Up in the cloud forests of the Chiriqui Province of Panama sits an unexpected hostel with inevitable adventure and stunning views. Lost & Found Eco Hostel is roughly 2.5 hours west of Almirante by bus and a 15 minute shlep up the mountain. There a complex of sprawled out buildings backs up to a series of trails. Overall the setup lends towards a group atmosphere as there’s one large communal outdoor dining table where everyone tended to meet up whether preparing their own meals or ordering the daily special. Planned excursions were priced incredibly affordable and they even had a treasure hunt laid out along the main trail for free. That night I started the hunt through a maize on the property and found/solved the first clue. Really fun and surprisingly challenging!
While normally the highlights would be the landscape and fellow travelers, one aspect dominated the experience: Rocky the Kinkajou (honey bear). Rocky has a sad story of being rescued and rehabilitated, only to end up with several failed attempts at reintroducing him to the wild. Each time he’d return broken; he can’t survive on his own. Being nocturnal, at around 7pm each night Rocky would wake up and be ready for company in his enclosure. He’s lovable, friendly, curious and playful. He wanted his belly rubbed by everyone he met. I’d often finding myself peering through his cage as I walked by to see if he was awake yet. Kinkajou love.
The rain started during that first night and didn’t subside throughout the next morning. Staff at the lodge warned that the trails would be incredibly slippery and another backpacker assessed that based on his hike the previous day it would be down right treacherous. There wasn’t much time to wallow over the missed hiking opportunity as the biggest festival of the year was going on in a small town called Gualaca, approximately 30 minutes away. A local who helps out at the lodge arranged for eight of us to venture down there and proceeded to hang out with us all day.
At first it was a typical carnival-type atmosphere. Street food, games, live music. But this was no ordinary festival. It was a cowboy/cowgirl festival. Well really it was a religious festival, but you wouldn’t know it. When the parade started, more horses than I have ever seen gathered in one place marched down the street with a range of riders from kids to inebriated adults. Mingled in the crowd of horses were vehicles throwing candy, bags of cooked potatoes, cans of beer and even making mixed drinks. (The potatoes were delicious by the way.) There were also several rodeos and a chicken fight that I couldn’t bear to watch. Everywhere one turned there were horses and as the day progressed the pavement became covered in a slick of horse crap.
Towards the end of the night we ended up at an outdoor bar where riders were pulling their horses up to the bar for a beverage. It was beyond packed. The music was blaring at decipels that offended my ears so I could only feel sympathy for the sweaty horses. I took to one horse in particular and stroked his head and neck, trying to provide some calming effect. The owner seemed to appreciate my love for his horse. He explained her name was Andromeda and insisted I jump up. Next thing I knew I was on a horse, in a bar, in Central America. The rest of the night was equally bizarre. We spent a good hour or more trying to get a ride back up the mountain to the point of genuine concern amongst the group. Once we were safely on our way back though it was nothing but jokes and laughs at what an unexpected, phenomenal day we’d just had together!