With Apologies To My Legs

It was a three bus mission to get from Farallón to El Valle but it was, surprisingly, a piece of piss, if you consider being crammed onto a minibus for half an hour a piece of piss. The bus that took us from the Farallón turn off to Las Uvas looked full but they magicked some tiny folding seats oput of nowhere and squeezed us in, then continued squeezing people in after that. It was fine though, they made sure we got off where we needed to be and we caught the minibus to El Valle easily and were dropped right outside our hostel. That’s service.

The hostel has dogs! This is Chester. There are signs up saying dogs aren’t allowed on the sofa but it turns out that dogs can’t read.

We weren’t in a rush here, we even built a whole do-fuck-all day into our itinerary where I fully intended to be productive and work on this blog but largely ended up doom scrolling Facebook, but on the first day we jumped on a tour to Pozo Azul to gawp at some waterfalls. Can you do it independently? Of course you can but it’s a bit of a ballache. The tour was the path of least resistance and we met some lovely people from the hostel in the process.

Mirador Cerro la Cruz. Various views of the crater are a running theme in El Valle.

Pozo Azul

Erick, our guide, picked us up at 8.30am and bundled us into a Toyota Hilux with not enough seats (I’m noticing a theme, Panama) before driving us to a viewpoint. Basically someone saw fit to build a whole town in the crater of an extinct volcano which makes El Valle an absolute stunner surrounded by sod off great big hills, and with great hills come great eyehole fodder. You can really see the crater from Mirador Cerro La Cruz, it’s outstanding. We stood and gawped at it for a while then crammed back into the truck for a longish drive to the waterfalls.

The first little waterfall. The next stretch is actually fine but if you don’t fancy it this wouldn’t be an awful place to hang out.

There are a couple of friendly dogs, they decided to join us for the walk to the waterfalls. It’s not a terrible walk once you’re there but you’re looking at about 250 concrete steps down in various degrees of fuck-your-calf-muscles (and you’ve got to get back up these bastards afterwards too) before you’re hanging onto a cable as you traverse some easy footpaths. We came to a gorgeous, very inviting pool and Erick explained the next stage. There’d be short ladder but that sounded doable even when you have the coordination of a three legged badger on ketamine, and it led to a gorgeous little waterfall with a perfect plunge pool and yes, this would do nicely, thank you.

This poor little girl slipped and fell into the water and spent the next hour looking very sad.

The path up to the final waterfall involved a very steep scramble and fuck that, quite frankly. Even if I thought for a second I could get up without having a nervous breakdown and crying a lot I’d never be able to get down it again. You can jump from the top of the waterfall but I can’t jump into water these days, it hurts my ears and I really enjoy having functioning ears. I decided to stay right here, Tarrant stayed too and an American woman, Julie, also opted not to bother. Jed and Laurie went for it and their photos gave me a bit of FOMO but I’m really happy with my Pozo Azul experience.

The second waterfall. You can see the others making their way over it top right.

We just hung out for ages, the water wasn’t even that cold. I mean, it certainly makes your nipples sit up and take notice but your nerve endings don’t go into shock and try to convince your brain you’re on fire. Yeah I’m looking at you, Polilimnio Waterfalls. It’s just a lovely place to chill. One of the dogs followed the others up to the last waterfall but the other slipped and fell into the water when she tried so she ended up staying with us and looking really sad. Poor little doggo, she hit her face pretty hard when she fell but she seemed okay. Fortunately I was on hand to provide her with cuddles.

This’ll do for us, thanks.

Cerro La Silla

We got back early afternoon and after some intense sprawling in the garden at the hostel we joined a group hike up to Cerro la Silla for the sunset. A couple of the volunteers like to lead hikes which is really nice, I don’t think this particular hike would have occurred to us otherwise. It wasn’t too difficult but fuck my life, how unfit am I now? You wouldn’t think we walked for three months a year ago. It did get steeper and steeper and the wind started trying to relieve us of our hats and I had no desire to scramble up the last bit so we stayed a bit lower and enjoyed the spectacle from there. If you can get to the top without sitting down and wanting your mum you’re rewarded with a 360° view.

The stroll back down was mostly in the dark as fireflies darted around in the bushes. I feel like El Valle is safe enough for this, the group spread out according to walking speed and how comfortable they were stumbling through woods in the dark and no one got stabbed. It doesn’t take too much descent before you start sweating like a blind lesbian in a fish shop again either. We weren’t long out of bed either, honestly, I might as well have beaten my own legs with a stick and achieved a similar result.

La Silla sunset. I’m sure the views higher up were cracking but this would actually do, thanks.

We fully intended to get up for sunrise the following morning but as much as we enjoy watching the fiery skyball do shit we ended up just, well, not. We decided we’d do a hike a bit later that day and, well, no we didn’t. We brought our Day Of Laziness forward and pretty much didn’t move from the cushions in the garden all day, mainly on account of the fact the second you relinquish your spot that’s it. You’ve lost it. We jealously guarded our little patch of garden for pretty much the whole day, indulging in the noble art of slobbing. We’d get up for sunrise tomorrow, definitely.

Spoiler alert: This is not the sunrise. This is still La Silla.

And we did! Lana and Mike had arranged another group hike, this time up La India Dormida which is the go-to walk for the sunrise. I listened to the rain belting down on the tin roof as I brushed my teeth, psyching myself up for womaning up and not letting the others down. You can imagine my joy when Lana joined us at reception and told us that it would be to slippy and dangerous in the wet. Well thank fuck for that! We all agreed we’d do a different hike at a much saner hour today and retreated back to our bunks for a few more hours of pillow drooling.

Cerro Gaital

Lana suggested we all go to Cerro Gaital which is apparently the “hardest hike in Panama” but she assured us we wouldn’t be going to the top. There’s a lookout platform you can get to and after that you need a guide. Come with us, she said. It’s an easy walk, she said. Thing is, last time they did this they took a taxi to the start. This time we decided to take a hiking trail up which was the kind of steep that your calf muscles will never forgive you for. I’m not even shitting you, it was brutal. I had to stop a lot and question all of my life choices. I panted my way up, my stupid red face visible from the fucking moon.

It’s steeper in real life and this isn’t the steepest part.

Mike came back to make sure we were okay, bless him, and told us we were nearly at the entrance. Okay cool… wait, the what?? The entrance? Oh my fucking gosh, this is it, this is how I die. Cardiac arrest on the side of a Panamanian hill. He promised us once we were at the trailhead proper it got easier. To be fair it did for all of about four seconds. It looked locked up but you can just skirt the fence to the right. I’ve no idea if you’re meant to but we did and I felt so rebellious.

Chester, bravely protecting us from the bovine threat.
I think I’d happily move to the Tropics just so I can grow banana trees.

It’s a steady climb to the viewpoint. Still hot, still sweaty, still steep, but the reward at the top is incredible. We all just chilled and enjoyed the breeze for a while before starting back down the hill. We decided to take the road home, the thought of climbing back down the horror we crawled up wasn’t fun. I say horror, I exaggerate for effect, they’re all pleasant, forest walks. It’s hardly Panama’s fault I’ve spent several months consuming my body weight in lard.

It’s not a hike in El Valle if there’s not a crater shot at the end.

The walk back was hot, dusty and exposed to the Tropical sun but we managed to blag a ride in the back of a truck thanks to a Swiss guy who is fluent in Spanish. We loaded ourselves and the dogs (the hostel dogs love to join groups for hikes) and they dropped us at Café Colombiana which has amazing priced food and delicious juices. Definitely one to consider if you find yourself in El Valle in search of $1 empanadas or almuerzo.

Pink bananas though? Are they meant to be that colour?

La India Dormida

We’d intended to have one last bash at an India Dormida sunrise but the wind had gone from “nice hat, shame if something were to happen to it” to “how about I relocate you bodily from this high place onto some sharp rocks below?” It was deemed to dangerous to attempt, especially in the dark, so we figured we’d give it a go at a saner hour and I’m so fucking glad we did. It ended up being my favourite hike. The walk to the entrance is an easy one from the hostel then you part with US$3 each and straight away you’re on the ascent.

When you look at it from town you can see why it’s called the Sleeping Indian.

It’s steep but it’s a lovely forest walk past small waterfalls which you’d miss if you were walking pre-fiery skyball. Be bloody careful if you’re doing this in the dark. A few people from the hostel who left after us easily caught our aging arses up and overtook us as we slogged to the top and guys, once you do get to the top, please take a minute to just sit down and put it very firmly in your eyeholes.

Out of all the crater views this one is my favourite.

All the hills around El Valle pretty much just involve different views of the crater the town is nestled in. I don’t know what it is about this particular angle but it took what little breath I had left after that climb away. It was absolutely wonderful. We sat for a while and enjoyed it before crawling up over a little hump then easing our way down the almost fucking vertical hill on the other side. Oh dear sweet lord. This was terrifying. Now we were out of the woods the wind was gusting in from the side again and it was enough to knock you over if you weren’t careful.

This hill is steeper than it looks. If you zoom in you can see humans climbing down it and doing a much better job than I did.

After we’d gingerly lowered ourselves to the bottom we were faced with a decision. The done thing was to climb immediately up the fuck off great big hill in front of you and walk along the ridge, the body of the Sleeping Indian, but it was completely exposed and there’d be no way I could do that with this wind. There was also a very narrow path clinging to the hillside which led directly to the cross. I didn’t want to do either of them. I actually just wanted to sit down and cry but that wouldn’t have helped anyone. We opted to head to the cross, at least the hill would shield us from the wind and I could pointedly ignore the drop to the left of me.

Well you’re going to need some manner of deity to get fit down this fucking hill. This one will do for now.

It took forever. Once we were at the cross we headed straight downhill. It was a worn path but you know when you get these tiny balls of grit and soil hell bent on reliving those 90s roller disco days whether you like it or not? Yeah so there was plenty of that sort of shenanigans. You can’t fault the eyehole fodder as you slip and slide your way down. Just as we thought this was our life now and we’d be walking down this hill for eternity we made it to the flat and took the road to Chorro Las Mozas, a little waterfall you can swim in which would be nice on account of the fact my head was a furnace.

Chorro las Mozas. Perfect way to end a hike. I say end, you’ve still got to walk back to town afterwards.

That’s the shit right there. Every hike should end with a waterfall swim. It’s not far from the entrance to the swimming hole and it’s mercifully flatty flat flat. I could feel my blood cooling down as I jammed myself between two rocks and let the water wash over me. Utterly magical. In fact our whole time in El Valle has been fantastic, made more so by the volunteers at the hostel getting everyone involved in walking or karaoke. My eardrums are less thankful for the latter. We’re reluctantly tearing ourselves away tomorrow and heading to Santa Fe which is another hiking destination. I’m so sorry, legs. I promise there’ll be plenty of sitting down soon enough.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

El Valle de Antón, Coclé, Panama

Stayed at: Bodhi Hostel & Lounge, El Valle

Bodhi Hostel & Lounge. Overall absolutely fantastic. Breakfast is included and is pancakes, or eggs, or eggy bread with fruit. You get what you’re given though, there’s not a choice. The chill out area in the garden is so comfortable. The volunteers’ job is basically to organise stuff which brings people together for hikes or fun stuff in the evenings. It’s very sociable. The small double room is pictured here. It has AC if you need it. The dorms are triple bunks which is a pet hate but each bed has its own light and socket, plus a privacy curtain. The showers were hot but only had a curtain rather than a locking door which is another pet hate but I’d still give the hostel full marks because it excels everywhere else.

Useful shit to know…

How To Get From Farallón To El Valle de Antón By Bus

  • We took a minivan to the highway for 50c. There are plenty, you don’t have to wait long and you can flag it anywhere along the road that runs through Farallón.
  • Once there you can flag any bus bound for Panama City. You’ll see the bus stop. They were mostly minibuses and our big bags went in the boot.
  • Tell them you’re going to Las Uvas so they know where to let you off.
  • It cost US$1.50 each.
  • Cross the road over the footbridge and walk a little bit up the side road.
  • Just past the big arch welcoming you to Las Uvas there’s a bus stop.
  • Wait here for a bus to El Valle. It cost US$2 each.
  • Total cost: US$4 each.
  • Our tour to Pozo Azul cost US$35 each and was arranged through the hostel.
  • This included the transport, the guide and the entrance fee.
  • The entrance fee is only US$2 if you’re doing it independently.
  • I’ve read that you can take two buses to get to Pozo Azul then you’d have to walk the last 45 minutes up and down some serious hills.
  • If you’re self driving I’d highly recommend a 4WD for this last bit.
  • Turns out there’s an enterprising local offering a ride for this last bit for US$1 each. Erick pointed it out, there’s no signage or anything and I don’t know how reliable it is.
  • La India Dormida cost US$3 each.
  • If you enter the way we exited and climbed up via the cross you could probably avoid the charge but the walk wouldn’t be as nice and it’s not a huge amount.
  • Chorro Las Mozas cost US$2 each.
  • A guy at the hostel went there straight from Cerro Iguana and avoided paying but again, it’s such a small charge I’m more than happy to pay.

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