Cerro Punta, the Chiriqui Highlands, Panama

Leaving David, I took a bus to the Chiriqui highlands and the town of Cerro Punta.

Another chilly mini-bus ride, but I enjoyed listening to the women chattering behind me, and not in Spanish. This area has a significant indigenous population of two groups, the Guaymi (or Ngöbe) and the Bokota (or Buglé) who are politically united (as the Ngöbe-Buglé), dress differently (loose dresses of beautiful strong colors, though the men dress like westerners) and have their own languages. And they make me feel tall.

As usual I drifted off to sleep, and woke to a deeper green countryside and pouring rain, great sheets of water kicked up from our unrepentantly speedy passage around sharp turns. Actually, people seem to drive faster when it’s raining than when it’s dry.

I ended up in the town of Guadalupe, staying in the nicest place yet, a bit above budget, but with cloud forested hills, two national parks, good meals made by friendly locals, and a climate too chilly for mosquitoes,  it’s well worth the price. And, I remind myself, it’s about 1/6th of the price of the dingy room in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. (I periodically sit back and enjoy the lack of mosquitoes. Time for another contented sigh…)

For my meals I walk into “town,” which is a T-intersection with a dozen buildings, of which two are restaurants, although one is usually closed. There is one item available: rice & beans, potato in some form, and a piece of meat. This would be a great place indecisive people to vacation.

The food is good, staff chatty, and the bill about $2. Maybe $2.50 if you get a glass of fresh squeezed passion-fruit or pineapple juice (or better yet, combine the two). (Did you know Panama uses the US dollar? They also mint their own coins to go with ours, called “Balboa’s” with pictures of the explorer on them.)

My largest companion in the dorm.

The sign says “hostel” but my accommodation is more of a mountain lodge. Think Aspen, only Latin American. Chunky wood furniture, even in the dorms, not a single IKEA tag to be found, and big-ass insects clinging to the ceiling. There’s a common room and restaurant upstairs, both with large brick fireplaces for warmth (Warmth! When was the last time I needed that?!?) though the fireplaces fill the rooms with a haze of smoke, and it took the kitchen over an hour to make my hot chocolate, even though I was the only one there. Just details, not complaints, I am way too happy of a camper to bitch about my hot chocolate!

The Chiriqui highlands are luscious with cloud forests, which drape like cobwebs on the steep slopes around town, although farms are metastasizing their way up the slopes, felling trees as they go. I fear that in a few years they’ll put ’em in a tree museum, and charge the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em.

There are bright flowers erupting everywhere, including giant heaps of trumpet flowers drooping over fences and walkways. In the forest it is always dripping and cool, epiphytes abounding, and bromeliads growing on every surface. The soundtrack of bird song and running creek water are exactly what people pay $24.95 for.

You should come here.

After a hearty plate of the dinner option I stroll back to my hotel through the reliable evening downpour, stopping along the way to buy a container of fresh local strawberries and cream. And did I mention the “hostel” has a spa too? Last night I got an hour massage for $35 and slept better than I have in months.

Seriously, screw Costa Rica, come here.