El Sendero de los Quetzales

The power had been off for almost six hours. The whole town was out. And as the sun went down the hostel became shrouded in darkness.
Of course the internet wasn’t working
A suggestion so terrifying that people went to bed at 9.30pm
Then it was back, the lights came on
People literally ran to their phones and bolted upright in bed and got out of bed and soon they were all back in the cold glow of their devices clutching, holding, caressing them.
Delmy told us that once in Bogota they had no power for a week. The building had started shaking and they HEARD the electricity, buzzing, could feel it, alive, there was almost a flash of white light, then it was still. The WHOLE of La Candelaria had gone out. The police came to the hostel and told everybody to evacuate and the fire brigade came and tested the air for oxygen and they were advised not to walk the streets at night and with no power to charge or internet everybody had to talk. She said it was great. They did everything by candlelight and everybody got closer and nine months later lots of babies were born (not really).
I watch the people in hostels and the people in hostels sit around staring at a laptop phone tablet like zombies not talking, blocked off by technology.
How odd it is really. Nobody is talking. Nobody is doing anything.


Our milk had turned, probably because the fridge had been off for so long. It was 5am. I couldn’t make breakfast. It was the latest kick in the nuts.
At six the taxi came. All around us the streets dropped into dawnlight. The sun was coming up. The world was awakening.
The taxi dropped us off outside the ranger station at the entrance to Parque Nacional Volcán Barú. The station was locked up, no sign of life. We had been told to start as early as possible.
What the hell is this?, I said.
We were supposed to pay $5 entry. Oh well, I thought, a freebie. That’s nice. But I was also thinking that we should really get a picture of the trail map on the wall inside. I squinted through each of the windows.
There it was. The map. I could just about make out the place names on it. Boxhead pulled his big camera out and pointed the lens at the dirty window.
Just a second…
We managed to get a blurry picture through it.
That’ll do, I said. So we ate the biscuits we found in the free food box for breakfast and set out.
This is moronic you know, doing a hike such as this without taking breakfast.
We have food though.
Yes but for this we need BOTH, I said gravely.
I had asked around and there were a couple of people who said not to do the trail without a guide, especially since two Dutch girls are still missing almost two months after going walking in the area. They said the trail isn’t signposted and in parts is hard to follow. Suspiciously, one of the girls advising against it worked in a travel agency offering tours of the trail. However, two ladies behind hostel travel desks said we’d be fine provided we didn’t stray from the main path.
The real sendero didn’t start for a few kilometres. In total, it’s a 20km round-trip hike thereabouts, but I have no idea at which points the 20km starts and ends.
There was a tiny dead snake in the path, right at the beginning. It looked as if it had been dropped there by a bird.
Ooooooh, look at that! A SNAKE!
Eventually we reached the trail, leading into damp malignant forest. We followed the muddy path and it was like walking through Lodge Woods but less creepy until we came across a clearing and a house straight out of True Detective constructed roughshod entirely with corrugated metal. The grass was long and rotting benches and tables were scattered about the clearing. A dog was tied up outside. He looked up at me as I walked by then went back to sleep.
It’s like True Detective!, I said.
I walked around the side of the house toward the front. There was no door. I peered in, unsure whether to ask for directions. In the dark inside I could see the end of a hammock. I quickly ducked back out of sight of it.
We detected the trail.
It must be this way, I said, pointing at a track as faint as a whisper. It led down to a stream. Straining his eyes at our map picture, Boxhead said we were due to cross a stream, he thinks.
Then this has to be it.
Leaving the clearing behind we followed the narrow track. It went steeply down and it was just mud and we scrambled and slid down it on our hands.
We stood looking at the steam. On the other side of it there was only thick forest.
Hmmm, I don’t think it’s this way.
I can’t see a path.
We climbed back up to the clearing. I’m going to have to ask whoever is in that house, I said.
Boxhead’s eyes bulged like he had an over-active thyroid.
REALLY? He looked like he might cry.
It’s all right, I thought. I can run faster than you.
First, though, I walked back the way we came, the path we arrived on. There it was. The trail. Obvious and signposted. Right in front of us.
We’re fucking idiots.
Boxhead didn’t respond because he was afraid of waking up whoever might be inside of the house.
Back on the right track we walked. The trail is named for the resplendent quetzal bird, brightly coloured little babes native to Central America. It is reputably one of the best and most beautiful hikes in Panama. I realised that if we saw a quetzal I wouldn’t know it because I didn’t know what a quetzal looked like.
There were reassuring indicators that we were going the right way, picnic tables and benches, although they looked as though they hadn’t been used in a long time. There were some steep steps, not too many, vicious nonetheless.
I lied to somebody about my age the other day. I told them that I was 25 and they laughed in my face. All that worry, I guess.
Somebody is playing bongos in the hostel. Who travels with bongos? Nobody anywhere has ever been impressed by a bongo.
We emerged out of the forest, barely broken a sweat. It was 9am. Another ranger station just up ahead.
That was it?
That were shit
We hadn’t seen anything. The only bit of wildlife we saw was the dead snake at the beginning. We sat at a table outside of the ranger station and ate some chocolate.
…can you really be bothered to walk back the same way?, I asked.
Let’s take the bus from the next town
We started toward it, the town I mean. Fields stretched to the hills all around us and people were working the fields wearing scarves, hats, sleeves, gloves, to protect from the sun. It was a happy place, where the animals were happy and the birds and the sun glanced off the wings of butterflies and the leaves of trees. The labourers in the fields, maybe not so happy.
We were happy, given the circumstances.
We still have most of the day ahead of us!
I didn’t think we’d get back so early!
Yeah, this is great! I thought we’d be out all day!
We made plans and schemes, had hopes and dreams.
I can do a bit of writing!
I can watch a film!
A nap!
And maybe I’ll even do some Spanish!
The breeze would carry with it a scent of cauliflower, which is always nice. The road seemed to go on and on. We walked all the way to Cerro Punta. We walked down the main drag, past all the stores selling farm tools, fertiliser, whatever. A cut grass smell. At the end of the road we turned around and I asked in a supermarket about a bus. There was no direct bus to Boquete. We had to go via David. The bus came through shortly.
We’ll be back in no time!, I exclaimed.
I slumped in my seat because my spirit was wilted because after 10 minutes I knew. We were stopping every two minutes to collect and drop people off. After thirty minutes I looked at the list of towns posted on the door. We were only at number six. There were 21. David was the last stop.
It took us three hours to get back to Boquete on the bus. The day was gone, burned like yesterday.







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