Heading back north (or west actually in Panama) we have had to confront some difficult emotions. The loss of Taku still weighs heavy on us. Thanks to all of you for the warm outpouring of sympathy we received. Turning around has reminded us that our time is shorter now and we are wanting to make every experience count.
Camping in Panama City, where we spent two weeks, was a giant parking lot by the marina. The views of the canal and free Wifi were great but we’re wilderness campers at heart. During this time, while waiting for new brakes to be ordered and Taku’s cremation to be completed, we took a few days away to journey to the Caribbean coast, only an hour away. We left the city and followed the canal through the countryside, stopping to watch the giant ships as they passed through the locks.
I (Tod) had met a New York real estate developer on the flight back to Panama who had some acreage near Maria Chiquita and he was generous enough to offer for us to camp on the land. Finally, a place we could get away from the city and have some quiet time. It was not quite what we anticipated though as the only flat spot for camping was in front of the caretakers home. With five kids and the typical sense of hospitality we were greeted warmly and entertained throughout the weekend.
The family were Colombian natives who maintained the property in exchange for housing. The father hunted for meals and the land and sea there is so rich with life that he could feed his entire family with just three days of hunting. It’s not just subsistence living either as we were treated to a rich array of dishes such as octopus soup and other delicacies.
With Betty, we have the kids fighting to do the dishes!
The kids of course were enamored of Alli and we had to stop them from running her into the ground with constant play. Our first morning there, when I woke up and opened the van door, I was surprised to find three of the kids lined up watching the van, quietly and patiently waiting for Alli to come out to play. That day they took us down to the ocean where we swam and played to our hearts content.
Back in Panama City we wrapped things up and headed to the mountains of Boquete which were a welcome relief and more of the isolation we were seeking. We found some camping across from a small rockclimbing site, near a river that reminded us of the camping back home. I even managed to hook up with some local climbers long enough to wear myself out (one hard climb was all it took!) Boquete is a popular tourist area and, like many places in Panama, NorteAmericanos and Euros are moving in quickly. It’s popularity is deserved, beautiful hikes through mountain forests and visits to the local animal sanctuary kept us there for four days.
Wild camping (and our laundry) in Boquete
Lisa finds a friend (a baby howler monkey) in the Boquete animal sanctuary
One of our motivations for making it to Panama in the first place was to visit our friends Kim and Mary in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. I had known Mary professionally in Hailey before she and her husband moved to Panama four years ago. She sent me pictures of the island life that I kept on my desktop at work as inspiration during our year of preparation. We were excited to see the place for ourselves and hear of their experiences as transplants.
The hammock I had promised myself last winter I was going to sit in
Pulling Betty off of the ferry into Bocastown, the main town in the island group, Lisa and I quickly became aware of a suspicious looking gringo taking photos of the van. Seasoned in the way of the scam artists that frequent tourist towns by now, I wasn’t surprised when he approached us with a friendly smile and handshake. Wants to sell us some photos, I was thinking. Lisa was quicker than I was though, probably because she had actually heard him introduce himself as Kim. Ohhhhh, Kim, Mary’s husband. We hadn’t met before and he was kind enough to unexpectedly greet us as the dock. We all got a good laugh out of that and were shortly off to a cafe to get acquainted.
A little background about Bocas del Toro. It was a banana plantation for the United Fruit company until a disease wiped out all the bananas and operations moved to the mainland in the early 20th century. For the next 60 years or so it remained a backwater, even by Panamanian standards, as it is and was pretty remote. In the last couple of decades, first adventurous backpackers, then more mainstream travelers and now retirees are discovering the beautiful islands for themselves. A boat is more useful than a car here and they’ve only had cell phone service for a few years. It’s the beaches and the climate that draw the attention. The bay has mild cooling breezes with no recorded history of hurricanes. The white sand beaches stretch out into the shallow coral reefs that ring all the islands. On the ocean side of the main island Colon, waves kick up to give surfers a rush and four miles away, on the lee side, the sea is so tranquil we snorkel around in our own tropical swimming pool.
Kim and Mary’s beautiful island home
Mary and Kim live on Solarte, a nearby island ten minutes by launch, where they are finishing up their new home. Living off the power grid as they are can be an adventure anywhere and requires some lifestyle adjustments. Their views peek through the high canopy around them to capture the bay and their boat dock. Small but spacious, the living room sprawls out of the house and onto the porch engaging with all the life and activity outdoors. In fact the dinner table is on the deck, so close to the busy hummingbird feeders that you have to get used to the hum of nearby wings as you dine. Lisa and I both have some experience with alternative homes and off the grid living and we agree that these two are doing it right.
It was great to get to spend a few days with them, learning about their new lives, the rewards of making a dramatic change as they have. The tropics have their own challenges, scorpions in the living room, the constant battle with the jungle trying to reclaim the home. These two have met the difficulties with grace and tenacity, we learned a lot from them.
With Mary and Kim in Bocastown
From Bocas we returned to the highlands of Cerro Punta, just on the otherside of the Volcan Baru from Boquete. Cerro Punta had a more pastoral feel with farms and horse pastures dotting the valleys and hillsides. We spent several days camped at a park entrance underneath a tree that hosted Quetzales each morning and evening. The property caretakers where a wonderful old couple who were quite friendly but also gave us our space which was greatly appreciated. We spent the days hiking the mountain trails in the two national parks that bracket the valley.
Mountainside potato field in Cerro Punta
From there we reentered Costa Rica and headed to Finca Bellavista (a finca is a farm), a new development Lisa had discovered one of her internet searches. The owners Matt and Erica are starting the world’s first treehouse development and have a beautiful jungle property six miles from the coast that is ribboned with spectacular rivers and waterfalls. All of the development is done as sustainably as possible with solar already in and hydropower being built. Wood is harvested on site and the properties will be connected by a series of ziplines to speed access through the jungle.
The platforms that will become Matt and Erica’s treehouse
The project is in it’s infancy still with Matt and Erica just starting on their own tree house as well as some ziplines and community structures. The excitement is contagious though and they’ve already sold out of their phase 1 lots. The project is well thought out and I expect it to be a big success. We were only able to stay one night but during that time hiked a chunk of the property and visited some amazing swimming holes. Check out the details on their site fincabellavista.net, there’s a link on our sidebar.
This will be their view from the living room!
Our rush leaving the finca was to get to revisit our friend Billy in the nearby mountains. He was heading off to the capital to take his citizenship exam after over 20 years in Costa Rica. He generously offered us his house for the days he’d be gone. We caught up with Billy and some of the changes he’d made to his beautiful property. Did I mention his 40 foot waterfall? Costa Rica truly has some stunning scenery. We’ve enjoyed spreading out the last few days, with hikes and swimming holes for Alli right out the door.
As next week is Semana Sanata (Easter week) here, our plan is to head back to BellaVista to hide out. In Central America this week is the busiest week for travel of the year and more than a million people will be leaving the capital of San Jose for the beaches and parks. Enjoying the hikes and pools of the finca without the crowds should be a great way to spend the holiday!