Thursday, August 26, 2010

Aqua Lounge. A real "Dive Bar"

Aqua Lounge, a neon green bar’ish shack, is the spot for Bocas Del Torro on a Wednesday night. And from the town of Bocas, you can be across the island in less than one minute for one dollar, and you arrive to a true ‘dive bar.’ I knew this because the first thing that got my attention was someone launching off the diving board into the ocean. WOWWOWW!
Bocas Del Torro draws people from every side of the map, and the music followed. Snoop Dogg, to Latin, to some Grease, yes, the musical Grease. I was just waiting for Sandra Dee to take the plunge off the diving board. By about eleven o’clock there was a line for the diving board and people jumping in the water just for the experience.
My best days are spent venturing around the town. Rarely bars or nightlife leave an impact on me, only on my voice having to project to a new level to communicate and my ears tweaking up wondering what in the world was just said by these rum crazed Caribbean people! I am just glad I revaluated my get up before water taxing over. If I wore heels I am almost sure I would have been the only person that pulled out the stilettos over comfortable beach cover-ups and major casual attire, flip flops welcome. So it’s no dress like Miami, but Aqua Lounge is worth a dive.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Muddy Buddy

The Muddy Buddy definitely rivals the Warrior Dash, and also comes at a gruesome cost. It’s a race that by finishing will also result in the story of a lifetime. And after finishing, you don’t even have to tell the story, your appearance says enough. Mud covered, face and hair included. My hair was dyed brown for a day, and I didn’t even have to buy a boxed kit.
This race is a partner event. One person starts out running and the other biking. There are four checkpoints along the way for the runner and rider to switch. At each point you complete an obstacle. Crawling under an army net, walking across balance beams, rock climbing over a wall, climb up a slide and putting your hands in the air and rolling down! Ok, you don’t have to put your hands in the air, but it’s that fun, you really can’t help it!
When you know the finish line is coming, you realize why you are warned to keep your nice clothes at home. There is mud pit at the end. You don’t just splash through this either. You crawl under flags, so you have no choice but to be submerged in mud. At the end a sloppy fist pump is necessary. You completed one dirty even. And you will already want to sign up for next year.

Panamanian Dinner

Time to eat an authentic Panamanian dinner with Hablaya students and staff at Hostel Mamallena. Wherever my travels take me, I always look forward to trying the local cuisine, as long as I know what the ingredients are. And no, it’s not just about rice and beans here. But yes, we did have rice, and it was mixed with “guandú" (a typical Panamanian bean.)
We also had organic chicken in red sauce and ripe plantains. Beyond the dinner was the great environment created for Hablaya Students. A chance to meet other students, sit back and learn about the Panamanian culture.
Well here’s something interesting for you. The chicken we ate was raised on the patio of our chef, and she took the chicken in her own hands and prepared it from there… I won’t go into much more detail. As crazy as this sounds to some people, consider this. I would rather eat this chicken that is free of hormones, antibiotics and packaging. It really doesn’t get any more natural. So while I flinched at the first bite, I put in perspective. I had another bite and realized it tasted like chicken, because it was nothing but chicken. Way to keep it simple Panama!

Monday, August 23, 2010

ZipLine Canopy Tour

There I was, in the canopy. Trying to appreciate the Panamanian nature all around me. And I couldn’t take it all in, at the moment. I was harnessed to a cable. I double checked to make sure my helmet was secure and quadruple checked that my positioning was ok. Zip lining is serious business! And “HASTA LUEGO” I was flying down a zip line in the cloud forest. And a tree was straight ahead of me. I knew that I could brake, but you see, the problem was, which hand the brake was. I assumed the hand in front of me was my brake. I pulled down on the carabineer that hooked me to the cable. I assured myself it was a reliable brake system and I would slow down after the signal transferred to the cable. Just would be a few shakes. But a shake and half later and the tree was smack dab in front of me. My laid back attitude turned to a frenzy. I started yelling at the guide, “I CAN’T BRAKE” He smiled and waved, knowing I would see him in any second. I bent my knees towards my body, thinking that I would either fly though the tree, or rickashay off it. Either way I wanted to know where Tarzan was and if he carried a first aid kit under that loin cloth. I gritted my teeth, scrunched my eyes and held on tight as I approached the tree. And WHEWEE! I looked up and I thought I saw my Tarzan. He was wearing a forest green t-shirt that outlined “ZIPLINE TREE TREK” in yellow letters. He was unhooking me from the cable and I was walking just as good as I was before. I was baffled, how did I not hit the tree? “Emergency brake, chica!” Ahh what relief. Turns out you can brake for your own piece of mind, otherwise, why wouldn’t you want to pick up speed and fly on down and go up to 50 kilometers an hour. The Zip line Tree Trek in Boquete, Panama is one of the best. The guides are not funny, they are hilarious, and show off really neat tricks as they zip line from platform to platform. Riding upside down, flipping, and going backwards. And you really get to know your group. You all start out on platform one, and zip line from platform to platform, Once you reach a platform about halfway you all meet up again, the whole gang and all the guides. The photographer takes a quick video and you are out swinging on the ropes again and giving each other encouragement that you can easily make it down the longest zip line. By the end of the day we were all buddy buddy, living off adrenaline and smiles.

Mi Jardin es Su Jardin

There are plenty of beautiful gardens open to the public. But mi jardin es su jardin is especially unique because it’s a man’s personal garden that he opened up to the public. And he didn’t feel the need to open up ticket stand as well! Queue Beuno! Time to get out and see some magnificent flowers, ponds and fish in the pond! I mean there are fish in the pond; I don’t think it would go over well if you actually fished in the pond. Mi pescado es su pescado was not laid out in the guidelines.
Of course the best view is from the top of a tower where you can see gazebos, flamingos, and your fellow gringos! The sight from the top shows a magnificent star pattern of the flowers, one of my favorite views of Boquete!
There is also a playground and even a small chapel. Maybe put in place if you need to confess that you took a fish out of the pond.


Dashing through the mud, in river soaked shoes, and ready to jump over fire. And chuckling all the way! This means you are a WARRIOR! The Warrior Dash took over Copper Mountain Resort on Saturday and Sunday as thousands of costume crazed people took up the hills of Copper to get in on the adventure.
The course, just a smidge over three miles winded you up a mountain. But when you just got done climbing over cars and haybells and hoppin through tires, your adrenaline cranks you up. The waves are spaced apart by half an hour, starting at 8 a.m. and the last wave at 5:30 p.m. Up to 350 people per wave. Cow bells cheering you on, especially at the mud pit, where most of the crowd gathers. If you tried to get through the mud like the Matrix, the crowd let you know. “GET MUDDY!” If you belly flopped or dove into the mud pit the crowd let you know. “WE LOVE YOU!”
Mud, so thick it was like running with resistance. And more obstacles awaited after. Crawling through tunnels and up cargo nets. When the Seals and American Gladiators sponsor the event, you know the obstacles will lead to more beautiful chaos. I am just ready to see the blooper reel now.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rock Climbing with Ceasar Melendez

If you can indoor rock climb, this does not make rock climbing outdoors a cinch. I can climb up the man made walls. It’s almost like they were made for us, the foot and arm holds are placed so perfectly between each other. Just little stepping stones to the top. So I saw that you can outdoor rock climb in Boquete. Couldn’t be that much different. Indoor or outdoor they still have the most important component in common: rocks and climbing. My guide, Ceasar Melendez, had my complete confidence. He is ranked 6th in Central America for rock climbing. My only question was where do I sign, coach? Ceasar free climbed up the wall like a spider that was running from a shoe ready to swat it. Except he ha grace, and added some neat tricks along the way. Hanging arial at one point, gracefully, not even shaking. Only I was. And yes, all while free climbing. Insane. But Proven to be safe for those that have the strength and talent. He set up the course so I could get to the top. I left my Cinderella fantasy behind and squashed my size eight foot into my new kicks for the day. Harness on, clapped my hands with chalk (special effects were necessary today) and approached the rock formation that was leftover from a volcanic eruption. I didn’t expect to be able to hold myself in an arial position, or climb up backwards, or even climb quickly to to the top, but after Ceasar’s star performance, it looked easy. I started out with my hand placement, followed by my legs on the rocks, then I contemplated my next move as I hung high, two feet off the rock. I soon realized my forearms were in the break room. I came back down to the ground to get them back in the game. They agreed, and I went again. Made an improvement this time, three feet off the ground, and my trembling subsided, a little. I would have rather climbed through the wall to make a sleeping platform, then up the wall at this point. Until Ceasar got me through it with encouragement. A challenge to get to the top. But worth it to pull out my imaginary bell, say ring-a-ling and rappel on down. It was exhilarating, in the end. The cost is 40 dollars a person, to climb for four hours. So worth the climb, even if you don't make it more than two feet off the ground.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lightning Strikes on Stormy Peaks

A flash of white light. Brighter than anything I have ever seen. I launched into the air to crash under a boulder. 12,000 feet high on a mountain in Pingree Park and we were caught in a terror defining storm. It felt like less than a second and I whipped around shocked to see lightning strike right in front of us, My mom was on the ground. My brother scooped her up like a baby and ran into the trees. I started to run towards them as I heard my Uncle yell for me to get in the trees and strip down any metal we had on. Earrings, watch, jacket…chucked. Remind me to never wear metal on a hike again.
We bunkered between trees, thunder rolling. The fear of lightning striking again was running wild in all of our minds. Our feet solid on the ground, knees bent and head down. Surrounded by tall trees and ones that had already been hit I clasped my hands and prayed to God. We were all separated 50 feet apart so if one person got hit, we wouldn’t all. Knowing anything could happen I searched through the trees to take a good look at everybody. I turned to my mom and saw she was gripping a silver necklace that I have never seen her without; it was given to her from her mom. She was praying too.
I looked back down and couldn’t tell the difference between my fearsome tears and the roaring rain and hail. Shaking in the cold I finally calmed down. Realizing there was nothing we could do. We were in the safest spot, which there is still no guarantee. But the thunder became quieter and eased our fears. On my Uncle’s cue we headed back down the trail across slippery rocks and a rain fogged view.
It was a quiet hike down. I know we were all still stunned. Once we rounded the corner and saw the car we started to get happy feet, smiles and passing out high-five’s. There was even laughter stemming from relief. The best part of the day was hearing my Uncle say, “It’s a character builder.” And I think character is what makes someone stand out and offer something to everyone they meet. So if I ever feel my character needs to be built up, I’m heading into the storm again 12,000 feet up on Stormy Peaks.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Boquete Outdoor Adventures Rafting

YAHAAA!!! HIGH FIVE! (With paddles). We made it down the first rapid. No big deal. My new rafting buddy told me I better make sure to hang on tight for the next rapid. She was on her second rafting trip with Boquette Outdoor Adventures, and knew the drill, so I listened in, tucked my foot in tight and focused on the white capped water. On her first trip, she hit a rapid and out of the raft she went. Before she even realized she had fallen out, our guide, Freddy was over her life a rafting angel. Grabbed a hold of that bright orange life vest and placed her right back in her seat, and she was off paddling again, and smiling.
Well, dang. That sounds like fun. I almost wanted to fall out just to experience what a rafting angel looks like. I had no such luck, but luck was in everything else. Luck in finding the most energetic rafting trip I could imagine. From the bus ride…music pumping, people chatting. To hopping aboard the raft with the most outgoing guides you could find. You may sporadically get splashed by a paddle, or hear a “YEEHAA” from the next raft over. And these guides are chefs! Wait till you see the lunch spread.
We paddled down the Chiriquí River, and with all the rain fall from the year, we were hooting and hollering down these class three, nearly class four rapids. And when my rafting buddy voluntarily just popped out of the boat and hit the water, my head whipped around, waiting for Freddy to save her. She was soon in front of the boat, feet first (good thing she paid attention to the safety briefing) and then Freddy was in to! AHHH! I got it, swim time on the calm sections, and I hit the water!
And here comes the safety talk out of me. I would be petrified to go down the racing water without backup, backup meaning safety in numbers. Boquete Outdoor Adventures is premier because the trip is complete with a safety kayaker, and other B.O.A. rafts out there with you.
Boquete Outdoor Adventures offers trips all over the board (check out their website @ and an array of rafting trips. The middle on the line fit me, but hey, if you want to have the best chance of seeing a rafting angle head down the Rio Chiriquí Viejo.

Hiking in the Cloud Forest

“What was the highlight of Panama?” In response to everyone who asks this question the answer is: hiking in the cloud forest. I love hiking for views, which is why I always choose to on clear days. But know, I think I am going to start hiking ONLY on days with a chance of low level clouds, in a canopy, in a tropical climate, covered in mosses, flowers and plants that look like they are out of a story book. Does any one know of a place nearby? An Hablya guide, Alvero, and I, hiked up to Cerro Punta. My heart was racing from the steep steps and climbing. I kept thinking the clouds might clear up and we could see the mystical views of the Pacific Ocean and town of Boquete. Turns out, you would have had to tear away layers of clouds to see any of that, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have never experienced looking straight out and seeing nothing but clouds. If they could catch me, I would have had more courage to jump into the clouds than I did the in the waters of Los Cangilones de Gualaca. Many people do this hike with out a guide, but I am glad I had one with me! When I took the lead I took a wrong turn, and passed the trail head on the way up. So lucky me, got pulled back in the right direction before venturing into the cloud forest solo. The hike is about six miles and the hihest point you will reach is 6,500 feet. Sturdy shoes are needed, and a tide pen, because you they make get soaked in mud by the time you are coming off Los Quetzals Trail! But a mud, clouds, beautiful scenery…I know I know, enough said, Ill see you there!

Los Cangilones de Gualaca

UNO, DOS, TRES…JUMP! I still stood there. And again. UNO… Ohhh I was shaking. Finally to the count of TRES and I jumped into the cool water of Los Cangilones de Gualaca. A narrow channel that soon forms into a larger channel, after a few seconds of free floating. It doesn’t look that intimidating, but for me it was. There is something that gets my adrenaline pumping more than a high dive ever will. I watched my Habla Ya guide jump in with no problem. uno, dos, tres, and he actually jumped. I uno, dos, tres’ed and stood, and retried and rethought. But let me tell you, when you give yourself no other choice and just jump, it’s that rush we all crave. The best part is you don’t feel like frozen needles are piercing your skin, and you are short of breath. I can’t think of a more perfect temperature. But say that you are cold-blooded, no problem. Get your adrenaline rush on, hop out and recoup by lying on the rocks that surround the water. They radiate as much heat as the environment radiates a fantastic environment. There is no tourist shed selling t-shirts, a line or a Popsicle cart man pushing you to buy some helado. It’s just you, your crew and the energy surging water waiting for you to jump on in.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Caldera Hot Springs And Petroglyphs

You could attempt to find the Caldera Hot springs and Petroglyphs on your own, or you could find a tour guide or group. Lucky for me HablaYa took the lead. We headed to Caldera, about thirty minutes from Boquete. We first took in some history at the Petroglyphs. We climbed up and down the rocks and studied the ancient drawings etched by who knows. My favorite were all the smiley faces, they must have been pretty happy people, and as I looked around in every direction, I could see why.
After the petgroglpyhs you are a short drive 15 minutes away from dipping in the Caldera Hot Springs! The hot springs are located on a private farm, which is another reason why you should go with a guide. We tried out three different hot springs, all different temperatures ranging from 38 to 46 degrees Celsius. And in Fahrenheit that would convert to… PERFECT!
The best part about these hot springs is you feel like you are a modern day Christopher Columbus and stumbled right upon them. They looked untouched, trees streaming across them, up them and rocks lay perfectly around.
Now every time I walk by a pool of water I want to take a quick dip in, but I am sure nothing compares to Caldera.

La Milagrosa Coffee Plantation

Boquete Day One: The real experience of a coffee plantation. A trip to Finca La Milagrosa. If you are going to visit a coffee plantation you might as well have the full experience. Tito Vargas will show you the process from the tree all the way to a filled cup in front of you. Whether you like coffee or not, its an entertaining education. Especially with the personality that Tito Vargas brings. I ask Tito how many cups of coffee he drinks a day, and he tells me, zero, he never drinks coffee! How could a coffee farmer be so anti-coffee? He then smiles to tell me, he jokes, he drinks 14 cups a day, 14 cups that are muy grande. Then to tell me the truth, he usually settles around two to three. The tour starts in the field, and if you ask nicely you can wear a berry pickers basket around your waist and get to work. From here the berries are washed, dried, roasted, ground and French pressed to be poured into your cup. You will leave with a clarity of how coffee is made. I had a special day at Tito’s. He invited some friends over and we tasted the difference between the roasts of American, French and Italian coffee. French was the general consensus of the favorite so we headed upstairs to see more of Tito’s hand made equipment. His coffee grinder includes a car tranismission, parts of a computer, I mean not just homemade but he really wings it when it comes to making everything. I walked out with coffee I made, because Tito lets this be a hands on process, and hands down was one of the highlights in Boquete! Make sure you check in with the HablaYa office before going and they will get you set up on the tour!


If only I had room for my straw cowgirl hat in my luggage. My second day in Boquete found me traversing the different trails in the Caldera mountains. Sounds great right? Well, I am not a natural with horses. Once I was on the saddle I didn’t want to come off because I knew it would be a process, and another boost to get me back on. And my knees started to ache because they were my grip on the saddle when we crossed over steams. I was nervous to pull on the reigns because it always gave my pretty pony the idea it was time to pick up to a jaunt, which only made my knees grip harder. And harder still when we were crossing streams that you wouldn’t run across because of the depth and larger size boulders the horse strategically made his way around. Oh yes, and this is not a beginner trail persay… it’s steep going up, which means even steeper going down.
However, let me tell you. Everything turned out perfectly, and who wants to ride a horse on flat ground, that is predictable. Giddy up! I felt more comfortable as the switchbacks guided us to a photogenic viewepoint of Volcan Baru, the highest point in Panama, about 11.000 feet. And on a clear day you can see the Pacific Ocean. Regardless of if you will find cloud cover in the views, get out here and ride! There is nothing but green, gold, running streams, and volcanic walls surrounding you. And hopefully my horse that had the punchy personality.
I don’t think my riding sound effects off “EASY GIRL!” and just a plain “AHHHHHHHH!” (only something an wannabe cowgirl would say) was entertainment enough for my horsey. This horse found entertainment in teasing the other horses. If one of these studly stallions found his way at a water stop, mine would put his head right in there until the other would stand straight up and walk away with some sass. Persistant little bugger! Even when water was not involved he would nudge the other horses until they nudged back and our cowboy guide, Nodier, would have us separate. I am telling you these horses will get you to the bottom and top no problem and you will laugh along the way. I think its time for me to invest in a real cowgirl hat.