Sick in Santa Fe

Panoramic Santa Fe view from my front door at Hotel Anachoreo.

Panoramic Santa Fe view from my front door at Hotel Anachoreo.

I left Panama City with the intent to make my way west towards Santa Fe, a small community in the province of Veraguas that is starting to gain some popularity with ex-pats, but still retains the authentic Panamanian charm. I heard great things about Santa Fe and the surrounding mountain towns, so the plan was to play it by ear and see what hikes or waterfalls I could find.

Getting there

I took the bus from Panama City to the larger city of Santiago and then hopped on a smaller bus up the mountains to Santa Fe.

I took the larger David bound greyhound style bus to Santa Fe. Theoretically this should mean a quicker bus ride. But then we got in a small car accident.

I took the larger David bound greyhound style bus to Santa Fe. Theoretically this should mean a quicker bus ride. But then we got in a small car accident.

The bus from Panama City to Santiago was a bigger, greyhound style bus with space for luggage below. We also had assigned seats, which was a new concept for me here in Panama. I found out that the larger buses that travel between Panama City and David (this bus’s final destination) can be larger long haul carriers like this one and are more direct buses. Translation: they are faster because there are fewer stops. Unless your bus gets into an accident with a car, like mine did. In which case you could end up stopped for an extra hour in front of a Pio Pio (Panamanian fast food). Luckily, it was a minor fender bender, no one was hurt, and Pio Pio had semi-clean baños.

A glimpse into the busy Santiago bus station.

A glimpse into the busy Santiago bus station.

The from Santiago to Santa Fe was a smaller "microbus" like the one shown here.

The from Santiago to Santa Fe was a smaller “microbus” like the one shown here.

Once we arrived in Santiago, I took a $1.50 cab to the main bus terminal and boarded a smaller bus for Santa Fe. It was fairly easy to find within the terminal since each bus has the final destination painted on the windshield. The station in Santiago was HOT and when we left the bus was pretty much full. As the bus made its way to Santa Fe, there were quite a few stops, and the bus became packed with people. Luckily, as we traveled higher into the mountains of Santa Fe, it cooled down and my legs were not sweating quite so badly against the lady sitting next to me.  Gross! I got off at the very quiet, almost deserted bus stop, the end of the line in Santa Fe, and was pointed in the direction of my hostel.

Field trip to the Centro de Salud

The health clinic in Santa Fe. Unfortunately, I had to had this to my list of tourist sites in Santa Fe.

The health clinic in Santa Fe. Unfortunately, I had to had this to my list of tourist sites in Santa Fe.

So I left out a small detail from my Isla Grande post. I got what I thought was the start of a bad rash, maybe from a plant or something? But what I realized after 6 uncomfortable days was that I had shingles!! While I’ll spare you the gory details, it’s basically a painful skin rash that you can get if you’ve ever had chicken pox. The virus lies dormant in your system and can appear when your immune systems are down, but the cause is not exactly known.  This meant I needed real meds.

My hotel owners informed me of the Santa Fe clinic right near the town center, so I hiked there to start. I was armed with a WebMD list of meds so I could make sure I was prescribed appropriately. It’s stressful to be sick, but being sick in a foreign country can leave you feeling helpless and scared. To my relief, there was no wait to see the doctor, he immediately diagnosed me and prescribed all the meds on my list! The rooms were air-conditioned and the doctor was professional and patient with this nervous gringa.

The pharmacists helps me out in the health clinic.

The pharmacists helps me out in the health clinic.

Unfortunately, they were out of 1 of the 3 prescribed meds, so I asked for a cab driver’s number and traveled an hour to the nearest big town, Santiago, to pick up the last of my meds at the recommended pharmacy. The craziest part about this whole fiasco is that the entire thing: the appointment, the diagnosis, the meds, all cost me less than $30! I have good health insurance, but even still I was worried about the potential healthcare costs. The only thing I paid for was my medication – and the 2 pills and 1 topical cream cost me a total of $29.55! My hour-long cab ride to and from the larger town of Santiago was the biggest cost at $40.

Paying my health bills in Santa Fe was quite different that what I´m used to. All the records are kept by hand, and the visit cost a fraction of what I thought it might be.

Paying my health bills in Santa Fe was quite different that what I´m used to. All the records are kept by hand, and the visit cost a fraction of what I thought it might be.

After starting the medication, I began to feel much better and was finally able to sleep comfortably! My fears about a foreign healthcare system were put at ease and I was so relieved to be feeling better already.

The not sick stuff

A morning view of Santa Fe from ketekatravel instagram.

A morning view of Santa Fe from ketekatravel instagram.

If I were to pick a place to be sick, it would be Santa Fe. The weather was cool and breezy, the mountain views were beautiful, and the town was peaceful. It’s the kind of place you can arrive with just a book and a pair of hiking boots and have a restorative trip surrounded by green mountains, afternoon rain, and a quaint town.

It helped that I stayed at a small hotel, Hotel Anachoreo, with views overlooking a colorful garden. One of the co-owners, Sinnet, is an incredible Cambodian chef who made me breakfast and dinner with the freshest ingredients I’ve had in Panama thus far. I was able to slowly recoup with a book in the hotel hammocks and nourishing made-to-order meals. The entire hotel has about 5 guest rooms. The place feels homey and friendly with fellow ex-pats and friends of the owners coming by for lunch, coffee, or to just enjoy conversation with friends.

A sample made to order breakfast at Hotel Anachoreo. A fresh veggie omelet!

A sample made to order breakfast at Hotel Anachoreo. A fresh veggie omelet!

I highly recommend Hotel Anachoreo and restaurant.  The restaurant serves delicious Cambodian meals (think Thai food) to non-hotel guests Wednesday-Sunday evenings for dinner and the hotel price ($38/night during the off season) includes a large breakfast.

Hikes 

The destination of our hike: Bermejo waterfalls

The destination of our hike: the Bermejo waterfalls.

The biggest attraction in Santa Fe is the natural beauty. I called the local guide, Cesar, listed on Keteka’s website and asked him to take me on a nearby hike the following day. We went on a 4-hour adventure up and down the hills to Bermejo falls. It was an intermediate to advanced hike because of the hills, and I enjoyed hearing about the various wildlife and points of interest in the town. Cesar picked some oranges off one of the trees on our way to the falls, and we enjoyed them at the side of the river just below the falls. The falls were a little tucked behind our ending point, but according to locals, you can hike up a couple more hours and see even larger ones. The tour was $18. César offers other guided tours such as horseback riding or river rafting, but make sure you have a Spanish speaker in your group as he speaks very little English.

A bridge on our way to the Bermejo falls.

A bridge on our way to the Bermejo falls.

Cesar, the Santa Fe tour guide, leading the way on our hike.

Cesar, the Santa Fe tour guide, leading the way on our hike.

There are more strenuous hikes in the area, and a day trip (albeit a long one) to El Salto to see larger waterfalls, but I stuck to the easier stuff since I was still recovering from being sick.

Night Hike with the Human Animal

We found you! Really, my guide Edgar found this red toed tree frog sitting on our night hike.

We found you! Really, my guide Edgar found this red toed tree frog sitting on our night hike.

My favorite activity in Santa Fe was the Night Hike! Edgar is a manager at Hotel Santa Fe and also leads night hikes in the area. He was highly recommended by a tour guide and biologist from Panama City (Briant, if you remember from my Ojo de Agua post). We left the hotel at 9pm and took a taxi up to an area a bit higher in the mountains, Alto de Piedras. From here, we started our hike down a dirt path in Santa Fe National Park.

My tour guide, Edgar, casually placing a stick bug on his face for a Kodak moment.

My tour guide, Edgar, casually placing a stick bug on his face for a Kodak moment.

Edgar has a long history working with wildlife and animals. He currently works on the Panamanian portion of the Jaguar Project, a project that tracks jaguars as they travel a long path between Mexico and Argentina. He has some impressive experiences working in the park, so I was surprised when he told me that he believes he is an animal, and not a human. It sounds crazy, but I can’t argue with the guy. He had certain calls for each animal, and they respond! We heard a distant call from what he described as a small monkey, he responded with a well-practiced howl, and they began talking! The monkey sounded close because of the loud cry, but he said it could be perched on a tree far within the jungle and out of sight. He veered slightly off the path to search up in the trees, and found the little guy perched just a few trees away. Remember, we are walking in the mountains, in the jungle, in the middle of the night, with no street or city lights. Turning off our flashlights, we could only see the bright round eyes of the little monkey about 100 feet away high up in the tall trees. The monkey slowly bounced along on the branch as Edgar spoke with him. Edgar told me I could call out to him with my animal call, but mine still needs some work.

Edgar searching for movement around the tree so he can spot night time creatures.

Edgar searching for movement around the tree so he can spot night time creatures.

Another insect, a moth, found on the hike.

Another insect, a moth, found on the hike.

We continued on to find a long walking stick bug that Edgar, without hesitation, placed on his face for a Kodak moment. He then placed it on my shoulder for another snapshot, but the bug climbed right on to my face! Another photo that mom may ask questions about later…

The walking stick climbed his way on to my face!

The walking stick climbed his way on to my face!

It was incredible to see how the jungle is so alive at night. According to Edgar, the insects, bugs, and frogs are easier to spot and catch at night since many are nocturnal.

Posing with my favorite night time find - the colorful red toed tree frog.

Posing with my favorite night time find – the colorful red toed tree frog.

The 2 hour guided hike was $35, including pick up and drop off from my hotel. Of course, this is no zoo, so every night brings different sights and sounds, which adds to the mystery and excitement of the hike.