Shake Your Tail Feather

Knock Knock @ Pipeline Trail, Boquete

We pulled away from Puerto Jimenez and the crazed Costa Rican supporters in a small ferry boat and were on our way to Panama. We had decided to leave reasonably early that morning to give ourselves most of the day in Boquete, Panama, to explore and get to see the village. It was only a short boat then bus to the border, an hour and a half tops, then once we were over the border, it was an easy one hour maximum bus to David, the second largest city in Panama, change bus and an hour to Boquete. In total, we should be arriving around lunch time.

That was as long as the systems were working on the Panama border, which, shockingly, they were not. We showed up after breezing through Costa Rican border control, which was more of a shed with a hand painted sign, to find a decent sized queue and a Tica bus waiting. Everyone seemed to be holding photo copies of their passports which we did not have, and had not thought we needed (why would you?). We asked a young guy (with a kiwi passport in his hands) why they had photocopies and if they were in line, as practically everyone was laying down/asleep/sat anywhere and everywhere. It turned out that the Tica bus had arrived an hour earlier and had not moved an inch since. The systems where apparently down and they could not process anyone. The kiwi guy told us that they were told to get copies of their passports so that they could hopefully manually process them, then he kindly showed us the way to the shop (on the Panama side of the border) where we could get our passports copied.

When we returned, someone official looking collected everyone’s passport copies and there we sat, the queue increasing by the hour, for over five hours. Whilst waiting we met a lovely young American-Mexican couple who (were due any day) who crossed this border frequently, and had never encountered such an issue. Our theory was that it was a World Cup Football related delay and because there was a match on, no one wanted to miss it. Just a theory but highly plausible in Central America. At no point did any on of the officials come out to say anything, tell anyone what was going on or do another collection of passport copies.

Five gruelling hours later, the Tica bus conductor came out as the systems came back up and a roar of approval sang from the, now very crowded, border station. The Tica bus employee announced that the Tica bus would be crossing first, as they had been there the longest, and then everyone else would follow. This seemed fair, but then we realised he was holding the passport copies and he started calling out the names, handing the copies back and those people would be processed.

Turns out, we had snuck in with the Tica bus crew. At a couple points, once he had handed our copies back to us and put us in the bus crew line, he looked at us suspiciously, but we acted the part, got a breezy ride through border control, no questions asked and as we left the windows, ran past the Tica bus crew without looking back. ALWAYS leave a whole day for any border crossing, never make plans and always go early. ALWAYS.

We managed to walk straight onto a minibus headed for David, that left exactly five seconds after we boarded. Two hours and two buses later we arrived in Boquete, Panama. It didn’t take us long to see the local women who were dressed in traditional clothing either, as this seemed almost as common as not wearing the traditional clothing and jewellery.

I’m A Beautiful Butterfly! @ The Pipeline Trail, Boquete

Our hostel was under construction, so we had to collect our keys, pay and check in at another hostel down the street. So we threw on our bags and headed to the hostel to be greeted by the smiliest Labrador in the world, Jay-Jay. After checking in, the guy on hostel reception offered to carry my bag and in turn I offered to walk Jay-Jay so off we all went and walked to the other side of town to our apartments/ hostel. This was probably the place that looked the least like the photos and advertisements that we had seen but despite that, it was still a lovely place with a stunning view and we could see that once the construction was complete, this place would be incredible. It truly took after its name, Buena Vista.

By the time we arrived and got our bags down, it was pretty late in the afternoon, so we headed down the street to grab one of the worst coffees we have ever had, before going for a quick wander around.

The terrible coffee was a massive surprise to us as this was one of the best coffee regions in Panama. Boquete is famously known for its rich soil, producing some of the best coffee, citrus, vegetables and flowers in the country. The climate is also cooler here, which I believe directly influences the amazingly friendly locals (and travellers for that matter). Boquete is a very quiet, peaceful town, surrounded by coffee farms and outdoor adventures, with its beautiful countryside, jungles, hiking trails and Volcan Baru hovering discreetly in the distance. From first glance, Boquete is a bit grubby, with its copious amounts of derelict buildings, road works and broken footpaths, but some old people in America cited it the number one retirement spot, so it doesn’t take long to look past the shabby, and see why this place is so exquisitely beautiful.

About the beautiful scenery, Boquete is considered to be one of Panamas premier bird watching spots. So of course, Alice had already researched the perfect guide. I seem to be told every week that wherever we are is a premier or world class bird watching spot and then before you know it, I’m getting up at 5am to let Alice chase some birds around.

That night we sorted through our belongings, 90% of which were absolutely sodden from Corcovado, which we planned to sort the next day, exciting stuff. The following day, that is exactly what we did, we scrubbed and set out to dry out hiking boots and bags, as our laundry was taken to a nearby lavandería. We spent the afternoon watching the football in a local bar and gave ourselves a walking tour of Boquete.

From Afar @ The Pipeline Trail, Boquete

For a bit of excitement, we booked in the the regions best bird watching guide for the next morning. Alice told me I was very lucky as because we were in the highlands , increased bird activity is not at the crack of dawn and is in fact later! What a silver lining! At 8am, we were picked up and whisked away in a van, past “los quetzales” trail and to the bottom of, what seemed like a driveway. The guide, John, was a young (overly confident) guy who had been living and guiding in this area for 25 years. He looked like he was 25, it was insane. He walked us, and the other three travellers up this dirt road before he disappeared into the forest, leaving us waiting at the road. Moments later he reappeared, shushed us, and got us to follow him into the jungle as quietly as we could. He lined us all up, (and put Alice and her camera in prime position) and pointed out, just two meters in front of us, a male quetzal in his nest. All we could see was his beautiful meter long tail feathers hanging down from the opening of his nest. Snapping away, I turned to look at John, who threw me a wink and pulled his hands up to his lips, then let out a bird call that we later learnt was the female quetzal call. Turning back, the male quetzal turned around in his nest and sat perched at the entrance looking for his mate. The quetzales take turns in going out and foraging, once the female returns to the nest, she lets out this call. The male prompty leaves the nest and then it’s his turn to go out and get food. They tend to do this a few times a day, swapping back and forth. For a minute or so this insanely beautiful bird sat right in front of our faces, Alice’s camera almost caught fire with the rapid capturing, before he flew off into a nearby branch where we were able to capture his tail length in a distant photo. John was slightly arrogant, self aware of his reviews and ratings, and a bit of a dick, but he managed to get us one of the best shots of the male Quetzal that we had seen, that wasn’t taken through a telescope.

El Macho @ The Pipeline Trail, Boquete

The Resplendent Quetzal, Guatemala’s National Bird, is commonly known as the bird and/or symbol of freedom in Central America as it is believed that the Quetzal cannot survive in captivity. The story of the Quetzal originated with the Maya and Aztecs who worshipped a deity with the same name, Quetzalcoatl or “plumed serpent”. This deity was often shown wearing a crown made from male Quetzal tail feathers, which have been known to grow up to two meters! Talking of tail feathers- each mating season the Male grows a new tail feather to replace the one that will fall out after mating. That’s why you normally see the males with two tail feathers, one a bit shorter. A common tail 😉 (can you guess who’s writing now?!) regarding the red breast of the Quetzal begins in 1524, where in the highlands of Guatemala, the Spanish defeated Tecun Uman, who was the last ruler of the Quiché people. As Uman lay dying from a lance to the chest, a Quetzal, that was believed to be his “spirit guide” or guardian bird who had been flying above him during the bloody battle fell from the air and died. It is said that the Quetzal laid on Tecun Uman’s chest and the next morning rose from the dead with a crimson breast stained with the blood of the dead Mayan chief. From then on, all male quetzales bore a scarlet breast.

Quetzals have only one partner. Every year, the female picks out her favourite tree and then the male makes the nest. If the female doesn’t like the final product, she makes him do it again, in a new tree of her choosing. It’s basically like The Block (Australian tv show about couples doing up houses) but with less team work.

Shake Your Tail Feather @ The Pipeline Trail, Boquete

Back to Jess- The rest of the tour was pretty boring after that, not just for the excitement of the Quetzal, but there just wasn’t much more to see. Well, my belief is that John knew he had earnt his pay cheque in the first 30 minutes, so he showed us Panama’s oldest tree (what is believe to be anyway) a couple fungi’s and a couple more species of birds. To be fair- even Alice was a little disappointed as it wasn’t really a bird watching tour it was a Quetzal tour which was amazing but not what we had asked for, we were just lumped in with a few other tourists who wanted to catch a glimpse of the Quetzal. Also, Cocky John spent the remainder of the walking boasting to other tour groups about what he had seen and once they had walked past- laughing about how they would not see anything.

The rest of the afternoon we both nursed a couple shitty headaches from dehydration/carrying our packs/hiking 1000km’s two days prior, grabbed some comfort bakery food and packed our clean, fresh smelling belongings into our fresh packs and prepared for our journey to Panama City the next day.

Although we didn’t brave hiking the Volcán, not only due to laziness and fatigue, Boquete has been a pleasant surprise. We didn’t visit the coffee farms, or go on any hike other than our bird tour, but for hanging around a little village and relaxing, well, Boquete was the perfect gem in Panama.

Glass wing Butterfly @ The Pipeline Trail, Boquete

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