The hot springs were great, unfortunately the cooler river running by it was filthy because of work being
Food Glorious Food
Naima making a great honey chicken. Ann-Sophie doing a superb salad dressing. Laura doing....erm...commanding.
done on a nearby dam so we had little chance to cool off inbetween. On the way home, we stopped at a tiny bar which apparently was a nightclub on weekends. The cold Coke was well needed. I couldn't believe this place could be a nightclub. I was also disturbed by the machine in the centre of this huge place with two dodgy looking men next to it. Upon further inspection, I realised that this 'machine' was actually a sort of jukebox which, instead of playing music, played porn videos and instead of speakers it had a TV screen. Men watching porn in the middle of the afternoon in a deserted nightclub. Wow.
We'd made great friends on our hike with two Germans, Naima and Ann-Sophie. One of the good things about a truly awful ordeal is that great bonding can be made between fellow hikers! We decided to have dinner with them and cook it ourselves. I say ourselves, Laura and I marvelled at their cooking expertise and helped out where we can (I suddenly became an expert chicken breast cutter and Laura became an expert carrot chopper). Ann-Sophie made the most amazing salad dressing and Naima made
Laura admiring the view.
this honey chicken which we've tried to recreate since but not to the same standard unfortunately! It was great to make good friends but sad that we were going to be leaving the day after onwards and upwards to Costa Rica! Stay tuned!
Tink and Laura
There are more photos below