Monday, March 26, 2012

Travel Tales: Boquete, Panama

100_2702.jpg by Kathy Sterndahl
The mountains around the town of Boquette

A lot of Americans and Canadians are moving to the town of Boquette in western Panama, so we decided to take a trip there to see for ourselves what was attracting this migration. We flew in to Panama City and then took an overnight bus to David and then a smaller bus to Boquette.

When we arrived, clouds were clinging to the nearby volcano and a mist was settling down on the community. It wasn't enough to really get us wet, but we weren't entirely dry, either. We dropped our stuff off at our little hotel overlooking the river and set off to explore.

Boquette sits in a steep-sided bowl between mountains, so there isn't a lot of walking on level ground. Add to that the crumbling or non-existant sidewalks and we spent more time with our eyes on the ground than looking at the town.

Once we had visited the nearby botanical garden and the local expat hang-out, we weren't really sure how to keep ourselves occupied in that small town. Our hotel rented out motorbikes, so we decided to take a ride into the mountains. The manager went over the motorbike to be sure all was well and then explained how to follow the route he suggested.

Once Terry had started the bike, I hopped on the back and we took off over the river and up the road climbing the mountainside. The scenery was beautiful and I was happy that he was driving so I could just enjoy it.

All was going well until we came around a curve to find that the road ahead was much steeper than what we had been experiencing so far. We got as much of a running start as we could, but we had barely started up that steep part when the bike began slowing noticably. It finally came to a stop; it just couldn't carry us both up the hill. Since I didn't know how to drive a motorbike, it made sense that I was the one to get off and walk while Terry continued up the hill on the bike. He never got too far ahead of me - just went a little way and then stopped until I caught up.

The altitude wasn't too bad, but my exercise-induced asthma really had me gasping for breath. He came up with the idea of letting me sit on the bike while he walked along side balancing it and giving it just enough gas to haul me, and pull him, up the hill. It turned out that it was just too hard to control it that way, so I went back to walking. With slow and steady progress, I finally made it to the top. After resting a bit to regain my breath, we hopped on the bike and started down the other side of the hill. Oh, yeah - downhill!!!

We hadn't gone far when the brakes decided not to respond very well. It was all Terry could do to keep the bike under control. When we finally got to a spot that was a bit more level than the rest, he was barely able to get us stopped. Fortunately, we were very near one of the few homes on that road. We jumped off the bike and walked it back toward the house. The lady who lived there had seen us coming and met us at the bottom of her driveway.

She rescued us by calling the hotel and then giving us a cup of tea and some company while we waited for someone to arrive to take care of the problem. When the guy finally came, he made a few adjustments to the brakes and started to get back in his truck, saying he would meet us back at the hotel. We told him to forget that idea. He could take the damned motorbike back; we were driving down in the truck. He made it back OK, but when we saw how steep that road was, we were very happy that we weren't on that bike. No wonder the brakes were worn out!

Back at the hotel, we got a refund, went to the store and bought some wine, and celebrated our survival. We were very ready to get out of Boquette on the morning bus.

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