Boquete was considered the Napa Valley of coffee in Panama with a cool, fresh climate and pristine natural setting and as we had been hitting the beaches hard, it sounded like a nice change. We hopped on the local bus in Panama City’s huge terminal with our bags and snacks for a seemingly fairly comfortable ride of 6-7hours through the lush countryside and solid roads to David, pronounced Da-vid. But as the day slipped away and turned into night and the torrential rains poured down we approached the small city of David some 9 hours later. The three of us plus Mary, reluctantly jumped off the bus into the downpour, grabbed our bags and ran out to flag down the closest taxi to negotiate a rate of $30US to take us all the way to the town of Boquete, another 45mins by car or hour by bus. The cab ride was cosy as we climbed in altitude of 1200meters through the cloud and fog of the night and pelting rain. But soon enough we approached the dim lighting of Boquete and our B&B Villa Primavera for three, a small property with a few terra-cotta coloured cabins owned by a mother and daughter team, a seemingly friendly place. It was late and raining hard, so after a quick introduction to our room we ran across the main road to the closest Italian restaurant we could find and ordered a pizza, sangria and a few wines before a deep sleep under the doona, a world away from the heat of Panama City.
The next morning we awoke to our host lightly knocking on our door to bring us our breakfast. She was an older lady in her late 60s with a round face, grey hair and portly figure. Not catching her name completely, she soon took to us with her limited English and our limited Spanish and greeted us with a motherly hug and a kiss. She fondled our cheeks and soon took a keen interest in Murray’s Spanish book, deciding that it was her responsibility to be our ‘professor’, our ‘teacher’ over the next few days. She described to us certain situations, occurrences and animated stories in a mingled and confusing Spanglish. Her means of communicating in English was by using repetitive words like ‘example’ and ‘position’. And she became a regular occurrence in our room, perhaps as regular as the TV bolted to the wall or heavy wooden beds, every chance she got she entered to ask us what time we required breakfast the next morning but more so as a great excuse to give us another lesson in Spanglish. Conversations that should have taken 5 minutes from a servicing perspective soon turned into hours. And although she was a lovely old lady that could have been your second grandma, patients soon started to decline and it was clear that this lovely lady with a name that we never quite caught might have been slowly loosing her marbles and taking ours with hers. So making a few quick excuse about meeting friends in town and awaiting transportation was a means to get away from grandma before the day was out, and when we did, this is what we saw.
Boquete was a small town on the Caldera River, in the green mountain highlands of Panama. Because of the towns altitude it was so much cooler then the capital or San Blas islands. It’s natural beauty and cost of real estate made it an extremely popular destination for US foreign investment. Retirees in their droves were coming in to open restaurants, hotels and hostels, organic coffee shops and more. Apparently the influx was due in part to a American magazine called Modern Maturity, specifically targeting the approaching retirees and listing Boquete as one of the four top places in the world to retire, so what happened, these Northern Americans started snatching up the land like there was no tomorrow.
We spent a day chilling out in town as many of the tourist attractions we closed for the down season, but we amused ourselves with the delectable local bakery, private flower garden on a mansion property 2kms up the road and coffee finca around the corner. Mary accompanied us and filled the conversation with many a raw story. Due to the rains that approached the valley at around 2pm in the afternoon, we thought it would be the optimal time to visit the Los Pozos de Caldera or Hot Springs.The four of us jumped in our organised taxi to drive the 30 minutes out of town through to the private property where the healing waters bubbled. We agreed to meet our taxi driver some 1.5 hrs later giving us enough time to traverse the private property across local farm, muddy forest streams before we meet the owner on horseback with his mate. Handing over $2US each we were told to follow the river path through to the first hot spring and a little bamboo hut that was falling to pieces to change. It was now starting to rain heavily so we striped quickly and ran through the mud to the small naturalistic pool surrounded by old rooted trees and blue stone walls. The waters were hot…real hot but jumping in full heartily we relaxed into the bubbling springs and pulled out our small bottles of rose to down quickly for pure relaxation. The time went quickly and it was soon becoming dark, so we picked up to walk the 30minutes back to our ride in the rain. On route along the river stream we saw our first howler monkey. Sitting in solitude on the river bank only some 10meters away, he wet his hair and cleaned his feet. Taking very little interest in us, apparently he was the resident monkey that had been spotted for years by visitors on the property.
There was another few residents on the property back at the B&B, a cute but dumb black and white bulldog and two cats, a stumpy ginger and spotted black and white. After coming back late from the Italian restaurant across the road for a second time, we arrived to the animals that all seemed to be gawking at us from there seating on the verandah. Approaching the bulldog, I gave him a few pats on the head before looking over at the ginger cat staring at my from a kane chair and the black and white stalking in the shadows. From the corner of my eye, I saw what they were awaiting me to discover, a fury little body with little legs and feet and small tail but without…a head! Lying in a pool of blood, I let out a girly squeal, covered my eyes and ran to the cabin. The culprit and the victim will never be identified..
The following day we decided to head out on a trek, up along the river, up over a mountain pass, through the coffee plantations and into the cloud forest. After walking up hill through some lovely green scenery we passed the Princess Janca coffee finca and stopped to sample the home brew. After watching a small boy carry a sack of beans up to be washed at the start of the coffee making process we continued the walk around in a big loop passing expensive residential homes and farms along the way. Every now and then we would stop to take in the views and a photo of the indigenous families and small kids in traditional brightly coloured attire. Around 7kms in it became apparent that we had missed the turnoff into the cloud forest and passing a Scottish couple that called out that they ‘were lost as well’, we decided to follow the roadside all the way back into town which still made for a very pretty and peaceful walk.
By our last night, our host was becoming all too familiar and we braced ourselves for another long confusing conversation as we heard the patter on the door. Opening it again with an exhausted smile, this time around and as it was our last night, she asked if we would like her to “sing” to us. Nodding our heads in fear she scurried off into the darkness momentarily before bringing back her granddaughter, all of 8 or 9 years in age. And clearing her throat she let out a boisterous and heartfelt “Ave Maria” hitting the glass shattering high notes on route while her granddaughter cowered at her feet, softly letting out a murmur of a voice in the distance while her grandma brought the house down..right on top of us. There was nowhere to hide and knowing all to well that soon enough I was going to explode in fits of laughter I had
to pretend to laugh along with the kid and start singing myself (a rendition of twinkle twinkle little star) in order to hide the uncontrollable volcano of amusement bubbling up inside me. And after the musical had finished and the leading lady sang her last high note, we slept not quite knowing what would be awaiting us for our final goodbye over breakfast the next morning.
After our forth consecutive day of a breakfast of pancakes and coffee, it became apparent that the pancakes looked all too perfect and were the same size, colour, shape on each plate and at each setting. Maybe grandma was losing it and all she was in-trusted by her daughter was to heat up prepackaged pancakes and add some hot water to the instant coffee everyday? We had arranged a private mini bus to take us to the islands of Boccas del Torro and we had to arrive at the agency at 7.30am leaving 8.00am on the dot. There was no time to waste but just when we thought the serenade of the night before couldn’t make the relationship any more personal, grandma came in again, not only to collect our pancakes but to also share a photo album of her in her day, with her husband, driving the local town minibus, with her two twin children and more. And after her life-story had been entrusted to us, she kissed and hugged us once more, pronounced that “me casa, su casa” and that she would pray to god to look after us on our travels.
So although the town of Boquete was a beautiful little place, grandma was the one that really made an impression in her own crazily annoying and loving way and she will always be remembered each time I hear Ave Maria or nails on a chalkboard…whatever comes first.