Today was my first ride on a school bus in 20 years. There are a wide variety of busses that ply the local streets and highways of Panama. Big, two-level air-conditioned beasts geared for long distance. Small extended vans like the one I posted a photo of the other day. Garishly painted Diablos Rojos blasting salsa music and screaming through the streets of the capital.
Today, we rode a big yellow school bus. Blue Bird. Just like the ones we used to take to school. Packed solid to the point that all the children sat on their parents’ laps so there would be one or two more seats to get another passenger on. Someone asked what time the bus was scheduled to leave. Doesn’t work that way here. In Panama, the bus leaves when the bus is full.
When the bus was full, we started up the mountains, out of the broiling weather of David and into the highlands. Chiriqui Province is a fascinating part of Panama, encompassing lush forests, volcanoes, the highest point in the country (Volcan Baru), stunning beaches, and a gulf loaded with tiny, barely-discovered islands. It is also the major agricultural region of Panama, with the most famous crop being their world-renowned coffee.
The bus put us into Boquete about noon. Boquete sits at a pleasant altitude and features temperatures about 15 degrees cooler than anywhere else we’ve been in Panama. The cooler climate has also attracted American retirees, who have swarmed the area over the last ten years, creating a real estate boom that has local farmers hearing seven-figure offers for their land. It’s a nice little spot, albeit heavily gringofied, and there are tons of outdoor activities in the area, from volcano hikes to canopy tours to hot springs excursions.
And then, there is La Jungla.
While in Bocas del Toro, Corrinne and I ran into a woman who was getting ready to go work at an animal shelter outside of Boquete. She encouraged us to pay the place a visit, telling us there were lots of opportunities to volunteer. We took a cab up the mountain to the town of Palmira and walked inside La Jungla de Panama.
La Jungla operates as an animal rescue and rehabilitation center, and the owners are starting to do work in animal therapy. There are four monkeys, several goats, chickens, dogs, snakes, a macaw, a horse, and a small furry raccoon-like animal called a kudamundi.
What impressed me about the place immediately was the access that people had to the animals. A white-faced capuchin monkey ran right up my arm and sat on my head. Several goats butted up against my legs. You can walk right inside the cages with nearly all the animals. And even the ones you can’t are close enough to touch. Daisy, a spider monkey, hung from her cage, sent her tail through the bars, and wrapped it around my hand.
Because I had the camera buried away so well that I thought I’d lost it, I have no pictures of this. But you can see a little of what the place looks like here: http://jungladepanama.org/
And I will have many pictures of my own soon. Why? Because we’ve decided to volunteer there starting on Thursday. We’re going to move into a couple of dorm beds on the property and spend some time working with the animals. How much time? We’re not sure. We’ll see how we get along and go from there.
I’m pretty excited about this. It’s exactly the kind of thing I always hope will come along on any given trip—a completely unexpected diversion that ends up being a highlight. After talking to the owners, it looks like I’ll be spending a lot of time with their horse, a sweet fellow by the name of Dorado. Dorado needs some grooming, bathing, and love, and I’m hoping my limited equine experience (two years driving mules) will help in that department.
Tomorrow is going to be a day to explore Boquete and perhaps drop in on some hot springs. Thursday, we’ll be at La Jungla. I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about then.