Friday, January 15, 2016

Volcanoes and Waterfalls.

When I first found out Dan and Clement were in Boquete, I decided to stay two days. Once I found out they were doing the Volcano hike the night after that, I went ahead and extended to join them for that. And while it was an amazing hike, it was exhausting as well. But between that, and the waterfall hike the day after, I got to see a lot of the local beauty in Boquete.

The way the hike of Volcan Baru is often done is to leave just before midnight and catch a cab to the beginning of the trail, and then hike all night to catch the sunrise from the top, so we decided to do the same. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong cab, as his car started overheating and smoking when he got to the steep part of the road on the way to the start, so we ended up having to start our hike a bit prematurely. At midnight, we got dropped down the road a ways from the entrance, and started up.

The hike was... well, it was pretty exhausting. It was decently steep (though not as steep as El Cajon in San Diego), and 13.5 kilometers each way, but the worst part was the terrain. It was rarely solid footing, and very often was loose gravel, dirt, or mud that caused you to slip back a little on every step, and made it very easy to roll an ankle. I ended up rolling my bad ankle four or five times, though it would usually loosen back up and go back to a dull ache pretty quickly. I did take some Ibuprofen at one point to try to keep swelling down, though it never completely stopped hurting.

We didn't take too many breaks, though we also weren't moving super fast either. At one point I was actually falling asleep while hiking - I'd blink, and after blinking things would have moved farther than they should have given how long a blink should take. A red bull fixed that, but for quite a bit of the hike I was still exhausted not because of the hiking, but because of the lack of sleep.

Eventually, it started getting light as we were approaching the end. As we arrived, we got amazing views of the valley below just starting to light up, and then a beautiful sunrise which we enjoyed with the rest of the hikers on top. You could even see both the Pacific and the Caribbean from up there. Due to my stop at the store beforehand, I was prepared with my usual summit treat of strawberries and dark chocolate, which I shared with our group and then with a bunch of other people who just happened to be on top. They're not super hard to carry up there, but that combo always seems to surprise people and hit the spot.

The only picture I took in the first 5.5 hours of hiking. Nighttime makes for boring hikes sometimes.

The sun starting to come up.

The shadow of the volcano stretching out behind it as the sun rises.

The summit.
Got my strawberries and Swiss 70% chocolate.
The group shot at the top!
The hike down was easier, but still pretty rough. The lack of traction meant you had to be 100% focused on every step, which can be pretty mentally tiring. My ankle, for some reason, started feeling much better on the way down. In fact by the end of the hike my knees were killing me, but my ankle seemed to mostly be okay. Later in the day I expected it to be seriously sore, but since that hike it's actually felt the best it has since the injury.

I could definitely see how bad the road would have been in the Jeep that Clara took down with her broken foot, though. We saw a couple cars going up as we were coming down in the morning (none at night), and it was quite a sight to watch them do the road - they had some pretty serious suspensions.

One of the bad parts of the road, but not even the worst.

Check out that suspension.
Seriously big rocks and drainage pipes to get over.

Down we continue.
Despite the terrain (and the trip up taking us six hours), it only took us about three hours to get down. After getting down to the road and cramming into a 15-person bus with 24 people in it, we made our way back to the hostel for some much needed rest.

Back at the entrance to the trail after 27km and about 10 hours total.
Once again, the daytime was spent mostly relaxing and recovering. I only slept for maybe an hour in one of the hammocks with the sound of the river to put me to sleep, but when I wasn't sleeping, I was mostly just relaxing and reading, listening to music, or talking to people at the Refugio. I did pick up some fruit and cheese that night to make a plate to share, and as usual Dan and Clement and I had a few beers with whoever else was waiting around. Overall, though, it was another early night to actually get some much-needed sleep, though I did say goodbye to Clement since he was headed off for Panama City in the morning.

In the morning I woke up and went with Clara to the doctor - she needed to get some prescriptions refilled and wanted to give the doctor some chocolates as a gift for helping so much, so I went with to help out a bit. After running around to a few different pharmacies, we found one who then put a number on a calculator and showed it to us - almost $1000!! Clara didn't remember how much the first ones had cost, but she knew they weren't that much. We tried to explain in broken Spanish, and the woman just seemed to be getting irritated. Finally we said we were going to go somewhere else since we were sure it wasn't $1000 - at which point the woman behind the counter, exasperated, said it was only $10. Oh. Clara and I both apologized and Clara paid, but really - put a decimal point in there. I thought it was kind of sad that I, being from the US, thought $1000 for a prescription without insurance wasn't extremely unreasonable.

After getting back to the hostel, I packed up some water and snacks and a swimsuit, and headed out with a few other people (including Anou from Germany) to the Lost Waterfalls hike. After a short cabride up the road, we started hiking down the trail where we first came upon a suspension bridge... which was being worked on.

On the other end, one of the main support cables was disconnected and they were welding it.
After crossing the bridge one at a time and very carefully, we continued up the trail to a beautiful cabin with a booth at the start of the hike where we looked at the map.

Gorgeous day for the hike. None of the usual drizzle, which the locals call "cloud rain."

Beautiful cabin that you can rent. A bit outside of town.

But this is the view from the cabin, so, you know. Tradeoffs.

The trail map.
After paying the fee, we headed in to the trail. According to the guide it was best to skip the 1st one and go straight to the 2nd one, then the 3rd one, and then see the 1st when we came back. We headed to number two, and it was an absolutely beautiful hike.

Up the river towards the falls.

Up close(er).
It was a great view, but even better, you could continue around the trail to the top of the waterfall and look down.
As close as I was willing to get on the slippery, mossy rocks.
After a quick stop, we continued onward through the jungle to number three. The temperature could not have been better - it was just warm enough in the sun, but not so hot we were all sweating while hiking. Boquete was really a comfortable place to hang out.

Hiking through the jungle.

I built a little monument with some rocks laying around.

The group hanging out at the third one.

Click for the bigger version, and check out how big Rodridgo is in the bottom right.

We spent a little bit at the third one going swimming and going under the falls - they were pretty strong to stand under, but not unbearable. We had some extra time in the schedule before the cabs came back to pick us up, so we headed back to the top of falls number two to hang out in the sun and the pools there. The water was crisp, to put it one way, but the sun was nice.

Not a bad place to hang around.
Finally we decided it was time to start heading back, so we trekked back off down the trail and this time took the fork for the 1st waterfall, which is the biggest (though you can't hike down to the bottom of it, unfortunately).

The trail was slippery but had lots of things to hold on to. Luckily the lack of rain meant it wasn't as slippery as it could have been.

The tallest of the three falls. It was difficult to fit the entire thing in a picture.
We stopped for a bit of slacklining before heading back to the road.
Finally, we made our way back across the (now fixed) bridge and to the road. We'd told the cab driver that we'd be ready to go at 2:00, and at 1:59 he pulled around the corner and met us. He was kind of the "official" cab driver for the hostel, and after running all the errands with him and Clara in the morning and then talking to him on the way to and from the waterfalls, I enjoyed getting to know him. To have someone be that punctual in Latin America was a pleasant surprise as well.

I'd originally planned and booked two days in Boquete and had been extending it when I could, but due to booking late, there weren't any beds available in the hostel I was actually sleeping at. I ended up paying a bit less to set up my tent next to the motorcycle in the garage, which might sound bad but really wasn't, since I was spending hardly any time in that hostel anyway. I was glad I'd had a comfortable bed for the night after the volcano hike, but the tent is plenty for me otherwise.

The rest of the evening, as well as the next morning, I spent most of my time talking and hanging out with the people at the hostel. I'd met some pretty cool people there, and much like a couchsurfing experience, we'd gotten closer in a few days that you'd expect. It was hard to leave, but since most of the people I'd been hanging out with were leaving as well, there wasn't any reason to stay.

The next stop was Panama City to figure out how I was going to get my motorcycle across the Darien Gap. And of course, something like that is never going to go perfectly smoothly.

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