Ascent of Volcán Barú in 2009

Climber: Morgan Batt

Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Volcán Barú
    Elevation:3474 m / 11398 ft

Ascent Trip Report

Panama a land associated with The Canal, Captain Morgan and the hat – which is really made in El Salvador but somehow adopted and made famous by the name Panama Hat. Panama is an isthmus running east west which seems to get many people disorientated as they presume it runs north south between the two great continents of North and South America.
The aim of my visit to Panama was three fold. Walk the canal south to north or Pacific to Atlantic Ocean, visit some local tribes and climb Vulcan Baru (3475m).
For my first day in panama I was picked up at the airport and taken by car and then dugout canoe to the border of Darien National Park to stay a night with the Ember People. The heavily tattooed scantily clad people were fascinating. They make a sap from a plant which when tattooed onto the body lasts about two weeks. So the designs of the tattoo changes with the creativity of the people. The ladies had a great time tattooing both my arms with large animal designs and ancient line drawings. Tattoo encased we then went gold panning – of which we found a small amount. They also taught me to find the poison of the venomous green and black stripped tree frog and to prepare blow darts for weapons. The next day I headed by canoe back to Panama City and to organise my trip to walk the length of the Panama Canal.
The isthmus is 51 kilometers as the crow flys from Pacific to Atlantic. As really no one ever walks the width of the country finding a way to walk the canal was proving to be difficult. At the national museum I realised quickly that the Spanish Conquistadores built a cobble road across the country in the 1500s called the Camino de Cruces. The Camino was a narrow cobbled road linking Peru to Panama and then to Spain along which the treasures of the America passed. I also discovered that you can walk part of the ancient road – the Sandero Historico Camino de Cruce - from Venta de Cruces town (c. 1527) to Madden Road. So the only thing to do was start in Panama Vieja (the ‘old city’ 1519) and walk and see where I go. I picked up the road in a few places and through many questions of locals kept almost on track. At the Madden road I found an old Spanish canon. Crossed the road and continued along the old cobbles. The track is virtually littered with ancient Spanish conquistador relics, but sadly most of the track is being reclaimed by the jungle. On the second night a pack of monkeys stole most of my food so the next two days was going to be interesting. I eat bananas and vine leaves and survived very well. I walked along some of the fantastic engineering feat of the canal – what an impressive wonder. Some of the track I had to forgo and take canoes finally arriving in Colon and then to Castillo San Lorenzo (1596) the old port to Spain. Colon is not a town one stays around very long. I caught a train back to new Panama City passing through Mira Flores on the way. Found a great doggy hotel in the City and walked the town. The hill in the centre of town is great for viewing.
Next day I caught the plane to David City. Picked up in a taxi and driven to the beautiful town of Boquete – meaning the town of the "Valley of Flowers and Everlasting Spring". The day before I arrived was one of the biggest floods to ever ravage the city destroying many parts of the city and many bridges. A wall of water nearly engulfed the town. I spent the day helping the locals clean up. Found a clean and very cheap hostel just out of town. Down the road was a family eating house where one could buy rice, the daily meat (fish or beef) and a salad for about $AUD1.50. Staying at the hostel where two great guys who ran their own adventure company. I spent one day with Dimis hiking and walking through very cold waterfalls. His business partner Roli and I planned to visit some local tribes and to climb Volcan Baru Panama’s highest peak and a dormant volcano since 1550.
With Roli we hired a car and a local guide and went up into the highlands to visit with some Chiriqui people – well I think this was their name although they seemed a very different people to the locals around town. Chiriqui means "valley of the Moon and land of the two big waters". I found these highland people extremely suspicious of me and very closed. They said that they were the true natives and hid in the hills for centuries from the Spanish carrying our guerilla tactics against them. They also had a belief in a virgin girl who became pregnant and gave birth to their people. It is the girl they worship. I didn’t stay long and visited some ancient pictogliths on the way back to the hostel. I found out later that these highland people are very mysterious and a closed society so I was lucky to see and hear what I did.
Next day Roli and I drove up to the gate of the Volcan Baru National Park. We registered and started the long walk to the summit. The track is very obvious, although the short cuts are not. Saw some wonderful birds, plants and the mysterious black cat of Panama. Passing the Weather and Vulcanography Centre we neared the summit at about 3.30pm. About 20 m from the summit I told Roli that I was a priest and was going to celebrate Mass on the summit. I asked if he wanted to join me. Very surprised and shocked at the revelation he agreed eagerly although he said he had not been to Mass in years. By the end of Mass he was crying – it was a great blessing moment for the both of us. After some fantastic photos and a view to the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans we headed down about 200m to a hut for the night. A beautiful morning dawned with perfect weather. We were back in Boquete about midday. Roli and Dimis invited me to dinner that night – their shout at the local pizza place. Good beer, food, and friends always make for a good night. Roli asked me if he ever got married would I do the ceremony – I said yes but it would be difficult. Would you believe Roli was getting married three months later and e-mailed and asked but sadly I could not make it.
I flew from David to Costa Rica the next day landing just after the largest earthquake to hit the south of the country in years. This was going to be interesting. Oh, I also bought a Panama Hat in Panama City just for a photo – gave the hat away.

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