Anton Valley – El Valle, Mountain Magic
by Terry Braverman
El Valle has been a favorite vacation spot among Panama’s well-to-do city dwellers for years, and recently, is an emerging tourist destination. But there is an indescribable mystical allure about the place that I will attempt to define.
Ascending from the clammy coastal plain, the scent turns to fresh sinus tingling mountain air. The wide angle verdant vision of forests spreading up the mountain sides appear to me as huge clusters of broccoli tops. Purple, yellow, orange, red, and teal blue flowers fill in the foreground on the roadside, sprouting from rich volcanic soil. We stopped to look at some property for sale. The rare golden frog hops from the grass onto a log, staring blankly at a land populated by a variety of fruit trees mango, lime, orange, banana, passion fruit, plantains, guava, mamey and guanabana. Jagged peaks loom in the mountain backdrop, led by La India Dormida, or The Sleeping Indian. Looking closely, I could see her lying down, her flowing hair formed from the dense forest, her face, the outline of her breasts. Legend informs that she was the beautiful daughter of the indigenous leader Urrac. She was grieving the death of a lover, and spent the remainder of her life in sorrow on the mountain top. Nature, moved by the sadness of this love story, perpetuated her legend as a silhouette of the princess lying down.
Waterfalls abound in this area, and my girlfriend and I hiked to a couple of them, stopping to plunge into a chilly but invigorating pool of bubbling water. This made my honey incredibly bubbly, a real joy to observe her laugh, splash, screech, and swim.
I acknowledge an inability to define the mystical allure of El Valle, which is what makes it so. It’s an intangible feeling, a lifting of the spirit you will just have to experience for yourself.
El Valle is a mere 1½ hour drive from Panama City. And for an area seemingly remote, there are a number of places and cultural offerings to explore that could keep you busy for several days.
WHERE I STAYED
Yoguini Spa & Accommodations
I drove right by the sign for this place, anticipating something more visually substantial. When I realized that the unassuming house on the same property WAS the Yoguini Spa, I was initially disappointed in its appearance. Then I met Michael, the lone proprietor, and my mood quickly transformed to bemusement and fascination. His calm demeanor and eyes conveying keen life observations let me know this was no experience to endure, but an enlightening education to enjoy.
There is Yoga instruction from Michael, plus a steam bath and massage room on the premises. And, an exquisite chocolate therapy bath using pure organic cacao, either facial or full body. A very talented masseur/healer, he gave me a two hour session, liberating a two week long stiff neck. Although there are no set meals, he cooked an incredibly tasty apple pie and chocolate cake with organic ingredients retrieved from a local farm, served with a fresh salad. But the ultimate meal was the spiritual nourishment of engaging in extended conversations with Michael over cups of herbal tea.
The minimalist design of the house is the reflection of a very successful entrepreneur whose drive to serve people evolved into an embodiment of Yogic simplicity. Michael retired from real estate and a health spa company (at the age of 30) to relinquish the chase for material wealth and focus on mostly gratis healing services and eclectic creative expansion.
The King suite and the Cama Sutra suite are it for accommodations. My room and the bed were comfortable. Come without expectations of luxurious decor, and know that Michael’s level of service and genuine care for his clients is unmatched. Visit Yoguini Spa
El Valle Activities
Hiking/Bird Watching/Horseback Riding
There is an extensive network of trails leading from the town into the hills and around the valley. You can hike to the top of La India Dormida or go bird watching in the Gaital National Reserve. Several waterfalls are situated around the valley they are beautiful and even more exciting during the rainy season from April October and may be explored horseback riding.
La Piedra Pintada
A testament to El Valle’s pre-Columbian culture. These undeciphered petroglyphs lie just below “La India Dormida”.
Las Pozos Termales (Hot Springs)
These baths are highly beneficial in regulating sleep problems and are said to cure everything from asthma to arthritis and stress. El Valle’s thermal pools are by no means stagnant. The pools have an inlet and outlet which allows the water to flow constantly. The pools are also drained and washed every day. Smaller, shallow pools have been built for the handicapped and children. In addition to this, El Valle’s thermal water park offers clay and mud therapy to all visitors. Just a $2 entrance fee.
The market place is in the center of town. Besides fresh locally grown vegetables, fruit, plants and flowers, you can find handicrafts such as wooden bowls, paintings on wood, hammocks, molas, baskets and ceramics. Prices are usually negotiable. The popularity of the market has encouraged a string of handicrafts shops to open nearby.
El Nispero Zoo & Botanical Gardens
The owner, an agronomist who runs a small nursery in El Valle, had a large collection of animals and birds, and over time so many people donated abandoned or sick animals that it just made sense to open a zoo. The 2.8-hectare (7 acre) property sits at the foot of Cerro Gaital National Monument. There are 55 species of birds, both exotic imports from Asia and Africa such as golden pheasants and white peacocks, as well as a few tropical species not seen in any zoo outside Panama. A good representation of endemic animals includes the Golden Frog, a white-faced capuchin and spider monkey, an ocelot and trigillo margay, and a couple of tapirs rescued from Manuel Noriega’s home after the invasion. El Nispero’s pastoral property has shade trees and a botanical garden that offer quiet spots for reading a book or just reflecting on nature. El Nispero is also home to the brand-new Centro de Conservaci e Anfibios de El Valle (EVACC), an amphibian research center.
This modest serpentarium makes for a quick and fun place to learn about snakes. There are 14 different snakes on display, including a boa constrictor that they’ll let you hold (if you can stomach it) while you have your picture taken. A local biologist gives interpretive information.
El Rincon de la Bioversidad
This small organic farm run by the very knowledgeable Tomas Garcia is an example of sustainable farming. You can pick your own vegetables here, as well as learn a bit about the organic farming process. There are also some hand-made handicrafts for sale. Long and short-term volunteer opportunities are available for those who wish to contribute their time, and discounted (and even free) lodging can be negotiated with Tomas.
Museo del Valle
Located behind the main church, the museum has a small collection of pre-Columbian ceramics, colonial religious art, petroglyphs, and domestic utensils.
Aprovaca – The Orchid Center
There are 147 species of orchids on display, for those who hold a keen interest in orchid cultivation.
El Macho Waterfall and Canopy Tour
You start by walking uphill for about half an hour with a knowledgeable guide who will point out any birds and animals he spots and tell you about the trees you pass. Then comes the adventurous part– put on thick gloves and a harness, attach the harness to a rope and whiz down a series of ropes suspended high up in the trees, passing over the waterfall. $2 fee.
Arboles Quadrados (Square Trees)
Located just behind Hotel Campestre, these famous trees have a square trunk at the base, which becomes round as it moves upward, taking on the look of a normal tree. As there are only a few trees of this kind, it is worth a quick look if time permits. The trail leading to the trees starts from the right side of the hotel, just behind and to the right of a small building. The trail is well marked and easy hiking, reaching the square trees in less than five minutes.
Restaurante Santa Librada
Housed in a charming Spanish colonial building, this cheap and cheerful café serves up a tasty bowl of sancocho de gallina, the national soup of Panama. Other staples such as lomo de arroz (roast beef with rice) and bistec picado (spicy shredded beef) are available. Located in the center of town. c 2010 Mental Floss Publications
Terry Braverman & Company
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