Category Archives: Destinations

La Milagrosa Coffee Farm, Boquete, Panama

After weeks of heat and sweating and beaches, I needed a change of scenery and headed up into the Panamanian highlands to Boquete. This beautiful little town was green and relaxed and most importantly, the climate there was exactly what I needed: warm, but never hot and cool at night- the perfect temperature to sleep soundly.

Boquete Boquete 2

While I really headed to Boquete in hopes of doing some hiking or rafting, a previously mentioned run in with fire ants left me limping about and unable to wear closed-toed shoes or put pressure on my foot.  So, I had to find something less demanding to get into while I was there. Luckily, Boquete is also world famous for its coffee production, so I decided to take a coffee tour.

Though I admittedly don’t even like the stuff, I find the world”s enduring obsession with it fascinating and was interested to learn what really goes into making it. So, I headed up the winding roads to La Milagrosa coffee farm.

La Milagrosa is a small operation run by a man called Mr. Tito.  We were lucky enough to run into him in the beginning of our tour, and he welcomed us and was obviously pleased to share his business with anyone who was interested.  Mr. Tito has been successful at producing award winning coffee for some time now, and in no small part to his personal creativity and contributions to his business. Unable to afford big fancy machines, this man has taken some machines meant for wine making and altered them to fit his needs or just gone ahead and created his own solutions using parts from an old Jeep and a broken washing machine!

Jeep used for parts!

To make coffee, Mr. Tito and his crew start with growing coffee plants.

Coffee Plant

When the fruits, sometimes called coffee cherries are red and ripe, they are picked, by hand, from the plant. A small crank machine is used to remove the seeds from inside the fruits so they can then be dried out.

Seeds inside fruit

Drying coffee seeds

After 2-3 weeks of drying in the sun, these seeds are ready to be re-planted, or moved on to the next phase of coffee making.

Mr. Titos Machine

Once all the layers of skin are removed, you have what is called a “green bean”. It is not really green, but it is the state that most producers sell their beans in. They are not yet roasted and have not been ground. Later, once they reach the point where they will be consumed, be it a cafe, restaurant or personal kitchen, they must be roasted and ground. The closer this happens to consumption, the fresher the coffee will be!

Beans RoastingMe Roasting

You can roast the beans to light, medium, or dark depending on your tastes. Each roast is only within about a minute of the one before it, so you must keep an eye on those beans! According to the coffee folks, dark roast is burnt and makes for crappy coffee, heavy on bitter but light on real coffee flavor, so its best to stick with light roast, or for the most balanced cup, medium roast. I am pictured here keeping an eye on the beans in a roasting tumbler, made by Mr. Tito with old parts, stirring with a scroon- screwdriverspoon, also made by the super handy owner.

Three roasts

Once you choose your roast, you grind the beans down into a powder and brew your finished product!

Finished product

Though I still don’t think I will ever be a coffee drinker, I enjoyed tasting what coffee “should” taste like and learning all about the process from growing to guzzling!

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Bocas Del Toro, Panama – Bastimentos

Bocas del Toro, Panama, a group of islands off the western caribbean coast of the country, might be the most popular destination in Panama outside of Panama City. All of the guidebooks will tell you that it is a MUST GO for the beaches and surfing and partying in town on Isla Colon. But, once you start to talk to actual backpackers who have been there, you will hear mixed reviews. Some people love it and want to stay there forever and never leave. Others, myself included, think it is just OK and would rather spend the rest of our lives elsewhere. But, to be fair Bocas is actually a set of islands, each with their own vibe and while Isla Colon, the main island, was not my favorite experience yet, I found Bastimentos, a different island, to be really pretty, much more relaxed, and whole lot more enjoyable.

Bocas del Toro Bastimentos

Bastimentos

My time in Bocas happened to overlap with that of some permanently sailing friends of mine, who were living on their boat in the marina on Bastimentos. I met up with them and headed over to their home to hang out and trade travel stories for a few days. It was really good to see some familiar faces and just relax outside of the main island in Bocas!

Green Butterfly

We did a bit of exploring of the island, played cards on some beaches, had some drinks and came across the one animal that I had yet to spot on my trip- a sloth!

Sloth 1

Sloth 2

Sloth 3

This guy, with the markings on his back and his relatively fast-for-a-sloth pace, is actually a Costa Rican sloth. Not sure how he got to Bocas, but he literally just crossed a path right in front of us, giving me the chance to get these up close shots!

Bastimentos also boasts a population of tiny Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs that one of its beaches, Red Frog Beach, is named for. We looked everywhere as we walked along without seeing any and decided going into the jungle a bit (in flip flops) might lead to better results. We didn´t go in very far before the first one was spotted by one of my friends. Once we saw one, we saw a bunch more. Excited to be able to get some good shots of these little guys I inched slowly forward, camera at the ready and started snapping. The small group of fire ants I happened to step into just then simultaneously starting stinging. Though a few of my toes blistered up to the point that I was limping around Panama for about a week aftward, I came away with these amazing pictures!

Strawberry Poison Dart 1

Strawberry Poison Dart 2

Strawberry Poison Dart 3

And here are the type of ants that I`m pretty sure stung me. These are the very ants that the frogs get their poison from so you can imagine that the sting actually hurts quite a bit for such a small animal.

Bastimentos Ants

In the end, Bocas del Toro has an island vibe for everyone! So, even if you don´t feel like Colon is the one for you, there are a whole host of others that you can spend your time on instead! AND always were closed toed shoes when exploring in the jungle.