Friday, January 16, 2015

Panama - Boquete

 Mountains and river outside Boquete

Old truck at the coffee farm

After a few days at the beach we were so ready to cool off in the mountains. We took a boat to the big island, another boat to the mainland and then got on a private shuttle bus run by a popular hostel named Mamallena's for the 4 hour drive to Boquete.

Boquete is a little mountain town with one main drag, a nice river running through it, and lots of coffee farms. It's not as cute as Antigua but it has been named a great place to retire and is now filled with expats which has driven the cost of living up but also brought a lot of money and business to the little town. The coffee from Boquete is world-class, this is where the famous Geisha varietal is being grown that sells at auction for hundreds of dollars a pound - "it's like tea so the Japanese love it!" - was a line we heard frequently.

 Coffee plants at Cafe Ruiz

Volcan Baru, it erupted 500 years ago and blew its top off

We hadn't made a reservation and there was a festival in town bringing in extra crowds so it took a little while for Hubs and I to walk around to a few hotels inquiring about rooms. We finally found a place for just one night that was super cute with a balcony overlooking a little babbling creek with frogs and crickets, El Refugio del Rio. It started raining and we had left our bags with our friends at their hostel so we took shelter under the roof on our balcony and waited for it to let up while clipping fingernails with newly purchased clippers from the dollar store and drinking lime-flavored local beers.

Dinner at Big Daddy's Grill? Delicious fish tacos, margaritas, vegan veggie burgers and ice cream tacos.

We spent Day 1 riding mountain bikes through the hills on dirt roads outside of town, all the way down to a beautiful river filled with smooth, sun-bleached granite boulders that reminded us of the Yuba River back in California. The biking was fun but pretty challenging on the rocky downhill sections, some of us enjoyed it more than others... At the end of the ride we cooled off in the river, none of us opting to soak in the hot springs that were the real selling point of the ride - it was just too hot!

Taking a break on the bike tour

Biking is awesome!

Hot rocks in the sun

Cooling off in the river

Looks like the Yuba!

We moved to the Mamallena hostel for the night. That night was one of the most torturous nights I've ever experienced. Part of the draw of going to Boquete that week was their annual Flower and Coffee Festival which sounds just lovely! After exploring the fair we figured out that there were a few flowers, a few booths selling coffee and a whole lot of crappy carnival rides, nasty hot dog corkscrews on a stick, tables selling cheap Chinese crap and 2 competing stages playing extremely loud music with obnoxious DJs going until 4am. I am not exaggerating - 4am. Now, I usually love local color, the more down-home the better. But I really don't want to stay up until 4am with the drunk locals.

That night was the kind of night where you look back and think, "what the heck was so bad?" But at the time I was ready to pack it up and fly back home to Guatemala. We were laying in bed with earplugs in trying to fall asleep but the music from the 2 stages was blasting right through the closed window and booming in our brains. I hated the room, I hated the crappy fair, I hated Boquete, I hated Panama, I hated the whole frigging trip. I was ready to say eff it all, I don't want to spend another dime in this over-priced crappy country, let's go back home, going back to work sounds awesome right now. Until 4am. The music finally stopped and we slept for 2 hours until the hostel started waking up and the morning noise got us up. I felt like a travel failure and a crusty old lady that complains about the music being too loud. Our friends were like, "oh that sucks, I always have earplugs for noise when I sleep in hostels." Yeah, I had earplugs in! With the pillow over my head! I've stayed in cheap hotels and loud hostels and I've slept in a tent at Burning Man. It's not my first rodeo. But obviously the Flower Festival schooled me. Now the Chinese know my weakness is sleep deprivation... great.

Anyways... so that was challenging. But at least I had the comfort of knowing that we would spend the next morning looking for a new room as far away from the Festival as possible.

That day while we moved to a new hotel, drank some delicious Boquete coffee and went on a coffee farm tour, our buddies rented scooters and went farther up into the cloud forest looking for coffee, waterfalls and more swimming holes. We all had a good day and it was nice to get away from the group for a few hours and spend some time just the 2 of us. The coffee tour was awesome. It was harvest season so we saw the washing facility in full swing and our guide had been working on the farm since he was a kid so he knew every job there inside and out from a personal perspective. He didn't seem to like all the expats moving into town though.

Carlos was a super guide, looking at the way they dry the "Natural" beans in the sun

Seeing how they sun dry the "washed" beans

This bag of beans is destined for Germany. This bag is $50 per pound wholesale! 

Chops enjoys his coffee cupping, we tasted a few different types from Cafe Ruiz at the end of the tour

Hey, speaking of expats, we found out we have family living in Boquete! My Aunt's husband's Uncle Ian and his wife are there, renting a house, volunteering, touring around and generally living out the retirement dream. So we met them for dinner at the swanky old Hotel Panamonte in town and even got to celebrate Barb's Bday and meet a few of their friends. We felt like we landed in the middle of an awesome series on HBO, they were all such characters! That night was without a doubt one of the highlights of the trip. We miss you guys! We'll be back to visit soon!

Dinner at Hotel Panamonte

Big Ian and Barbara

The third and final night in Boquete we spent at the blissfully isolated and quiet Refugio de la Montana. After some good dreaming we were thinking how great Boquete was and how we should spend a few more days there to do some hiking and try to spot a Quetzal - apparently they are rare in Guatemala but they're all over the place in Panama. But our friends were ready to move on to somewhere new so we left town early and headed out the the beach on the Pacific side.

Boquete: it's cute in its own way... not super photogenic

Breakfast Panama Style: eggs and various kinds of fried white carbs, great coffee and extra sugary juice. Good hot sauce. 

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