Volcan Baru: Pacific & Carribean views!

Trip Start May 12, 2009
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Trip End Sep 29, 2009


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Flag of Panama  ,
Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Exultation!
Last night, I climbed Volcan Baru. It is the highest point in Panama, at some 4,000 meters. At the peak of this inactive volcano, I was able to see the Pacific and the Carribean! Incredible! It was hard to really comprehend what I was seeing.
So how did it happen? This adventure unfolded over the course of 15 hours.
First, the choice of hiking companion is important. I agreed to go with Omer, a 22 year old Israeli who is making a similar trip to the one I am doing, but over the course of a year. He was pleased that I had visited his country, so we talked about Israeli cities and his job in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces).
We started at 11pm, so that we could summit just before sunrise at about 6am. It took ended up taking us 6 hours to climb. We spent about 2 hours at the peak, then it took until 2pm to reach ¨home¨ in Boquete.
We took a taxi to the trailhead, 15 km outside of town. As we started, the taxi driver shared that he heard someone saw a puma right at the trailhead a few days ago.
The climbing was very rough. The trail is a trail in the sense that there is not out of control jungle growth all over the place. It is completely rocky, which made it hard to find footing. The climb was very strenous. As we cast our torches back and forth over a snake to make it move off the path at 2am, I was very glad to be hiking with a companion in the interior of Panama´s national park! I took extreme care with my footing and knees, since if I were to get injured, there is not much alternative to limping out.
We reached the summit earlier than we expected, a whole hour before sunrise. It was very cold and windy, and we nestled into the corner of a satellite tower building at the peak. Omer tried to light a fire, which would have been great if it had been less windy. I tried the doors to the other buildings, and found them locked. We waited in the cold and dark for dawn to arrive.
On the hike up, Omer kept saying that he had never taken a hike in the army that did not end with coffee. I said yeah, and I love hot showers, too. We´ll enjoy those comforts when we´re done.
Sunrise was incredible. As light arrived, we could finally tell how high we were. Six hours of climbing does tend to get you pretty high...!!!  Boquete and David were easily visible in valleys in opposite directions of the peak. The aggresive Pacific cut a wide arc into the landscape near David. Across the way, the Carribean mingles intricately with the landmass. Trees cover the steep sides of the volcano. All types- from pines to banana trees swathed in Spanish moss, to eucalpytus.
Just after sunrise, we spotted a conejo run off behind some rocks. A conejo is similar to a raccoon, but more like a fox, and with a tail like a rat. When we followed it, we found a different building, that actually contained people! They invited us to warm ourselves.
There was a security officer and a researcher. They shared that they work in 16 days shifts at the top of the volcano. A climb to the summit for 16 days, followed by 16 days of downtime in the valley. There are two people for each position, and they alternate year-round.
The security officer is there because the peak has many satellite towers on it. As we had waited for sunrise huddled against a building, I was paranoid that being this close to the towers was going to give me cancer.
Then, a miracle happened. The researcher offered us coffee! I immediately looked to Omer´s face, as my jaw dropped. He got his coffee after all!
We lingered at the peak before heading down. The beauty of it was spectacular. For the joy of it, I sprinted along the ridgeline and yelled.
The height in comparison to the surrounding landscape is similar to many Colorado 14`ers, yet it was so different to see tropical plants growing at the peak. Instead of viewing treeline, the sides of the mount are covered in a rich texture of green.
The trek back down was uneventul. We passed fields spotted with calla lillies, which grow naturally. It was amazing how many cool things we had passed in the dark. Gradually the view over Boquete got closer and closer. Finally, we descended to an altitude where the coffee plantations sit.
We hitchhiked back into town, saving money on a taxi. As we rode in the back of the pickup, all the kids waved to us. I felt like I was in a parade, because every child wanted their own wave and their own ¨hola!¨
That leads to this point in time. I spent my day showering, sleeping, and eating. Tomorrow, I will depart for David!
Cheers from someone still high on adrenaline,
Lisa
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