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Volcano Trekking in Panama

THE LAST HURDLE

The rain is getting worse. I’m soaking wet and can’t see anyone around me. My water and food supplies are running low and I’m starting to shiver. I’m so exhausted I can’t feel my legs, but I know I need to keep moving. How the weather could go from hot and humid to wet and cold in a matter of hours still puzzles me. The campsite where I’ll sleep tonight can’t be far now. I’m sure I’m nearly there.

FOURS DAYS TO GO

Rewind four days and here am I, on a flight to Panama with all the trekking gear you could imagine. I’m very excited and anxious – a weird, stomach-churning feeling. I’m about to climb Volcán Barú, a dormant volcano in the western Chiriquí Province; Panama’s highest point and the highest volcano in southern Central America at 3,474m (11,397ft). I’ve never done anything like it, but my biggest concern is being the only unfit person on the trip. I used to do a lot of sport when I was younger but unfortunately, over the past few years, my desk-bound job has spared me little time to keep fit.

Nevertheless, I’m about to take part in the first ‘Boquete Barú Eco Fest’ joining hundreds of trekkers from all over the world, from curious tourists and experienced walkers to local guides. The trek should take between four and 10 hours over very challenging terrain. This doesn’t bode well but I’m up for the adventure.

THE CLIMB

The views going up are good as the sky is clear. Lush greenery (and plenty of mosquitoes) surrounds me. The heat is, of course, relentless. It doesn’t take much time for everyone to separate as we’ve all got different rhythms. I grab a bamboo stick to help me walk up the boulder-strewn path. Wooden signs informing me of my progress are dotted en route: “11km a la cima”, “9km a la cima”, etc – these are a boost at first, but soon they start to taunt me.

Two hours in, the path becomes much steeper and narrower. The weather also turns misty. I need to make sure I reach the campsite before the rain starts. The trek is increasingly challenging and my energy levels start to wane. I take regular short breaks to recuperate. I meet a lot of friendly hikers along the way. Some offer to carry my bag (do I look that tired?) but I don’t want to take the easy option so I politely decline. One Panamanian family become my companions; Dores, her son and husband tell me (in English) about their life and daughter. The son is about my age and surprisingly struggles as much as me, despite being a regular football player. If anything, the parents are faster than us!

OCEAN VIEWS

That night, the temperature plummets to about 5ºC (41ºF) so I don’t sleep much. By 5am, I’m ready to summit the last kilometre in time for sunrise. I’m glad I brought a head lamp. It’s pitch black. Climbing up at night is very exciting though. As I reach the top, the sun is almost appearing on the horizon. The presence of radio masts and graffiti-covered rocks is quite unsightly but it doesn’t take away from those magnificent views – a breathtaking panorama of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, soon obscured by clouds.