Panama: Pipeline Trail and Torrential Downpour (Boquete)

We got up on the early side this morning so that we could get breakfast, enjoy some coffee and get on the hiking trail before it got too stiflingly hot.  And we were hoping to beat the afternoon rain.

Randy delivered breakfast to us in the suite around 8:30.  It was WAY more food than we expected.  And really, really good.  I had oatmeal with brown sugar, fruit and orange juice.  K had french toast and some of my fruit.  And we both had some Mañana Madera coffee, which is really good – dark and strong, but not at all bitter.

MananaMaderaBreakfastAnd we had a buddy – Chubbs – who patiently waited outside our door, begging for some breakfast.

CubbsAtDoorRandy dropped us at the Waterfall Trailhead (aka The Pipeline Trail) around 9:30.  He let us know that the cell phone he gave us doesn’t have great reception in this area, so we have a few options when we’re done – 1) sit at the bus stop and wait for one to come by, though they’re not reliable and it may be a while, 2) walk toward town or home until we get reception, call and he’ll come get us, 3) walk into town for lunch or whatever and call him to get us when we’re done.

RPipelineTrailheadWe walked up a gravel trail until we came to a tollbooth of sorts and a chain link fence across the trail.  There wasn’t anyone at the booth, so we slid past the gate and started up the trail (as I’d read on TripAdvisor is okay).  Not too far up, a woman came down from the hill, yelling at us to come back and pay.  We paid $3 each, signed in on a register and we were on our way.

The trail continued as a gravel driveway for a bit before it turned into a narrow, muddy path, covered in leaves, just barely visible in the thick grass on either side.  At the point where it turned muddy, the trees and brush closed in around us, and we headed back into the forest.

PipelineTrailStartKThe majority of the trail was flat, or slightly inclined, following the water pipeline further into the trees.

PipelineTrailPipelineIn some places, the brush was so thick, it was nearly impossible to distinguish either the brown pipeline or the leaf-covered trail from the other plants and trees.  Believe it or not, there is both a trail and a pipeline in the photo below.

PipelineTrailPlantsIn three different places, the trail crossed over the creek we were following, on elevated, metal bridges.

PipelineTrailRBridgeThe bridges were just vertical slats of metal that you could see through and had to balance on to avoid rolling your ankle.  It sort of freaked me out.  Especially on the taller ones.  I don’t like being able to see below me when I walk over water.  ::shudder::

PipelineTrailBridgeFeetAbout 3/4 of the way to the waterfall, we came up to an old, red pump house.  Randy had told us this was a good place to stop and look for quetzals.  Apparently they are very well camouflaged and not easy to find.  We stopped and looked for several minutes with no luck.  Likely they were there and we just didn’t see them.  Oh well.  If you’re really into birds and want to see quetzals, you can hire a local guide to bring you out with binoculars and the whole deal.

PipelineTrailKPumpHouseEventually, the trees opened up a bit and right in front of us was a really tall, trickle of a waterfall – impressive in height, but definitely not in flow.  The muddy trail ended at a field of rocks leading up to the fall.

PipelineTrailRKWaterfall1We climbed the rocks up under the fall and got as close as we dared before the rocks started getting a bit too slippery, and the mist blowing off the fall was giving me goosebumps.  It’s not the most impressive waterfall I’ve ever seen, but it was still cool.  And nice to be the only people out there.  It’s like it was our own secret spot.  Listening to the water pounding on the rocks and birds singing was really calming.

PipelineTrailRKWaterfall2PipelineTrailRKWaterfall3On the way back out, as I was crossing the last bridge, I heard a rustle under me and panicked just a little.  I was terrified I was going to look down and see a snake.  Instead I saw a thin, ringed tail, just barely visible between the slats.

PipelineTrailArmadillo2And the next thing I knew an armadillo was hauling ass out from under the bridge, stumbling around through the leaves on the ground, clearly trying to get away but not seeming to know which way to run.  Firsthand observation of their crappy eyesight right there.

PipelineTrailArmadillo1I’ve never seen an armadillo before – I didn’t realize they were so mousey-looking.  He was sort of cute in a creepy, rodent way.  We stood on the bridge and watched until he was far enough out of sight that we (hopefully) didn’t scare him.  Then onward.

Overall, the hike took us about 1.5 – 2 hours.  It wasn’t too difficult of a hike at all; only slight inclines and a bit of mud.  Probably 20 – 30 min of that was us playing and taking photos around the waterfall.

As we were getting to the end of the trail, the rain clouds closed in all around us.  It was barely sprinkling and we were hoping that it would blow over quickly like yesterday’s outburst.  Though the clouds were looking pretty ominous.

PipelineTrailEndRainComingInBy the time we got back to the road, it was pouring.  Like Randy had told us, our phone didn’t work here, so we decided to hang out in the little red bus shelter to wait for either a bus or a break in the rain, whichever came first.

PipelineTrailBusShelterRainUnfortunately, neither of those things came.  After 20 minutes of waiting and still no bus, we decided to buck up and head down toward town.  We figured we’d either find a bus along the way or make it to town.  It didn’t seem all that far, based on our drive around here yesterday.  Boy, were we wrong.

We started off down the narrow road that cut through the overgrown grasses and thick trees on either side.  As we walked along, the rain came in waves.  It would let up to a sprinkle, giving us hope, and then come down in soaking wet sheets just seconds later.

WalkToBoquete6Occasionally, we passed cows or chickens grazing – not much of a barrier between us and them.

WalkToBoquete2We passed a couple of abandoned canopy tents with clothing, purses and other items for sale along the side of the road.  I’m unsure whether these were there for the locals or for the tourists.  Either way, it seemed out of place on such an abandoned road.  I mean, we only passed 2-3 cars the entire time we were on this road and not a single other pedestrian.  Who exactly is coming out here to shop?

WalkToBoquete3We passed the waterfall from yesterday that seemed to be so close to town.  When we were in a car.  So that got our hopes up.  But that didn’t last long.

WalktoBoqueteRWaterfallWe walked for long stretches with nothing around us but trees and grass.

WalkToBoquete4We found some ginormous leaves, and I had to stop and get a picture with them, for scale.  Those things were HUGE.  If I were more destructive, I would have ripped one of those off and used it as an umbrella!

WalktoBoqueteGiantLeavesEventually we came to a fork in the road with a concrete, covered bus shelter and a sign letting us know we’d walked 1.7km from the waterfall.  And still we’d yet to see a bus or another vehicle.  Thank God we didn’t decide to sit back at the trailhead and wait.

WalkToBoqueteSignsWe still didn’t have any phone service, so we holed up under the shelter and waited some more.  For a bus, or a taxi, or really any other human.  After 10 minutes of nothing and the rain only coming down harder, we decided to keep going.

WalkToBoquete5Eventually, we made it down to the basalt rocks, which had some nice overhangs that we could stand under.  We finally had phone service and called Randy to come bail us out.  He was awesome and got in the truck as soon as we called.  Over on his side of the mountain it wasn’t even raining!

WalkToBoqueteBasaltRocksWouldn’t you know it, as soon as Randy got there to pick us up, the skies cleared up.  Though not for long.

WalkToBoqueteBreakInCloudsWe ran back to the casita to change out of our soaked clothes, and then Randy dropped us back in town for lunch.  We decided on Big Daddy’s again since they had the covered area outside, and I was really craving some wings after that hike.  I figure after that fiasco, we deserved to scarf down unhealthy food, so we ordered margaritas, onion rings and wings.

BigDaddysWingsOnionRingsRandy didn’t lie – the wings were good.  As I would expect, considering an American expat runs the place.  As we sat eating, the rain broke loose again.  It was coming down so heavy, we could actually see sheets of water coming off the roof.  Honestly, though, it was nice and kind of soothing listening to it.  And wonderful to not be walking in it!

We had a couple more beers while we waited for the rain to let up.  Except instead of letting up, the rain started coming down sideways and blowing a cold mist under the porch at us.  So we moved inside and watched out the front window as the town was bombarded with rain.

DowntownBoqueteRain1After a while, we ran (literally) down to Hostal Mamallena to book our tickets on the shuttle to Bocas for Friday.  ($30 per person, which includes bus transfer from Almirante to Bocas – not too bad.)  We also stopped in the supermarket to grab some food for lunch tomorrow.  We got a pound of ham, a half pound of cheese, a loaf of bread, mustard, a can of Pringles, a pack of Oreos, two sodas and a six pack of beer for $20.  Not too bad.  By the time we were done at the market, Randy was there to rescue us again.  That guy is so awesome – such a great host!

It’s been pretty much pouring rain since noon today, and with the sun down there’s a pretty cold breeze.  So we decided to just eat food from the market and not go back out for dinner.  Instead we settled in on the couch with some nice, warm coffee to watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – one of the DVDs left in the room for us.

MananaMaderaCoffeeTVTomorrow, we’re planning for the Lost Waterfalls Trail.  If the rain ever lets up.

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