On the way up Baru I was racing the sun in order to see that sunrise. Going down, I was racing something else. Around 2PM in Boquete it rains - and it rains a lot. I definitely wanted to get down the volcano and back to my hostel before the skies opened up. So when it was about 9AM I decided I better start heading back down. My legs felt pretty good and I figured going down had to be easier than going up - right?
I took one final look out at the beautiful green valley below where I was now headed and scanned across and up to the Caribbean. Scanning further over to the left I could make out the coast of the Pacific Ocean and I took another minute to just stare at that view. With the sun up, the beautiful skies lit, and that wonderful feeling of accomplishment - it was impossible not to smile as a made my way back down the narrow trail from the cross to the main service road for the communication towers.
A Little Pain
I made my way carefully down the loose-rock road past a rest station and stopped just for a moment to snap some pictures of the peak. Getting my MP3 player out of my backpack (which I didn’t dare listen to on the way up for fear of the puma sneaking up on me), I switched on Cake and continued down the trail. Sipping water as I went, stopping a few times to enjoy the scenery, and thinking about what I would do when I got back to Boquete I slowly started to feel the pain in my left knee.
It wasn’t bad at first, just a little discomfort when I would step down hard due to the steep decline. But about 2 miles down from the top, pain accompanied each step. I slowed my pace and started to favor my left leg, which gave some relief – I turned off the MP3 player. I turned a corner and up ahead saw a huge mud puddle in the middle of the road. I remembered having to get past this puddle on the way up – but it didn’t seem like that tough of a task at the time. Looking at the puddle now I was pretty impressed with my night-hike abilities and actually had a harder time getting past it in daylight.
Not Scared Now
Around another turn I came across a very large bird sitting at the side of the road. This was the type of bird that the locals had told me about – the one that I had heard while hiking up. The bird has a very strange call, which sounds like a purring cat – not something you want to hear hiking alone in the jungle at night. In the light of day however, I could now laugh at myself for having been so paranoid.
Pleasure Spiked With Pain
Just heading down one of the steep paved sections of the road, I jammed my toe up against the front of my boot and man did it hurt! I have stubbed my toe before on furniture at home but nothing like this! As I am writing this (5 months after the hike), my toenail is still black. My pace no longer mattered, every step I took sent terrible pain through my left leg. I hoped the slope would soon soften out to a reasonable grade, but it was relentless – this was way worse than going up.
To try and keep my mind off the stinging in my knee, I looked around as I continued down. A couple times I slipped on the loose rock and was just able to keep myself from falling completely. The scenery was absolutely spectacular. I stopped every so often to get some pictures of the jungle around me, and of the Boquete valley below. It was a beautiful day, marred only by the internal tears caused by that unyielding slope.
About 3 miles from the entrance, I passed through the clouds as they made their way up the volcano. Passing through the mist was magical, but unfortunately none of the pictures I took during those amazing moments came out right (only an engineer would actually think that taking pictures inside a cloud would work - duh). Just beyond the clouds, I came up on a remarkable old fence and stunning wildflowers and again stopped to get some shots.
My spirit lifted at the awesome scenery and the knowledge that I was close to the end of my journey. With only a mile to go, my knee even started to feel a little better and I again listened to my MP3 player.
How Much Further?
I have no one else to blame but myself – but I will complain anyway. When I got back down to the entrance I realized I was in trouble. Not only had I not made arrangements for someone to pick me up, but also there was no one around to ask for a ride. I decided to head down a road that seemed to go to straight to Boquete, flanked on both sides by farmland. I talked to a few farmers as I continued down the road and asked for rides. Problem was, no one had a vehicle, and if they did, they were too busy farming to give me a ride.
At least a dozen times I had the same conversion with someone new: Do you have a car and can you give me a ride to town? How much further is it? The answers I got were: "siento, no." and "poquito mas". Well, it turns out that "poquito mas" in English means "8 more dreadful downhill miles". My legs at this point were numb and I had pretty much conceded to the idea that I would get absolutely drenched very soon.
Hostel Sweet Hostel
Amazingly, it just barely started to sprinkle when I reached town. I was able to get to my hostel before it started pouring and collapsed on my bed at about 2PM. Hours later, I awoke to take my boots off and inspect my toe, before falling again into a deep sleep. Later that evening, I got up to get some food, limping the entire way, excited to tell others of my adventure.