Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Volcan Baru, Panam City, and Changing Plans...again!

Sunrise from the top of Volcan Baru, an absolutely amazing sight.

The climb up Volcan Baru was an interesting experience to say the least. On the one hand, it was a bit of a let down as the climb itself was not very challenging. Essentially, you walk up a long, steep dirt road. The thing is wide enough to drive a souped up four wheel drive truck on. I prefer hiking up trails that are a bit wild and difficult to climb, it makes me feel more as if I am out in nature as opposed to simply walking up a poorly maintained access road.

Also, the climb up I could not see much as it was so foggy and it began raining about a quarter of the way up the mountain. That combined with the effort of walking the 10 miles to the summit carrying my heavy pack resulted in me being drenched with rain and sweat within the first few kilometers. On a clear day you can see all kinds of wild life including the Mayan bird of paradise, called a Quetzal. I think I saw one fly by me, but it was so misty I am not certain. At any rate, a large bird buzzed by me as I climbed the volcano.

While the technical aspect of walking up the mountain may not have been challenging, the physical challenge of ascending the Volcano was very tough. Once I hit the 10,000 foot mark, I really began to feel the elevation. I would have to stop every few hundred meters to catch my breath. My pack held up well though, allowing me to carry the heavy load in relative comfort (although I was far from comfortable!). I brought far more water than I needed, as it was so cold and wet for the majority of the climb my body did not need nearly as much fluids as I had thought it would. While carrying the extra weight of the water was annoying, I would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Once I began to approach the summit, the temperature began to drop rapidly. I had on pants, a jacket, and a beanie, but my hands and face still began to go numb. The summit itself was enjoyable as it requires you to actually climb up a cliff face (although as far as rock climbing goes it was not a very long or challenging climb, but it was still fun). At the very top of the volcano I had an unrestricted view in 360 degrees of....clouds! That evening when I made it to the top, it was so cloudy I couldn't see more than a few feet, which was rather disappointing. So, I pitched my tent and settled in for a freezing cold evening.

The next morning after a cold and sleepless night, I woke up feeling that I may have made a bad decision in climbing the volcano. I began to eat breakfast and pack up camp when the sun began to creep up over the horizon and with it came the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. I was lucky in that it was a clear morning and I could see all the way to the horizon in every direction. I was at the highest point in Panama and in one field of view I could see Panama, Costa Rica, the Caribbean and the Pacific. It was amazing. It did not last long though, as within an hour, the clouds came rolling back in and covered everything. I was looking down at the clouds, which was a surreal feeling.

After enjoying the views and feeling good in the end about my climb, I headed back down the mountain, another 10 miles and 8,000 feet of elevation loss. I swear, hiking downhill is more uncomfortable than hiking uphill. Your knees hurt so much more on the descent than the ascent.

At the bottom, the cab that was meant to be waiting for me was not there, so I had to walk another two and a half miles towards town before a cab passed me and picked me up. That was annoying to say the least.

At the bottom, ready to tackle the Volcano.

A view in the beggining before the rain set in.

The hike would have been beautiful if you could have seen much of it. This was one of the more visible areas.

Soaking wet!

This is the caldera of the volcano, sine it is not active, there is not much to see.

The hike to the summit was much more enjoyable.

This is the very top of the summit, someone dragged a huge cross up here, that took some serious dedication.
Me on the summit. Freezing, and wet!

The Carribbean.

The Pacific.

Looking back to Costa Rica.

Sleepy eyed in the early morning.

The sunrise was fantastic.

This is where the offical trail ends, but to reach the summit, you have to climb a lot further and gain a great deal more elevation.

This is all I could see after the clouds came in in the morning.

On the way back down!

After I got back down from the volcano, I rested for a day and then took off for Panama City. There, I ran into a bunch of friends from Bocas. We also hooked up with some new buddies and a group of us went on a hike around the city and then went to check out the panama Canal. The Canal is a pretty incredible sight to see. The way they move these enormous boats through the series of locks, raising and lowering them, is quite a marvel. The process is slow, but it saves the boats vast amounts of money and resources. The country is currently expanding the Canal to double its capacity, but we were told it would still not be enough to meet the worlds shipping needs.

Jake from Alaska, Tamarah, Heather and Jeff from Canada, and two friends from England and America that I can not remember your names, sorry guys, I am terrible about that.

Making our way down the trail.
Panama City, it looks so western from a distance.

Jeff and I sporting some Panama hats. They actually are really cool hats.

One of the locks at the Panama Canal.

This boat paid 314,000 dollars to pass through the Canal, but it saved over 2 million by not going around South America.

Some of the guys on the boat, they obviosuly were not too excited to go through the canal.
Before the lower the boat down to pass through the lock.

After they lower the boat down to pass through to the next lock. It was pretty amazing to see them move these massive boats.

Panama city itself is a strange place. It looks so American full of sky scrapers and malls filled with goods from all over the world, but it is totally Latin. The streets are filled with such an incredible variety of people. Everything from dark skinned Caribbeans, Mestizos, Europeans and Westerners, to Maya and Kuna Indians in traditional dress. Everywhere you hear Latin music and street vendors sell everything from panama hats to fried chicken (which is delicious here). You have to alwasy be on th elookout for hustlers here too, as they are very good and very common. The contrasts are pretty incredible and it makes for an exciting place. Plus, it is a very cheap city to stay in. You can get a huge meal for $1.50 and stay in a hostel like mine for 7 bucks a night.

Speaking of excitement, there has been quite a bit of it since we have been here. Panama city is definitely not the safest place in the world. The first night I arrived, a girl staying at our hostel working for the peace corp. was mugged and robbed just outside of the hostel by a group of thugs. She was OK, shaken up and scared, but not seriously hurt. The next day Jake and I went to get my hair cut at an outdoor barber shop, when we heard a gunshot and then saw a man running from a soldier. The man looked like he was going to get away when a guy standing close to where I was getting my hair cut dropped his shoulder and just leveled the guy that was running with a tackle that would have made an NFL linebacker proud, then pulled a gun out of his pants and held it to the running man's head. When the soldier caught up to the running man he smacked the hell out of him and then put him in cuffs and dragged him off. The barber cutting my hair barely even paused in his work! All the guys hanging out at the barber shop (it seemed to be a good place to hang out with the locals) didn't even think twice about it!

I thought it was pretty exciting to be honest, but in retrospect it was pretty crazy, not something you would see too often back home.

As for the change in my plans, I was meant to be on a boat heading to Cartegena, Colombia today, but I was invited to come and hang out in a town called Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, with the Candains I met here in Panama City and after some deliberation, I decided to go. I have more time than money, and no place I need to be so I figured why not. They were fun people so I will go up and enjoy a week or so of hanging out and seeing the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, which I had not seen when I was there. And also, Jake and his traveling companion Jeanie, who is working Bocas del Toro, will be coming through that area as well as will Alon from Israel. They are super fun too and we all get along well, so it will be nice to hang out with the friends I have made here a bit longer before pulling up roots and heading south.


Lisa in Louisiana said...

What a great blog entry! Thank you for all the photos!!! especially of the Panama Canal.

hey - enjoy your flexibility to be able to change your plans on a whim - remember what a luxury that is . . .

and besides, inquiring minds want to know what the Carribean side of things are like!

Sacha Griffin said...

Thank god they repainted the cross, it was looking kinda sketchy in early 2008. I agree, the walk up from boquete, is almost not worth it. Nothing to see almost the whole way. But from the other side, it's extremely cool.
Here are some shots from my journey.