Planet Hiker
2004-08-23 Lightnings strike at Boquete, Panama


I arrived in Boquete couple of days ago, after leaving Bocas del Toro in search of something to contrast the paradise of its Caribbean islands with spotless beaches. Ummm, well OK, I did not have to go far but Boquete was worth the drive - itīs a little mountainous town, surrounded with national parks and protected areas. For that reason, itīs quite popular with North American ex-patriots and local rich folk alike. In fact, I ran into Ron, from Arizona, who was looking for to purchase a place to retire in. Turns out that Ron is a police officer in Phoenix and I must say that I canīt imagine a better law enforcer - he is 6ī2", white, muscular, has not wife or children, does not talk to his siblings, has little, looks a lot like that cop in terminator 2 and he has a look in his eyes that Clint Eastwood would be jealous of. Him and I got along just fine, I liked his sense of humor. For instance, he was telling me (true story) how once there was this guy, who got drunk at a wedding, stumbled over and when falling, accidentally touched the brideīs butt. Apparently there were couple of people at the party that did not appreciate what happened. So they took the guy out, beat the shit out of him, then cut him into pieces, roasted them and then fed them to the people at the party. Ron told me all of this with a barely noticeable smirk on his face. I had fun beating him in pool.

Anyway, itīs been a while since I went backpacking and Boquete offered a perfect opportunity with Volcan Baru in proximity. The neat part about this mountain is that the top of it (at 3,475 meters) is the only place on earth where itīs possible to see both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the same time. As I found out, there was more to the volcano than that. To my amazement, at the top, along with dwarf trees and moss, there was growing bamboo AND there were humming birds racing over wild flowers! Itīs easy to appreciate this when standing above cloud level and watching lightnings strike beneath you. Actually, I was hoping that they would only strike beneath me... Truth is, I had to climb over several peaks and each time, all of the hairs on my body were standing up. I had a hard time controlling my heart rate when I was pulling myself up on a rock that was distinctly warmer than others... But the storm was only on the north side of the mountain. The south side had some small clouds that were being kicked back and forth by the changing wind. I had my dinner (banana bread with salami) watching this soccer match as it was played over Boquete.

Being close to the equator, the sunset came closing rapidly. I scrambled to find a spot to pitch a tent, but could only find couple of square feet that were relatively leveled. Trouble was that this was on the very top of the mountain, with lightnings striking about a kilometer away, every 10 or so seconds. There was a pile of rocks, 2 meters away, that was just above the tent. But still, I knew perfectly well that high voltage could easily arc over. Having no other options, I made myself "comfortable" and tried falling to sleep. That turned out to be a bit of a challenge, as the wind picked up, bringing a rain with it.

Because the soil was not very deep, very soon the stakes, that were holding the front end of the tent, gave out. To keep the tent from collapsing, I emptied the backpack, pushed it to the very front of the tent and used it as a pillow. But the wind was too strong. It was ravishing the tent in full fury, forcing water inside. It was then that I began to really appreciate synthetic materials. My sleeping bag, socks and pants were completely wet, yet it did not feel that cold (this is really remarkable considering that the temperature had dropped to near freezing point, as I found that out from a ranger the next morning).

So the night was a bit rough, but the sunrise made it all worth it. There was a layer of clouds way above the horizon, as well as sparse distribution below me, over the mountains. And for about 15 minutes, as the sun was between them, every color around me began to glow and every shape woke up, as if having something to say after centuries of silence. The memories of hauling the 15 pound camera bag with the tripod the day before, were quickly fading away, as the shutter release button sunk again and again under my frozen fingertips. And yes, I did see the Pacific and the Atlantic at the same time.