February 10-14, 2008
After leaving the Bocas archipelago, I took a bus across the country, from the Caribbean to the Pacific, to David, the second-largest city in Panama. From there I got to ride in my first school bus to the small highland town of Boquete. Three people sat in each seat, but it wasn't nearly as jammed as I had been expecting based on what other people had told me, and I found it quite the nostalgic experience as I recalled riding to school in my youth.
At 1000 meters above sea level, Boquete had a far more pleasant climate than the coast. The only problem was that it rained the entire first day I was there, and supposedly this was dry season. The really bizarre thing was that even though it was raining, the sun was constantly out. I didn't realize it was possible to have so much sun and rain simultaneously.
The main attraction of the area was the extinct Baru Volcano, which at 3475 meters above sea level was the highest point in the country. I decided to hike up to the top one day, then come down the next. The 2000 meters uphill climb was uneventful though exhausting, but I had plenty of energy due to the perfectly cool temperature. I met a few of the guys working on the antennae on top, and noted how clearly their soap opera came in on their portable television set. They situated me with a room to sleep in so I didn't need to bring my tent. The pitch black and solitary night made me somewhat regretful of my chosen reading material of Interview with the Vampire.
I got up early and made the short walk to the very top where there was -- of course -- a cross. The previous afternoon had been cloudy, but the sky was fairly clear for the sunrise. I had the beautiful view all to myself for a few minutes before five others joined me on top. One of them was a Canadian guy who had recently befriended a yacht owner looking for crew, and they were preparing to sail around the world for the next two years.
On a clear day, you could see both oceans at once, but there were too many clouds to see the Caribbean this morning. The Pacific, however, was easily visible, and looking over the edge showed even more detail than my guidebook's map of the region. It was a long trip, but that view made it worthwhile.
I made the long walk back to Boquete to find the whole town up in arms. Pancho (the owner of my hostel)'s mother had inherited the house next door many years ago, but never got the chance to move in because a prostitute was already there and claimed squatter's rights. Pancho tried for years to kick her out, but the prostitute always had excuses, such as having her children in the house, who had themselves become prostitutes. But I got to witness history in the making as the police finally showed up to kick her out, despite the fact that she claimed she was too sick to leave.
This whole story was related to me by a man of about sixty from Tennessee who smoked pot "morning, noon, and night" and who had been coming to Boquete for the last three years to escape the US winter. He gained most of his gossip from sitting on the porch all day, but unfortunately he left carrying his rugby ball and dressed in his uniform to "get some exercise" before he could fill me in on all of the juicy details. I don't know which was stranger, the squatter or the old man whose hobbies were those of a teenager.
The photo album for this entry is here.