A Fantastic Journey: Part 6

Trip to San Carlos, Santa Clara and Posada del Cerro la Vieja

After a good night’s rest, our faithful EcoCircuitos came by for us at 9:00 AM to drive us to La Posada del Cerro La Vieja in the mountains above Penonome. The Posada is located 1500 feet above sea level near Chiguiri Arriba by the peak Cerro la Vieja. This is about 12 miles northwest of El Valle, as the crow flies. But it can only be reached by road from Penonome.
Leaving Panama, we crossed the Bridge of the Americas (I could see the old pilings from the ferry days) and, instead of taking the main highway, we took the older road so as to pass through Arraijan and Chorrera. Wow! Unrecognizable! So many buildings, houses and people. I could hardly tell were Arraijan started. Soon after we passed the old Marine barracks near the old Rodman Submarine Base the roadside became more and more densely populated until I could not tell exactly where the old police check point used to be.
I managed a quick view of the Caceres River, where there was once a nice waterfall about a mile from the road, and where, near by, there used to be a cantina, just off the road, owned by a retired American from the Zone. The short side road where the building used to be was still there, but no cantina. Next spot, which I almost missed completely, was the farm that my aunt Julia and her husband Charlie owned. All gone, of course. Before I knew it we were in Chorrera because there was hardly a break in buildings between Arraijan and Chorrera. That small town is now a large and very busy city. People, cars, taxis and buses all over the place. Incredible. Chorrera is a derivative of Chorro, meaning waterfall in this case, and the name of the town is in reference to the waterfall nearby, if it still is there.
After Chorrera, the old road merges with the new and, unfortunately, by-­passes Capira. But the road did go through Bejuco, as a four-­lane street, and passes by the old Army Air Corps landing strip just outside the town. Campana Hill is changed and I was unable to locate the little spring that came forth
from the side of the hill by the road. Deforestation has taken its toll. Coming to San Carlos, we entered the town to find a very pretty and very clean little community, such as were typical in Panama while I was growing up. Fortunately, some things have not changed much. I had not seen the town in some 65 years, since the highway by-­passed it back in the 1940s. I was glad I had decided to visit it. We walked down to the beach and found it very nice even though it was low tide. From the beach, we walked to a new hotel and restaurant called the Bay View, right on the beach.
The place is not a year old and was very pretty and clean. The restaurant-­bar was large and airy under a typical bohio with an open terrace for eating and chairs for relaxing, all very beautifully landscaped. For anyone loving the beach, this would certainly be a nice place in which to stay and also be in contact with the local townspeople. I find these types of accommodations so much more desirable than the sterile tourist traps where one is isolated from the local people.
After a refreshment of cold and fresh papaya juice, we went on to Santa Clara. The place is all built up so one does not have the old feeling of aloneness. In the old days one had to take everything one needed for a one-­day stay at the beach. Now, there are small bohios to get out of the sun and restaurants on or near the beach. We went to the place where I had always gone before and, after walking on the beach for a while, we had lunch at a restaurant right there. It was here that we met Edgar McArthur, nephew of the late Charles McArthur. He was there with his wife and children.
Leaving Santa Clara, we went on to Penonome to take the road up to the mountains and the Posada Del Cerro La Vieja in Chiguiri Arriba. But before doing that, I went shopping for a Montuno hat so as to protect my ears from the sun. They had gotten badly sunburned, hurting and peeling. But as you may know, these Panamanian hats come in one size: round and small . . . or so it seemed. Twenty-­one years ago, while in Panama, I failed to find one that would fit me and ended up with one that was really too small. This time I was more determined and, after going through several locations, I found only one hat that would fit me. Incredibly, I did find some that were too big! So, off we went up the mountain, arriving at the Posada at 3:00 PM.
The Posada (meaning Inn) is on top of a hill next to the much higher Cerro La Vieja (The Old Lady Mountain) and it is 1541 above sea level. The Posada consisted of two main buildings connected with a covered walk and several other buildings with bedrooms. The newest are two bungalows on the side of
the hill so that the top floors have two rooms each and the bottom have two additional rooms with more bedding and less luxury, as if for a whole family. The place is really beautiful and, with hammocks all over, one feels as if it would be an ideal place to relax after much hiking and site-­seeing. That is precisely what I had in mind doing most of the time there, although I did want to go visit the waterfall nearby and do a bit of hiking. However, although the place can be rather cool when the strong breezes are blowing, it can be as hot, or hotter, that the lowlands when the wind dies down. And so it happened that no breeze was blowing when we arrived there, nor the next day and it was HOT! There is no air-­conditioning in the place, except ceiling fans and that night it was very
uncomfortable. The bungalows are all opened on three sides with sliding glass doors and windows and mosquito screens. But even with all the windows opened and the ceiling fans working, it was hot.
The food at the Posada, though simple, was delicious. But the hotel car, on which I had relied to take us to the start of the trail to the waterfall, had gone to Penonome the next morning, so we were marooned in the hotel. Facing another hot night and not being able to accomplish one goal, I decided to call EcocCircuitos in Panama to explain the situation and convey to them our desire to return to the city that day, if at all possible. Within 30 minutes, they called back to tell us that they would have one of their vans pick us up by 1:00 PM. As promised, Roberto, the same guide that had taken us there the day before, showed up with his girlfriend. He had had the day off and was spending it with her when Ecocircuitos called him to come for us and he had taken off right away1
We checked out, but before leaving the area, we had Roberto drive us to the Cascada El Tavidal waterfall trail and we hiked to it, something I was glad we did as it was beautiful and worth the hard (for me) hike up and down the mountain. Of course, four little kids immediately appeared out of nowhere, to be our guides and to watch the car. The girl was 7, and the boys were 8, 9 and 10. The girl and the 8 years old boy stayed watching the car and the other two went with us. I asked the boy that was going to guard the car, “What will you do if a big, big, guy shows up and tries to steal the car?” “I will hit him,” he replied without hesitation. That was very comforting to us and we had no more worries as to the fate of the car while we were gone.
We got back to Panama city late that afternoon and checked into the Marbella Hotel again. Since we had previously spent 7 nights there, they welcomed us as long lost friends inquiring where we had been. There were about 30 young men and women hikers with huge backpack, and also front packs in some cases, checking in when we got there, but the hotel clerk took care of us first and we did appreciate that for we were quite tired by then. We had been gone only two days and one night, but we had covered a lot of territory. It was nice to sleep in an air-­conditioned room that night.

After a slight delay, we are back to the Mondays of publishing part of Louis Celerier’s mesmerizing tale of how he rediscovered the country of his childhood. Subscribe to this blog or follow us on Facebook to make sure not to miss anything! If you also have a story you would like to share with us, or if you are interested in taking a Fantastic Journey yourself, let us know in the comments or by email at marketing@ecocircuitos.com