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Panama: Fording Rivers To A Rain Forest Cabin

 

We were on our way to a cabin high in the cloud forest of Panama, but we still had a few days of driving to get there, and Panama offered more delightful surprises.

 

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Panama

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Panama 9.622414, -80.244141

 

Playa Cambutal

 

Although there were only crude signs on the sides of shacks and fences, it wasn’t difficult to drive around the bottom of the Panama peninsula – at first.

Image result for highway to cambutal panama

 

Travelling through rolling hills and lush valleys, we came to the village of Cambutal where we saw signs to  the beach. Feeling adventurous, we bounced along to the end of a dirt road which then wound through farm land. Apparently the road ends at Cambutal because of the mountains. We had no idea what to expect when suddenly the road opened out onto a beach –  Playa Cambutal, a black sand beach. What a nice surprise!

Image result for playa cambutal

Image result for playa cambutal

 

Caught Skinny-Dipping

 

We expected to have to return the way we came, but we were intrigued to find that the rough dirt road still continued through the tropical hillside along side the ocean, and continued for miles and miles around the point. Of course our little 4-wheel drive jeep was helpful in order to ford 3 streams and climb rutted tracks.

 

In the end we were amply rewarded with long stretches of a sandy beach with not a soul in sight. It was in the area of Playa Morilla but we were really not sure what beach it was. We decided to take a break at this unknown beach and since no one was around and it was a brutally hot day, we went skinny-dipping. Swimming in the refreshing clear blue water was great fun until we were caught unaware by a fellow riding a bicycle appearing through the bushes, but he was quite far away and looked more embarrassed than we did as he quickly turned around and continued on his way.

Image result for panama unknown beach with shrubs

 

Las Lajas

 

Finding both groceries and accommodation proved a bit difficult as we crossed first a low mountain range and then a higher mountain range heading inland to Santiago, then to Las Lajas on the coast. Las Lajas was a very busy town, with a raging wild surf. The wide beach was 10 miles long, there was a parking fee, and all the cabanas on the beach were full. We had read that there were sharks at this beach and with its hard-packed sand pounded down by great blustering four-layer surf waves, we were not too disappointed that we had to move on.

Image result for panama las lajas

Image result for panama las lajas

 

Panamanian Hospitality

 

Driving a little further down the road, we came to some private thatched-roof structures on the beach, where you may drive your vehicle right into the car port. We drove under one hesitantly as it seemed to owned by a private family, but they motioned us in, offered the use of their change room, and after swimming on the beach all afternoon, offered us a bucket of clean water to rinse off the salt water before changing. It was a blazing hot day with burn-your-feet golden sand, so we truly appreciated their outstanding Panamanian hospitality.

Image result for panamanian family on beach

 

David

 

At the city of David, we finally found a nice hotel and wanted to treat ourselves to a lobster dinner, but we were starving and the taxi driver couldn’t find the restaurant for over an hour. Of course, that made the food taste twice as good. We always say – when you have guests for dinner, make sure they are good and hungry before you start serving the food. That way it will taste twice as delicious. 

Image result for lobster thermidor

 

Driving from Volcan to Guadalupe was a grueling 5-hour drive through pouring rain on windy mountain roads with periodic construction. The distance was a mere 23 kilometers.

Image result for rainy mountain roads under construction, panama

Imgp3129 1024x683

Imgp3129 1024×683

 

Los Quetzales Eco-lodge

 

We were so excited to arrive at our final destination on this part of the trip: Los Quetzales Hotel and Eco-lodge at Guadalupe – Cerro Punta, Chiriquí: Los Quetzales Hotel & Ecolodge.

 

High in the cloud forest near the top of a mountain at 7260 feet above sea level – that’s a mile and a quarter straight up – our little log cabin was waiting for us! This was a true retreat with no civilization around us.

 

 

Arrival at Los Quetzales

 

When we arrived at Los Quetzales, we were shown around the lovely lodge lounge and dining room.

 

Image result for los quetzales lodge & spa

Image result for supper at los quetzales cabin, panama

 

Then we were asked what we would like to be brought up to our cabin for supper. We had assumed that we would have to come back down for supper so this was a pleasant bonus. We chose a shrimp dish, a chicken dish and a salad. When we couldn’t decide about dessert, she called the Chef out of the kitchen to bring us some samples. The Flan and the Hungarian Chocolate Cake were delicious so we added those for dessert. Next she asked what we would like brought up for breakfast. Wow.

 

Fording Rivers

 

Normally, the lodge uses their large 4×4 jeep to drive up the mountain to the cabin, but after perusing our small 4×4 they said it “should make it”. Really? The road was that bad?

 

Never in our lives have we been on a more challenging  road. First of all it was straight up, so steep that you often felt like you were about to flip over backwards.  Second, the road was a narrow path through dense rain forest and the road, if you could call it that, was filled with huge rocks that rocked the vehicle from side to side like it was a toy. Thirdly, it wound sharply this way and that for what seemed like miles. Every 5 or 10 minutes we would ford a shallow stream. Yes, the road was that bad!!!

The Road Los Quetzales

The Road Los Quetzales

 

Robinson, our escort, asked us to stop at one point while he got out and walked ahead in the pouring rain, then he came back and guided us forward, seemingly oblivious to the rain.

Image result for fording stream

 

There was a unanimous, “Holy Shit!” as we forded a deep stream and suddenly we plunged deeper. The water came up to the bottom of the windows of our little Mitsibushi! While Robinson beckoned us from the other side to keep coming forward without stopping, we were clenching out teeth and gripping the sides of the jeep. I’m not quite sure how we made it through, but the vehicle was equipped with an exhaust pipe that twisted up to the top of the jeep. It was a scary experience for us, especially since the stream (more like a river) had a good strong current pulling us sideways. We imagined floating off down the river to disappear forever into the wilds of the mountain rain forest.

Image result for fording stream

Arrival At The Top of The Rain Forest

 

At the base of a long high footpath to our cabin, Marianos, our eco-guide, met us, and through the downpour, the two men removed their rain coats, tossed our luggage on their shoulders, arranged their raincoats carefully over the luggage, and proceeded up the steep bank to our cabin, another 200 feet up the mountain. It was all we could do to keep up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

The Cabin

 

Suddenly, as we turned a corner to go up the last steep set of stairs, a beautiful 2-storey log cabin appeared like magic, almost hidden in the thick jungle.

 

Image result for los quetzales cabin, panama

 

The cabin was incredible! There were windows on all four sides with the trees and leaves brushing up against the windows.  We were in Cabin 3, which was smaller than Cabin 4, but had these lovely windows all around so we could enjoy the rain forest in every direction. The floors and walls and furniture were made of native wood, and there was a set of french doors to the balcony. A fire was burning in the fireplace. It was a huge log cabin tastefully decorated and tucked cozily into the cloud forest with every window looking out onto the glistening greenery of the highland primary cloud forest of the Volcan Baru National Park. What an ideal retreat!

Cabin Inside

 

Los Quetzales Lodge (and Spa) owns a 400 hectare reserve that has been protected by the private efforts of its founders in 1970. It is the only eco-vacation resort in Panama or Costa Rica that offers overnight accommodations inside a national park, and it is also the highest elevation lodging in Panama. The Volcan Park is adjacent to Parque Internacional La Amistad, which straddles both Costa Rica and Panama.

 

Amazingly, there are no biting insects in this perfect mountain retreat – no mosquitoes or no see-ums and no dangerous snakes either.

 

Spanish Instructions

 

In Spanish, we were instructed on the use of the kerosene lanterns – there was no electricity, and on the use of the water heater.

 

The guides left us alone in the rain forest and we scurried to see the views from the balconies on every floor, awestruck to be sitting on top of the jungle.

Image result for cloud forest, panama

 

Then we lit the four lanterns placing them in different areas of the cabin, tickled by the flattering soft light and musing on how unflattering and harsh the electric lights are that we normally use.

Image result for kerosene lantern light in cabin at night

Image result for kerosene lantern light in cabin at night

 

We listened to the patter of the rain slopping against the tin-sound of the fibre-glass roof. It was louder upstairs.

 

We shared a bottle of wine, stoked the fire, watched the hummingbirds and played backgammon, followed by a rollicking game of strip poker. Talk about exotic places for an enchanting evening; cuddling in the rain forest is pretty darn romantic.

Image result for romantic couple in cabin at night

 

That evening they brought our dinners up the mountain by horseback! And they were hot! Amazing. And delicious!

Image result for up the mountain by horseback, panama

 

This cabin was just gorgeous, and came with all the amenities. The only things missing were facecloths and sink stoppers, which I’m sure they would have brought at our request.

 

We slept peacefully under the stars under thick warm blankets upstairs looking out at the rain forest and listening to the rhythmic drum-beat of the rain on the roof.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rain, Cabin Roof, Panama

 

Morning In The Cabin

 

Somehow, we have no idea how, Marianos, our eco-guide, knew immediately when we woke up. There was no other accommodation in sight, and we had not seen another soul since our supper was delivered last night. At any rate he appeared at precisely the right moment to start the fire again in the fireplace. We tried to converse with him a little in Spanish, but it was difficult, and he just focused on getting the fire started.

 

Shortly after, our breakfast was brought up, again by horseback. How did they keep the eggs from breaking as the horse no doubt had to use tremendous effort to make the steep climb? Since we had a full kitchen, we could make our own fresh breakfast, and they always sent a ton of food with a great variety. 

 

4 Kilometer Hike in the Cloud Forest

 

The second day, we were up at 7 am to go on a 4-kilometer hike to the waterfalls. Uphill all the way. Shining rocks, layer upon layer of decaying vegetation, every kind of fern and moss you can imagine, and the roar of steady rain seeping through the dense foliage, dripping off delicate tips and glistening on silken leaves would have made great photos – if I wasn’t busy trying to keep my camera dry inside my jacket. There were extravagant orchids, some just budding. You could almost feel everything growing as it gleamed under the constant rain and fresh mountain air.

Image result for water pouring out rock wall in the rainforest, panama

 

 

Hike Path

Hike Path

Image result for water seeping out rock wall in the rainforest, panama

Rain Forest 1

Rain Forest 1

Rain Forest 2

Rain Forest 2

Jungle

Jungle

Hike

Hike

 

Image result for orchids in panama rain forest

Image result for wild orchids in the rainforest, panama

Image result for rock wall and path in the rainforest, panama

Image result for narrow path with rock wall in the rainforest, panama

 

I almost lost a rubber boot in the thick mud between some rocks, and the narrow path ran between some solid rock walls where the water poured down between the rocks like a waterfall.

Image result for rubber boot stuck in mud

Rock Wall

Rock Wall

 

We passed rushing streams and clambered over tiny wooden bridges. When I thought my legs were too heavy to take another step, we went another 1/2 kilometer straight up where we finally saw a small waterfall pouring down the other side of the mountain.

Stream Los Quetzales

Stream Los Quetzales

Rain Forest

Rain Forest Bridge

Cloud Forest

Cloud Forest

Cloud Forest 1

Cloud Forest

Image result for lighting fire in los quetzales cabin, panama

 

While we were always on the lookout for the strikingly colourful quetzal bird, we never spotted one. The trip downhill was much faster.

Image result for quetzal bird, panama

 

Exhausted and soaking wet when we arrived back at the cabin, we tried and tried to light a fire, but wet wood is the best you can get in the rain forest.

Image result for lighting wet wood in fireplace in cabin

 

Our guide promptly came into the cabin (how did he know), and deftly lit the fire with the aid of a can of kerosene. There are 2-way radios in the cabins, but our personal eco-guide had an uncanny sense of when to come by to check on us. 

Image result for blazing fire in fireplace in cabin

 

We spent hours just keeping the fire burning with the wet wood. The temperature was 12 degrees C.

 

Whole fresh eggs and bread, cheese and fruit were brought up for a late breakfast after our hike. Isn’t it amazing what a huge appetite results from fresh cold mountain air, rain, and a brisk early morning walk? 

Image result for big hot breakfast in a cabin

 

 

Funny How That Happens

 

It was funny. When we arrived, the pitter-patter of the rain on the roof was romantic and soothing. By the time we left 3 days later, it was a constant hammering on the roof that kept us awake half the night.

Rainfall

Rain Pounding Down

 

Funny how that happens.

 

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Panama

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Panama 9.622414, -80.244141

 

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2 Responses to Panama: Fording Rivers To A Rain Forest Cabin

  1. That is an incredible post, Shirl – the photos are so moving. I love that black sand idea and that purple orchid/stunning. The succulent crab dinner made my mouth water. Delivery of meals to your door….on that steep terrain – now that’s service!!!
    Who knew such places even existed. Must have been a most memorable experience in all its totality. 😉

    I must admit, the jeep travels, especially through raging water currents would not be my cup of tea. You are brave souls, and that is an understatement! Smiles.

    I really like the photo of you two up in the right hand corner – it’s cute.

  2. Yes, delivery of our meals up the mountain by horseback was just over-the-top service. We were freaking out crossing the river, but our escort’s confidence helped a lot. That photo was taken at our wedding 3 years ago.

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