The four of us could not have been more excited and relieved when Clara and Nestor rolled up in that big beautiful rental van to rescue us from our three day quarantine. We threw our bags in the back and immediately took off to finally explore some of Panama City. Nestor (our driver for the week) made it clear that his primary desire during his vacation was to enjoy some ceviche, and headed towards the local seafood market (Mercado de Mariscos).
The market was a bustling area right at the water’s edge with a bunch of small restaurants offering fresh seafood. We let Nestor navigate the onslaught of eager salespeople trying to get us to their restaurants and sat down at a large table. Our first non-airplane-food meal in Panama included ceviche, an entire fried fish, and some local bear, which was all great.
Following lunch we hopped back in the van and headed west out of the city to Valle de Anton for a quick hike. We arrived a bit later than anticipated and unfortunately missed sunset despite climbing up the mountain in record time. It was also pretty cloudy, which didn’t help. We turned around at the top as dark really settled in and made the entire return trip using head lamps and our phone lights. It was dark enough that all the nocturnal animals were out and about (bugs) but Nestor did spot a pretty cool looking river crab. We piled back into the van to continue driving towards our hostel for the night. A few hours later, including a stop for dinner along the Pan-American highway, we made it to our hostel. We settled into our rooms and crashed immediately after a long day.
On Sunday morning we got up early and continued west towards our next destination on our tour of Panama, Boquete, a small town up in the mountains about 6.5 hours from Panama City. As we made our way down the Pan-American highway we noticed that there were literally no other cars on the road, which was quite odd. A short while later we were stopped at a government checkpoint and it was clear why we were the only ones on the road: the entire province we had entered this morning was in a weekend-long lock down for Covid. The officer reviewed our information and thankfully let us go, telling us to go directly to the hotel that we would be staying in.
When we arrived at our hostel in Boquete and walked in through the open front door, no one seemed to be there. A few minutes later someone came out from a back room to help us, but it turns out she was a tenant and that the host actually wasn’t there, perhaps thinking we would not be arriving on a Sunday due to the lock down. Almost everything in the town was closed. We settled in and then luckily we were able to order some burgers via a local delivery service for lunch.
Once we were fed and settled we began to realize the true effects of the weekend lock down; no exploring, no restaurant hopping, and nowhere to grab a drink. Being the resourceful group that we are, though, we messaged as many local restaurants as possible to resolve our dilemma. A dozen or so text messages later and we had a few pizzas and cases of beer to enjoy on the back patio of our hostel. The beers were delivered in a blender box, presumably to hide the true contents of the container as, strictly speaking, alcohol sales were prohibited during lock down.
Fortunately on Monday everything opened up again and we were able to enjoy Boquete as originally planned. We started with some coffee and breakfast at a local shop before driving to a nearby hike. As we were walking from the car to the trailhead we saw an SUV get stuck in mud on the side of the road and helped them get back into the road, which was an exciting way to start our hike.
The hike we had picked out was a loop through the jungle that would take us past three waterfalls, which were all amazing. The best part of the hike (if you ask me) happened about midway through. As we approached the second waterfall we noticed a pair of hikers stopped in front of us, apparently looking at something across the river. We slowly continued and tried to see what they were focused on and that’s when we saw it, a Quetzal! A Quetzal is an exotic bird native to a Central America that has bright green feathers and a distinctive tail feather measuring up to 35 inches in length.
After making it back down from the waterfalls we had originally planned to head to another mountain, but we were pretty tired, so instead we stopped for lunch at a cafe and checked out a nearby chocolate shop. We tried a few different chocolates and spent some time on the upper balcony people watching and enjoying our drinks. From there we stopped at a local brewery with an awesome hanging picnic table and a solid selection of beers to try.
We enjoyed our final evening in Boquete by watching the sunset from the hammocks on our hostel balcony with yet another round of tasty delivery food for dinner. The next morning we were off to our next stop in our drive across Panama.