The great thing about traveling with my parents is that they love adventure. We lost no time whatsoever after taking in the Canal and the Amador Causeway…the next day we rented a car and hit the highway. This was quite a cool luxury for Skott and I because we haven’t had the freedom of traveling in our own vehicle since we left Canada.
The first stop on our road trip was El Valle…a quaint mountain town just one and half hours from Panama City. We went there in search of hiking trails, waterfalls and zip line gliding!!
We found a great place to call home for a couple of days at the Cabanas Potosi. The owners, Dennis and Maria, were absolutely wonderful hosts and they gave us a full tour of their grounds which included everything from cinnamon and cilantro plants to mango and banana trees. We had mangoes and bananas fresh off the trees for breakfast while we watched all kinds of birds zooming around the grounds.
On our first afternoon we decided to squeeze in a hike to one of the waterfalls nearby. We knew that the rain usually comes in the afternoon but it was dry so far and Dennis figured maybe we would get lucky and have a day with no rain. Things started out great…the hike was a little trickier than we expected as it was just a narrow little rocky trail that followed the river. Definitely a little slippery but we managed to make our way to the waterfall. It was gorgeous! Just as we were contemplating going a little further and dipping our feet in the water, a local with an umbrella came by to tell us that we MUST head back immediately and that it was about to start raining and could get very dangerous.
Sure enough, about 5 minutes later, the rain started, and by rain, I mean a torrential downpour that had us absolutely soaked within seconds. And that’s when we understood why this was about to get dangerous…because as the water dumped, the river swelled and slowly, slowly, our little trail was disappearing. We got back to the start of the trail to find Denis there in his 4×4 truck ready to rescue us. It was quite an adventure!!! If we would have left just a bit later or if our local buddy didn’t come get us, we might have had the river rafting trip of a lifetime!
The next day we attempted to learn from our mistakes and left a little earlier for our daily adventure. We took a hike up to the top of the mountain, locally called “The Sleeping Indian”. It was a great view of the town below, which is actually in a crater from a now-dormant volcano. We had a great time swimming in the waterfalls along the way and managed to get down before the downpour this time around.
Our last day in El Valle was our very favourite- Skott and I decided that we would take Mom and Dad zip line gliding. We didn’t give them too much info ahead of time but it was kind of an ongoing joke as we prepped for this trip together in Panama. I was pumped though because when the big day came, Mom and Dad were totally up for it. We had a great time with Canopy Adventures…zooming through the forest and we even got to hang over top of the biggest waterfall in the area. It was a belated 30th Anniversary gift and Mom and Dad said it was definitely a gift they wouldn’t forget!! I don’t know if it was more fun zooming along the lines from canopy to canopy or watching my parent’s take this challenge on like pros!!! Too much fun guys!!! Here’s to many many more years of adventures!!!
From the lush valley with 1000 shades of green we took a three hour drive back through Panama City and up to the Caribbean cost to check out Portobelo…a city that was once the apple of any pirate’s eye. Without boring you too terribly with a history class, the quick and dirty Cole’s Note’s version is that when the Spaniards had colonized Panama (beginning in the 15th Century), Portobelo was the main port in this area. Gold from Peru was counted out here and sent back along with other goods that made the Spanish fat and rich. The English, Dutch and French wanted a piece of the action…so they began to attempt to take over Portobelo (and other Caribbean port cities they saw as attractive like Port Royal in Jamaica). Despite the Spaniard’s attempts to build forts and ready themselves for such invasions, the likes of Captain Henry Morgan (yes, he really was a pirate, not just a clever Rum brand name) and Sir Francis Drake could not be held at bay. It all makes for some very interesting tales and so we thought we better check it out for ourselves! My Mom and I were sure we’d come across a few locals looking quite like Jack Sparrow!
It was a little tricky finding a place to stay in Portobelo but after a few fairly shady choices, we found Coco Plum a cute scuba diving hotel right on the water. The fish decor was an added bonus and they had a great seafood restaurant attached.
We checked out the old forts and it was pretty cool imagining what it would have been like setting off cannons from these old stone fortresses, trying to stave off enemies.
We did a drive out to Nombre De Dios…another pirate haunt which was sacked by Sir Francis Drake for the silver and precious metals that were transported from here back in 1572. We also took a boat across to tiny Isla Grande…a strange little island that seemed almost spooky it was so deserted.
After our tour of the area we found a great patio at La Castillo (a castle) to enjoy happy hour right on the Caribbean. Watching the orange and pink hues of the sun set over the turquoise water with Jimmy Buffet in the background was pretty much as perfect as it could get. Until you see it for yourself, you would never believe that the ocean can be so perfectly blue.
Before we headed back to Panama City to get ready for our sailing adventure in the San Blas Islands we stopped in Portobelo’s town square to watch a program of dancing and drumming that the local people were putting on. The population of Portobelo is actually primarily Africans who are the descendents of the slaves that were here during colonization. They now have a vibrant Congo culture and we really enjoyed checking out the costumes and the drumming that we had been invited to watch. I guess I kind of made a deal with the devil too…