Part 3

El Valle, More Carnival in Las Tables, Petroglyphs in Nancito, Boquete

After Penonome, we went to El Valle, a town in the cool mountain interior.  We stayed at Los Capitanes, run by Manfried Koch, a retired civilian sea captain.  He was a charming man who told us many stores about his life as a captain, how he came to be in Panama, and how he lived now.  The mountain in the back is called "La India Dormida", or the sleeping Indian.The nearby petroglyphs--pretty crazy and garbled--are a local attraction.  I wasn't that thrilled, though, because they've been painted over with latex paint, "so that you can see them better", as the boy we hired to take us to them told us.  It ruined the appeal for me, though.

The boy on the right showed us up to the petroglyphs......and a local waterfall.

Afterwards, we went on a walk in the area and found this beautiful wooded pasture area.Leaf-cutter ants carrying leaves and blossoms home to their nest.

Boys playing soccer in the evening.The front lawn of a nearby resort.  This is a ritzy area, close enough for the wealthy from Panama City to come for the weekend.

Lots of luxurious houses...The next morning, Manfried brought bread from the local market.

We visited the market as well.  Good prices on citrus fruits and handicrafts.We bought some molas, a colorful multi-layered appliqu� sewn by a Kuna Indians.  Their women wear a distinctive dress, which includes beads wrapped around the forearm and calf, a mola sewn to their blouse, front and back, a longish skirt, and often a gold nose ring.

These look like miniature furniture, doesn't it?  It's not miniature, it's just very roughly hewn wood.  You could buy a set like this for about $150.  Of course, shipping to the US would be another story.

Near Santa Clara we found the ruins of an old Panamanian army base, which was destroyed in the US invasion in 1989.

Later we went to the Carnival celebrations in the town of Las Tablas, supposedly the best in the country.  We learned that unless you're going to be here the full 4 days of Carnival, you really need to plan your trip for when things are happening.  We wanted to see the impressive floats we've heard about, but that was another day.  We did see huge crowds of really drunk very young people.

We asked a soldier, who was patrolling the streets, where we could go to photograph some floats.  He asked his commanding officer, who assigned 3 soldiers to accompany us to an area where some floats were. Having an army escort was cool!

Floats, and other Carnival scenes.

As we were walking with our army escort, a guy on the street dropped a dollar bill.  The officer in charge picked it up and returned it to him, probably expecting a "thank you".  They got into a little discussion that I didn't understand too well, and  apparently the guy made an insulting comment to the officer.  This was the end of our army escort.  They were fully occupied in dealing with this guy.A shave ice vendor on the right, with the red cart.

Drunken guys carrying a cooler of beer around.A bank building has its windows boarded up in anticipation of rowdy crowds.

Did I mention that there was lots of trash everywhere?Last year Carnival was cancelled in Las Tablas and lots of other places because of risks from Hantavirus.  This sign says, "You can prevent Hantavirus.  Keep your patio free of weeds".

On the way out of town we saw what looked like a cockfighting arena, and stopped.This gentleman wanted to be photographed along with his fighting rooster.

We were invited to sit down and drink with a lot of very friendly (and also drunk) Panamanian guys.  After a fair amount of prodding, they accepted that we couldn't drink any alcohol because we were driving.  They tried to arrange a cockfight for us, but it would have taken a while to get started, so unfortunately we had to move on.We spent the night in Santiago, and had dinner at the local McDonalds.  This lady in the cute costume worked there. Service at this McDonalds was about the best we've had in Panama (in general, service is very haphazard).

A project with some funding from China.  We heard talk that the Panamanians, now that the US is out, are trying to establish close ties to the Chinese.  There's lots of Chinese here--they own almost all of the stores.Between Santiago and David, the tiny village of Nancito lies 4 kilometers off the main highway.  On a hilltop is a scattered set of boulders, many of them which have pre-Columbian abstract designs on them. If you click on this image to get the large version, you can see the carving on the boulder shown.

Here's some close-ups.

Some kids, visiting for Carnival, who were jumping around the boulders.

There was a great view on the way down, of the hillside and ocean.Blown over billboards were everywhere in Panama.  I wonder if they're considered disposable, or what?  This is one of dozens that we saw.

We drove way past where we wanted to go (up to Boquete), but on the way, past this PriceSmart (part of Costco).  We went in and checked it out.  It was fun--an island of America in a sea of Panama.  Selection is pretty similar to Costco in the US, except the produce selection is really poor. Prices seem identical.This is the back terrace of the Pension Virginia, where we ended up staying in Boquete.

View from the back terraceThe town of Boquete, taken from an overlook next to the tourist office outside town.  The tourist office, from looking at their visitors book, didn't get many visitors who weren't from Latin American countries.

We hiked up a concrete path into a neighborhood just to get a feel for the place.  People were very friendly, and everyone greeted us.Most houses on this hill looked like shacks, but this one was an exception.  They had actually graded out a section of flat land, and built a substantial little house.

View down the path.Eric resting his back

Genuine coffee beans!Eric picked an orange for me, and I peeled it as I've seen them done in this area, cut it in half, and sucked on the juice.  The oranges are fine, but they're not very sweet.

The Boquete bridge--kind of scary to walk across.Eric suffered a lot from mosquito bites.  Most of them were from Santa Clara, a couple days ago.

The next morning we went on a drive up to the Sendero Los Quetztales.  Sendero means path, and Quetztales are a type of tropical bird.  We didn't end up seeing any quetztales, unfortunately, but we saw some wonderful scenery.Another interesting bridge.  It's a suspension bridge, but the cables are just stretched over top of the tower, instead of being attached there.

The Palo Alto river, on the way up to the trail.

Scenery from around the trailhead.The "trailhead".  It was actually extremely confusing.  It was right in front of a dirt road that led to somebody's house.  We thought that couldn't be it, and walked back to the road, where we found some people who told us that yes, it was it. They were wrong, but it was a fun hike.

Through the barbed wire, up the trail.Cultivation happens on some very steep land here.  If you click on the picture to get the more detailed image (it'll take a while to download) you can see the farmer working on the plot.

Eric and I in the pasture.  It felt like a strange melding of tropical and alpine.Crossing a footbridge.

Posing with a giant leaf whose name I don't know.

I touched this plant, curious, and found that it was worse than a stinging nettle.  It irritated my fingers tremendously where I'd touched it.This plant is from the Melastomatacae family, if I remember my botany correctly.  You can easily tell from the 3 main veins going down the leaf.

Short sections of the path we walked consisted of coffee bean sacks, filled with dirt and rocks.It turned out that the path we were on actually lead the water plant for Boquete.  Nevertheless, it was still a great little hike.

An American couple we met from Trout River, Washington, who were also hiking the trail.

A tree with a heavy load of bromeliads on it.We really enjoyed the landscape...

When we walked back, there were cattle in a field that had previously been empty.  Eric thought that the black bull was looking at us threateningly.  The farmer on the hill across the way saw us hesitating, and (I thought) motioned to us to not go forward.  Confused, we tried to find a path along the stream, but failed.Then we tried to find a path around on the hillside, but it was hard going.  Finally the farmer came down right next to the bull, and motioned us to come straight towards him.  I chatted with him. It turns out that the bull was completely harmless, and that when he saw us hesitate, he meant to motion us to walk straight through the field.  I'm sure he'll share that story with his buddies!

Finally, we got to the REAL Sendero Los Quetztales.  We drove as far as we could and then walked into the rainforest for a while.  I enjoyed the previous hike more, there was more of a view.  The real Sendero Los Quetztales was in dense rainforest without a view.However, the road leading up to it was beautiful.

The large diagonals in this field are logs that haven't been cleared out.

A tree fern.On the way back into town, we went to the oddest place.  It's called "Mi Jardin es Su Jardin" (My Garden is Your Garden), and it's a large, elaborately landscaped and decorated park-like garden outside a luxurious private residence, that doesn't charge an entrance fee.  There's all kinds of strange and wonderful and sometimes very corny things in it.

We spoke with a man who worked there.  He said the owner lives in Miami, and owns lots of hotels and other businesses there, but has kept up this garden as a private hobby for the past 30 years.  Apparently it costs $10,000 to $12,000 a month in upkeep.  Notice the elevated watchtower in the backWater slides

The bakery we patronized in town.  They had one massively huge and very doughy pastry for only 25 cents that was pretty good, although it took some getting used to.A cloudy view of Volcan Baru.

In the evening we took a drive up around Volcancito, a small community near Boquete.  I really liked this house--simple, clean lines, and with a fantastic view.Dinner was at El Sabroson (The Tasty Place) in town.  This whole meal for both of us, including rice, beef stew, mashed potatoes, salad, and a soda for Eric, and rice and beans, chicken, plaintains, and salad for me, was only $3.55.

Back at Pension Virginia, we met up with Laura and Matthew, and ended up chatting with her for a long time.  Laura is from Tennessee, and has traveled all over the world, especially in Latin America.  She's here on her own, traveling by bus, with her 16 month old son.  She said that although she'd have a hard time admitting it to people at home, who told her she was crazy to try it, she now thinks that it wasn't a good idea to travel overseas alone with her son.  Laura was a really engaging and fun person, and we really enjoyed talking with her. Her boy doesn't allow himself to be held by other people now, because when she was in the San Blas islands, he was such a hit with the natives (being blond and blue-eyed) that they were constantly trying to grab him. Now he stays right next to his mother all the time.
Sylvia with Laura and Mathew.This was our room at the Pension Virginia.  Nothing special, except it was very bright and sunny.   The first room they showed us was a dungeon--good thing we asked for another room.

The next morning we took a drive around another area close to Boquete, and invited Laura and Matthew along.  Matthew liked the horses.The bridge over the Rio Caldera, with a view of Volcan Baru in the background.

Rio Caldera, from the bridge.Laura, Matthew, and Eric.

Later on we went to Cafe Ruiz for a tour of the coffee factory.  The price paid for a container of picked red coffee beans was only $2.50.  When the world price of coffee was higher, the price paid for the coffee beans has been as high as $10.This is Eusebio, who gave us the tour of the facility.

The large roasting/cooling machine that's now used.The very first roasting machine that they owned.

Another view of Boquete and the Rio Caldera.