Boquette

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Sometimes a brief trip through an unexpected place brings along with it some writer’s block. Our two and half day stop in Boquette was one of those stops. Originally planning to stop in David for one night on our way to Bocas del Toro, we ended up catching a ride with some friends and happily ended up in Boquette. It was a splendid stroke of luck. Granted, it’s taken me two weeks to write about it. Better late than never, here’s a snippet of our time spent at the little town in the mountains of Panama…

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The air is crisper up here in the hills. The clouds envelop the hilltops with a blanket of dense moisture, and the scene from above looks as if people should be wrapped tightly in husky coats and knitted hats. Green is everywhere- the rolling hills are covered in a varied mixture of forest and field. Rock faces dramatically wash valleys and blue rivers tumble down rocky surfaces. The roadsides are dotted with blooming coffee plants. The plants mingle alongside other fruitful foliage like a makeshift garden or a dreamlike edible forest. There are views that really seem magical.

It’s cooler here than elsewhere in Panama, but not in the frosty way that I typically stereotype mountain towns. Citrus trees are plentiful. Small family farms decorate the winding mountain roads. A crashing waterfall looks undoubtedly alpine, yet the people showering under it are clearly not reacting to an uncomfortable temperature. It’s a confluence of two climates, and I realize that I must reconsider what I think I know about mountain towns.

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Boquette feels like a strange version of high altitude tropics. It has a farming culture to it, with all the simplicity of a locally dominated economy. Recently however, the mild temperatures and the cozy quaint township have drawn a considerable population of retired Americans. For this the town receives a bad rap from some travelers, but I think this is simply the tattered opinion of travel snobs (who create a messy reputation of many fine places). As I’ve suggested to others critical of popular destinations: look deeper.

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Yes, there are some monstrously large houses up in the hills, there is also a small tour office selling rafting trips, and a bar that seems to cater to foreigners, but the presence of these places has not overtaken the local charm. Boquette still has an unspoiled feel to it. The town’s three main streets are a bundle of one and two story buildings of various ages, color, and material. There are small family owned markets, tiny lunch stops, and little coffee parlors. There’s a small central park where men gather to play card games, a simply constructed community center, and few rickety little bus stops. In a nutshell, Boquette feels like little family community. It is a whimsical way to spend a few afternoons. Undeniably, there is plenty of originality to discover here.

Breathe the fresh air, explore the mountain roads, eat a plate of pollo gusano cooked by a local grandmother… Don’t be alarmed by the tourists: if they aren’t here to appreciate the real Boquette, the loss is entirely theirs.

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