The Bees, The Beans, and The Horses [Video] – Boquete, Panama

Get yo mind outta the gutter! We haven’t made a birds and the bees video!

The Bees, The Beans, and The Horses is a little montage of the awesome things that we did in Boquete, Panama. I’d never heard of Boquete before Matt discovered it in Lonely Planet, but apparently it’s an extremely well-known place. In fact, it was rated as one the best places in the world to retire by International Living Magazine. Is 29 too young to retire?

Oh…in addition to that, Boquete is the place for growing coffee in Panama. The world’s most expensive (and best) coffee comes from here. It’s called Geisha coffee and we’ve tried it. Hehehe.

  
While we were in Panama’s coffee region, we just HAD to go on another coffee tour. This time, we wanted to see a big coffee farm so we went with Carlos to visit one of the Cafe Ruiz farms. Mr. Ruiz started his business a thousand years ago and at the ripe old age of 92, he still goes to his 11 farms EVERY DAY to check in on things. 
You go, Mr. Ruiz!

I thought that the Cafe Ruiz farm was going to be quite the juxtaposition to Don Cune’s small organic coffee farm. But to be honest, the set up wasn’t SO different — it was just massive at the Ruiz farm. There were still fruit trees all throughout the coffee trees, providing shade for optimal growing conditions, and putting nutrients back into the soil. They still didn’t want to use pesticides (though they did if they had to). And there was still a huge respect for the caffeined bean and what it needed thrive naturally.

That seems to be a common theme here. We felt the same respect and appreciation at Boquete Bees as well.

  
Look, I’m the first person to run like my ass is on fire if there’s a bee near me. But I love honey and don’t know that much about it’s producers.

Same with Matt.

So when we saw that we could tour a bee farm/honey farm in Boquete, we jumped on the opportunity. We’re so glad that we did! Emily, the bee keeper at Boquete Bees, was so informative both about bees and honey, as well as life in Boquete as an expat. Plus she introduced us to putting honey in your coffee, something that up until then, I figured was either misguided or hipster. 

Possibly both.

It’s definintely not misguided and I don’t care if it’s hipster. It’s something we will continue to do because it’s SO good (whenever we have honey, which so far hasn’t been often). Go on, try it!

  
Emily’s farm is completely set up for her bees. I’m not sure her bees know how good they have it but they’ve got all kinds of different flowers and fruit trees to feast on. 

You might not know this, but bees are super organized in the way they eat — they’ll finish one food source before they move on to the next. The diversity of food options on the farm means that the bees produce loads of different kinds/flavours of honey. And since Emily is amazing at the honey business, she uses this to her advantage and sells lots of unique raw honeys. Sweet!

And we enjoyed ALL of them at the honey tasting. Even sweeter!

  
Boquete is known for its eternal spring weather and fresh mountain air and gorgeous views. And what better way to enjoy all of that than on horseback?!

On one of our last days in Boquete, we saddled up and went on a trail ride through Marisella’s family farm. The views of Volcano Baru were amazing and the horses were darling. I grew up horseback riding and this ride was a great experience. It was Matt’s first time and he really liked it — I think he’s a natural! Matt and his horse looked like best buddies by the end of the ride.

  
Enough jibber-jabbering. Watch the video now, I know that’s what you came here for.

— Cyn and Matt

How to Spend a Tuesday in Boquete, Panama

Boquete is a small town nestled in the beautiful green mountain highlands of Chiriqui province in Panama. It’s really special here, there’s an energy to the place that’s impossible to describe. Truly, it’s beautiful. Basically, Matt and I fell in love with Boquete so we’ve decided to stay here a a few extra days. Lucky us, we’ll get to experience every day in a week!

  
Tuesday was our first full day in Boquete and we spent it exploring some of the free(er) things to do. It was a rather enjoyable day, I must say!

Grab a cup of coffee at Central Park and people watch.

Our Tuesday was bright and sunny and we took a little stroll to Central Park. I don’t actually know if that’s the name of the park or just the cafe. But anyway, we had a cappuccino in the little cafe that looks out at the park. The cappuccino was super sweet but good. And the people watching was alright, too! Women wearing traditional Panama dresses, old men who’ve likely lived here forever, and expats of various retirement ages were milling about.

Wander through the Tuesday Market.

All caffeinated and sugared up, we went off in search of the Tuesday Market. Affectionately (or resentfully?) called Gringo Market. It wasn’t much of a search — we were only a 2 minute walk away, just over the bridge.  

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, gringo is used in Latin America to refer to someone who isn’t Hispanic or Latino. Gringo Market was a bit weird because most of the vendors were expats. Also because the shoppers were…expats and tourists. I guess that’s where it got it’s name from. 

I wonder how the Panamanians feel about the gringos taking over? I genuinely wanted to know. And if you do too, hop on over to Boquete Panama Guide to sort of find out. At the very least, find out the history of this bizarre market.

raw honey from Boquete Bees
raw honey from Boquete Bees
 
The market was, despite it’s oddities, enjoyable to stroll through. There were vendors selling everything from honey (local and delicious, by the way), meat, fruits and vegetables to used books (in English at cheap prices), jewerly, miracle creams, and clothing. And more.

Grab a bite to eat at Sugar and Spice Bakery.

Look, I’m only going to say this once. Sugar and Spice Dulces Gourmet is freaking amazing and you NEED to try it. K fine, I won’t only say it once…I’m going to scream it from the hilltops! 

Get a muffin ($1), a sandwich (prices vary), a slice of pie ($2.50), or whatever you feel like. Or maybe try their quiche, a salad, or a soup.  

sugar and spice brownie muffin
Feast on a brownie muffin
 

I’m positive whatever you get will be delicious! 

Matt and I have tried their French bread, oreo cupcakes, and tres leches cupcakes (cupcakes are $1.50). All amazing! In fact, we my have eaten the entire loaf of bread in one day…and had cupcakes for breakfast. You only live once, right?!  

Go for a walk to Mi Jardin es Su Jardin

Mi Jardin es Su Jardin is a private garden that you can enjoy for free. When you consider the scale, it’s impressive! There’s even a private chapel.

 Just a little over 2kms from Sugar and Spice, the walk will take you through town and uphill. You’ll be surrounded by green mountains and wander past a pretty church and darling cottage homes. 

   

Hit Happy Hour at Mike’s Global Grill and stay for dinner 

Oh my vegetarian heart was so happy here! I had the vegetarian chilli and man oh man was it good! Matt got the BBQ chicken pizza (with mushrooms) and he was in heaven too. To start, we ordered the yuca with special dipping sauce. I just about died of happiness and fullness.
 

So there you have it! A wonderful and not too expensive way to spend the day in Boquete.
— Cyn

How and How Much to Get from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro?

So it’s time to leave Costa Rica for Bocas Del Toro, Panama.

The $30 USD shuttle From Puerto Viejo might seem tempting but the Sixaolo border crossing it’s so easy and much cheaper to do it yourself. Trust me, we just did it on May 5th, 2015. DIY the border crossing and you could save upwards of $16.75!!

Here’s how (and how much) to get to Bocas Del Toro from Puerto Viejo:

1) Take one of the earlier buses from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola. Starting at 6:30am, they come every hour.

Note that the bus may say Limón on it. Just ask the driver to make sure you’re getting on the right one. The bus takes about 1.5 hours, and the border closes at 5:00pm Costa Rica time.

Cost for bus from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola: $3.25 USD (you pay in colonies obviously)

2) The driver will kick you off the bus at the end of the line. If you get off on the road, walk straight ahead and up a tiny hill toward the Sixaola River (Rio Sixaola). It take 1-2 minutes. Cross the crazy old bridge. This is where you exit Costa Rica. Make sure you do this!

3) Go through Costa Rica Customs. It’s on your right in a tiny building. You have to fill out a short exit paper and pay an exit fee. The $7.00USD exit fee is payable via credit card (you do it with a machine) and you may or may not get a receipt. It doesn’t matter, the customs officers watch you pay. If you don’t have a credit card, you can pay cash but it’s a little more ($8 I think). 

There’s a free toilet here if you need it. It’s kind of gross and had no toilet paper on offer at the time of our border crossing.

Likely, Panamanian shuttle drivers will start soliciting you here. I recommend not to commit to one just yet because you can shop around for prices once you officially enter Panama. More on crossing the border.

4) Start walking straight again. You’ll be ushered into a suspect looking building and asked to pay for a stamp in your passport. It’s $4.00USD and it isn’t your Panama visa.

5) Carry on walking until you can turn left. Turn left and walk past a parking lot on your left. On your right is where you officially enter Panama.

It’s possible to cross without official paperwork being completely. It’s ILLEGAL and you’ll be in shit a few kilometres down the road when you hit a checkpoint. 

Do you really need proof of onward travel? We got asked for proof of onward travel. We showed the border guy a print out of our flight confirmation email to Colombia. He looked at the paper and said fine. He didn’t verify in any way that what we showed him was legitimate. We didn’t have a boarding pass (obviously).

Someone we met didn’t have onward travel. The border guy wouldn’t let him through…after about 20 minutes and a $20USD bill later, his passport was stamped.

We DO NOT recommend offering bribes or gifts or using fake tickets to enter any country. 

6) All of your paperwork is done now. It’s time to haggle with taxis/van drivers. It costs about $20 to go to Almirante by taxi, which is where you get the boat to Isla Colon (the main island home to Bocas Town). You can split the price with other people. I travelled with 4 other people and we each paid $4.00USD.

The van drivers will lie and tell you that if you take their van, you’ll save money on the boat. It’s total bullshit. The boat costs $6.00USD per person – it’s standard fair. That being said, you can negotiate with the van drivers for a decent price to the boat dock in Almirante (we got them down to $25 for 5 people).

It’s possible to take public buses. We didn’t so I can’t help with that.

Total cost from border to Almirate: $4.00USD.

7) You’ll be dropped off at the water taxi area. It costs $6.00USD and the boats run frequently. Sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s interesting (notice the toilets at the end of the docks!) and beautiful!

Total cost to get from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Town on Isla Colon: $13.25 USD

Remember, if you cross with the shuttle, you still have to pay all the border crossing fees. It’s cheaper to go by yourself!

It took us about 4 hours to get to Isla Bastimentos, which is about 35 mins by boat from Bocas Town.

**(Directions from http://www.puertoviejosatellite.com/)

Happy travels! 

–Cyn 

High on Caffeine and Hope [Video] – Lost and Found’s Coffee Tour

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And that people get stuck in their ways. It’s not so. Don Cune proves it.

 
Don Cune is a Panamanian farmer in the province of Chiriqui. He grows coffee and fruit (like my favourite soursop) in the mountains about an hour and a half from Boquete. It seems he’s made good friends with the guys from the Lost and Found Hostel!

We met Don Cune when we took their Organic Coffee Tour. Nico was our guide, and he was great, translating Don Cune’s stories with ease.  

When Don Cune’s crops were being destroyed by bugs, he turned to pesticides, like many farmers would. Like many farmers have already done throughout the world in an attempt to save their crops, and earn a living. And the pesticides worked. For a while.

And then he and the other farmers needed to use a little more pesticides. And then a little more. And more. Until they completely stopped diluting the pesticides and just used them full strength. Despite the pesticide use, the bugs were rampant and killing the crops. The destructive bugs became resistant. 

Farmers weren’t using them properly and bugs were becoming immune. The German manufacturer of these pesticides realized that this was a big problem. So the manufacturer flew to Panama to teach the farmers a few tricks that would help them better use the pesticides and be more successful with them.

Don Cune was one of the farmers who was being trained.

They learned simple but monumental things like how to identify which bug was the actual problem. That way, the farmer could choose the corrrect pesticide to take care of pest bug. 

It’s quite simple to do. You attach a piece of yellow plastic to a stick (the stick should be a few feet long so you can stick it in the garden). Then you put a sticky substance all over the plastic and stick the stick in the ground and wait. In the morning, you come back and look at the plastic. What’s stuck to it?

If there’s a lot of one kind of bug, then that bug is the problem.

If one bug gets out of control [on the farm], it’s because the farmer has created the conditions for imbalance. – Don Cune, translated by Nico

Don Cune found butterflies, bees, and lady bugs. Those are all good insects. A healthy farm needs them, and he was struck with the realization that he was KILLING THEM! The pesticides he was using were killing the very creatures that would help his crops grow.

It was a series of realizations like this, coupled with simple methods of repelling insects (a repellent is completely different than a pesticide), and a ton of trial and error, that lead Don Cune to become an organic farmer.

 
And it’s stories like this that don’t just educate me, but give me hope. Hope that in this world so focused on making as much money as effing possible that all is not lost, that it’s possible to change the way we live. And live a life that is in harmony with nature — instead of destroying it for profit.

From what we’ve seen, organic farming isn’t just about not using chemicals. It’s about creating a balanced environment with many different types of plants, each benefiting from each other. The orange trees provide shade for the coffee plants, for example.  
 

 
It’s done with an open mind and a huge amount of respect for the natural environment.

We’ve done our best to show you – grab a cup of coffee and watch the video now.

Cynthia Did Something Stupid. Again. – Aka the walk from Red Frog Beach to Wizard Beach

It’s like hiking around an active volcano in flip flops but WORSE! Probably. All because I wanted to go to Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos.

The day before my stupid thing, we did absolutely nothing but hang out at Bubba’s House (a wicked chill hostel on Isla Bastimentos) in the sunshine. It was amazing but, if you know me, I get super antsy if I don’t get any exercise. I’m bit like a puppy in that way.

So the next day, it was time to do something!

We stood at the edge of the dock, hailed a water taxi (sounds cooler than it is), jumped in the boat, and away we went through the rain clouds in pursuit of the mythical (maybe magical) red frog on Red Frog Beach.

 When we got there, it started raining due to the aforementioned rain clouds. I thought we were stupid for going to the beach when it was OBVIOUSLY going to rain. But hey. That’s the kind of thing you do when you’re travelling. 

And anyway, that wasn’t the stupid thing I did.  

 We took cover under the biggest and only tree with a makeshift chair until the raindrops ended.

 Then I started climbing logs and jumping off them, as you do when they’re that big and right there, and it’s not raining anymore!

Again, that was not the stupid thing I did.

Once we were sufficiently lunched — and sufficiently annoyed by 40-something-year-old loud-mouth Americans getting day drunk and talking loud as hell saying stupid things like, “I don’t even like the beach! I hate it.” (The epitome of American tourists), it was time to get into the sunshine!

We decided to walk from Red Frog Beach to Wizard Beach. Wizard is quieter (has no bars, has nothing actually) and it was on our way back to Bastimentos to Bubba’s House.

  

This is where the stupid happens.

To walk from one beach to the other, you have to cut through the jungle. If that map up there were to scale, and if it could somehow depict just how jungley it is, we might have put some clothes on for the walk.

Hike. 

If we’re honest with each other. This was not a walk in the park!

It was a jungley and muddy and buggy hike. 

And I did it dressed like someone whose never heard of a jungle before. 

I actually just looked long and hard at the map above and realized that the path does actually show just how much of the path is through the jungle. It just looks like it’s on the sand! Haha omg.

— Cyn 

Best hostel on Isla Bastimentos: Bubba’s House. The vibe is amazing, the owners are so nice, the food is cheap and cheerful, the coffee is great, and the beds are super comfortable.