Boquete, Panama: Day 3

For our third day in Panama, we started off with a traditional Panamanian breakfast. In my opinion, steak/beef for breakfast is always a fabulous idea!

Queso fresco, fried potato patty, sauteed steak and onions, and fluffy bread

Afterwards, everyone gathered to get on the bus to head into town where we would meet our guides for the hanging bridges and hiking tour.

Our bus driver dropped off everyone and we went and got our wristbands. Then, we loaded up onto a vehicle with benches to drive to the hanging bridges and hiking.

Most of the entire Sol group hiking in Panama

Because the Sol coordinators told us the hike was “very difficult,” I was expecting to go on a strenuous walk. However, I soon found out the hike did not even compare to my previous weekend at Cerro Chirripó. There was some slight uphill hiking, but for the most part the “very difficult” hike was a leisurely and scenic walk through the woods of Panama.

My favorite part, hands down, were the hanging bridges which traversed rivers and provided amazing scenic views of Boquete.

After the tour concluded, everyone had free time to explore and change before we boarded the truck transport to go back to Boquete.

When Audrey, Hannah, and I had stayed at Casa Mariposa in San Gerardo, we met a couple from England who had recently been in Boquete. They recommended checking out a honey tour.

The bus dropped those of off at Boquete Bees and Butterflies before heading back to the hotel. Our whole group bought our $7 tickets and settled in to learn all about the different types of honey and their flavors. Interestingly enough, a change in elevation and temperature influences the taste of honey. I tried a few different cream-based honeys, which I had never seen or heard of before. Everyone had so much fun sampling the honey!

All of the honey we tried! 20-some odd flavors for $7
Our whole honey-tasting group!

After killing our teeth with a ton of sugar, our plan was to go to the nearby strawberry castle restaurant for some strawberry dessert because Boquete is known for its strawberries. Of course, our beautiful sunny weather disappeared and a torrential downpour ensued. We found the strawberry castle closed sadly. However, everyone wanted to eat a late lunch/early dinner, so we continued into town before splitting up.

Hannah and I decided we would explore some other streets of Boquete that we missed our first day in Panama. As we wandered, Hannah and I made note of local restaurants that looked like they may be great for lunch/early dinner. It was so fun to watch the locals out and about and chatting with one another at fruit stands and artisan booths.

Eventually, she and I reached an intersection which took us back to the area of the town we had previously explored. By chance, we saw Audrey, Kyrek, and Catherina sitting down at a table. Hannah and I stopped by to say hello and have a peak at the menu. Both she and I came to the conclusion that the food was too expensive and we wanted to eat Panamanian food one last time, but invited our Sol friends to join us if they desired.

In the rain, we headed back to the local restaurant we had seen. The menu was VERY basic. Our lunch choices consisted of soup or “food of the day.” Hannah and I both opted for the “food of the day,” which allowed us to select hour our chicken would be cooked. After ordering, Audrey, Kyrek, and Catherine sat down at our table to join us for our mystery meal. Our Sol friends had the brilliant idea to ask about fruit juice, so I ended up ordering a fresh blueberry juice to go along with my mystery lunch.

Me trying to imagine what I am going to end up with for lunch/dinner
Panamanian food: pasta salad, white rice, plantains, chicken and lentils (in the bowl)

The food and blueberry juice was fantastic! For a drink and this huge plate of food, I spent $4.50. When traveling ALWAYS eat where the locals eat! Not only is the food inexpensive, but absolutely delicious.

Hannah after lunch wanted to search for strawberries as she had been the most excited out of the honey-tasting group to go to the strawberry castle. Alas, she and I were not successful in this endeavor, so we piled into the taxi with Kyrek, Audrey, and Catherine.

For a few hours, Audrey, Hannah, and I relaxed. Eventually, though, Hannah messaged me while in the same room (Audrey was sleeping.)

“Do you want to go to a different strawberry restaurant with me?” she asked.

I internally was laughing at the fact that she texted me while in the same room and still wanted to get strawberries. Of course, I said yes.

We said farewell to Audrey who was hanging back to prepare to head out with the other Sol students for Ladies Night at one of the local discotecas.

When Hannah and I got into the cab and told our driver where we wanted to go, he replied, “I am going to take you to a different strawberry restaurant that is closer and cheaper.” Hannah and I replied, “Okay!” Who doesn’t want to got to a local restaurant that is cheaper?! Our driver pointed out where he lived during our drive and eventually dropped us off where there was not one, but TWO strawberry restaurants across the street from one another!

Hannah and I headed into the first restaurant that had a cute little strawberry guy out front. Then, we headed inside to select what we wanted to order. The menu was huge and we eventually settled on strawberries with whipped cream and strawberries with chocolate. Funnily enough, the strawberries with chocolate ended up being Hershey’s chocolate syrup…not what we had envisioned!

The little strawberry man!
Strawberries with whipped cream and strawberries with “chocolate”

After our two strawberry desserts, we decided we may as well check out the other strawberry restaurant across the street because we had invested in a $6 USD cab ride. Hannah and I both decided the decor at the second restaurant was more fun. Visitors signed the walls and surfaces. The strawberry dessert too was a lot better! We ended up ordered a strawberry frozen yogurt-type dessert.

Strawberry restaurant #2!

However, the workers at restaurant number one were much kinder so we headed back over there to get the WiFi password, so we could contact the taxi driver.

The irony of this whole strawberry adventure? Our strawberry desserts were double if not triple the cost of our mystery lunch during the day AND Hannah and I both had upset stomachs the following morning from the strawberries. Thank goodness for medication! Otherwise, our 7-hour+ bus ride back to Heredia would have been miserable.

Panama (both literally and figuratively) was super sweet! The people were very kind, the food incredible, and the views magnificent! I will treasure the memories forever.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Boquete, Panama: Day 2

After a filling breakfast of over-easy eggs, toast, fresh fruit, and tea, our entire group boarded the bus to head to a farm for a tour.

At the farm, the owners introduced us to their various animals. A few students volunteered to feed the massive amount of chickens and other fowl. The farm was situated on a hill with an incredible view.

Views from the Panamanian farm

Once the birds had had their fill, it was time to milk the cow. Everyone took a turn milking. Eventually, we had a full pail of fresh milk to use to make queso fresco.

Everyone gathered on a small porch area to watch the process. First, a packet of thickner was added to the milk, which causes the milk to curdle. Once the milk combo sat for a little bit, one of the students began to scoop off the whey. After the majority of the whey was removed from the bowl, the cheese was placed into a strainer and the excess liquid strained off. From the strainer, the cheese is placed into rings on a plate and then put into the fridge. Our host, already had some prepared, so we skipped the “waiting stage.” Then, everyone gave the queso fresco a try with fresh cane sugar. The combination sounds crazy, but I can assure you it was absolutely divine!

After sampling the queso fresco, everyone gathered their things and walked to the other portion of the farm where the sugar cane is grown. There, we learned the importance of the crop and had the opportunity to “eat” sugarcane. You do not actually eat sugarcane, rather, you bite it and suck out the sweet juice.

Then, our guide and his uncle put stalks of sugar cane through a press to make sugarcane juice for everyone to try. To add acidity to the juice, we had the option to squeeze lime into the drink.

Once everyone was sugared up, we headed back to the farm where we ate our packed lunches. At this point in the day, the weather took a turn for the worse for a second time (during the cheese-making the sky opened up in a torrential downpour.) As a result, the whole group tried to wait out the rain for a while. Myself and Ky’shun fell asleep on the couch. All the great food wore me out!

Sleeping on our gracious hosts’ couch

After 30 or so minutes, the rain had not changed. Our bus driver (bless him) went and moved the bus to a nearby road. Everyone then sprinted to the bus in the torrential downpour.

For the rest of the rainy Thursday, I spent time lounging in our quaint cabin with Audrey and Hannah.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Boquete, Panama: Day 1

At 2:00 am on Wednesday, I bordered a charter bus with the other Sol students to head to Boquete, Panama.

Now, you maybe wondering. Why exactly Boquete? Why go to Panama for three days?

Well, in Costa Rica myself and the other Sol students are on tourist visas and not student visas. After 90 days, the tourist visas expire. Because our program surpasses the time frame of the tourist visa, Sol takes all of the students to Panama for a couple of days so we can receive a new tourist visa. Up until a few years ago, Sol took students to Nicaragua because the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border was much closer to Heredia. However, Nicaragua is currently in the midst of a civil war with a level 4 travel warning. As a result, Sol taking students to Panama is pretty recent.

I had really low expectations traveling to Panama and I have to say they were easily surpassed!

Around mid to late morning, our bus arrived at the Costa Rica-Panama border. Everyone had to disembark the bus and line up to receive their exit stamps. The border buildings were a real eye-opener for me. I kept thinking back to my time in Switzerland with my host sister Estelle and when we had drove to France to ski for the day (click here to read about that adventure). The ease of which people, goods, and services moved across borders in Europe is easy as a result of the European Union. Central America, however, is a whole different ball game.

In true Central American fashion, everything is beautiful chaos. There are street vendors trying to sell you fresh coconut juice while waiting in line. Random store fronts are along the road advertising that you can make copies there for a small fee. Bags are being unloaded from buses and searched by hand in a gated section of the complex. There is a lot going on in one place.

While waiting in line to receive my stamp, I could not stop thinking about the thousands of people who had made up the migrant caravan which dominated headlines last fall in the United States. I think what sparked this thought of mine happened to be a huge group of individuals who the Costa Rican officials had pulled aside on the opposite side of the baggage search area. From my spot in line, I could only see officials spouting off directions. Costa Rica by Central and South American standards is viewed as very advanced. With Nicaragua in the midst of a civil war and other countries in the region having stability issues with their economy or government, Costa Rica is viewed as a desirable country.

Our whole group luckily got through fairly quickly despite the line being long. A week prior, we had to turn in our exit tax money ($20 USD) along with other documentation. Since our program directors had processed some of the paperwork already, we only really needed our exit stamp from the Costa Rican border officials.

Everyone hopped onto the bus again. Before moving, we all made sure our passport stamps had the correct date on them. Then, our bus driver drove everyone to the Panama border control. There, everyone took all of their items off the bus.

I was surprised to find in this “free area” of sorts a bustling town with restaurants, stores, and taxis galore. Once again, beautiful chaos.

We each got our passport stamps and put our bags through a scanner. Then, the whole group bordered the bus. We were officially admitted to Panama! Our bus had to stop for a second time and a gentleman from the Panamanian military got on to check our passports once again. After he disembarked, we set off for a nearby gas station/rest stop. There, I was flabbergasted to see signs for a liter of gas for less than $1 USD (U.S. dollars are the official currency of Panama).

After our rest stop, we continued driving on ward until reaching the quaint town of Boquete. At the tourist information area, everyone took pictures with the sign, grabbed a snack at the cafe, and shopped for souvenirs.

Welcome to Boquete, Panama!

Our bus then continued to our hotel, which was located outside of the city of Boquete. We were greeted with some beautiful views.

Welcome to our hotel!

Once getting settled in, myself and some other students decided to take a couple of taxis into town to explore and grab some dinner. Split among 4 people, our cab ride only cost a $1 USD a person.

In town, we wandered in and out of souvenir shops and little markets. At a little market, myself and some of the other students talked a while with a gentleman named Fabio in Spanish. NOTHING is better than having someone tell you your Spanish is great and accent fabulous. Talk about a confidence booster! He explained that he makes everything in his shop by hand, so of course, I purchased a little Panamanian moccasin key chain from him to use as my ornament.

Then, we made our way to a local eatery for some dinner. We had asked the lovely employees at our hotel where we could find authentic food and also our cab driver. All three people recommended the restaurant we went to called El Sabrosón.

The restaurant was cafeteria-style. Basically, you selected your meat and then your sides. None of us knew the translations for anything on the board, so we all selected everything at random. Because the restaurant is cafeteria-style, some items were out for the day. I asked for a couple of different things and they didn’t have them. However, I ended up with a great meal of salad, rice, a beef and potato mixture, beans, candied plantains, and tres leches cake (separate of my main course). For everything you see (which is a LOT of food), I spend $5.50 USD. ALWAYS eat where the locals eat because the food is cheap and delicious! You also have the opportunity to mingle with locals or people watch, which is fun in my opinion. I loved sitting at the picnic tables with friends and chatting.

Panama meal #1

Once we had full bellies, we decided we were ready to head back to the hotel. Two people went in search of WiFi to contact the cab driver. Since there were 6 of us, we figured we needed to get two cabs. Much to our surprise, however, our cap driver said “hop on in!” So, 6 girls and a cab driver headed down the winding roads to our hotel jamming to some Spanish music.

A wonderful first day in Panama!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo