We made an early morning exit from Costa Rica, hoping to catch our spare parts which were being bused into David the first town in Panama, from our friendly MAN dealer in San Jose. Unfortunately the gods were not with us, or at least the slow Panamanian customs weren't, and we missed our deadline. Thankfully the bus company kept our parts and we got them a little later. As much as we loved the rainforest in Southern Costa Rica we were ready for a break from the heat and biting insects, so we headed up into the volcanic spine of Panama. Boquete was a small, quiet town on the slopes of a volcano away from the heat of the Pacific plains. It all changed about a decade ago when it was named in an American magazine as one of the best international locations to retire to. Since then it has grown in size and the surrounding hills have many expat houses in them. However for us the important things haven't changed, it was a good 10 degrees colder than the plains. The altitude also makes it an ideal place to grow coffee. Although Panama doesn't produce the largest volume of coffee, it does produce some of the world's best speciality coffees in smaller amounts. We wanted to see how it was grown and processed, so signed up for a tour of one of the local coffee farms. Some of the locally grown coffee recently set a world record when it was auctioned at $700 a kilo! The farm we went to, Casa Ruiz, didnt hit those dizzy heights but it did have lots of speciality species and special techniques for processing it.
Our friends John and Betti (Burtway.com) who are travelling in a similar size truck to ours are kings of the difficult back roads. Consequentially they often find the most beautiful, scenic spots. So inspired by them and fueled by caffeine, we set off for one of their previous camping spots half way up Volcan Baru. True to form it was on what most people would call a hiking path in a National Park. It was also truly stunning nestled between cloud forest and steep sheep pastures. They'd managed to find the only (sort of) flat spot for miles around. With the time change in Panama it was a lovely long evening with golden light and long shadows, followed by full moon.
It is a very steep 9 km hike up to the summit of the volcano. Many people hike overnight to witness the sunrise from the top, returning the same day, a shattering 10 hour journey. We could hear the hikers passing us at about midnight on the way up. However, we were never going to make it that far with the girls so we set off after school, and made it about a further 3.5 km up the volcano. Still way off the summit but high enough to be surrounded by the atmospheric mists in the cloud forest. The bird life was loud and prolific. We were thrilled to see another resplendent quetzal flashing it's magnificent plumage of scarlet, emerald and long flowing blue feathers as it swooped between forest thickets.
Tired after our 7km hike straight up and then straight down, Steve and I set up our camping chairs so we had a good view of the surrounding forest. We could hear the quetzals and lots of other birds having a raucous old time deep in the trees. Eventually we were rewarded with a pair of quetzals flitting between trees, we retired early that night tired but happy.
The following morning more prosaic matters pressed as we made our way back to town for jobs and to one of the few laundries we've come across since Belize. Unlike the quetzal it might not be on anyone's "bucket list" but it beats hand washing a week's washing for a family of four including all our sheets and towels any day. To cap off a good day we indulged in some expat comfort food for dinner.