Sunday, October 11, 2009

Boquete, Panama

We headed inland to Boquete, Panama mid-November and landed at the Pension Marilos after a full day of travel. We ended up taking the one room they had left which was a single with a shared bathroom, thinking we would move the next day when a double opened up. Well, we found the twin bed cozy and we loved the room and the price ($6/night), so we ended up moving in and staying for a month. It's like home. There is a female parrot named Ricki who has fallen in love with Mark and has sworn off Michelle as her mortal enemy. It's pretty funny watching Ricki alternate between making sweet love purring noises to Mark, and chasing after Michelle to bite her toes--cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West when Michelle dances out of reach.

As soon as we arrived we met a gal named Lorie from Oregon who had the same problem with Ricki dating back years to when she and her husband and son stayed at the pension while they built their home in Boquete. Ricki fell for the husband and son and to this day remains an enemy of Lorie, even though she hasn't been back to Boquete for years! Lorie invited us up to their lovely home on a small coffee plantation in the hills above Boquete.

We´ve made a lot of great friends here because the word has gotten out about
Pension Marilos and some incredible people visit. One of our new friends Miri, from Israel, gave us a keychain to carry during our trip. The keychain, a "Hamsa", is in the shape of a hand and has a Traveler´s Prayer for a Safe Journey inscribed in Hebrew on the back and the Libra scales on the front (Michelle's sign). This keychain was originally given to Miri by her Mother so it meant even more to us that she passed it on. It was one of those very special moments of our journey. The prayer loosely translates as this:

Lead us in peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and cause us to reach our desired destination in life, joy, and peace. Save us from every enemy, ambush, and hurt, and from robbers and wild beasts along the way, and from all kinds of punishments that visit and trouble the world. Bless the work of our hands and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us, and bestow upon us abundant kindness and hearken to the voice of our prayer.
A couple of weeks ago we learned about a community meeting which centered around strengthening a chapter of the Red Cross here in northern Panama. We attended and met a large group of people who are deeply involved in local projects from literacy programs to organic hydroponic gardening. The next day we found ourselves at an orphanage. Mark played soccer with the older kids while Michelle played with the younger kids. It was amazing watching the children light up after receiving just a little bit of love and affection. What an adventure!

We lucked out with a gorgeous day for a hike in the hills above Boquete. We were the only hikers for miles and on our way back we met a guy named Lazaro who had a small house and some property deep in the hills. He invited us to his home and showed us his beautiful gardens and told us the name of each species of plant he was lovingly growing. Mark´s experience in landscaping and gardening helped him recognize a lot of the different varieties of flowers and at the end of our tour Lazaro welcomed us to come back to his home to visit and stay the night any time.

There is a pastry shop in town named Sugar & Spice which is run by a guy from Canada named Shawn and his lovely wife Ada from Colombia. They are a fun couple and they invited us to come learn how to bake. Mark took him up on his offer and went off to bake sweet treats for several afternoons. He learned the art of making cakes and muffins: carrot, ginger, chocolate, oatmeal raisin... ¡What fun! Mark to the right is ready to dig into the delicious Lemon-Ginger Muffin after having baked it!

We also received an impromptu class in jewelry making given by a gal named Maria Elena. She offered to teach us how to make earrings and she came to our pension with all of her beads and gave us a free class. Maria Elena believes that jewelry making can open doors into communities. She taught us that we can make simple designs to give or to sell for very little to indigenous people and that we can easily teach others how to make jewelry. We enjoyed it so much that we went to the 'city' to look for more beads a few days later. We bought a pair of jewelry making pliers and we are ready to open for business.

What else.... Oh yes, Mark also took a massage class (just in time for my birthday, yay!) where he learned about the muscles in the face and back and how to pamper those muscles.

Before leaving Boquete we knew we simply had to climb Volcán Ba which hovers over the valley. Volcán Barú is 11,400 feet and is a 10 mile steep uphill grunt from the trailhead. We made it up in 5 1/2 hours and camped just short of the summit so we could get up early to watch the sunrise. Because Panama is a narrow country it is possible to view both the Pacific and the Caribbean from the summit and we had heard that the view was spectacular. We got a bit of rain that night but we got up at 4:45am anyhow with the hopes that the sunrise would help blow out the cloud cover. It didn´t... But it was very beautiful all the same. There were fields of delicate wildflowers of all shapes, sizes, and colors littering the slopes. Downhill was relentless and steep and our knees were screaming by the time we reached the road to town. We hoped to hitch a ride back to Boquete because it´s another 7 miles or so beyond the trailhead to town... Have you heard of 'The Road Less Travelled'? Well, this is it. We did finally hitch a ride with some fabulous local guys who immediately became our new best friends.

So, our advice to those who head up this particular volcano..... Check the weather.

What we loved the most about hiking the volcano is that we were able to summit a volcano for Mark´s birthday in Guatemala and for my birthday in Panama. How amazing is that! When we began this journey we were certain we´d be home by now and Mark would be in grad school. We´ll never forget this year.

That sums up our month in Boquete up to yesterday which was my 40th birthday. ¡Woo Hoo! Mark made certain that my birthday was romantic, amazing, and fun. He even sang a Bryan Adams karaoke tune for me and I cried. It was so sweet and I loved it! He got the loudest applause out of anyone. ¡What a rock star! Here's a clip from it.

I don´t know how he did it but Mark also surprised me with a massage. I actually thought we were going hiking and we ended up at a house where Mark said we were going to take a pottery class... The next thing I knew I was getting a massage. Definitely what the doctor ordered after Volcán Barú. Lovely.

During my massage Mark wandered out back to sit by the river and study. He found a bag of toxic chemicals and unfolded it carefully in order to read the bag (which warned that it would kill anything and everything). Just from touching this bag which had been washed downriver, Mark became lightheaded and dizzy for the entire afternoon. The bag actually stated that there is no antidote along with other horrific warnings including "toxic to fish".....we still can't believe this was in a stream! There is a lot of agriculture in this watershed and much of the coffee and vegetables for exportation and local consumption are grown here.

On a different note..... we´re heading back to Costa Rica to crash my brother and sister-in-law´s romantic 10th anniversary vacation without the kids. We knew they would be heading down but we thought we´d be in South America by the time they got here so we were sure we´d miss them. Fortunately, all the stars aligned and we are only a few short hours from Uvita, Costa Rica where they will be staying. I can´t believe we get to see Kevin and Amy! We are both crazy excited to see them and I´m sure we´ll give them a LITTLE time alone...

Hello to all our family and friends. We love you and miss you and will update you all again soon. Thanks for all the comments and emails.

Love Always,

Mark & Michelle


  1. So, Panama is a whole month ahead of California.... Crazy!

  2. Thanks for the update! Glad to hear the road goes on forever and the party never ends. I'm looking forward to seeing you two soon (I hope? is Redding in the future?).

    Safe travels,

  3. What a great entry! I have a feeling, it will be extremely hard for you to get back to so-called Western civilization. You are living the adventure so many people can only dream of. Markie, your soccer, gardening, singing from your past sure come in handy. What a fun clip of you, singing for Michelle! And the many people you meet. All hospitable and friendly. Obviously, you as a couple exude love, trust, strength. People anywhere in the world are attracted to that. And the new skills you are learning, from baking, jewelry making to massage and who knows what else. Way more than just learning to speak the language. You guys are truly on a life's journey. What happened to the toxic bag? Aaron and I send you love and may God listen to your Hamsa and keep you both safe, at all times.