Sunday, April 17, 2011

Segment 33: Bocas del Toro, Panamá to Davíd, Panamá (March 15 - 24, 2011)

Heading out of Bocas del Toro, the next destination is Davíd, Panamá, a two-day ride away, away from the Caribbean and back towards the Pacific...

in Almirante, this sign says: "Clients: Please don't make a mess of the merchandise".  maybe such behavior is common in Panamá?  Curiously enough, Chinese merchants own most of the shops in Bocas del Toro province in Panamá, as well as in various other regions.

Panama´s currency is the US dollar.   However, in the past it was Balboas, and the coins are still in common use.  Here we are comparing US and Panamanian coins, which are exactly the same in size and weight and style!  Curiously enough, both sets of coins are used interchangeably all over the country.

...Keel-Billed Toucans seen while climbing up towards the Continental Divide...

not a favorable sign for a touring cyclist.  Panamá roads are notoriously steeply-graded in places

Swallow-Tailed Kite a little further up the climb

at this spot, Jeff turned a downhill corner onto this knife-edge ridge (barely wider than the road), and was nearly blown off his bike.  Had to walk it for 200 meters or so.  This spot marks a divide between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Panamá, is notorious for high winds, and features extreme climate differences.  From humid, rainy and cool (Caribbean slope) to hot and dry and sunny (Pacific slope), instantly, which can be seen in the photo.

hulking in the background is Volcán Barú, Panama´s highest peak, and a near-future destination

Pacific slope backdrop on the descent from the Divide

Jeff met up with Katie in Davíd, and we found an amazing place: A cheap vegetarian restaurant owned by a friendly old Taiwanese woman.

Jeff's stuffed plate after arriving exhausted in Davíd... all this cost only $3 or so.

in line at the Post Office, indigenous lady too.

leaving the bike in Davíd we headed up to Boquete (near Volcán Barú) in the highlands of western Panamá, on a party bus.  This was the public transport ride, complete with huge electronic face above the driver, flashing in time to the music, a loud raucous mix of reggaeton and Panamá reggaeton.  The party bus broke down halfway to Boquete (normally a one-hour ride) shortly after dusk, unfortunately.

Katie beginning the walk up to Volcán Barú, passing some local indigenous kids

late afternoon scene in the hills above Boquete

our stealth campsite our first night in the park, surrounded by dense forest

waking up at 1:30 AM to start the hike up
(photo C. Murray)

cow lily seen at rest point in the middle of the night

orchid spotted just after dawn, along with this hummingbird:

early morning light high on the mountain

Katie approaches the summit after all-night walking...
and collapses...

at the summit of Barú, 3474 meters

antenna station on the summit, where we got much-needed water on a very dry mountain

Katie found Jesus in Panamá

watching the Caribbean storms disappear into dry clear air over the Divide (photo C. Murray)

we were lucky to witness migrating Broad-Winged Hawks from the summit, by the hundreds

Broad-winged Hawk

...more sublime scenery from the summit of Barú...

the descent began with this trail

...we descended first this spectacular valley, then entered into cloud forest...

... only to find that this side of the park had been criminally trashed!  Garbage everywhere, and tons of graffiti...

As we were camped near the only water source on the mountain, a small spring, we decided to clean up the area around the spring:
(photo C. Murray)

years and years of accumulated trash (photo C. Murray)

highly discouraging.  And not very flattering for Panamá, this being one of its premier natural parks (photo C. Murray)

we continued down, now with large trash bags full of plastic trash

Panamanians like to stuff trash in trees and cavities of all sorts

the bottom of the descent featured completely different forest, hot and dry

At Paso Ancho with our trash heap from the mountain

this area, near Cerro Alto, is Panama´s most important agricultural zone.

To return to Boquete, we opted to go on foot, across the Sendero de los Quetzales, a popular walking path through the forests north of Barú.  Only problem: closed for repairs.  We entered however, snuck past the guards, and walked it anyway.

(photo C. Murray)

...some early morning images of the gorgeous forest...

this guitar would prove to be difficult to negotiate the trail with

this is why the trail was closed: collapsed retaining walls and an avalanche crossing, at your own risk

None other than the Resplendent Quetzal, which we were lucky enough to see while stopped for breakfast!  It flew within 8-10 meters of us and perched for a few moments. 

enlarged: easy to see why this is a mythical bird

orchids along the path

...Katie crossing the avalanche, and later working up through steep sections:

getting stuck with the guitar

tree ferns

... amazing forest walking...

(photo C. Murray)

serious acrobatics

wood elf

...a short ford over this gorgeous creek...

completed Sendero de Los Quetzales, heading back down towards Boquete, still in Parque Nacional Volcán Barú

another great sighting: Emerald Toucanets!

One last mini-adventure on foot before returning to Boquete: we set off the next morning to look for Cascada Escondida on the edge of Volcán Barú National Park...
horse-packers climbing up into the highlands (photo C. Murray)

planting potatoes on a local finca

more migrating Broad-Winged Hawks seen on this beautiful morning.  They are all headed north to North America for the spring and summer (coming from South America), and Panamá being so narrow, they bottle-neck here in huge numbers (photo C. Murray)

... exuberant vegetation...(photo C. Murray)

Cascada Escondida

... back in Davíd after a week of heavy adventuring in the highlands, Jeff kills another heaping mass of vegetarian Chinese food...