Like every country, Panama has its problems (like the traffic I discussed earlier), but it also has places where everything seems just right. Or maybe even better than right–my favorite town in all of Panama is Boquete in the Province of Chiriquí, and it’s pretty much perfect. Since it is at a high elevation (almost a mile above sea level), the air is cool, but not cold. Even better is that it stays that way every day of the year! There is no bitter winter, and there isn’t any blazing summer. It’s just nice and cool all of the time. The soil is rich because an extinct volcano called Volcán Barú sits nearby, which means that just about every imaginable flower will grow there.
There’s also plenty of coffee, and it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. They grow a variety that I’ve never heard of before, which is called “geisha.” To be honest, I have no idea where that name comes from, since I don’t think that coffee grows in Japan.
I put the word “beans” in quotes because coffee plants aren’t actually related to beans at all. Beans are leguminous plants related to the Vachellia plants I’m seeking, while the “beans” in coffee plants are actually seeds inside of berries called “cerezas,” or cherries. The caffeine in the seeds that make coffee famous is actually a natural pesticide, since caffeine is toxic to insects.
Driving farther into the mountains beyond Boquete, the Province of Chiriqui ends and the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé begins. A “comarca” is something like an Indian reservation in the United States, where native people run their own affairs. I once had a Spanish teacher who was Ngäbere, or a Ngäbe language speaker (Buglé is another group), and he pointed out to me how the name for the comarca is often misspelled Ngöbe-Buglé in Spanish, which doesn’t have the same meaning in his language. In fact, I think he told me that ngöbe means something like “making a lot of noise without any meaning,” which would certainly be a wrong name for the reservation.
Up in the highlands, there is plenty of cloud forest, where fog rolls in and gives moisture to an abundance of epiphyte plants. Every tree is practically covered with them. The cool humidity also keeps the flowers from drying out everywhere along the highland roads, which adds plenty of splashes that mix with the Ngäbere people’s colorful clothes.
When we returned to town, we had a big meal and walked around a bit. I guess it all made up for not finding many spiders today!
P.S. I looked up “geisha coffee” and found out that it was originally discovered near the town of Gesha in Ethiopia. That is the native homeland of the coffee plant, so it has nothing to do with Japan!