November 12, 2007

We were up at 7 am to get an early start to the day. The sky was cloudy, but there were patches of blue, so we decided to hike the Sendero Los Quetzales. At breakfast it was decided that Murray and Corrie would share the $25 cost of the 4×4 to the trailhead, so after we were finished we packed up our packs in readiness. We checked out and paid our bill. The desk clerk called the taxi companies, but both of the 4×4 taxis in town were in use. So then he called Carlos, who said that the hotel 4×4 would drive us up to the trailhead.

After following the road towards Cerro Punta for about a kilometre, we turned up a steep dirt road that wound its way past farms, then turned into a rocky track through the forest, and ground to a halt about 200 metres short of the Respingo ranger station where the trail starts. We were really glad we had chosen to pay for that ride, as starting the day with a couple of hours walking up a steep road would have been awful. It was money well spent as far as we were concerned.

We signed the register in the ranger station, paid our $3.50 each, then we were on our way soon after 9 am. The sky was overcast, but the sun seemed to be trying to get through. The trail was muddy in spots, and it had wooden steps going up and down the steep parts. There were very few birds to be heard, but after about half an hour there were a few hummingbirds flying about and chattering. It turned out they were mobbing a Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl that was sitting on a branch right over the trail!

We continued along the trail, stopping periodically to look for birds or take pictures. So far the trail was quite wide and not too muddy, but that was soon to change. Before long we started to plunge down the hill, sometimes on muddy sections and sometimes on slippery steps. Some of the steps had rotted and broken off, as had some of the railings. But that is not really surprising in such a wet forest. Soon we made our first crossing of the Rio Caldera, on a small plank. We were still in the clouds with no view and the trail continued to drop steeply down.

The clouds were producing a sort of drizzle, so we put on our pack covers and continued on. After a while we crossed a side creek on a bridge, then we came to the second crossing of the river. There was no bridge here, and the rocks looked too slippery and far apart to risk using them. So we just waded the river. It was only knee-deep at worst, and not flowing nearly fast enough to knock us over. After that crossing we stopped at the first place to take off our socks and boots and try to dry them out. This was at a big log which was teeming with little ants, so we tried to keep away from them. But just 100 metres further along, there was a picnic table under a shelter which would have been much more convenient.

From time to time we saw hand-painted signs protesting against a road. Apparently a few years ago there was a plan to build a road from Boquete to Guadalupe through the national park, but fortunately that never happened.

After a while longer we crossed the river again via a suspension bridge, which was a good thing because by now it was quite wide and much deeper and faster-flowing. Finally we came out onto a gravel road, which crossed the river on a one-lane bridge. The trail on the whole was quite good, but it certainly would have been nice if the weather had been better. There were no views on the trip because we walked the whole route in mist and light rain.

This gravel road went up very steeply, then plunged down steeply, then up, then down, then finally up to the ranger station that is the official end (or start) of the trail. We had now been walking for four and a half hours, so we stopped to eat the buns we had bought yesterday and drink some Gatorade. While we were there we chatted in bad Spanish and bad English with the ranger there, whose job must be extremely boring.

But we still weren’t finished. Now the road was paved, but it carried on down through Alpine meadows with cows and then followed a big metal pipe which was part of some development project. Soon the rain started to come down heavily, so we stopped to put on rain capes and trudged onwards until we met the Boquete loop road. Our information said we would have to continue down that road until we reached bus services. There was something like a bus shelter at the corner, but no sign, so we carried on. Before long the ditches started overflowing onto the road and we had to splash across little rivers.

But suddenly a man in a dilapidated old jeep pulled up beside us. We said we were going to Boquete, and he gestured for us to get in. Rosemary got into the front and Paul climbed into the open back of the jeep with another boy who was huddled back there. Judging by the length of time it took to drive to Boquete, we were very lucky to have been picked up. The man was even kind enough to drive us to the place we were staying in Boquete. Actually we didn’t have a reservation but we knew of a place called Pension Topas and so did he, so that was where we ended up. He dropped us right outside there and refused to let us pay him anything.

Surprisingly Pension Topas was almost full. Luckily for us we got the last room, which consisted of a double bed in a small building which resembled a garden shed. The bathroom was down the path in the main building. But the price was only $11, so we took it. Both of us were wet and tired and only wanted a place to stay. Tomorrow night we could move to a room with ensuite bathroom. We unloaded our packs and started to dry things, but clearly that was going to be a multi-day project.

The other people in the hostel were a GAP tour group. There was one very friendly man called Charlie who turned out to be from Saskatchewan. When he said he was from Eastend he was thrilled when we told him we had been there, and before long we knew all about him. After a while we decided to go and explore the town, so despite the light rain, off we went. Boquete is not very big so it didn’t take us long to get the lay of the land. It was a mixture of rural commercial centre and tourist trap, with several real estate offices mixed in. We stopped in a couple of souvenir shops and Paul bought a Chiriquí flag for 50 cents.

Back at our shed we collected our journals and went to the covered lounge area to start writing today’s entry. We had met Charlie from Eastend while in the town and had arranged to meet him at 6 pm for dinner at Restaurant Lourdes, where he had been going for dinner. He was already there when we arrived so he showed us what to do. Easy enough, dinners posted on the wall or on the menu. He had already ordered chicken con salsa, so we just had to order. Both of us ordered fried chicken but when it came it turned out to be chicken con salsa as well. Definitely no complaints, though, the meal was great. Chicken in tomato sauce, rice, French fries and salad for $3.25. In total our bill came to $8.20.

So we left the restaurant and walked back to the hostel. Charlie went to his room (being a farmer from way back he was still in the habit of going to bed by 8 pm) and we continued writing our journals. There were stars in the sky again, but within an hour it was raining. Bedtime was our usual 10 pm.

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