Valle del Anton is a sleepy town in Central Panama that is located in the crater of a volcano. It’s small yet quaint, and everywhere you look you are surrounded by verdant mountains. Having arrived rather late the previous evening, we all woke up bright and early to start exploring.
Clayton and I were staying Casa Mariposa, an adorable bed and breakfast that doubled as a sloth rescue mission. Our guest house overlooked luscious gardens, which included everything from a fancy veranda with hammocks to chicken coops. Our room was painted with scenes of butterflies and birds – a little paradise in the valley. Alas, our first experience that morning was being unable to find the guest house keys. We tore the room, the rental car, and our bags apart. To this day, they remain missing, but luckily the owners were incredibly friendly and understanding of the frazzled Americans and we were able to easily compensate them for the lost keys.
We met up with Zach and Christine for breakfast at Dos Hermanos, a small restaurant on the main road where we enjoyed simple eggs and vegetables with our coffee. We had to get a move on since Christine was catching the bus back to Panama City that afternoon, so we headed back to the B&B to get the car to head on our hike. Luckily, when we stopped by to get the car, a sloth was out. Ursula, one of the owners, happily educated us on sloths and let us hang out with the little guy. He came to the rescue house when he was quite young, so wouldn’t be released out into the wild since he was too brave to survive out there. For example, he had no problem with climbing down to the ground to get to a particular juicy bush, but in the wild, sloths are incredibly vulnerable on the ground and only go to the forest floor once a week to go to the bathroom. Ursula let us pet him, and I was shocked at how soft his fur was! He even grabbed onto my finger, and I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at the incredible grip he demonstrated. Sloths have an amazing amount of strength in their claws!
Our sloth visit over, we piled into the car and headed off to find the start of our planned hike. Some of the mountains overlooking Valle del Anton are famous for looking like a sleeping girl, and they are known as “ La India Dormida”, or the Sleeping Indian Girl. The legend is of a chieftain’s daughter who fell in love with a Spanish soldier. A strong fighter of her tribe fell for her, and when she did not return his love, he leapt to his death from the mountaintops. The chieftain’s daughter left her home in sorrow for the grief that she caused, weeping for her fate and never seeing her own true love again. She fell dead when looking back to the mountains where she had been born, and the mountains were so touched by the sad story they formed the shape of the girl.
The hike was reputed to have beautiful views and we were excited to get started, but being Panama, it was incredibly difficult to find the entrance. Our GPS took us in pothole-riddled circles until we found the entrance. We parked the car and walked up through a series of empty booths. Clearly this place was far more busy on the weekend, and had all the infrastructure for vendors to sell their wares. Being a Tuesday, it was pretty empty. We paid our small fee to enter the trail, picked up some maps, and headed up the mountain.
Having rained the day before, the trail was a cascade of mud and slippery rocks. Watching our footing carefully, we were still able to enjoy the rich forest sights, sounds, and smells. The trail went straight up the mountain, and to the left was a long series of waterfalls, all swollen due to the rains. Sun-dappled vegetation came with the soundtrack of the constant buzz of insects and waterfalls; music to the eyes and ears. The first spot of note we passed were the petroglyphs, or La Piedra Pintada. These petroglyphs date back thousands and thousands of years, to the Pre-Columbian era. No one knows for sure what they mean, but plenty of people have their own theories.
We passed a French tour group on the way up, and after struggling pathetically through so much Spanish, it was a delight to speak to people in a language I could actually understand. They helped us with a fork in the road, but as we encountered several more unmarked splits, we had to rely on the reviews that all said keep left (as dubious as the left seemed to look) as well as sheer luck.
After much huffing and puffing, we made it to the top. The views were breathtaking – we could see out across the entire valley, which was the crater of the volcano, and the strong winds buffeted us soundly as we enjoyed the view. The landscape looked straight out of a fantasy, and due to the shape of the valley, all sorts of sounds traveled up to us and felt like they were coming from just feet away. Dogs barking, children laughing, chickens clucking, music beating. The trail itself continued for several miles, all along the sleeping Indian girl’s bust and back, but we would turn to go back the way we came. But not before enjoying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cold one! The adrenaline of reaching the top seemed to set in, and general shenanigans were had before heading back down the mountain.
Before we reached the end of our trek, we decided to swim at one of the waterfalls. Needing to change into a swimsuit, I found what I thought was a secluded place off the trail, but clearly it was well known to local children, as I quickly found out. Nothing like standing in the middle of the Panamanian cloud forest with strategically placed towels and feeling like a total fool. Luckily, I managed to maintain dignity and privacy after that, and all of us appropriately attired, we hopped into the refreshingly cold water. Mustering up some courage (some needing to dig deeper than others… cough ME cough), we took turns jumping off the waterfall into the pool. I must have looked the most hesitant, because I surfaced to the sound of several strangers clapping for my success along with our little friend group.
Back in town, we bid goodbye to Christine after enjoying some chai tea lattes from a coffee shop. How very millennial of us. Zach, Clayton, and I then slowly meandered our way to a well-reviewed Incan restaurant for dinner, Camino Del Inca. The menu listed several pricey dishes, but due to Zach’s keen eye when perusing the reviews, we knew to ask for the fish of the day platter. For less than $5 each, we were delighted with enormous platters of melt-in-your-mouth fish, rice, beans, and salad, and a glass of pineapple juice.
Bellies full, we walked off the decadence-overload by exploring a bit more of the tiny downtown. The sun was setting, which meant that things were closing down. Still, I was able to look through a few vendor stalls. We shared a papaya batido (milkshake), then called it a night. Clayton and I spent our last bits of energy enjoying the sounds of the forest from the hammocks in the B&B garden, imagining the lives of the sloths.
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