Whether we wanted to or not, KFB and I returned home from Panama. Because I don’t know how else to put it, the trip was incredible. We had such a wonderful time jumping between the coffee covered cloud forests of the Western Highlands to the blue beaches of Bocas and back to the historic districts of Panama City. I think that we would both say it was an eye opening experience with no lack of excitement, adventure, or relaxation. I’ll spare you of all the romantic stories and funny ‘had-to-be-there’ jokes and break down the trip into three categories.
It’s not very hard to eat local in Panama. As you can imagine, fresh fruits and vegetables were everywhere. Fresh made pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, and strawberry juices flowed through restaurants like the Colorado River through the Canyon. On top of that you have fish galore. In Bocas you could eat fish that was caught earlier that morning off the same dock on which you were eating it. At one restaurant you had to place your orders a few hours before you wanted to eat to insure that they had the right amount of fish. I presume that if they didn’t, they break out the tackle and get to it! Can’t get any more local than that.
While in Boquete, we toured a local organic coffee farm, Cafes de la Luna. The farm itself is small, extending out over only 7 acres, but offers a great example of what good small farm practices can do to better the coffee production problems in Central America. This farm takes pride in growing organic, practicing techniques that are not harmful to the neighboring rivers, and provides comfortable living arrangements and fair pay for its workers. On the tour we learned about everything involved in going from a plant to a cup, and toured the fields and processing buildings. After the tour we sat down for a cupping, where we tasted light, medium and dark roasts, picking out the differences between the three. And finally, to round out the tour we enjoyed a beer while we roasted our own batch of coffee. It was a really a unique experience, teaching me more about the liquid I consume every day and the importance of knowing where it comes from.
I found there to be three main beers in Panama: Balboa, Atlas, and the creatively named Panama. Predictably these three beers fit the Latin American Lager mold perfectly. One is light (Balboa), one is lighter (Atlas), and one is the lightest of them all (Panama). As long as you travel south knowing that a top notch local brew will be hard to come by, the beer isn’t that bad. In fact, when I was sitting on the deck of Bocas Inn after spending the day in the sun, an ice cold Panama was the perfect addition to complete my journey to dreamland. Refreshing, quenching, and just right.
– Cerveza Panama: Probably the most popular local beer, and according to them the most decorated. It was by far the lightest, making it the least flavorful, but most drinkable considering the beer got warm so quickly in 90 degree heat.
-Atlas: I didn’t care too much for Atlas, and only had it a few times. It was a little bolder than Panama, but the flavors didn’t round out very well.
-Balboa: This is probably the second most popular, and seemed to be looked at as the ‘better’ beer. I thought it to have the most flavor, so KFB and I both found ourselves popping this top the most. This beer was chasing your Budweiser crowd more than you Miller-Liters. Take that as you please.
Well, to put it bluntly, there weren’t any. That’s right, I didn’t run once over the ten days I was in Panama. Some would probably say that wasn’t smart, as I’m in the middle of training for a 50k, but I would argue otherwise. I think that not only did my legs need the rest, my head did too. One of the major problems people face during training is simply burning out mentally. I love to run, but sometimes you needed to be reminded of that. Taking a break was a great way to clear the head and reflect on why it is that I love the quiet trail. I guess only time will tell if it was a mistake or not.
I did however do plenty of ‘cross-training’. Countless hours were spent swimming (while snorkeling) in Bocas, we dirtied our feet on trails a few different times while hiking in and around Boquete, and I must have walked 30x as much as I normally would during a week stuck behind a desk. So I wouldn’t see it was ALL loss.
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When I told people we were going to Panama, I can’t tell you how many people’s first response was, “hmm, Why Panama?” With nothing better to say, my answer was always, “Why not?!” I now have a much better answer. Panama is truly a gem of Central America, and one that I would recommend to anyone.