© 2020 ANDREW BONDARCHUK

EL VALLE

El Valle de Anton, Panama [late December]

It's well into winter in North America but central Panama has recently transitioned into dry season. Also known as summer. El Valle de Anton (Anton Valley) sits in the crater of an extinct volcano, surrounded by mountains and cloud forest. Daytime here was bright and sunny with some rare clouds floating by, and it never got too hot; up to 27°C in the afternoon, and down to 23°C at night. We always had the windows open, falling asleep to the sounds of wind, rustling leaves, the gossip of thousands of crickets, hundreds of birds, dozens of frogs, and a plethora of other living things that call this place home... With only small villages in the vicinity, the light pollution we're used to in rural areas near major cities was non-existent: the stars and moon were the only things illuminating the night.

Exposure: 1/1600 sec, f/8, ISO 250

Our residence at El Valle was just outside of the actual valley - we were up in the forest, on one of the surrounding hills. As we walked down the narrow paved walkway along the wall of this house (see image below) to get to the glass door of our corner apartment, we were also walking along the edge of a rainforest... If you turned your head to the left at any point along this walk, you'd have the view above.

On the far side of the house was this lovely little patio; equipped with a hammock (as most residences in Panama are), a bench and a little breakfast table. The hammock hangs right over the edge of the stone deck, which drops down into a beautiful greenery-filled ravine.

We never did spot the baby sloth that frequents one of the nearby trees, but we must have seen a hundred different birds. As we rolled out of bed in the morning, we could hear at least a dozen distinct bird sounds... I imagine that an experienced birder would be able to hear dozens more in that mix - Panama is home to over 200 species!

The stay here was as relaxing as you can imagine but getting here was somewhat of an adventure. After landing at the international airport in Panama City, we drove a few hundred kilometers on Highway 1 (the Pan-American Highway) and some hours later, long after sunset, we finally got off the main road and into the villages of The Valley.

To say that finding this place in pitch darkness, not to mention actually getting up here, was a challenge would be an understatement. These were our directions:

Turn right at El Rey supermarket from the main road. You'll come to a cross road. Take the road on your right passing San Antonio chapel where horses are being rented.

...I'd like to note that by this point we were not only off the highway but also off of what you'd picture when you think of a "road", leaving behind any sign of pavement or street lamps...

Follow directions to Golden Frog Inn and pass their entrance. You are on an unpaved road.

...if one thing was evident, it was just that. We could only see as far as our dimly lit high-beams, and the low suspension of the car was jingling from the hits of flying rocks...

Follow this road for 0.6 km. On your right before getting to the end of this road where you'll find the last house, you'll see a stone arch and a paved road steeply climbing up (you have arrived to La Chachalaca). Go through the stone arch.

This road is steeply climbing upwards.

...originally seeming like a redundant statement, I quickly understood exactly why it was emphasized. We otherwise might have assumed that we are lost; the road was beginning to climb steeper than the two-wheel drive and tiny engine of our sedan could handle...

I stepped on the gas and we rolled up through the stone arch.

Take this road and it will lead you to the house located at the end of the road. You can park halfway through after passing the little house on your right. You can walk or drive to the house; however, if you take a taxi make sure the taxi has front wheel drive otherwise it will not climb the steep road.

...we later learned that some taxi drivers (namely any that weren't riding in a Toyota Hi-Lux pickup truck, which were a common taxi type in this part of the country) actually refused to attempt the drive and guests carried their suitcases all the way up for about a half mile...

The photo above doesn't nearly do justice to some of the 180 degree "corners" combined with the 30 degree slope, especially since it is seen here in the daylight. But it's a glimpse.

Head over to the adventure and prints galleries for more of Panama!

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