PANAMA: APRIL 1998
BOCAS , BOQUETE, CHIRIQUI RIVER , SAN BLAS, and PANAMA CANAL
Text and Photos Copyright ©2001 Mark E. Halliday
BOCAS DEL TORO
I went to Panama for 2 weeks, my third trip here.
Don and Nancy Merrick from Salt Lake City joined me.
We met in Bocas del Toro,
in western Panama, on the Carribbean coast.
We had some good scuba diving, as well as a lobster feast.
Don and Nancy go sea-kayaking.
This quickly resulted in destruction
of the only two sea-kayak paddles in western Panama.
We left the island in disgrace,
and flew from Bocas to the Pacific coast town of David.
Renting a car at David airport, we drove west into the mountains to the town of Boquete.
We drove around the Boquete valley, which is filled with flowering trees and coffee plantations. This beautiful area was first settled by Swiss and German immigrants.
When I was here two years ago, I remembered very attractive land prices. They have now more than doubled.
The valley is becoming popular as an alternative to Costa Rica for a retirement home.
That evening we watch a tarantula
on the deck in our hotel.
This is the starting point of the
"Path of the Quetzals" trail near Boquete.
It passes around the east side of the
Volcano Baru National Park.
I drove Don and Nancy around to the other end of the trail.
I visited this local natural hot spring:
and then picked Don and Nancy up 5 hours later.
They did not see any Quetzals, nor much wildlife at all,
probably due to the drought conditions.
UPPER CHIRIQUI RIVER
I heard good reports of white-water rafting the Chiriqui River,
which forms part of the border with nearby Costa Rica.
Due to a drought this year, most rivers were too low for boating.
The upper Chiriqui River was the exception;
the operator picked us up at our Boquete hotel.
We drove along winding roads to a slope above the put-in.
Then down the bank to the river,
lowering the boat, ourselves,
and gear by rope.
We had an excellent one-day paddle trip!
It was much more fun than we expected
from a narrow rocky run!
We often stuck on rocks,
and when we came off,
would go spinning backwards through the next rocky chute.
I was tossed out of the boat once,
taking a good bump on a boulder.
Deep canyon on the Chiriqui
After the canyon is the take-out, marked by this bridge.
We took out on the left side
and walked across the bridge to the road.
Bamboo poles on the right bank
are used to help lift the raft up
from the river to the road.
From Boquete, we drove along the Pan-American highway
and stayed overnight in the town of Penonome.
The next day we drove to El Valle,
a favorite weekend mountain escape from Panama City
This is a petroglyph site in El Valle.
The glyphs are outlined in magic marker for clarity!
We continued into Panama City that evening,
stopping at the Balboa Yacht Club for happy hour and dinner.
Private yachts gather here on the Pacific side, waiting for one of the days that smaller boats can transit the canal.
The Bridge of the Americas at Sunset from the Yacht Club.
I read that the Yacht club burned down the following year!
A wood-worker in Chiriqui suggested we visit the
"Muelle Aduana"" in Panama City to see what we could buy.
The pier was filled with a variety of rough-cut
hardwood from the Darian region.
Don and Nancy bought three nice pieces of hardwood.
They packaged the wood with cardboard and fibertape,
and checked them as luggage on their flight home the next morning!
SAN BLAS ISLANDS
Next stop: San Blas islands, on the Carribbean side of Panama.
You can fly from Panama City's downtown Paitilla airport
to Porvenir for about $25 each way.
In Porvenir, a boat goes to Hotel San Blas on Nalunega Island.
A room and three meals, including daily boat tours,
costs about $25 per day.
The entire island is covered by sand,
and is constantly raked by the owners.
For three days I went barefoot,
not needing to put on sandals even once!
Twice a day the hotel boat goes to a nearby island.
The beaches and snorkeling were excellent!
There are so many islands, every trip is different!
The Kuna Indians are the most interesting part of a visit.
They have a special autonomous political structure
that keeps them in control of their land.
For example: Scuba diving is not permitted anywhere!
Kuna sailboats are a common sight
around the San Blas islands.
Typical Island home.
The Kuna are famous as makers of molas.
Pay $1 for every photo!
Closeup of Kuna costume
Sara, from Chicago,
gets the Kuna ladies to relax a bit!
PANAMA CANAL TRANSIT
I took a one-day Pacific-to-Caribbean
cruise through the Panama canal.
The boat leaves Balboa at dawn, and arrives in Colon before dusk.
A bus then takes passengers back to Panama City.
It costs about $90, and includes lunch and an open bar.
Second lock on the Pacific Side.
I was surprised how much cutting and dredging is underway.
They are trying to make the canal wide enough
for two-way traffic through the Gaillard cut.
Into the Carribbean as the last lock is opened.
Text and Photos Copyright ©2001 Mark E. Halliday