Trip to the Top of Panama

Adventures, Sightseeing

Recently, I had quite an adventure – a group of us went in 4×4 vehicles to the top of Volcan Baru, the dormant volcano that lies just west of Boquete, to watch the sun rise. Since it’s a rather long and grueling climb, we left at 4 a.m. and made it to the summit about 6:15 a.m. The entire area is a national park, and the road was rough, to put it mildly. It felt like driving over a dry riverbed, rather than a road, with big boulders and places where the rain had washed deep trenches in our path. The drivers were excellent – they sometimes make this two-hour trek five days a week! Here is the view on the way up, in the dark:

We arrived near the top at sunrise, as promised, and fortunately it was a perfectly clear morning. On a clear day, you can see both the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south, which was the hoped-for highlight of the trip – this is the only place in the world where that is possible.

The Caribbean Sea in the distance.

The Pacific Ocean view, with the sign showing the way to the summit of Volcan Baru.

At this high elevation, it was COLD! It was about 40°F colder than it was when we left downtown Boquete. We were told to dress warmly, but one guy apparently didn’t get the memo and wore shorts. He didn’t thaw out until we were halfway down on the return trip! I wore my heavy jacket and leggings under my pants, and borrowed a hat from the tour leaders who provided them, as well as gloves, for their passengers. I wished I had a scarf, because my neck was cold, but I found a solution for that problem.

It may look odd, but it worked!

Our tour guide leader provided coffee, hot chocolate, cookies, and grilled cheese sandwiches for the group, which were very welcome. I hadn’t had anything at all to eat or drink, after my unfortunate experience on the shuttle bus to Bocas del Toro a couple of years ago. We even had a little visitor to our camp, a coatimundi, which is fairly common in Panama. He was obviously accustomed to tourists, and he received a grilled cheese sandwich for his breakfast.

Our breakfast visitor.

Some of our group hiked to the actual summit a bit above where we parked. I had no intention of hiking, but got a good photo of some of those who made that final ascent. The cross marks the highest point in Panama – 11,400 feet above sea level.

The highest point in Panama and the members of our group who made the final climb.

Our parking area was at the base of the communications towers. Locating them here makes a lot of sense!

The towers that provide communications for this part of Panama. You can see them from town on a clear day, but they look like matchsticks from there. And it’s cool to see Boquete – and Volcan on the opposite side of the volcano – from this vantage point.

You can get a better view of the road on our return trip – another two-hour journey. This time, we had to stop and move a tree branch that was projecting into our path. They hooked a strap to it and pulled it out of the way with the vehicle. At another point, our driver got out and filled a deep hole with rocks, so we could pass over it without possibly getting stuck. These guys not only drive this road, they sometimes need to maintain it – they are awesome!

We got back in town about 10:00 a.m. I’m so happy to have gone on this adventure, but I will say that it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me. That drive is brutal! But we were blessed with a perfect view of both oceans, which is the icing on the cake of such a trip, so I’m satisfied with the results.

Our tour group. Our tour leader, Priscila, is second from the right, in the pink jacket.

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Boundaries

Life in General, Relationships

I’ll tell you up front – this post has nothing to do with Panama, except circumstantially. It’s about life and relationships, which sometimes get off-balance and strained for various reasons, and this is intensely personal to me.

A little background – for most of my life, I avoided confrontation and didn’t stand up for myself when I should have. I know other people noticed, because 20 years ago I remember my boss saying to me, “You wouldn’t say shit if you had a mouth full of it.” Her observation was indeed true back then – I would either hold my emotions in or simply avoid uncomfortable situations.

A little over two years ago, I left a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship that began soon after I moved to Panama. After that experience, I determined that enough was enough, and vowed never to allow myself to be devalued, degraded, dismissed, and made to feel “less than” again. I also decided that if I felt that was the case, I would make my objections to poor treatment known – not in an angry or confrontational way, but as a rational statement of how their words or actions affected me. Boundaries can be about many aspects of life. Some examples are illustrated below:

I applied my new boundaries several times in the past two years, when something was said that didn’t sit well with me. I took time to think about it, then approached the “offender” and explained my position, which cleared the air. In one case, the person actually thanked me for saying something, and agreed to adjust their view of the situation to a more positive outlook. We came to an agreement that was mutually satisfying, which was a successful outcome to an uncomfortable situation. Win-win!

Sometimes things don’t work out so well, though. Recently, I alerted a friend (who was going through a disruptive time in their own life) that I objected to their unwarranted outburst of anger and negative characterizations toward me, and politely asked them to stop. Not only did they NOT stop, they added even more harsh words in reply. In the days afterward, I sent a couple of e-mails attempting to clarify my objections and both times offered to sit down and resolve the issue. The first attempt was met with additional negativity, and in the second instance, they completely ignored my offer of reconciliation, and instead complained about how many e-mails they received per day.

It takes two to resolve any conflict, and I saw no willingness to do so from the other side. So although I still hold out hope for the repair of this long-standing and important relationship, the jury’s still out on whether that will happen. I would love to have my friend back in my life, but their behavior displayed in this situation was so completely removed from this person’s usual character as to be almost unrecognizable.

I sincerely hope that at some point, they reconnect to their “true self” and wish to restore the relationship, but that’s their choice to make. If it happens, I’ll gladly be there – but if not, I will sadly accept their decision to remain estranged.

The above statement may sound a bit harsh, but I am at peace with my decision to treat myself with respect (finally), and to live in accordance with my authentic self. The “Golden Rule” is a great yardstick for successfully navigating life – I subscribe fully to that concept. 

Peace to all….

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Thar She Blows!

Adventures, Mother Nature

Recently, I did something I’ve never done before – I went whale-watching. My friend Terri wanted to do this to celebrate her birthday, and she invited me to go with her and her husband Brad.

On the Pacific coast of Panama during August and September is where humpback whales go to have their babies, and the many islands off the coast of Boca Chica (about 1 1/2 hours from Boquete) provide a protected “nursery” for the youngsters.

This was a day trip organized by one of the tour companies here called Boquete Outdoor Adventures. There were others on the tour with us – a mother with her two boys and two other couples, for a total of 10. We left Boquete in their van at 7 a.m. and arrived at Boca Chica to board the boat (called a “panga”) about 8:30.

The tour group heading out in the panga. I’m in the center of the back row, chatting with Terri.

We did see numerous whales, but their appearance was a little underwhelming – basically, we only saw them coming up to breathe and they were some distance from the boat. None jumped out of the water in spectacular fashion, which would have been totally awesome. No matter – it was a treat to see those great creatures at all!

This is about the best view of the whales that we saw.

After spending some time in the open water watching the whales, we headed out to a gorgeous island for some beach time and relaxation. I had been to this island about two and a half years ago on the same tour (minus the whales, since it was the wrong time of year). This island is a national park and has no man-made improvements on it. The tour guide, assisted by Terri’s husband, hung several hammocks from the palm trees for us to relax in.

Terri and I took full advantage of the hammocks and the shade.

Brad said this was his “happy place”…

While we were chilling or playing in the water, our tour guide was preparing some appetizers – pineapple, mandarin oranges, coconut, and rambutan (featured in a previous blog post). A bit later, the main course was served, which was a traditional on-the-go meal called a mono (Spanish for “monkey”). It consists of rice and beans, baked chicken, and a couple of thick slices of ripe plantain wrapped in a banana leaf. Panamanian workers commonly take this meal with them to work as their lunch.

Lunch – it was filling, but the rice and beans (like most Panamanian “typica” food) was really bland. There was hot sauce available, but I didn’t feel like getting out of the hammock to add it.

Terri found an impressive new friend on the beach – a huge iguana. She had brought some bananas with her for a snack, and was happy to share them with him. He was joined by many hermit crabs – they were everywhere!

 

I stayed in the hammock most of the afternoon, since my balance isn’t very good. With the shifting sand and the waves knocking me off my feet, I’m not at my best in the ocean. I do love the sounds of the ocean, though – I could sit on the beach and listen to it for hours!

 

We were scheduled to leave about 2:30, as the tide was coming in. The waves were quite a bit larger than in the video, and it was rather tricky to get on the boat. We had to wade in waist- to chest-deep water go get to the boat, then climb up a small ladder on the side of the boat. The tour guide provided much-needed assistance for me to get to the boat and up the ladder.

On the way back to the dock, we stopped to do more whale-watching. Shortly afterwards, the tour guide spotted a whale jumping out of the water in the far distance. However, no one was prepared to get a picture and most of us didn’t even see it. 

Overall, it was a very pleasant adventure, and I can now mark seeing whales off my to-do list. Due to my balance issues and the power of the ocean, I think I may limit my aquatic adventures in the future to swimming in a pool instead of the ocean. But walking on the beach and enjoying the soothing sounds of the waves is still on the list, for sure!

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Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On

Mother Nature

Over the course of a few days about three weeks ago, Panama experienced a series of significant earthquakes, measuring between 6.35 and 7.0, depending on which reports are consulted. Fortunately, the epicenters were located south of Panama in the Pacific Ocean, and caused little to no damage in the country itself. Even in Boquete, however, they were felt as some of the strongest and longest-lasting quakes (perhaps 30 seconds) I’ve experienced in the three years I’ve lived here.

We do have fairly frequent smaller earthquakes here, because there are several tectonic plates that converge in this area. This graphic illustrates the boundaries of these plates. As you can see, the location where the majority of the local earthquakes happen is where the blue dot is, at the point where two plates meet.

I noted one of the quakes that occurred soon after I moved to Boquete in a previous blog post here. We hadn’t experienced any shakers of a significant magnitude for quite awhile, so these bigger ones got everyone’s attention!

I was at drum circle when the larger of the quakes happened. There is a large flat-screen TV on a free-standing pole next to where we meet, and I noticed it start to sway back and forth – and then the ground shook and rolled for quite awhile. We joked that our drumming was so powerful that it caused the quake. It definitely added an extra dimension to our afternoon!

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Another Trip Around the Sun

Celebrations, Friends

Another year, another birthday – and this one was a happy day, indeed. 

I started the day by treating myself to a haircut and color at the salon. I usually apply the color myself, but my water heater isn’t functioning correctly at the moment, and it’s no fun to take a shower with cold water. So I decided to let someone else do that little chore this time. My landlord is taking care of the water heater issue – she’s great, and much appreciated!

In the evening, I had dinner with a few friends at a nice restaurant in town. I started with a gorgeous cocktail called the Boquete Garden. A friend had told me about how wonderful it was, so I had to try it. I wasn’t disappointed!

The Boquete Garden cocktail, with blackberries, strawberries, and edible flowers. Lovely to look at, and tasty, too!

On Thursdays, this restaurant has an all-you-can-eat rib special I had been saying for months that I was going to have them for my birthday dinner, and since my birthday fell on Thursday this year, I had to take advantage of that happy coincidence. Their ribs are falling-off-the-bone tender, and the sauce is excellent, too.

Delicious ribs! I love these ribs so much, but only indulge in them about once a year.

After dinner, we went back to my house for cake (thanks, Terri!), drinks, and conversation. The cake was so good – white cake with crushed pineapple in it, with whipped cream frosting and toasted coconut on top. Sort of a piña colada vibe to it. Yummy! We were having so much fun, we almost forgot about the 10 p.m. curfew, so we had to wrap it up quickly when we noticed the time.

So it was a very good day, filled with special treats and even more special friends. I couldn’t ask for a better day!

PS: I got my second Pfizer vaccine shot last week, so I’m now fully vaccinated. Feels good to know I have some protection against this virus!

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