We woke up Thursday morning to strong winds blowing through the valley of Boquete. Trees whipped back and forth, waving at us as we fought headwinds to walk to Sugar and Spice, a bustling breakfast joint on the main road. The pastry selection was overwhelming in the best way possible, and after enjoying a hearty breakfast outside while holding down our cups and napkins, we purchased some guava pastries for a snack later.
Our itinerary that day was to fly – zipline, that is – through the cloud forests. Between Clayton’s fear of heights and my fear of pretty much everything, the wind didn’t do much to lessen our apprehension. But this looked like an experience that could not be missed, so we would brave the elements and our reservations.
We checked in at the meet up point downtown and soon were on a bus up the impossibly steep roads of the mountains. We stopped every now and then to pick up more adventurers. I could already tell why this enterprise was so highly recommended – the guides were friendly and professional, spoke impeccable English, and the shuttle was comfortable despite the numerous potholes and sharp turns. The open air cabin gave us great view of the valley and the volcano opposite, imposing in its stillness and grandeur as we climbed higher and higher. The verdant scenery was laced with brightly colored plants, flowers, and birds. Some lonely trees in the center of the valley were competing with the mountains for height, and towered over the valleys to impossible heights.
Our shuttle bumped and shook over the dirt road on the approach to Boquete Tree Treks. The resort was rather fancy, and seemed to be doing pretty well for itself. Other adventure tours you could take included walking over the hanging bridges and some bird watching tours. I found myself looking at the bird-watchers enviously as they meandered to the start of their trail, most decidedly all on the ground. Our zipline guides instructed us all to go to the bathroom, stating it was a rule. I suspect they have had some incidents in the past, given their tone and firmness in the instruction. We were then strapped into our gear and had a safety instruction on a mini-zipline just outside the lodge. They threw a bunch of safety information at us, which is when my nerves started really creeping in. Two guides gave the instructions simultaneously, one speaking English and one speaking Spanish. Another guide demonstrated on the small zipline behind them, perfectly timed to match what the others were saying. He demonstrated how braking incorrectly could result in lost fingers, and my eyes were wide.
We trooped back into the shuttle to go further up the mountain. I could see some ziplines high up in the skies as we climbed. As we were let off the shuttle, we stopped for a group picture then headed down the Fungi Trail, much to Clayton’s delight. His delight was short-lived however, as soon we were at the start of the first zipline, and he was first to go. I watched Clayton disappear into the treetops, and then it was my turn.
The guides don’t give you any time to think, which is decidedly a good thing. They clip your harness into the zipline, tell you to tuck in your legs, give you a slight push, and off you go. Suddenly, I was flying.
It’s unlike anything I’ve felt before. Time slows down, but everything happens so fast. I flew past the treetops, clutching on to my harness and bravely looking down to the ground below. I was shockingly high, and it was exhilarating. All the nervousness and fear I had before was gone. This feeling of weightlessness and speed amidst the beauty of the cloud forests was completely worth it. As I quickly neared the end of the line and received the signal from the guide at the other end, I grabbed the zipline (behind where my harness connected – keeping my hand, thanks) to start the mechanical braking process. Everything was way more intuitive than I thought it would be, which was appreciated. The last chance to turn back was after that first zipline, but after that adrenaline rush, there was no way I would quit.
The guides get you off one line and onto another with practiced ease, and with their clipping system, you’re never disconnected from a zipline or safety line even in transfer. They are true pros, and chat with you with ease. One guide asked where I was from, and I became “Washington” to all the guides the rest of the way down, as they remembered us from platform to platform. Every few platforms, the entire group would gather as the guides would zipline ahead of us to position themselves on the next few platforms. We listened to the whir of the ziplines as they transmitted sound from down the lines. The guides clearly knew how cool they looked, with dark sunglasses, whooping and shouting at each other as they danced down the ziplines, flipping upside down and backwards for the thrill of it.
Soon, the ziplines were more exposed from the treetops, and you could see way farther down to the valley floor and out across the valley to the mountains beyond. The resort and river were so far below, the people seemed like ants. I felt temporarily immune to any fear of heights by the end of it, and the adrenaline pumping through my veins left my breathless for more.
We ended back at the resort, all of us aglow and slightly damp from the misty rain that had begun near the end. The guides showed us pictures they had snapped during the event. No one can take their own pictures, as it would be foolish to bring cameras or phones – I can’t imagine how many would be dropped. Clayton and I enjoyed our guava pastries as we waited for the bus ride back down the mountain, completely exhilarated and feeling like we could do anything.
The rest of our day in Boquete was tame in comparison, but relaxing. My search for a molas coin purse proved fruitless (molas being the traditional handmade textile from the Guna indigenous tribe of Panama), but I found a cute little sloth carved from palm ivory instead. We ate at The Fish House, a quiet restaurant next to a stream, enjoying fish fried with yucca crust and of course, patacones, the smashed and fried plantains that are my favorite replacement for french fries. Feeling we’d been a bit too decadent, we worked it off by walking up a mountain next to the town in search of an old aqueduct, rumored to have great views of the valley. The aqueduct itself was underwhelming, but the view was anything but. We enjoyed the sunset views, then asked a passing local if the narrow path next to it was a shortcut down the mountain, not wanting to risk the road again in the fading light. (Thank you, Google Translate, yet again). Old stone steps led us down the steep mountain, and we passed by many houses tucked away from the main tourist drag. We were greeted by dogs, chickens, and elders relaxing on porches.
Still feeling full from lunch, we rounded out our evening with coffee next to the river, overlooking a bridge next to flower gardens rivaling Amsterdam. Unable to resist the call of sweets, we shared a surprisingly delicious soursop gelato and called it a successful day.