After our epic hop, skip and jump through three countries in 36 hours we decided to spend the night in David, Panama. We were heading for Boquete, a small town in the wooded hills east of David, and the centre of Panama’s coffee industry. We were quite excited at the prospect of having decent coffee for once, but not enough to board another bus.
As an aside, Central America is famous for producing some of the world’s finest coffee. Yet ask for coffee in most restaurants or cafes and chances are you’ll get powdered rather than ground coffee…all the best stuff is on sale at inflated prices in North America and Europe.
David is a busy commercial centre and Panama’s second city. As a tourist there is precious little to detain you beyond breakfast, so after a cup of awful coffee we headed back to the bus station for the one-hour journey into coffee country. Boquete sits at an altitude of 1200m and has a cool, refreshing climate – after the tropical heat of the last few weeks it was glorious.
The climate is one reason Boquete is a retirement destination for North Americans, well that and the low cost of living and high quality of life. Panama goes out of its way to encourage people to move here and gives tax breaks and other incentives to retirees. For us, the up-side of Boquete having so many expats was the number of good restaurants offering cuisines we hadn’t seen for two months.
Our main reason for coming to Boquete was to do some walking in the hills surrounding the town. The nearby national Parque Nacional Volcan Baru contains a wide variety of wildlife and is home to Panama’s highest mountain, Volcan Baru, which rises 3475m above Boquete. Despite two months in the Caribbean with very little exercise, I decided it would be a good idea to climb to the summit.
To get there you either walk 22km from Boquete or take a taxi to the park entrance and walk the last 14km up a steep dirt track. The going is hard, so hard that at the 9km point and at 3047m on the mountain I decided to turn back. The altitude was affecting me but worse was a massive blister that turned into a weeping sore on my right heel.
I’ve seen women in London walking home in their bare feet after a night out, high heels in hand, but never had much sympathy until now. I was in agony. So much so I had to walk down a rock-strewn track in my stocking feet…sisters, I feel your pain. Making painfully slow progress, but unwilling to put my boots back on, I spotted a discarded plastic bag. I’ve never been so happy that someone had taken the time to litter in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The plastic bag had once contained something wet and sticky and was now home to a variety of insects. In one of the less dignified moments of my life, I evicted the insects, turned the bag inside out and put my foot in it; then I put my sock on. Gingerly putting my boot on I found I could walk almost pain free. My homemade ‘second skin’ worked, although the plastic bag was like a foot sauna…once again it contained something wet and sticky.
I finally reached the park entrance and the paved road. Since no one lives here and hardly anyone visits, and it was a Sunday, there were no cars or buses to flag down and I had the prospect of another 8km walk back to Boquete. After walking for 5km I got lucky, a taxi came round a corner and the driver, spotting someone who was definitely willing to pay over the odds for a ride back to town, screeched to a halt and drove me the rest of the way.
After seven hours and 23km of walking, a cold shower and a cold beer have never been so welcome.