Date: Monday, 13 December 2010 05:24 PST
Subject: Greetings from El Valle, Panama
Captions for Pictures:
1. View as we climbed up the road – note the Pacific Ocean in the background
2. Papaya trees at the farm
3. The Sunday market
4. Stream along our hike
5. One of the petroglyphs that we saw
6. Orchids at the garden
7. Golden frog behind glass at the zoo
When last we wrote we were in Panama City making do with the extreme weather and the havoc it was reaping on our plans. We were notified on Saturday morning that the other activity that we had booked prior to leaving the US, national park rain forest hiking and river rafting, was also canceled because of the rain storms of the preceding few days. So we spent that afternoon making inquires about other possible day trip options. The one that was the most interesting and had the fewest weather issues was a trip to the town of El Valle. Located about 70 miles north of Panama City, it is in the highlands of Panama and sits in the valley crater of one of the largest extinct volcanoes in the world.
To get there we set off from our B&B with our guide / driver and two others from Canada also staying at our hotel. We drove down the four lane Inter-American section of the Pan-American Highway, crossing the Bridge of the Americas over the entrance to the Panama Canal, and heading north through increasingly hilly terrain. We passed several small towns and turnoffs to Pacific resorts over the next 95 km until we reached the road to El Valle. The guide explained that the town and surrounding valley is a popular getaway for Panama City dwellers, due to the cooler temperatures. Some wealthy Panamanians have vacation homes here.
For the next 27 km we wound up a narrow two lane road going higher into the hills. We made stops at a pottery studio where they built clay ovens for the homes in the area and at a papaya farm in which we saw different varieties of trees. We reached the market at about 11am and it was in full swing. There was a food section, comprised of fruits and vegetables, and a great craft section with many local artisans selling pottery and jewelry.
We bought a few items and then headed for a cool hike in the misty rain along a stream to see some petroglyphs. A native teenager explained each drawing while our guide translated. It was time for a lunch break and we ate at a local cafe and I enjoyed arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and fried plantains. The valley had many other attractions to see and our group chose to visit the orchid gardens and small zoo over attractions such as thermal pools and waterfall hiking. The orchid gardens were beautiful, even though very few flowers were blooming.
The zoo had many birds, some monkeys, a few mammals and a frog section. Within this section was a golden frog display. This animal is severely endangered and native to the El Valle area. It was amazing to see it since it is so colorful. The rain, misting almost the entire day, stayed with us as we made our way down the hill in the mid afternoon.
We returned back to Panama City just before sunset and bid the others in our group goodbye. We then capped off the day with a great Chinese dinner downtown. We fly home Monday afternoon.
In all, this trip was a great introduction to the country. Although Panama is only about the size of South Carolina I can see there are many things to do. With more than half of the 3.4 million population living along the canal corridor, the rest of the country is very rural and pristine. Things did not go our way with our planning and the subsequent weather issues; however we still had a wonderful time and in fact have a greater desire to return to try out the activities that we missed this time around.