Like the clacks from a rollercoaster straining to overtake the summit, so goes the road to Boquete as battered school buses chug their way onward and upward through Panama's highest elevations. With excitement and suspense, nothing suggests exactly when or where this lofty settlement will emerge from the imminent horizon. It never does. Hanging on with anticipation while duped into searching higher, a sudden plunge reassigns any preconceived notions as passageway spirals into the mountain village that's draped across an extravagant abyss that's anything but hell.Nothing would be better than to head-out on horseback for exploring the Chiriquí Highlands, and there's numerous places in Boquete which rent horses by the hour. Unfortunately, the only ones I saw appeared malnourished and in extremely poor condition, just like the crippled-looking horse in the background of this photo.
The arrival is impressive, saying the very least, but nothing compared to actually stepping off the bus. Something's different, as blatantly subtle as when Dorothy opened the door to her far-flung, black-and-white Kansas homestead, and the vivid domain of Oz beckoned from beyond. The first impression is one of an uncanny shift you just can't quite put your finger on, and that's certainly not found on any guidebook map while trying to get your bearings.
As the center of attention in the Central Plaza, yet so far removed like a spectator watching a daydream unfold, the surrealisms of Boquete have already began to cast their spells. Unshackled by soothing presence, temptations to linger serve no purpose towards getting settled, nor does the urge to pinch yourself. It's real, it's waiting, and the engaging stage has been set; as if just for you...
Meditational CD selections often include the sedateful sounds of nature suggesting places we'd much rather be. Better than anything programmed into an iPod, the background soundtrack of Boquete is unfailing, and highly recommended over any headset! An abundance of chirps and chatters accent the stimulations which penetrate to the core of one's being, thanks to the Río Caldera; an alpine sensuality which tumbles from the upper realms before coursing with fervor through the soul of Boquete.
Caldera signifies cauldron or kettle, but there's nothing boiling in this crisp mountain stream that begs to massage tired hikers' feet, or lull them to sleep at the close of another rewarding day. Even at the end of April's dry season, the potency was invigorating in both sight and sound; gentle roars carrying through-out the village and magnified by Dolby-quality echos off the surrounding slopes.
And, that's not all. Boquete's ditches and low-lying areas further runneth over with Babbling Brooks draining through the valley; their lush banks just as inviting for the holistic relaxation of body, mind and spirit.
Part of Boquete's appeal was the groomed appearance of most everything; regardless of importance or significance. Locals and newly relocated expats take great pride in their community that maintains a sparkling expression thanks to industrious efforts, something highly commendable compared to shabbiness and discarded debris which often dominates Latin America. The school buses, which run between Boquete and David as public transportation, may have been broken down on the inside from heavy usage, but bands of youth were constantly washing them between runs.
Hotel Panamonte oozes with the charm and grace which define Boquete. This historic structure is located on the northern stretch of Avenida Central before the road sways towards the Río Caldera. Facilities are centered around a courtyard with beautiful gardens, and an expansive lawn which enhances seclusion. Within the town's city limits, it's the premier lodging option. In addition to offering Day Spa treatments, the hotel also organizes numerous excursions, including quetzal watching and coffee plantation tour packages at Finca Lérida, also owned by the same family.
And what ever you do, Don't Talk Back! Weekends in Boquete always take-on a carnival approach thanks to swarms of Ngöbe Buglé Indians which pour into town for market days. We'd missed the bulk of activities, but returned on a rainy Sunday afternoon just as everything was concluding. Lumbering in the street, across from the Central Plaza, was this monstrous creature! I'd never seen a yak, and became highly curious.
Preparing to snap a photo, this little man grabbed my arm, held up a Polaroid camera, and insisted he would take the picture for $2. Explaining that I preferred using my own camera, he said the cost would be $1. Paying up, I went back to focusing when a small dispute broke out between the cameraman and yak owner. Apparently, he was supposed to take the picture using my camera while I was sitting on the yak. Otherwise, the owner couldn't claim his cut. There was brief hesitation when insisting I should mount the beast. Thankfully, a couple of others refueled the commotion, and I quickly fired the shot before skedaddling around the corner...
Perhaps it's in the freshness of the mountain air, or it's something that springs forth from the enriched earth, but there's no denying--Boquete fosters a simplistic lifestyle, without pretense, and the people obviously savor the joys of living. You'll see it in their faces and better yet, with their actions and interactions that speak louder than words whether you understand Spanish or not. There's a certain innocence that guides their paths, the kind that's been sheltered from corruptions of the world and further purged with their pleasantries amid poverty. There's no place better for witnessing la vida pura
than while lounging about The Central Plaza
, and realizing just how askew developed nations' societies and cultures have been pillaged in our race for success.
With every mouthful of scrumptious local specialties, there is
a digestive barricade that doesn't reveal itself until too late. Panamanian victuals are severely lacking when it comes to fresh vegetables, greens and salads which serve as dietary roughage. Fresh fruits also aren't part of restaurant menus or cafeteria buffets, but they're readily available and highly recommended. Vendors are scattered around Boquete, selling the most succulent of mangoes, grapes, oranges, and other vine-ripened delectables, where the only thing sweeter and more refreshing than tastes were chump-change prices.
If there's one word that best describes Latin America as a whole, it's capitalized CHAOS!
Even a tranquil town like Boquete isn't immune to the industrious, yet frivolous manners of operations which tend to baffle and frustrate most foreigners. Museum buffs will be sorely deprived in most rural areas where official collections would have about as much purpose as a ski resort. Culturally void? Hardly, if you'll only open your eyes and imagine. Relics and rituals of daily life tend to fuse into forms of art; always guaranteed to be colorful and compelling.
_______________Fertilities of Mother Earth
Up from the ashes, through some of the richest, darkest soil I'd ever seen, the Boquete area spawns more than just magnificent gardens. Within steps out of town, in most any direction, fertile slopes are tediously cultivated by indentured peasants serving as the pixies of Panama's bread basket. Smooched by a gentle sun, and daily bathed by the lightest of mountain mists, the silence along country roads is all but ruptured from the timbre of growth bursting forth; where the only thing more satisfying than the earthly aromas of cultivation are the culinary scents wafting in Boquete's kitchens upon return.
_______________The Sleeping Giant
From within the basin which entertains Boquete, the height of expectations is perfected by the zenith of Panamá. Volcán Barú
deliberately scrutinizes everything below with an assuming position that's rather minimized by the peaks and foothills which bow before it. From depths of the village, the dormant chimera appears to be just another sprawling prospect of explorations, where ascendancy deceives to be no more challenging than any of its other neighboring treks. Only once the lower elevations have been mastered will any respect for authority befall.
Standing at 3,478m/11,477ft, the volcano has not one but seven craters adorning its crown, with command post vistas of both the Pacific and Caribbean in transparent situations. Barú tends to greet each new day with gleam the way transmission towers, barely visible to the naked eye, sparkle at dawn. Haze begins to permeate and ever so gradually, the upper realms play hide and seek amongst wisps and billows before retiring for siesta. Some days, the volcano remains shrouded until the twinkling communal hours with stars and moon.
Other times, the late afternoon mists arouse a resplendence of colorful yawns
, and the National Park luminary imposes an invitation of mutual pleasures, whether inherited from atop the summit or a Boquete park