Boquete and the Coffee Farm Tour

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One thing about Panama is that it is very obvious that they have not invested much in the tourism industry here (as opposed to their more well-marketed neighbor Costa Rica). The road to Boquete was, in places, terrible. But at the same time it looked like improvements were being made, albeit very slowly.

Before we left El Valle, though, we spent some time wandering through the local market. The native "Indian" population (like the Thai hilltribes) gathers here to sell handicrafts and produce. We bought a few wall hangings for the soon-to-be-delievered baby's nursery, and some unique jewelry made from seeds. And then it was time to hit the rough road for Boquete.

After making our way down the rough highway, Boquete turned out to be a wonderful small mountain town. The air was cool and clean, and the surrounding mountains were beautiful. The extinct volcano, called Volcan Baru, that dominates the area around Boquete is actually Panama's highest peak at 3478 meters above sea level. The town itself is in the valley, but still at an elevation of 1060 meters.

The highlight of our time here was a tour of the Cafe Ruiz coffee plantation. A very knowledgeable guide named Carlos showed us around both the farm and the processing plant. Did you know that there are 16 steps from coffee tree to coffee bag? We certainly didn't. I can't remember them all, but it was something along the lines of pick, sort, wash, peel, ferment, peel two more layers, pre-dry, dry, sort again, bag, and ship. That's only 11 steps, so I am leaving out a few. It was very interesting to watch the whole process.

We also learned a lot about coffee farming in general. According to Carlos, Panamanian coffee is very highly regarded by coffee experts, but it is not marketed as much as say, Columbian or Hawaiian coffee. (Just another example where Panama has yet to market itself to the world.)

It was fun to talk to Carlos about his life as well. He is a member of one of Panama's indigenous tribes, who mostly live in small villages in the mountains east of Boquete. He told us that he started working in the coffee fields at the age of 10, then he worked in the factory for a few years, and now he specializes in giving tours. I guessed (and he agreed) that giving tours was definitely the best job of the three.

He told us a bit about his tribe. Apparently they are fiercly independent and have no real desire to join the modern world. They come to the area around Boquette to harvest the coffee beans for 6 months a year, and then they go back to their villages where they live the rest of the time. They still wear traditional clothing and seem to be perfectly happy to stay in their villages where they speak their own language and live a relaxed lifestyle.

Speaking of relaxing, we have had a very relaxing time in Boquete. But unfortunately our time in Panama is drawing to a close, and tomorrow we will tackle the bad roads back to Panama City. Hopefully we will also have time for a few stops along the way.

1 Comment

You are have an incredible journey! How wonderful!

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This page contains a single entry by Stuart published on January 8, 2007 9:05 PM.

A Drive to El Valle and the Waterfalls was the previous entry in this blog.

Restaurante Johnny Tapia and the Pools at Aquadulce is the next entry in this blog.

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