Boquete

Our first stop with our entirely rebuilt camper wasn’t far away, as I don’t think our stress levels could have handled much driving that day. The drive to Boquete is only about half an hour, a steady climb on a good road up into the mountains, it would be a good initial test drive. Despite the fact that we had no problems and everything appeared to be running well, I was not relaxed. That post rebuild paranoia kicks in for every tiny little noise that could possibly be the sound of something breaking. It was therefore a good thing for my blood pressure when we easily reached the village, and climbed on through it, to find a spot for the night. Lizzy too, wasn’t used to life back on the road.

The rebuild had come just in time. Tomorrow was Lee’s 35th birthday, and we were both excited to wake up somewhere that wasn’t the hostel. There isn’t a great variety of camping available and our friend has warned us that the police hadn’t permitted campers to stay in the town. We decided to check out a small river spot, mostly out of sight from the road, all by ourselves. Some friendly locals came to swim in the river and didn’t seem to mind our choice of campsite. We sat in our chairs with the mountains rising up on either side and the rushing the river in front. After two months in a city, it was perfect. 

The cats started to get back into the swing of things too.

We had a peaceful undisturbed night and spent the morning enjoying a rather fancy birthday breakfast with obligatory bucks fizz. We then made our way back into town to stock up on beer. As his birthday fell just before Easter weekend, the law prohibits the sale of alcohol from 12pm Thursday until Saturday. Rather worried about a beerless birthday, we made it with half an hour to spare. As we sat in the van debating our next move, the start of prohibition was marked with a kind of air raid siren emitting from the police station. They clearly took this seriously, although I’m sure there’s always ‘a guy’ who sells booze if you know the right people. We’d certainly found a few throughout the lockdown and election periods when they also ban the sale of alcohol. 

Jose, who we had met through instagram while broken and had been messaging and helping us with a few things ever since, was very keen to meet us. He had found us a place to stay for the night with a friend of his who also had a kombi and we planned to head there later and meet up with a few people. In the meantime, we had some time to kill while he was at work. We decided a nice afternoon hike was just the thing and so once again, we drove back into the mountains to find a good trail. We settled for the route ‘El Pianista’, so named because of the restaurant it starts at. It was a fairly straightforward there and back type of thing, but we hadn’t stretched our legs for a long time. Despite the fact that it was drizzling, we were happy to set off.

The walk climbs firstly through a small village, with the locals living in small wooden huts by the river. 

Then it winds onwards and upwards through green fields alongside the same gushing river that supplies most of the towns’ water. 

At one point the route forks, and we ended up on the lesser trod path traipsing across someones cow field, but soon enough we picked up the other path and began our loop back down to the bottom.

The rain had stopped and we enjoyed the fresh air. It was lovely to be back in nature once again. 

Feeling suitably refreshed, we headed back down to the village to meet our host for the evening, Jens. 

It turned out that not only did he have a camper, he was also allowing another rather familiar looking van to stay on his property. We recognised the bus from outside the supermarket in David where we had gone and said hello several weeks ago. Now there were here too, doing some fairly major interior renovations. Jens showed us where to park, and we had quick chat before he headed back to work. He owned the business his parents had started just around the corner, a German bakery. 

That evening, we met several fellow VW enthusiasts and finally Jose himself. We spent a pleasant evening meeting some new people and have a nose around everyone else’s cars. They even went an bought Lee a bottle of wine for his birthday,  

As it was Semana Santa and things were rather shut down, we decided to hang out in Boquete until the end of the weekend. We had hoped to get a lift to the top of Vulcan Baru to watch the sunrise as t was supposed to be rather impressive, but when we got told it was $100 per person, we decided against that. We have seen plenty of sunrises and plenty of volcanoes already. We decided instead to do another small local hike. 

It was now Saturday and we headed up towards some of the waterfall trails to the north of the village. It being easter weekend, things were busy. The road is steep and single track, it’s filled with people driving their 4×4’s like we should be the ones going off the side of the road rather than them. After some strong language, we made it to the start of the pipeline trail. This is not one of the most popular ones, but we though it would be a little quieter. You still have to pay $5 a person to access the route that runs up through private property. Still better than $200 for a taxi! 

The trail is a woodland track for the first part and then turns into a regular footpath in the jungle. We stopped to admire this tree on the way, apparently it is approximately 1400 years old. 

After an hour or so, we reached the ‘hidden waterfall’. I guess it’s supposed to be called that because it falls from the rim of a semi circular end to the valley. I think for us it was more hidden due to the lack of water, it was the end of dry season here, but rainy season hadn’t really got underway yet so there wasn’t all that much water to see. Still we played around with the new camera and enjoyed the fact that for the most part, we were the only ones there.

This area is supposed to be a habitat for quetzals and I brought my camera just in case. Last time we hiked a quetzal trail in Costa Rica, we had a fleeting glimpse of one quite some distance away and so I wasn’t particularly optimistic about spotting them here. In actual fact, we saw about five, this time closer too. I had been slightly miffed about paying $10 for a waterfall without water, but seeing all these beautiful birds more than made up for it. 

The last thing to do in Boquete was to visit the microbrewery. It had reopened today, now that the alcohol ban was over and so we went to sample some beers. We would probably have only stayed for two, but then we met another English couple who invited us to join them and afternoon turned into evening. The live band started up around 9pm and then Jens and the girls from back at the campsite joined us. We enjoyed the music and the beer until it closed at midnight. It was lovely to do something so normal; enjoying a live band with good street food and nice beers with a few friends. It’s been a long time since we did something like that and so even though the beer was horribly expensive, we were happy we had stayed. 

We had planned to leave early Sunday morning and catch the midday ferry to Bocas del Torro next. However, our rather late impromptu drinking session put an end to that plan. Instead, we waved goodbye to Jens and the other campers around mid-morning. We decided we would drive the majority of the way to the ferry, stopping in one of the nicer places on the way and then get the 12pm ferry on Monday. This seemed preferable to the other option which was to camp in the queue for the ferry and get the 7am boat.

In reality, we would have never made the midday boat anyway that Sunday, even if we had left when we planned. The drive over the mountains is not an easy one and we were far slower than google said we would be.

The roads are steep and winding which is enough to slow you down anyway. Get stuck behind a lorry and then you’re really slow. Then the nice tarmac abruptly ends and you hit a bad section of dirt road in the midst of it all.

Then the heavens opened. it was a drive that required concentration and I was relieved to make our way to the coast and find a surprisingly beautiful spot for the night.

Just an hour away from the town of Almirante, which is not only where we broke down but also where the ferry leaves from, is the tiny village of Punta Robalo. It was a convenient stop off and we parked up in a pretty little garden on the edge of the shore. The restaurant and houses here and built out over the water on stilts and we decided we’d have a well earned drink in the restaurant so they would hopefully let us stay for free. Then we saw the menu and decided to eat there too. 

As we paid for our food ($34 for lobster, fish and four drinks isn’t too bad at all), we met the owner. She was very friendly and happy for us to stay. We were welcome to use the showers and toilets and they even offered to cook us breakfast. We fell asleep to the peaceful lapping for the waves and the slightly less peaceful cacophony of frogs. Tomorrow, an island paradise. 

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