We departed Coronado early on Sunday morning for our 402 Km drive to Boquete’. Our navigation system said it would take right at 5 hours with no stops. At Santiago we found that the brand new InterAmericana Highway was complete and the drive from that point was nice. There were very few places to stop. It was almost like an interstate highway in the States. Somewhere between Santiago and David we did find a truck stop where we had a nice lunch for $6.
After lunch, we continued to David, the second largest city in Panama, and it is where our journey turned north into the mountains. David has an international airport and a hospital with world class healthcare. This area was one of our of possible relocation considerations. There are beach homes and resorts on the ocean about 20 minutes south. We wanted to see some places which we heard about so our plan is to stop on our return journey. About 40 minutes to the north we reached our destination. Boquete’ is half way between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, high in the mountains, about 60 Km from the border of Costa Rica. There are a lot of expats there and we had no trouble finding people who spoke English. Our plan was to find a coffee farm and take a tour before finding a hotel.
Our navigation system took us to a coffee farm. We found the gate locked and nobody around. We would later learn that the tours of coffee plantations are only arranged by a tour guide. We had a nice drive through the mountains on roads not meant for safe passing, before returning to the downtown area to find a hotel.
We settled on a lovely place just out of town called the Inn at Palo Alto. We were surprised to find many places were already full. Boquete is a tourist destination, and the streets were packed with people visiting from all over the world. The Inn Keeper was able to sign us up for tours on Monday afternoon and suggest a hike for the morning. She also suggested a nice casual dinner place in town. We enjoyed dinner and went back to the hotel to rest for our day of adventure. The climate is cool and we were actually pleased to find a fire on the patio of the hotel bar where we enjoyed a drink.
Getting up early on Monday morning was no problem, because we had a chicken next door that kept us up most of the night. The first income source for this community is agriculture, followed by tourism in a close second. It is interesting to see the two co-exist to create a solid economy. We took it all in stride. By 8 a.m. we were having breakfast so we could get in the hike up the Pipeline Trail before our 1:30 p.m. coffee and cloud forest tour. The drive to the trail-head was a repeat of our drive on Sunday. The roads were narrow and often steep, with very little room to pass. The drive took us more than 30 minutes and we found the trail-head deserted with nobody to point us in the right direction. This hike would take about 3 hours and we were supposed to see monkeys, waterfalls, and rare birds. With no direction and no obvious sign of where to start we opted to forgo the hike. Neither of us wanted to be lost in the jungle, with nobody really knowing where we were. Upon our return to town we found another interesting opportunity for adventure, but I was unable to convince Jen to zip-line. The photos below are from bumming around waiting for our 1:30 p.m. tour.
We ended up at Boquete Tree Trek. Zip-line adventures, hanging bridges, hotel rooms and restaurant. We did not have time to do anything more than eat lunch. During lunch we watched the last 2 legs of the zip-line finishing there near the restaurant. We talked to a guy who had just came from the hanging bridge tour and it sounded great. Jen absolutely would not zip-line, but we nearly decided to do the hanging bridges. It would have to be Tuesday morning prior to the Market. Following lunch we made the drive back to our hotel where we were to meet our tour guide.
Jorge showed up at 1:30 p.m. and off we went to our coffee tour. The coffee farm was roughly 19 acres and employed 6 people. The coffee is all hand picked and processed (dried) to the green bean for shipment to the customer. The wholesale coffee customer will roast the beans to his own specification. The farms that grow coffee are very low tech and this farm was no exception. All of his drying processes were done with equipment made from recycled parts. The farm we visited has a very small roaster for demonstration and roasting beans which he sells on the tour. We found the entire thing very interesting and learned a great deal about the coffee industry in Panama. This coffee grower produces an award winning coffee and we were pleased to buy a couple of pounds at the end of the tour. He also grows the famous Geisha coffee which we opted not to purchase.
Once we finished the tour of the Coffee farm we had a very nice tour of the area up into the mountains and saw amazing views of the Baru Volcano. The summit on a clear day is the only place in Panama that you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from one place. It is, also, the only place in Panama where you may find snow. A hike to the summit is a full day adventure and we probably will never have that experience. For now it was enough for us to see the Volcano from a distance.
We spent the rest of the afternoon taking in the sights with our guide by jeep. The pictures below are just a couple from that part of the adventure.
We always believe that there is a reason for everything in this life. We decided to have dinner at a grill that was a 5 minute walk from our hotel. Georges Grill was the name on the sign and once inside we met George. There were two other couples in the small smoky place (George was cooking on an open fire). One of the couples was from Michigan and the other from Colorado. Both have spent considerable time in Panama over the past several years. We quickly became acquainted and had a great dinner together. The couple from Colorado, as it turns out, are staying at the Rio Mar, just a few minutes from where we are staying near Coronado. They were on an adventure of their own and headed to San Blas, once they left Boquete. We visited for a while and arranged to have dinner with them next week. We are anxious to get better acquainted. We also hope that they will share some of their experiences in Panama here on our blog. They are professional photographers, by trade; and we have already seen some of their amazing pictures on Facebook.
When we woke on Tuesday morning it was raining. This is the only rain we have seen during our nearly 2 months on the ground here in Panama. Given the weather we did not think it wise to do the hanging bridge tour. We will save that adventure for another time. We enjoyed the Tuesday Market. It is entirely under roof, so even if it had not stopped raining, we would have still went to it. The market is a must see for any visit to Boquete. We bought a few things, and met a few people before embarking on our journey. Our return trip to Coronado was uneventful. We made a stop at PriceSmart in David to pick up a few supplies, then continued to the beach to look at a condo. The condo turned out to be horrible so we easily ruled out living there. We wanted to see one other, but we were not able to find it. We got on the highway and made one stop in Santiago for dinner. By the time we got home it was after dark so we kicked back and enjoyed the evening. Since our return to Coronado we have enough material to easily publish another blog post. We have continued to research our impending move and are learning every day how the economy here will benefit us for years to come. This post was long, and we fear that posts of this length will lose some of you. If you read to the end…THANK-YOU. Check back in a couple of days. We will bring this thing up to date.
Greg and Jen