Having lived in the all encompassing, oft oppressive humidity of the Caribbean tropics for half a year, I decided it was time to breathe some cool mountain air, perhaps take a hike or two. Boquete, Panama, became the destination, a half-day away from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Half a day ended up being ten hours on serpentine roads with stunning views of mountains and the Pacific, or perhaps the Atlantic, I’m not really sure. Regardless, it was lovely. I’m quite surprised that I had no motion sickness from this road as the older I’ve gotten, the more susceptible I am to the point where sometimes I can’t even text or look at a map without feeling queasy. I pity my future children when they want to go on a roller coaster with me, especially if they are upwind.
Friends had told me that I would probably like Boquete. I hadn’t even arrived yet and I was already completely sold on Panama en route to my destination. Cool, fresh air and pine trees everywhere, the likes of which I haven’t seen in months, nor have I smelled that wonderful alpine scent they omit. There were chatty friendly locals on the bus and indigenous women in colorful, traditional dresses. With each kilometer higher in altitude, I could feel the humidity lifting off like stripping layers of clothing when you emerge from a blizzard into a warm house. It was more and more comfortable, less and less sweat-inducing heat coma.
Boquete reminded me of Innsbruck, Austria, but much smaller and lacking any old European village charm. However, what it lacked in the character of buildings, it made up for with a river running through town, the 360 degree view of mountains, people’s colorful flower gardens, and the fact that numerous hikes, waterfalls, and hot springs are all a deck of cards laid out at your fingertips. Draw whatever card you’d like and you won’t be disappointed.
I stayed at Hostel Refugio del Rio, a house converted into a hostel with that wonderful homey feeling a converted house often lends. It’s off the main street and on the river so you sleep with the soothing sound of water close by. I read that you can walk up the hill out of town to the tourist information center and there’s a great view of the town. Seeing as how I was planning on hiking Volcán Barú while I was there (a ten-hour intense and difficult hike), I figured I’d take the half hour jaunt up the hill to the tourist center and see what else this little town provided for outdoor enjoyment. Because I currently live in a town on the Caribbean coast, it has probably been about three months since I’ve subjected my feet to shoes and socks. They were like two disgruntled old men bickering over being submerged in the nether regions of sneakers. Blisters formed within an hour of walking around town before I even ascended the hill.
I didn’t think to put sunscreen on and could feel the rays lapping at my face and sternum. I stopped a few times to take in the view as it only got better the higher up the hill I walked. The river running through town braided in and out of itself and the surrounding earth rose to peaks wearing clouds like baseball caps.
I reached the tourist information center just in time to see that it was closed for lunch. I stood a little crestfallen, staring at the door as if sheer will would make the employee appear and speak with me about hiking. I thought of all the opening shifts at restaurants I’ve had where eager customers waited outside, hands cupped to window, watching you like you’re in a freak circus floor mopping show. I shuddered thinking I didn’t want to be “that girl” at the tourist information center. Fraught with swollen, angry feet (the two disgruntled old men now angrily seething in their confines) and knowing my skin was starting to roast on the slow sun spit, I sat on a bench in the shade to rest. A smile broke at the corners of my mouth as I thought of that trite saying. Something like it’s not the destination but the journey. A sunburn, some blisters, a sweeping vista… and my destination was closed. It didn’t really matter though; the view alone was worth it, banished blistered feet in sneakers, fire truck red face, and all.