A Sultry Search for Shelter from the Panamanian Monsoon


The Flowers of Boquete

My week of serene bohemian silence had nearly come to a close as I unpinned my drying laundry from the clothesline and took one last look at the scarlet outlined mountains of the Chiriqui Highands.  It was dusk and I could feel the arrival of the winds of change rustling through the leaves and petals of the otherwise silent garden.  The following morning I would begin my journey Eastward across Panama, and as I stared pensively into the enveloping vastness of the cobalt sky, I sensed my destiny growing ever nearer to the final page of North America and felt the exotic allure of the Southern end of the New World driving me forward.

Although I had known next to nothing of Boquete before arriving the previous week, I quickly realized that perhaps I didn’t need to.  It was a quaint and simple town nestled within a tiny valley of the Chiriqui highlands, and as I pulled my bicycle to a halt outside of the small guesthouse of Pensión Marilon in the light afternoon drizzle, I seemed to feel the trickling of time fading away behind me.  Over the following week, the Pensión quickly began to feel like home, and it didn’t take long before I felt myself falling into the languid pace of the locals.  As I sat amidst the cool mountain mists with the green valley walls rising before me and the taste of aromatic Boquete coffee lingering on my tongue, I found myself immersed in the lucidity of my thoughts and the intrigue of my writing.

However, its astonishing how quickly the days rolled by in this timeless state of existence, and after several rejuvenating days of jogging through the fresh coffee groves of the green mountainsides around Boquete, poring over long neglected novels from the depths of my panniers, and reflecting on the journey gone by, it was once again time to ride.  I found myself pushing my overburdened bicycle out through the double doors of Pension Marilon in the crisp air of early dawn and then made my way to the main road out of town.  As I approached the outskirts of town the short but steep ascent out of the valley began and I pushed on with rekindled  vigor, knowing that beyond this point would be a lovely downhill slalom almost all the way to the city of David.  Indeed, that first hour and a half rolling down the gently sloping road to the lowlands proved to be a delicious start to the day’s journey, and aside from almost running over a tarantula as he made his way across the thoroughfare, passed by pleasantly uneventfully.

The Chiriqui HighlandsAs I neared the edge of David and rejoined the Panamericana heading towards the interior, it was a humid but blue skied, sunshiny day.  For a time the road passed through some outer suburbs of David, but shortly thereafter emerged into pleasant meadows followed by steamy jungle.  The path before me undulated gently, small hills rising above the surrounding greenery before plunging back into the dense foliage and fording myriad creeks that meandered through the trees.  As mid-afternoon approached my mind turned towards seeking lodging for the evening, and I wondered just where exactly it was that I was now pedaling.  Ironically, as I was passing through a sparse village dotted along the side of the deserted two-lane highway, a flat tire forced me to pull over at a desolate petrol station and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to consult my map.  However, after a greasy, sweaty session of tire-patching, the long, rolling rumble of thunder erupted from the sky nearby, and upon looking up from my work I saw that the horizon had indeed filled with ominously low low hanging blackened clouds.  Only a moment later the first fat drops of rain began to splatter down on me and the pavement around me and I knew that it was time to seek shelter.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot out there, aside from the a nearby freshly tilled field and a few low buildings towards the edge of the pavement.  I headed for the overhang around what appeared to be the petrol station’s bathrooms and huddled under, leaning backwards against the wall to avoid the ricocheting raindrops that hammered down on the grass and concrete nearby.  The downpour rapidly escalated into a tropical monsoon and I realized that this would not be over any time soon.  And so, after half an hour of uncomfortably ducking under the small awning, I decided to make a run for another small covered patio about twenty yards away, which I had noticed was a small restaurant, and a significantly more comfortable option for weathering the storm.  Even with such a short distance to cover, as I sprinted from my shelter to the patio, I was almost instantly soaked by the pummeling rains.  Nevertheless, I had reached cover and decided that this was as good a time as any to satisfy my hunger.

Nevertheless, upon slowly working away at my soup and plate of white rice with beans and a chicken drumstick, the rain continued to throw down, however with somewhat less violence.  I had looked at my map and seen that I was not far las Lajas, a coastal town near which Frank, the eccentric owner of Pensión Marilon in Boquete, had suggested that I might find boarding with two friends of his who had recently opened up a restaurant along the highway there.  As the late afternoon was already beginning to loom gloomily through the grayness of the sky, I knew that I had best be on my way again if I was to have any hope of reaching the restaurant before nightfall.  So out into the rain-showers I went, quickly feeling the droplets saturating my cycling jersey and seeing the moisture glistening on my wrists before me.  I rode onward with a passion, thinking only of reaching shelter all the more quickly, and ignoring the stinging in my eyes.  Yet, just to spite me, fate decided to send me yet another blow to the tire, and less than an hour after leaving the station I yet again found myself pulling over along a long, narrow stretch of road in a thicket of high, dense reeds.  Fortunately, by this point the rains had petered off and I was able to change my tire without that inconvenience, yet the massive eighteen wheel trucks that roared by within inches of me seemed to take its place to rattle my nerves.

But at that exact moment, something that had almost never happened during my trip came to pass, and the heavens sent me an angel.  As I cowered at the edge of the roadway struggling with the changing of the tire’s tube (as the previous one had apparently seen five too many patches), an SUV that had passed only a few seconds prior slowed almost to a stop and then made a U-turn, pulling up a few meters down the way.  An American gentleman stepped from the vehicle and made his way towards me and within an instant, Bob had become my new best friend.  After helping me with the tire change, recounting his exciting recent trip to the Darien Gap to visit remote indigenous tribes, and restocking my supplies with granola bars, and two cans of beer (yep, someone up there was keeping an eye on me), I thanked Bob profusely for everything, we exchanged contact information, and were soon saying our goodbyes.

After the flat tire and the bestowal of my new gifts, I was impatient to reach shelter for the evening, shuck my sticky, saturated clothing, rest, and enjoy the new treats which were stuffed into the side of my panniers.  I rode onwards.  I soon reached the turn-off for las Lajas and began to inquire about the restaurant at a small convenience store, but the locals seemed to be unsure of what I was talking about and suggested that it was probably only twenty minutes or so down the highway (by car, sadly).  Ugh, well, there was nothing to be done but to continue onwards, and as is typical on days such as these, during which I find myself constantly hoping that the end of my day’s ride is around the corner, but then dragging myself further and further, I found my energy soon fading and my pace slowing to a crawl.  Oh woe is me, where was this fabled roadside reprieve!

Pagoda Campin'But alas, an hour later and after a few stops at wrong restaurants during my search, I finally saw the neon sign of the promised land.  I pedaled up the embankment in the lengthening shadows of the sultry early evening humidity, sidled off of my mount and sauntered into the covered veranda that was the restaurant.  After a somewhat hesitant welcome, one of the owners recognized Frank’s name (after entreating him for shelter) and then informed me that they did indeed have rooms available… for rent.  Oh well, that was alright, at this point I felt like I deserved it.  But as he led me to the house where the small “bungalow” style rooms were located and told me the price my jaw almost dropped.  For these tiny and not-so-impressive accommodations along the highway, the prices began at forty dollars a night and up.  Well, it looked like this certainly wasn’t the place for me – but at this point I was pigeon-holed.  It was late, I was exhausted, and there was no option of going on.  However, the price was also not an option, and so I began to explore what else remained.

Sadly, in my miserable and bedraggled physical state, I finally reached the conclusion that I had pedaled all this way just to pitch a tent.  So I asked for such permission, was met with an affirmative response, and headed out into the grounds of the spacious property.  It was in fact somewhat of a “resort,” with fields and paths and a chocolaty brown river, however the one thing that the owners seemed to have missed is that the majority of the world’s affluent population doesn’t go seeking humid, sticky, mosquito infested jungles along the highway for a pleasant getaway from the city.  Nevertheless, there I was and it was time to make the best of it.  So I hurriedly pushed my bicycle and equipment along the grassy paths back towards the river and away from the roadside, finding a small pagoda (for what, I’m not sure) that had been erected upon a shallow hill, and decided that it should serve as a perfect shelter from the remorseless torrents of the Central American rainy season.

Once I had pitched my tent and wandered over to the bathroom alongside the restaurant for a quick shower, despite the day’s trials and felt a gentle relief spread through by body and relax me.  So I had been through the ringer over the past few hours, but hey, what else what else was new?  After retiring back to my little synthetic home by the riverside and sipping blissfully at my now warm beers, I thoughts began to sink into a slumber and I was soon unzipping my front door and climbing into my by shelter.  Alright, so I still didn’t feel like I was quite at the cusp of the New World just quite yet, but at least I was one day closer, I was freshly washed, and I had the sweet serenade of an infinitum of the jungle’s symphony to lull me to sleep and to carry my dreams ever nearer to my approaching trans-Caribbean voyage.


1 Response to “A Sultry Search for Shelter from the Panamanian Monsoon”

  1. December 16, 2008 at 5:01 am

    lol, that tent looks so cute! at least you could say had a roof over your head, quite literally;)

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