Just after Christmas, our first visitors from the US arrived in Panama City. My niece, Shelley, and her friend Jenna flew in from the San Francisco Bay Area. I had arranged for a driver to pick them up at the airport, take them to their hotel, then take them touring around Panama City and the Panama Canal. Since they arrived in the morning, all this was accomplished in one (long) day.
The next morning, Shelley and Jenna (S&J) hopped on a plane and flew to Bocas del Toro, a province on the Caribbean side of Panama that contains numerous little islands. They were going to spend 2 nights in Bocas. Tina had been to Bocas just a few months before, with some friends, so she decided not to go this time. I took a shuttle van from Boquete (so Tina would have the car to use), over the mountains, to meet S&J in Bocas. [If you look down from the map pin, near the bottom, you'll see Boquete. You can zoom out to see Panama City, to the right on the map.] The weather was not cooperative: it rained during the whole drive to Bocas (about 3.5 hours). I then took a water taxi out to the main island (fortunately, not in the rain), where we all would be staying. S&J had booked a nice little B&B for their lodging and I was staying in a small apartment, just a few blocks away.
Our primary activity in Bocas was to be a snorkeling & sightseeing boat trip around the islands. However, the on-and-off rain threatened to wash out those plans. It was iffy the next morning - the only day we could go for our tour. I had contacted a captain we met on a previous trip, to arrange a tour for us. He was standing by for our decision. We decided to go for it and we met the captain and his small boat at the docks for a private excursion for the 3 of us. It turned out to be a good decision. Although there were a few periods of light showers, when we were out of the boat snorkeling or exploring a beach, it was sunny and beautiful. [For more Bocas del Toro pictures, see these posts: 2 Trips and Beat the Deadline (December 2015), Bocas del Toro Adventure - Part 2 and Bocas del Toro Adventure - Part 3]
The next morning (Thursday), the 3 of us took the water taxi, then the shuttle van to Boquete. S&J stayed with us for the next 5 days and we had planned a full agenda. On Friday morning, we piled on our SUV and headed up the mountain (Baru Volcano, to be exact). It took about an hour to get to our first destination, the town of Volcan. We stopped in at a small animal sanctuary, to see a sample of some local wildlife. These included an ocelot (looks like a small leopard) and some coatimundis (ring-tailed mammals in the racoon family). We have a coatimundi that makes regular visits to the back of our condo building (along the canyon) to pick up fruit put out by our neighbors.
We continued on up the mountain, about as far as the paved road goes, to a small town called Cerro Punta. This area is famous for growing lots of vegetables and they are shipped all over Panama. The town is at about 6,500 feet in elevation and the weather is much cooler than where we live. We visited a botanical farm known as Finca Dracula (Dracula Farm). It is famous for its orchids and gets its name from the so-called Dracula Orchid. We took a tour of the amazing variety of orchids and other plants they have cultivated. As you view the pictures, look for the "faces" in some of the orchids. Pretty funny!
The next day was New Year's Eve, so we wanted to keep things fairly low-key, since we knew we'd be staying up late. We had booked a tour of a local coffee farm, called Finca Dos Jefes (Two Bosses Farm). I am not a coffee drinker (never have been) but Tina, Shelley and Jenna are all coffee fans. I thought it would be interesting to see how coffee goes from farm to cup, since it's a big part of the local economy. It turns out the owner of the coffee farm is an expat from Berkeley, California (a Cal Bears fan). He gave our small group (about 10 of us) quite a lesson in the coffee industry, past and present, including the economics, politics, and cultural aspects. Although the weather was a little rainy, we also walked around the farm and saw the various stages of coffee production. The process is much more complex than you might imagine. At the end of the tour, the owner roasted up a batch of coffee - the final step in the processing of the coffee beans.
That night we were treated to an impressive fireworks display from the hotel/restaurant that is in our development. We had a great viewing location on our balcony. Our location also allowed us to look down over the city of David, where there appeared to be hundreds of small (home-based) fireworks displays going off. It looked like a sea of paparazzi with their flashes going off. Happy New Year!
One of the options that was open on New Year's Day for us to visit was Boquete Tree Trek. It's a small resort up in the mountains, just outside Boquete. Zip lines are the biggest attraction at the resort and they also have hiking trails with suspension bridges, cabins for overnight accommodations, a restaurant, and more. The road getting up to Tree Trek is formidable. Although some brave souls dare to drive their own vehicles up there, we opted to take the large, specially outfitted free shuttle vehicle from Boquete. The drive up and back was a major part of the adventure - I would not consider trying it myself. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperative again, so once we were there, Tina and I opted to stay and hang out in the restaurant. S&J decided to go on the "swinging bridges" hiking tour. From the patio of the restaurant, I could see some of the zip lines and watch the flying bodies cross the open expanses. Looked like fun.
We saved the best Boquete adventure for the last full day that Shelley and Jenna were with us. We had booked a whitewater rafting trip for Monday (Jan 2nd). We arrived in Boquete about 8:00am and the four of us piled into a shuttle van for the hour and a half trip up to a river near the Costa Rica border. We were told there were others that would join us at the river but they were in separate vans. This time, the weather was cooperative: beautiful and sunny.
Once the guides had inflated the rafts, we donned our rafting apparatus and prepared to take on the river (and do whatever our guide said to do). The four of us had our own raft and there were 2 other rafts with additional adventurers. For obvious reasons, I didn't have my camera with me, so I wasn't able to capture any pictures of the beautiful scenery. One of the guides took a few pictures with his camera along the way. The rafting was fun and the whitewater sections challenging - definitely got the adrenaline up. All four of us managed to stay IN the raft the entire trip but just barely. We had a very memorable and tiring day - a great way to wrap up the visit.
We took Shelley & Jenna to the airport in David the next afternoon. They took the short flight to Panama City and spent the night in a hotel near the airport. The next morning, they flew back to San Francisco. We had a great time hosting them and playing tour guide. It gave us a reason to do things we had yet to do since we've been here. The guest room is now unoccupied. Who's next?