Taking a Break in the Highlands of Panama

After Lacey’s family left Panama and Luis returned from his brother’s wedding, we stayed in Panama City for a few days trying to decide what to do next. For the first time on our trip, we were not quite sure what to do. For the entire trip, whenever we were ready to move on, it was always easy to figure out where to go next. South. No matter where you are in the Americas, Argentina is always south.  Now, we were parked in Panama wondering what to do.

We could continue south, but the next step in our journey is to ship the Landcruiser (by boat) to Colombia and say goodbye to Central America. This step would be final, no coming back to visit Costa Rica or Nicaragua, no further exploration of Panama. Shipping is expensive and once in South America we are there for a long while.  Besides not being sure if we were ready to say goodbye to Central America, shipping the truck involves a lot of money and a lot of paperwork, a burden we are hoping to share with another traveler who may be shipping to Colombia as well. While in Panama City, we didn’t know of anyone else who was looking to ship to Colombia. The other option which we had discussed was to head back north to Nicaragua and explore a little more of that beautiful country. It is kind of a weird feeling to be clueless of what to do next, especially after the last couple of months in which guests arrivals and Luis’ wedding dictated our plans.
Rainy season in Central America is no joke, really. Due to the full swing arrival of rainy season in this area, we decided that maybe it was time for us to take a little break from living in the Landcruiser/tent and find someplace to sit the rain out. Our setup allows us to be pretty comfortable with a little rain, our tent does pretty well and we have some great awnings from CampingLab.com to keep us dry, but when it is raining cats and dogs for the better part of the day, the dampness starts to set in. We started looking at the website workaway.info a database which puts volunteers in touch with work in exchange for room and board. We found a man in the northern highlands of Panama who we exchanged some emails with and decided to head that way. He was leaving to go back to California for a month or so, so we ended up arranging to rent his house. So we set out and headed up north into the mountains to the little town of Paso Ancho, our home for the next month and a week.

Our house in Pancho Ancho.

Paso Ancho and the slightly bigger town of Volcan are located in the highlands of the State of Chiriqui at the foot of Volcan Baru, directly opposite from Boquete. This side of the volcano doesn’t have quite the population of expats as the Boquete side (although there are still plenty to be found) and the area still has a very remote, small town feel to it. The valley is surrounded by lush green mountains on all sides, with Volcan Baru towering above the others and a beautiful river flowing through. The hillsides are all covered in coffee plantations, some of which you can drive through. While there are plenty of cars here, there are still quite a few families whose main transportation method is by horseback.  Our neighbors have a horse to get around and every morning and afternoon we see grandpa riding by with the two little girls in the saddle on their way to and from school.

Taking a drive through a coffee plantation.

The valley is full of small farm plots where families grow corn, potatoes, onions, and cabbage to feed themselves and sell the rest to get by. The area turned out to be a little colder and a little rainier than we had expected, but for Luis it is a welcome respite from the heat in the lowlands. In fact the weather here is a lot like the weather in Arcata. We have joked a few times that we have spent a year fleeing the cold and rain of the Northern California coast only to find ourselves living in the same weather, thousands of miles away only with no good beer, no internet, no TV and no close friends. Thank god for books :) .

We have spent the last month or so relaxing and enjoying a roof over our heads, walking around and exploring the area and all of the dirt roads we can find, and getting to know our neighbors. We have found a little expat community here. Our neighbors, a couple from New Mexico, are busy building their new home here. We have spent many an afternoon enjoying their conversation and hospitality. We’ve also been taking the opportunity to try to catch up with our blog and organize our memories and photos from the last year on the road. Lacey has also doggedly gone back to Roseta Stone and is making a serious attempt to learn spanish (a feat for her that is sadly easier said than done, alas, poco a poco as they say).

One of our favorite places we found in the area is the Finca Dracula, which is a beautiful orchid nursery. The finca is set in a little valley north of Paso Ancho, and the beautifully landscaped grounds are worth a trip just to walk around. They have thousands of orchids growing in the grounds as well as in temperature controlled green houses. They specialize in the finca’s namesake, the dracula orchid, but they also have a huge variety of color and sizes. We decided after spending an afternoon walking the grounds and going in all of the green houses that we wanted to live there. It was a little paradise!

We really enjoyed getting to know the panama highlands, as well as having a roof over our heads for awhile. Honestly we don’t think we would have made it very long here without a roof during the rainy season, because it sure does rain! It is nice to settle down a bit every now and then, but still the road calls. It is time to move on to our next adventure.

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One Response to “Taking a Break in the Highlands of Panama”

  1. [...] tent again. We had forgotten how comfortable we have become with our living set up after staying at the house for so long. There is something that feels right about staying outdoors in a beautiful place, [...]

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