Three weeks into our month-long Panama trip, our kids finally wore out. Our family had arrived in Chiriquí Province with brio, but on this late afternoon in the village of Boquete, our children, ages three and five, sprawled in their car seats with heavy eyelids. We’d sought out an authentic immersion experience, but had instead reduced ourselves to exhausted tourists. The mountain drives, the coffee farm tours, the requisite pictures of waterfalls with the family members assembled before them in various combinations, the garden visits… The pace was no longer sustainable. We drove back to our room in silence. Then,
“Look!” my five-year-old piped up from the backseat, pointing out the car window with urgency.
We all popped upright in our seats to see a massive rainbow stretched across the Boquete sky. The colors arched over a cluster of houses like a hand cupping the earth and then dipped out of view into a distant ravine that divided the village from the cloud forest.
My husband, not at all the sentimental type, knew instinctively to brake for this rainbow. He stopped on the edge of a wild field, and let my daughter and me jump out of the car into a gusting mountain breeze.
I’d never seen a rainbow so vivid and thick and close-up. I felt as if it were possible to run across the field, dive into its strip of colors, and slide gracefully into the rushing water below.
We’d spent our afternoon in an ice cream shop playing foosball and using the free wifi to read the news from the US. The kids had needed a break after the back-to-back sightseeing. The shop, nestled in what amounted to a newly-constructed strip mall on the outskirts of the village, resembled the chain shops back in the States with its metal chairs and fluorescent lights. It felt vastly different from the rest of Boquete.
Emotionally, I’d disconnected from Panama, but this rainbow — this unexpected sight — grounded me back into a sense of place, in the present, in the natural beauty of Boquete where the luscious scent of fermenting coffee berries lingers in the air.
The bajareque mist descends over Boquete and creates its frequent rainbows. The mist can hang over the valleys for hours, so rainbows, which I’ve only known in the States as fleeting sights, persist for quarter hours or longer here.
We’d spotted our first rainbow on our first morning at the inn. We woke to high winds and chilly temperatures in a room with no heater and not a drop of hot water. As I warmed a pot of water on the stove for a sponge bath and slipped my cold toes into socks, I stepped out onto the balcony. A rainbow swooped over the trees and my crummy morning suddenly felt magical. I began to notice the beauty of the inn: the mountain view, the sound of the Caldera river in the near distance, the low-hanging oranges outside my window, the vibrant dresses worn by the Ngobe-Bugle women walking to a bus stop, and the scent of local coffee brewing in our kitchen.
But that first rainbow didn’t compare to the one my daughter and I watched from the side of the road as it pulsed over the distant ravine.
We climbed back into the car determined to find the end of the massive rainbow.
“There’s a lookout at the coffee shop,” I said, practically out of breath with anticipation. We parked at Café Kotowa and headed straight to the railing perched over the river. Another family welcomed us with smiles and Spanish salutations that sounded like the trill of birds to my unaccustomed ears. The matriarch of the group nodded towards the ravine as if to say, “Your turn. Go.”
A double rainbow stretched across the valley. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The colors arched against the backdrop of jungle-covered mountains and both ends plunged into the rocky Caldera River. A complete rainbow, end to end. The second rainbow, much fainter and with inverted colors, appeared above the first.
“Where’s the treasure?” my daughter asked.
I wrapped an arm over her shoulders.
The bajareque mist of Boquete gave me this rainbow, but, in a way, so did my kids. They forced my husband and me to veer from our bustling itinerary onto a slower route that led to this beauty.
I clicked pictures with my camera that couldn’t capture the wonder of what I witnessed, and then took a moment to simply stare. In that sliver of time, as I watched the glow of colors fluctuate with the Panamanian breeze, the stress of life fell away and my spirit felt full and enchanted.