El Valle sign

At the end of my last blog which described our drive up to El Valle, or El Valle de Anton to give it its full name, I said that this blog would describe our day in the town.

It is situated within the crater of an extinct volcano which first left a large lake. A few thousand years ago the lake sprung a leak and drained away leaving a deep valley filled with rich, nutritious volcanic soil which is still sold all over Panama today.

As we drove down into the town there was a beautiful sign bearing the town’s name. There is one main street through the town and, as you will see, we drove up and down the street a number of times. The centre of the town is flat due to it being in a crater.

El Valle signThe town sign

Our first planned stop was the Butterfly Haven and, about halfway into town, we saw a sign on the right for the Butterfly Haven and so turned right. We soon discovered that this was not the correct street so we returned to the main road only to see that the sign showed that the road we should have taken was another 200m further along the main road. We drove the short distance and soon found the Haven but the gates were closed. A sign informed us that it was open every day except a Tuesday and we had come on a Tuesday. We agreed that we would come a few days later when Tyrone was home as well.

On that sad note we decided to visit Aprovaca, the Orchid Nursery and Conservation Centre, on the way passing, for the first time, the Produce and Crafts Market. The Orchid Nursery was established in 2001 to protect the orchids of the area. At the time a young lady from Japan, Fizuki Miura or ‘Julia’ as she came to be known, and stayed for 3 years helping to get the Nursery established as a non-Profit Organisation. Sadly, while working there she developed Leukaemia and died before she could go home. A Memorial to her has been built near the entrance to the Centre. Her one important achievement was spearhead the efforts to protect and reproduce the “Peristeria Elata” or Holy Ghost Orchid. This is the National Flower of Panama. Sadly, none was in bloom when we were there.

ShrineThe Memorial to ‘Julia’. (This photo is from the booklet)

In fact, very few plants were in bloom as the best time for flowers is Sept-Dec when it rains and we were there in February. At the Centre entrance was a lovely display including a small fountain, some orchids and aloes and 2 sculpted Golden Frogs. These hand-crafted frogs are to be found on sale or as decorations everywhere in the town.

Entrance to the Orchid GardenEntrance to the Centre

We learnt that there were no English speaking guides but booklets could be borrowed to check on names and species as one goes around. As there were so few flowers it was difficult to match plants with the descriptions and pictures. At first we thought that there were no flowers anywhere but then discovered if we under and around there actually were quite a few. There were also a few Calabash Trees with varying sizes of fruit.

These are some of the flowers we were able to see

Yellow round headed Orchid

Feathery Orchids

Lily type Orchid

CalabashRipening Calabash

After about an hour there we went on to visit the Market which meant going back down the main street. There was a large variety of fruits and vegetables and items of clothing and ornamentation made by the Kuna men and women. A very popular item is a mola which is embroidered in vibrant colours by the Kuna women. They design their own patterns and the squares are  for the front and bak of a blouse. Some tourists get them framed and hung. A real favourite for me were some Nativity scenes created within a flower made of papier mache and Plaster of Paris. I looked for a Panamanian embroidered blouse but they were all too small. The people of Panama are all on the small side with the exception of those who have had themselves fixed with a Lennifer Lopez rear end. Apparently this is quite popular among the younger women. I bought a couple of small items and Lyn purchased fruit and veges.

Molas made by the Kuna TribeMolas made by the women of the  Kuna Tribe

Nativity scenes in flowersNativity scenes in flowers

Panamanian Nativity sceneA Nativity scene with a Panamanian flavour. Note the Sloth in place of a sheep

By now it was definitely time for lunch so back up the road we went to the Golden Frog Inn set high on a hill with beautiful views. As we walked on to the verandah we were told that the electricity was off so they could not cook anything. Then, when we were half-way down the steps, we were called back as it had just come back on. While we waited for our lunch to be prepared, which took about 15mins we wandered around the gardens and took some photos of the lush flowers and trees. Hammocks are very popular in Panama and there was one hanging on the verandah so Lyn chose to have a little rest.

Lynn in hammockLyn in a hammock

Gardens at Golden Frog InnPart of the gardens at the Inn

Room at Golden Frog InnOne of the rooms at the Inn

After a truly delicious lunch we made our way back down the main street heading out of town. Just before the end of the town we saw a large white-painted church which, we discovered was over 500 years old having been built in 1492. It was the Parish of St Joseph (Parroquia San José). It was not particularly large but had a beautiful Sanctuary and on the rear wall was an unusual sculpture of the Holy Trinity. Outside was a tall white cross engraved V Centenario, 1492-1992.

Full view of front of the churchFront view of the church

Cross for 500 year datingThe Memorial Cross

There was a bakery across the road sending gorgeous aromas to us so we bought some fresh rolls and drove back to Vista Mar for dinner.