Sunday 26 to Wednesday 29 April
Boquete was a stark contrast to the concrete and glass of Panama City and an opportunity to experience some tropical forests and local coffee.
Our first stop, after an early morning flight and an hour’s drive in a hire car, was a coffee shop. Here we got the best advice for our visit: ‘take any of the roads out of Boquete into the mountains. They all loop and come back here’.
So after ridding ourselves of our luggage, that is just what we did.
Boquete is in a valley surrounded by extinct volcanoes. It is very much cooler than Panama City and a perfect climate for growing coffee.
We drove north-west on the road to La Amistad National Park, coming across narrow stretches of road lined with the most beautiful flowering plants imaginable. This road took us past the small waterfall Cascada San Ramon, over quaint bridges and past many farms of coffee, bananas, sugar, onions and so on, and back into town, as promised.
We then tried the road to the east, more beautiful, winding up and down the steep volcanic hills of Palo Alto and Montana Verde. We simply couldn’t get lost. Every road looped around back into town.
Our car was a Kia. Bruce was happy enough with its driving capabilities, but for some reason the dash is extraordinarily high and there was no seat adjustment, so as we drove over some of the steeper hills the road simply disappeared from sight.
That aside, we spent our time in Boquete exploring the beautiful flower lined roads. The weather turned cool and damp. The thunder boomed and the dark clouds made an amazing backdrop to the volcanoes.
We stopped by a coffee shop and met our first coati. They are a type of racoon, famous for their love of stolen food. This young lady wandered into the kitchen of the coffee shop, looking for treats.
We took a coffee farm tour at Fina dos Jefes (Farm of the two bosses). This farm is small, just 6 or 7 hectares, owned and managed by Americans who live locally. I don’t think they knew much about coffee when they started, and they certainly don’t make squillions from the coffee beans they grow, dry, roast and sell. The coffee farm tours are their major source of income. For this reason, I suspect, they have tried to keep their farm as organic as possible and dry the beans naturally by lying them out on racks in the sun. This kind of farming certainly pulls at the heartstrings of the visitors.
After learning about various varieties of Arabic coffee trees and the bugs and fungi that like them, we were treated to an exercise in roasting coffee beans, and of course a tasting exercise. Tasting coffee is not quite as complex as tasting wine with only about 30 distinct flavours to relate to. Coffee tasters are called ‘cuppers’ and the way they taste the coffee is unrelated to how we drink it, using a small bowl and a spoon.
Gary, our guide, told us they were proud of their consistent 91 point score for their coffee, although one of the local growers had managed a perfect score of 100 for his geisha variety of coffee.
Coffee is big all through Central America and we are looking forward to more tasting experiences.
The farm employs local Indians who undoubtedly know more about growing coffee beans than their bosses. They are paid well enough to survive the seasonal ups and downs of the industry. Our guide proudly told us that one of the employees is putting himself through college with the assistance of the owners. He works hard during the picking season of November to March and his wife sells coffee they roast and grind from the lower grade beans that his employer gives him.
Our guide finished his tour by shouting us all a beer, and it tasted good after our coffee roasting exercise.
We also took a hike. The previous afternoon we had driven to the forest with a view to walk but the rain started and we didn’t fancy managing wet clothes and slippery tracks. This day was drier and we chose the Escondida walk to see the waterfall.
The waterfall was a disappointment but the 2 hour walk there and back was delightful, in a forest full of flowers and birds. Did we see the elusive quetzal? I really don’t know. I managed a very poor photo of an appropriately coloured bird hiding in the bushes. Nice to think that perhaps it ‘was one’.