Trip Start Sep 28, 2009
96Trip End May 02, 2010
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Went back to the bus station and headed for Boquete where there is a glut of new hostels. Found a great place with good kitchen for $9 & have had the place to myself for a week!
Boquete is in the hills so the fresh climate is a big attraction for expats, though it has rained every day, sometimes torrentially - guess that makes for good rafting!
Nice to take a break from shorts, especially as I have already worn 2 holes into my newest pair (only 3 months old)
There is a good supermarket and a deli plus food & drink in Panama is cheap - hurrah! Despite this there are many expensive restaurants to cater for all the tourists & resident north americans, though they have not ruined the very local feel of the centre of town - the couple of blocks N & E of the central square are very local, with lots of small stalls & seedy bars, overflowing with fighting drunks on Sundays!
Went to do part of the Quetzal Trail in the national park - heard it got washed away in parts & the whole route is not do-able at present. Heard also, that contrary to LP write up, is quite a tough slippery path, with many diversions into the forest to avoid landslips. Also, despite the difference in altitude being only 1000m from one end to the other, the actual vertical distance is much greater - for instance, the river valley that the path traverses several times from Boquete is really steep so end up going up and down several times without achieving anything and this is all before you get in the forest proper. As the Park Guy said there were no quetzales at this time of year (summer best), gave up - not worth the effort.
Had already had to walk 4k+ uphill (well, actually hitched the last K! - no traffic until then!) just to get to the ranger station from the bus stop - ranger tells me minibus will take you all the way if you bung the driver some extra bucks.
Walked back down to bus stop & managed to get a ride back to town with a tour group, this time going the Bajo Mono bus route, which is really pretty, following the river, past a waterfall and an impressive basalt formation called Los Ladrillos. Colectivos on this route are really infrequent, whereas the Alto Quiel ones usually go 1/2 hourly and both end in the same place.
Another day, returned to the bus stop to do a 2 hour walk (return) to several small falls - not overly impressive but a really nice walk. Then carried on following the river towards town to the Bajo Mono fork, passing the above mentioned sights - all downhill & scenic. Met an Australian on the bus with the same plan so ended up walking together which was a nice change.
After wasting a lot of time in banks in town & in David, finally found one that will change travellers cheques - Scotiabank. Had better stock up as the only other branches in the country are all in Panama city. They limit you to $500 a week and charge about $2.60 per cheque.
From David took a jaunt to Volcan, a 1.5 hour trip each way on the bus - the big attractions were the annual festival and wonderful Greek restuarant I had read about
The next day didn't start any better, the hunt for decent German bread - the pasteleria that LP recommends does not nor has ever done bread and the other, not mentioned, but about 1k uphill from the main road, despite advertising bread on it's sign, bakes it to order only.
There is now a brand new American bakery in town that does real bread (not the fluffy white stuff) - wholegrain, sourdough, Italian, etc, though no black bread!
Finally got together enough people to do the Jaguar, Grade 4, stretch of the Chiriqui Viejo River - need to go with Panama Rafters as they are the only ones doing this upper stretch. Because of dam construction, there's a 1/2 hour hike to the entry point down a narrow slippery path - there's a mule for the big stuff and the paddles are useful to stop you sliding in the mud. Definitely worth the effort and the little bit extra dosh to do this bit. They do a good lunch too.
Great fun & once the guide had the measure of us, started mucking about, trying to get us to fall out, deliberately putting us in all the holes - he only managed to flip us once though - really livened up things in the less exciting lower stretches.
Didn't see a huge amount of wildlife except a boa (don't know how Freddy spotted it) and birds, though the route was mainly really scenic with a nice gorge & loads of waterfalls. Unfortunately the whole river will close to rafting once the hydro electric generating dam is completed in 3 years time - the construction is already a massive blot on the landscape.