Friday, January 15, 2016

So This Is The New Year

I'd chosen Boquete for New Years because it seemed smaller and a little bit more chill, and sure enough it fit that perfectly. But even better, my travel buddies Dan and Clement had ended up there as well, and the hostel was full of cool people to meet and go off on the numerous activities in the area.

I got into Boquete the afternoon of the 31st, checked into my hostel, and then looked up the hostel that Dan and Clement were staying at. It turns out it was one block away, just across a pedestrian bridge over the river that goes through town. When I got there, Dan and Clement were out getting some beers, so I met them at Mike's Global Grill.

It turns out there's a really big ex-pat contingent in Boquete, which means there's quite a few shops and bars catering to that crowd. Mike's is one of them, and they were showing the college football Bowl games in there while serving hamburgers, onion rings, pizza, and wings. As much as I enjoy seeing new things and enjoying new cultures, a little taste of home can be just right on occasion too.

After a few beers and some wings, we headed back to the (that is, their) hostel and sat around a table on the patio outside with a few beers. We ended up talking to the group at the next table about the card game they were playing - I don't actually remember the name - and they came over and joined us at our table for a bit. It was a group of three girls, two friends who were from Germany and Austria, and a fellow traveler they'd met a few days before who was from Hungary. More than any other place along my travels so far, Panama has seemed to be filled with Germans and Eastern Europeans.

The hostel was having a potluck that night, and while none of us three guys wanted to cook anything and therefore decided not to join them for food, we were coerced into eating some of the copious leftovers - all of which were delicious.

After dinner we enjoyed the music and the open bar at the hostel for a bit, while enjoying the company - we also talked to two girls from Germany (see?), one of whom had broken her foot at the top of the Volcan Baru hike - 13 kilometers up the top of a mountain, she had to ride in the back of a jeep down a "road" that was often just a pile of rocks, while her friend cradled her broken foot. But she was in remarkably good spirits, and was set to go back to Germany and get surgery a few days later.

Eventually at midnight, we counted down, and then heard fireworks going off around the city. We all went out to the street, despite the spitting rain, and watched fireworks go off from three or four different locations. As a couple of people headed off to bed, a group of us - including one of the locals who worked the desk - all headed out to the bar for some dancing. We finally called it a night around 4:30 in the morning, with the next day scheduled to be a recovery day.

I woke up in the morning and, after the first coffee of the new year from a shop around the corner, headed back over to Dan and Clement's hostel. At this point I was practically a guest, as most of the people had seen me hanging out there the night before. I spent the day relaxing on couches, hammocks, and chairs, occasionally trying out the slackline, and using the small-scale guitar owned by the hostel to run through a bunch of my songs. We all spent quite a bit of time during the day just lounging, with occasional trips out to grab some food or drink from the grocery store or a restaurant.

How most of us felt that day.
One of the things I did do was to go with Krisztina (from Hungary) and Samy (from Toronto) to Boquete brewing company in the afternoon. We started off the year right with some microbrews from the local place, and some free popcorn didn't hurt either. They had a pretty good selection, and the Rye Wheat was delicious, while their porter had some pretty good coffee flavor to it.

Some nice small-batch brewing.

Still a few Christmas decorations up.
After a relaxing day, most of us got some nice early sleep so we could get back to taking advantage of where we were. I'd originally planned on just staying two nights, but after talking to Dan and Clement and the other people at the hostel, I decided to go ahead and extend my stay another two nights.

In the morning I woke up and headed back over to Refugio del Rio, the hostel that I was basically living at without actually sleeping there. This morning, though, I headed out with a few guides to go do some rock climbing. I'd been told that they already had a big group, but after I mentioned that I could help them with some belaying too, they agreed to let me go with - and I ended up riding with the teachers/guides.

When we got to the rock, I watched as the leader of the group clipped a rope onto his harness but didn't clip to anything else, and then proceeded to free solo two of the routes in order to set up the rope at the top. In case you don't know, free soloing means if you fall, there's nothing to catch you at all. Granted, the routes were a 5.8 and a 5.9, which, to an experienced climber, are like a ladder. But it still made me a bit nervous to watch him do that.

Eventually a bus arrived full of American high school boys from a boarding school in Costa Rica. It turned out I didn't have to worry too much about not getting to climb enough, because a couple of them didn't want to climb at all and a few climbed one or two and then decided they were done. There was one kid who was pretty good and climbed 9 or 10 routes over the course of the day, which was pretty impressive - I wasn't even able to do more than 5 or 6. I realized pretty quickly how out of climbing shape I've gotten in the last six months or so, especially as far as the callouses on my hands. It didn't take long for me to tear off a small blister right on the inside of the first joint of my middle finger, but a little tape fixed that and I kept going.

Super interesting rock formations. Looks easy to climb, but is relatively slippery unless you find good holds.
After returning to Refugio around 1pm, I spent the afternoon hanging out playing guitar and talking with Clara, Anou, and Rodrigo. Clara, the one who broke her foot on the volcano, talked about the trip down the volcano and quite a bit of her other travels. Fortunately (sort of) the injury happened at what was going to be the end of her travels anyway, so it wasn't cutting things too short for her. She'd been in Colombia for quite a while, so she gave me a bunch of places to check out there.

In the evening, I made a trip to the store for some provisions and then around 11pm I headed over to Refugio again to get ready to hike Volcan Baru with Dan, Clement, and Carry (one of the girls from the hostel). That would turn out to be quite an experience.

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