In preparation for our big trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in October, John and I have started pushing ourselves to get in shape for the three big hikes, at altitude, that we’ll have to face on that trip. Last Sunday and yesterday, we completed two 8-mile hikes in Chiriqui Province, both of which started right out of our neighborhood but ended in two separate areas. We also got a first-hand look at a huge road construction project that’s the talk of the area and will soon link Alto Boquete, Panama with the towns of Palmira and Potrerillos.
To set the stage, we live in a neighborhood called Brisas Boqueteñas, just down the hill from Boquete, that sits on the edge of a beautiful canyon with our local volcano, Barú, as the backdrop. Although our own casa isn’t a canyon house (we’re in the cheap seats!), several houses in our neighborhood are right on the edge. There are a couple of trails down into the canyon from here that we’d been wanting to try, and we knew that it’s possible to come up the other side and walk all the way to Palmira or Potrerillos from there. It would also give us a chance to get a good first-hand look at the road construction, which is now highly visible as a huge and ugly brown scar across the canyon from our neighborhood mirador (lookout).
For both Chiriqui hikes, we were able to cart our weary butts home on buses (two buses today, but the last was air conditioned and had some interesting interior decorating!). One of the great advantages of living so close to the Boquete highway is that it’s extremely easy to get to our house via bus or taxi.
Last Sunday, we ended up in the little burg of Palmira Abajo after a hot and dusty slog that also included one of the prettiest little riverside trails we’ve ever seen, in a beautiful hidden valley. Sadly, that lovely place might be just a memory if the new road to Palmira takes the course that we think it will.
Yesterday we started at the same point – from our house down into the canyon – but veered left at the other side and ended up in Potrerillos. This segment of the new road is a lot more advanced, and we got to see the fevered construction progress as they try to finish the thing, together with THREE new river bridges, before rainy season sets in.
So is the new road a bad thing? It’s heartbreaking to see how much lush cloud-forest landscape they’ve destroyed, and they’ve made an absolute mess of those river crossings across three very beautiful and pristine rivers. But somewhere in the back of my mind I can hear someone saying “You can’t stop progress.” Since there’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop this particular example of progress, I’m trying to look on the bright side. The new road really will take a lot of time off the trip from Boquete to the town of Volcán, on the other side of Barú. It might open up that area of Chiriqui to big improvements in infrastructure with better water and more reliable power for the residents, many of whom are very poor farm workers. And maybe, just maybe, some little Ngäbe kids will have a fighting chance to lift themselves out of poverty, if the new road makes it easier for them to get to school. The cockeyed optimist has spoken!