From beach to mountains, I’ve made my way 3 hours inland into Panama to find the most quaint mountain town of Boquete. I knew I would give my Kammok hammock a work out here, with all the hiking terrain and green views. And now I’m at Los Cangilones, or The Canyons, just a 20-minute taxi drive out of the city to the smaller town of Gualaca. To get to this canyon there’s no hike necessary, the taxi driver just drops you off at the entrance and you’re there. Perfect spot to relax mid-hiking days.
There are so many ways to be active in Boquete. I traveled here with my fellow volunteer at Palmar, Anne. She’s the least German-German I know. She doesn’t like beer, she doesn’t even like to speak German. Her accent is so unnoticeable, she’s even created her alias on some occasions to be a girl from Texas, and people believe her! (Except me 😉
Boquete is a completely different vibe than the beach town I came from. It doesn’t even feel like I’m in Panama! The air is crisp and cool, much like late October back home. I altered my travels turning one week into one month of staying here by taking a teaching job at the local yoga studio, YiA Yoga! Thankfully I thought to pack one sweater, one long-sleeve shirt and jeans, not knowing that I would reside in this environment. After all, cooler climates don’t even cross your mind when traveling to Central America. Now I know.
A lot of people have been asking about the food in Panama. Mostly I’ve been grocery shopping and cooking for myself, and the main dishes tend to be: rice, beans, veggies. That’s what I cook with most of the time because it’s cheap, easy, and with the right spices, tastes pretty darn good. The fruits and vegetables are definitely better here than in the states. They’re fresher, more variety, and a heck of a lot cheaper. I never considered going on a raw diet back home because of the expense, but here I can get away with two full grocery bags of produce for under $10.
Each town I’ve resided in the two months of my travels have a food theme. In Bocos Del Toro, it was papaya. Every morning I ate (and still do eat) a “papaya bowl” which consists of cutting a papaya in half, saving the other half for later or sharing with a friend, and adding whatever to the bowl you desire! My favorites are smearing peanut butter to the bottom, adding chia seeds (which are also extremely inexpensive here), granola, almond milk, and either banana or pineapple on top.
The food theme in Boquete: pumpkin! (O en Panamanian español, zapallo.) These aren’t your Halloween pumpkins you find in the states. These are dense, almost potato consistency, scrumptious pumpkins. You can use pretty much the entire pumpkin, even the skin, versus “American” pumpkins where you have to take most of the insides out and left with majority the outside which you can’t eat. And you can do so much with so little. So far I’ve made, with the help of Anne, a pumpkin curry dish, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin bread, vegan pumpkin cookies. PUMPKIN PUMPKIN PUMPKIN. I understand the craze back home now, and am obsessed with pumpkin here.
Boquete has a totally different vibe from where I’ve come from, which means my body has taken on new and different necessities. I have been sleeping A LOT here. Not sure why, maybe it’s the climate or high altitude, or possibly my body feels at ease enough here that it can finally relax. I probably, on average, sleep 8-10 hours a night. Another body alteration with no explanation since arriving in Boquete is that I’m eating a TON. I have always been the person that can’t finish their plate and eats like a bird, but now if you put any food in front of me, I will inhale it like a vacuum cleaner. No complaints, I’m not gaining weight and I’m staying active, but still very peculiar.
There are so many hikes and adventures to go on in Boquete. So far I have done about 3 day hikes, Quetzales Trail, Three Waterfalls, and Hot Springs (which they don’t tell you is actually a hike to the hot springs). But the biggest feat I’ve overcome since being here is hiking Volcán Barú.
This is hike we started at 12am midnight. It took me and 4 others, Anne, her sister Pia, and two Boquete residents from Venezuela Adonai and Adriana, 6 hours to hike 13 kilometers “up” to the highest point in Panama. Since it’s rainy season here right now, people kept telling us this was a bad time of year to do it because visibility is low and more than likely you won’t be able to see 20 feet in front of you once you reach the top. Knowing that going into it, I had no expectations, it just seemed like the right time to do it. I was with friends I trusted, and we had all never done it before. Well what a surprise it was to reach the top!
Against what everyone told us, we COULD see everything. To the East we could see Panama all the way to the Caribbean Sea, and to the West we could see Costa Rica and the Pacific Ocean! We were above the clouds, and witnessed the miraculous moment of the sun peaking out above the horizon, and representing the start of the new day.
I could have stayed up there all day witnessing this view, but the cold really got to us within 30 minutes. I was so in awe of the sights surrounding me, I didn’t even realize I was cold until Pia said to me, “Steph, your lips are really blue.” Suddenly the freezing temperature set in, and my light sweater, button-up blue jean shirt, pair of jeans and rain jacket, didn’t quite make the cut. My phone shut off from the 32 degrees Fahrenheit it was undergoing, and that was my cue to go. I wanted to stay more than anything, but this quickly became a life or death situation (not really, mom). I carefully climbed down the 5.7 free solo you’re required to climb to get to the very top, and searched for shelter. The guy that lives up there (not sure why) let us sit in a “holding room” type of place with old mattresses. No heater, but this place was like heaven to us. We were so thankful to be out of the negative degree wind chill, and we SURVIVED.
The next feat: hiking down. We were sleep-deprived, our stomachs were all out of whack because we had been snacking all night, our feet were sore, our legs in pain. The last thing you want to do is hike down a mountain for 8 miles. 3 1/2 hours later, we saw sight of a cab, and I think we all had a come to Jesus moment. We ran out of water half way down the mountain, so I became dehydrated with a bad headache. 30 minutes later I was nourishing myself with a papaya and gazing at the mountain we just climbed. “We did you!” Pia joyfully yelled at the mountain.
I haven’t been teaching yoga as much since I’ve been here, mainly because it is “slow season.” I didn’t consider that when I was planning my travels to Central America, but it definitely has taken it’s toll on me for finding jobs. So for now I laying low here, catching up on sleep, eating good food, and enjoying the incredible mountain views. I have no idea where I’m heading next, just putting myself out there, embracing the unknown and trusting the process.