Boquete – the Napa Valley of coffee

…or so lonely planet says.  G and I being coffee junkies were obviously in whole hog.  As an aside, I have no idea when I picked up the phrase ‘whole hog’.  I’m just going to roll with it.  It turns out much of the Panamanian produce and coffee is grown in the Boquete area.  There is plenty of hiking, and the town itself is picturesquely back dropped by Volcán Barú.


We had heard from some lovely ladies that we met in Osa that Refugio del Rio was the hostel to be at and included a river and hot tub.  Since we now have a full-blown bed bug anxiety disorder, we schemed on ways to sleep in our truck but use the hostel facilities.  This turned out to be a piece of cake.  The hostel sees lots of campers and overlanders.  We snagged a spot in front of the hostel by the river.  The wonderful little river drowns out all the sound at night.

Every Thursday, the hostel has a bbq open to the public at a steel of $5.  G was able to top off the meat reserves, and I had piles of veggies and rice.  Since I was first in line, I got my pick of the bounty.

Most of the subsequent days were spent abusing the internet (we had some trip planning to take care of).  We did manage a few walks around town, a visit to the local panadería, as well as a few visits to the grocery store.  At the grocery store we went balls to the wall and bought bags upon bags of coffee as well as several bottles of rum.  Feeling a little lazy after a day of interneting, we ventured out to an underdeveloped hot springs.  On that front though, I advise travellers to steer clear.  I like my hot springs in two varieties: resort setting with all the amenities or pristine pool in a remote location.  What Boquete offered were two mosquito baths complete with farm animals for your viewing pleasure (we heard there was a more developed pool in the area but didn’t get a chance to check it out).

All and all, I think the town is worth a visit if you happen to be in the neighborhood and the cooler climate is a nice break from the heat in the low-lying areas.


Around Lake Arenal and Arenal Volcano National Park

We planned to hook up with the Germans (Sonja, Klaus, and Mia) in Nuevo Arenal on the north west of Lake Arenal.  They were still in Costa Rica for another week, and G needed to deliver some electronics acquired in the States to Klaus.  The road around the lake is paved and well maintained, but still scenic.  Sonja had prepared us for the authentic German bakery in Nuevo Arenal.  We started seeing signs for the place 30 km out of town.  Once in town, we thought the best bet to meet up with our friends was to go to the bakery.  We soon found why they had been raving: delicious German bread, pastries and Costa Rican coffee.  How can you go wrong? We were not wrong to stop there, because they soon rolled in.  We headed to a camping spot on the lake that they had already taken advantage of.  G and I were getting a little ripe, so we took advantage when the sun went down and took showers from our tank.  No curtain yet – so we were counting on no surprise visitors.

The following day we headed for another lake camping spot in a little down a dirt road from the Arenal Park entrance.  On the way there, Brummer (the German’s Mercedes) had some mechanical issues – they were out of diesel.  We soon remedied the problems and were on are way again to the campsite.  We were treated to great views of the volcano and an ample wood for a roaring fire.

We visited the Arenal Hanging Bridges in the morning.  The $24 entrance fee was steep, but the park was wonderful.  A short 3 km loop took you over 6 hanging bridges in the forest canopy and past jaw dropping views of the volcano.

We spent our final night with Sonja and Klaus in the parking lot of the La Fotuna Waterfall, which worked out perfectly for us, because I wanted to check it out the following day.  Sonja treated the men to burritos thus satisfying G’s meat cravings for a day or so.

The next morning, after seeing our new friends from Germany off, we hiked down the stairs to the waterfall for a dip.


Boarding down the side of a volcano (there is a reason to visit Leon!)

Well, if it wasn’t clear by now, G is a bit of an adrenaline junkie.  He particularly loves things on a board where you move fast (kiting, snow boarding, etc.).  When he saw that you could board down the side of a volcano outside of Leon, he got that all too familiar look in his eye (he’s about to charm me into coming along).  There were two options, go down like you were snow boarding or like you were tobogganing (on your rump).  We both choose to utilize our backsides.

The day we chose was particularly hot and windy (carrying your board and gear up the side of a volcano and through the active crater wasn’t awesome).  In the end, we did make it to the top and were rewarded by some incredible views.  It was then go time, and we suited up. We were both keen and therefore close to the front of the line.  The boards were really just reinforced wood with a piece of laminate on the bottom to help with speed.  I noticed that a piece of laminate had broken off on one of the boards.  I new the jagged edge would catch and create drag.  I made sure G got the other board – knowing he would appreciate the speed more.  I was cursing that decision on the way down.  I barley get the board moving, f@$k that (okay – my form was probably not the best, but that board didn’t help).  G of course came piling down the hill after my having a grand old time.  Oh well, we were there to satisfy the adrenaline junkie.

Pacaya Volcano

Today we took a quick tour up the Pacaya Volcano.  Pacaya is about an hour and a half drive south from Antigua and is one of 3 active volcanoes in Guatemala.  From the top of Pacaya we could see Fuego (active as well), Acatenango and Agua.  The three volcanoes are situated in a circle around Antigua.  Fuego has been casting big plumes of smoke almost every day and had a big night lava eruption our first week in Antigua.  Impressive!

A shuttle came to pick us up from our apartment at 6am.  After an hour and a half driving we made it to a small mountain village on the outskirts of Pacaya.  We were about to hike 5miles up the volcano.  The trails were made of fine crushed volcano rocks and lots and lots of volcano dust. The locals in the parking lot were insistent trying to sell a ‘taxi’ service (horse ride) up the mountain for Q100 (about $12 USD).  At first everybody in our group declined the taxi ride.  Nevertheless two kids on horses followed us up to mountain.  I guess they knew what usually happens … So, 10 minutes in the hike one of the girls gave up and hopped on a horse.  Next was … Teresa :).  Well, in her defense, the second kid was walking right behind her for 35 minutes and asking her more or less every 20 seconds “Taxi?”,  “Chika, taxi… ” ….  I think T eventually hopped on the horse just to get him to stop bugging her :).

We made it close but not all the way up the volcano (did not climb to the crater since it is dangerous).  By the way there was a huge plume of smoke that shot up in the sky while we were right under the volcano.  At the end of the trip we crossed a 2 year old lava flow to a place where superheated gasses were coming from the ground.  It took only a second for a bunch of dry sticks to get on fire after our guide tossed them under the rocks at that spot.  We finished the day with roasting marshmallows on the hot gasses before heading back.