Panama Day 13- Hike to Volcan Baru

Volcan Baru is the highest point in Panama. From the top, on a clear day, you are able to see both the Pacific Ocean and the Carribean Sea.

The idea was to get to the top for sunrise. The hostel we were at, Mamallena, offered a shuttle to the bottom of the access road for $5.

We were told to bring money for our return, warm clothes, and plenty of food and water.

Beyond this, we were on our own. A group of about 8 of us were dropped off at the bottom of the road and the driver took off. It was just us and the darkness.

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The only instructions we were given was when in question to go right, not to go to fast so we wouldn’t freeze at the top, and to pay the ranger on the way out. The hike was supposed to take about 6 hours up and the same return. It was 14.5 kilometers (about 10 miles!) each way.

The road was just a dirt road that went on forever. The moon was super bright so in the beginning of the hike we didn’t need flashlights.
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About 30 mins into the hike, we had a nice night view of Boquette.
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However, we still had a long ways to go. We were trying to pace ourselves as he had stated we could make it up in 4 hours but would freeze at the top (32 degrees plus wind chill.)

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People were not happy with me for taking this flash photo in the darkness:
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It slowly began to get cool as we climbed; but I stayed in a t shirt for the first few hours.
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We began using our flashlights as trees started covering our path; we also began to ration our water and food supplies since we were all pretty understocked. There was no one out there except for us.
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Now it was really becoming chilly- I threw on what I had, a fleece, long pants, and a wind breaker. My shirt was sweaty and cold.

Our group ended up breaking into 4 and 4, a slow group and a fast group. Our fast group was charging forward no longer heeding the warning to pace ourselves, only thinking about getting this freezing cold hike over with.

Finally, we came close to the summit where there was a shelter.

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It was 5am and we were close to the summit. The winds were picking up, and the sun didn’t rise until 7. We were in the exact situation he had warned about. We decided to take a break here and try to nap/pass some time.

When we first stopped, we were a little chilly but not too bad since we were working hard climbing straight up the entire time. Our elevation gain by the end of the 14.5 kilometers was to be 2 miles.

Once we stopped, however, we really started to feel that 32 degrees. The sweat wicked the heat from our bodies, we were all lying quietly trying to stay warm. We hadn’t slept from the day before and were just plain exhausted.

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There was talk bout starting a fire but none of us had a lighter. It was starting to get seriously cold. We were talking about huddling together. Finally, we decided just to carry on, keep walking, at a slow pace to keep our blood flowing. This seemed to work well.

We finally reached the summit around 6:30. I don’t know if it was warmer, or just felt warmer from hiking, but it didn’t seem all too cold up here and the wind wasn’t bad. The moon was still shining.
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Slowly, the sun started to rise.
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We weren’t quite at the top. There was about 10 minutes climb left.
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We made it! We were all so glad to be at the top and that the hike was over. The rising sun instantly made us warmer.

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At the top, there were about 10 more people that had taken their 4wd jeeps up the trail and had left at 4:30am to make it there for 7.

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Once the sun was up, we could indeed see both oceans. It was a very nice view and we all sat and enjoyed it.

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As the sun rose, we could actually see the shadow of the mountain. This was something I hadn’t seen before.

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We stayed for probably 45 minutes, but what comes up must come down. We had a looong hike ahead of us.

Now, up sucked. Down was way worst. The 10 miles dragged on and on and on.. it never ended. We ran some of the way, walked quickly, but the signs didn’t lie we were not making progress as quickly as we would have liked.
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On the way down, however, we were able to see the views we couldn’t see during the night before.

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The lead four of us on the way up were also the lead on the way back.
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It was 10:30am. We hadn’t slept, had run out of water hours ago, and were hungry and completely depleted. We finally reached the ranger station at the bottom!

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The man there arranged for our taxi pick up, which we were not happy to walk another 2 minutes downhill to catch it. The guy wanted to charge us $16 for a $5 cab ride, but we were all too exhausted to argue.

We all agreed that we would never do the hike again, would never have done it if we had known what it was going to be like, and that if we were to do it again, we wouldn’t do it for less than $1000. Was it worth it? Probably when I look back on it. At that moment? No way in hell.

I don’t think it was worth hiking it in the middle of the night, freezing, with no sleep, but hiking Vocan Baru with a full night’s rest would probably be worth it. There was a lot of garbage on top and communication antennas. Some people said it was super beautiful, but I have hiked quite a few mountains (that I have not had to go through all this for).

After eating, we finally got to sleep around 12:30pm. Wow. That was intense.

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Panama Day 2- Isla Taboga

I woke up at 7:30am. I was still super tired/groggy/jetlagged, but I had made tentative plans with John to go to an  island near the city called Isla Taboga. It would be an all day event, and I wasn’t sure what else to do. Rather than sleep all day, I decided to get up to see if John was still around.

Sure enough he was, so we had a hostel provided breakfast of make your own pancakes and bananas. We thought the ferry was leaving at 8:30, but were later told 8am, so we ran out the door. John had also invited one of his roomates, Lucinda who was from Holland. We all ran out the door and caught a $8 cab ride to the ferry to Taboga.
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There was a big line there, and we asked people in line what the deal was.
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As it turned out, the ferry did leave at 8:30 and was to return at 4:30. Only one ferry was listed, but apparently there was another ferry that also came an hour later. Tickets were $14 round trip.

We weren’t sure what to expect there, and since we had trouble communicating, we ran out to get some food and water to bring just in case. There was also an ATM and since I had $2 to my name I took out some money and was happy to find that I had no problems using my ATM card.

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The ferry ride was interesting in that we saw a bunch of tankers docked up waiting to go through the canal.
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Soon the island came into view. The ride was 45 mins.
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Right when we got off the ferry, a few guards had us all put our bags on one end of the dock while they came by with a dog and had him sniff all our bags. A little odd I thought for a small island.
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Upon unloading at the beach, we headed to the beach.
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We were offered to rent umbrellas for $5, but instead opted to sit in the shade by the shore. There was a huge pulley, we assumed abandoned there by a shipping vessel.
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There was also tons of rusted iron-ore on shore, which was rusted so badly it looked like rock.
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I don’t know if it was from a ship run ashore or what.

There was a big hill/small mountain at the end of the beach. So we decided to see if we could hike up it. Turned out at the top there was a tombstone.
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The trail was very lightly traveled and there was plenty of bush whacking and giant spider webs/spiders crossing our path. We also saw a bunch of tiny (poisonous?) yellow frogs so stayed away from them and tried to avoid the giant spiders after I walked through one of the webs and had to brush it off.
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There were also so big rusted out tanks along the hike, not sure what they must have been used for? Fuel for tankers?
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Once we got back down, we had an hour or two until the ferry so we wandered around the tiny village.
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At the end of the day, it started downpouring so we waited on the dock under cover for another hour until we could catch a ferry ride back.
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We stopped at the bus station on the way back to look into tickets to our next destination, as well as walked around the giant mall that was there. At night, we went out to the hostel bar again for a little while and briefly checked out bars in the area. It was pretty dead and I was still super exausted I passed out