Welcome back and thanks to my regular readers and a big, hearty welcome to those of you who are new visitors to this site. Hope you enjoy what is offered here and come back for more. This week we are traveling west about 130 km or 80 miles out of Panama City to the town of En Valle de Anton located in Coclé province. With the exception of the time we were on the Road Scholar program traversing the Panama Canal, we spent the rest of our stay in Panama City with it’s population of nearly one million people. So we were anxious to get out of the city and see a bit of the countryside. We were counseled to avoid renting a car and making the trip on our own. With the help of one of our Road Scholar guides we arranged for a driver to take us on a day long trip out to En Valle.
Our driver, Ross, picked us up at our Airbnb lodging and proceeded out of the city. It became quite apparent why we were advised not drive on our own; the streets are confusing, many without adequate signs; some of the roads are not in good condition; and the city traffic is terrible often due to the fact many of the roads are two lane and not built for the amount of traffic. Add to that, Panamanian drivers have the reputation of using only the gas peddle (no brakes or signal lights) to make their way through the city streets! But Ross handled this like the pro that he is (a former bus driver) and managed to get us out of the city in one piece.
After leaving the city and following a very small part of the 19,000 mile Pan-American Highway we turned off onto the winding mountain road to En Valle. As we climbed in elevation, we could feel the temperature get cooler and the humidity lower than it was close to the ocean. En Valle de Anton (shortened to En Valle by the locals) is located in the caldera (crater) of the inactive En Valle volcano that last erupted about 300,00 years ago. While that’s been a long time, I wondered if it would blow when we were visiting! It didn’t! The rich volcanic soil supports a lush landscape and a number of vegetable and livestock farms plus some pretty nice weekend homes owned by wealthy families from Panama City. En Valle is ringed by steep, jagged peaks with verdant foliage that offer some very good hiking.
If you look closely at this photo and follow the mountain top, you’ll see what is called Cerro La India Dormida or Sleeping Indian Woman. It’s one of the many sites that will be pointed out to you when visiting En Valle.
Our first stop was at the non-profit Aprovaca (Association of Orchid Producers in El Valle and Cabuya) Orquideas, a lovely little sanctuary dedicated to growing and preserving orchids. For an entrance fee of a mere $2.00 each, we were allowed to wander the grounds and greenhouse. Among the many plants that were tucked into every nook and cranny, we did find a few orchids in bloom.
As we were leaving the orchid gardens, this lady was working with the materials in these jars. We never did figure out what she was doing since our Spanish is very minimal and there wasn’t anyone around that could translate to English so all we got of this interaction was a photo!
Our next stop turned out to be the highlight of our visit to En Valle. It was to Butterfly Haven where we were met at the door by a very friendly manager and his assistant both who spoke excellent English. They saw it as their job to help us learn everything butterfly.
After the payment of a $5.00 fee per person, our guide escorted us to the butterfly enclosure where we got close up and personal with all sorts of butterflies. Some of the specimens were quite willing to be photographed while others just flitted around aimlessly. Kind of like people!
As we were leaving the butterfly enclosure, we were instructed to make sure we didn’t have any escapees on us trying to make a break for the outside world. After a brief explanation of the phases of butterfly development, the manager treated us to a video (in English) about the importance of the preservation of the butterfly habitat not only in Panama but around the world. A very enjoyable and recommended stop when in En Valle. Besides who doesn’t like butterflies?
Ross, our driver, took us on a little tour of the town through some of the very nice neighborhoods on our way to the Chorro El Macho. This is the most well known of the several waterfalls in the crater. After paying our $5.00 fees and selecting a walking stick from the many available at the entrance, we made the quarter mile trek, some on a rocky trail and some on a boardwalk out to the waterfall. It’s the dry season so the falls aren’t flowing really fast but still a nice site.
On our return trip, we walked across a bridge where this stream was flowing at a nice pace just waiting to be photographed. See my traveling partner practicing her photography skills using the Camera+ app on her phone, she mastered it faster than I did!
After returning our walking sticks near the entrance, I noticed this workman doing some repair work and snapped this photo. All I could hear in my head is Mr. Zahara, my high school vocational agriculture teacher, yelling at the guy to put on his welding helmet! Or at least wear some safety glasses. That said, I like the photo!
By the time we were done visiting the waterfall, it was way past lunchtime. Ross took us to the best restaurant in town that is still open for lunch, Restaurante Bruschetta. Even though it was past the typical lunchtime, there were a lot of customers including some in Panama for World Youth Day and a group of hikers and bicyclers from someplace in Europe.
After eating our fill and relaxing for a bit, I noticed this gleaming white church across the street, Church of San Jose. From what I could gather, this church has a long history and the alter dates back a few hundred years. The cross outside the church recognizes the 1992 500th anniversary of the Christian evangelization of the new world.
Our last stop in En Valle was at their very well known market. The produce farmers were getting ready to pack up for the day and let the painter working overhead finish his job!
However, the craft and souvenir vendors were anxious for business and willing to show us their wares as we passed. This woman made my traveling partner an offer she couldn’t refuse for the very beautiful handcrafted cloth panels she had for sale.
Ross indicated that it was time to start our two hour ride back to Panama City. While in En Valle, we didn’t have time to visit the zoo, the El Nispero, the best place to see the rare and endangered golden frogs. That will have to wait until our next visit to this charming mountain village, En Valle de Anton.
Next week is the very last post from Panama! Stay tuned.
Until then, happy travels!