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Cavet Emptor consider this lesson before buying or building

There is no way to sugar coat the disastrous events at Montanas de Caldera in Boquete Panama; but we can learn from what happened. This post is about the geology not only of Montanas de Caldera, but of many areas around Boquete Panama.

One house in Montanas de Caldera needed to be destroyed after it’s swimming pool plunged into Caldera river.

Contrary to what I had thought the pool was quite small and many meters back from the cliff edge, not even close to the edge.

View after the collapse from the canyon

After this event and subsequent investigation, the Civil Defense authority, SINAPROC,  ordered the other houses on the rim be evacuated until a soil study could be done.  Link to information about the order.

The owners of the sub division did commission a study.  I have made the English version of the study available for download at this link.  LINK . It is a 20 meg PDF file that will download if you click the link.

The engineering study suggested that nothing should be built closer than eighty meters from the edge of the cliff. A subsequent amendment changed that line to exclude some lots along the rim. The amendment is part of the same download and appeared to me to be questionable, at best.

I disclaim expertise, I am neither am engineer nor a geologist. I did however submit the report to a engineer in Boquete and an architect in the US who sent it off to an engineer in the US. I did this because I wanted to know what I and others might learn from the disaster in Montanas de Caldera.

The summary is that both engineers believed the original report was well done and thought the eighty meter rule was minimum. The US based engineer said, “run away as fat as you can”.  Do not build, not even as close as the recommended “stay back eighty meters”. He said eighty meters is a safety margin of one, he likes a margin of three,  two hundred forty meters back. He said, the river will most likely flood off and on, run into the banks, undermine them again, change directions, undercut and ‘eventually’ the area will cave in. It is not a matter of if, but when, it just time related. The engineer also said that the rock down deep will let water in and undermine the stability of the entire ridge.

After this disaster and the prior slides into Valle Escondido (link),  we, the buyers, must beware.

The lesson we can learn is about living on beautiful view or hillside property anyplace. It has special import in Boquete which has many mountains that are really piles of rock and not solid rock. Before investing in property or in building your dream house, have the land checked for geologic issues. The investment in the required studies can allow informed decisions. I am sure if these studies were done and presented to perspective buyers they would never have bought or built on these lots, learn from their experience.

A course correction and the Rio Encantado

When I started writing this blog more than four years ago, I was writing for my children, they never read it. Then I started writing for myself, my life, my experiences in the this great adventure called life. Over time more and more people started reading this blog. People in Boquete already know about what is here, but appreciate some news and occasionally a different perspective. Recently I can see a lot of new people visiting this resource, people who are considering a relocation to Panama and more potential tourists looking for information.

I stopped writing about restaurants, I stopped writing about resorts, I stopped travel logs of travels around Panama. In doing that I omitted what many readers want, some ideas for visiting, places to stay, places to eat. The silent majority of readers, according to Google are not in Panama but are in North America. Starting with this post on Rio Encantado in Caldera I am going to start sharing information about hotels, resorts, restaurants and regional travels again.

I live in Boquete which means I don’t usually spend a night in a resort in the area. Still I stumbled across an ad for Rio Encantado and decided to contact Frank, the owner, and ask if I could visit and write about his rather low key nature preserve with a few cabins. I wrote that sentence with careful consideration, because Frank has one hundred hectares straddling the Caldera River with only four cabins and one guest house. Although the cabins are well appointed and complete, the real feature is the wilderness.rioencanto1.jpg

Rio Encantado is not for the visitor who wants to be in the middle of an urban or even suburban setting, it is comfortable wilderness. This is the place for a quit retreat, a swim in the river, a walk in the tropical forest. The setting was being cleared for pasture when Frank purchased it, he reversed the process, reforesting, reinvigorating the native environment. Rio Encantado is a real nature preserve in the diminishing wilderness of Chiriqui.

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Do not consider Rio Encantado for a day, consider a week, the rates are a reasonable $60 a day. You will have your own kitchen, your privacy and the ability to commune with nature. If you wish Frank does have staff that can prepare elegant meals. If you prefer, you can do it all yourself.
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I did not spend a night at the resort, I did walk along the river and experience the beauty. It is very different from Jaramillo, and only thirty minutes away. Rio Encantado has a great party facility near the river and I might in the future consider renting it for an event, the location is that unique. It is that much of a trip back in time to a place only touched by man, not totally terraformed. Beautiful, comfortable but immersed in nature not concrete.

If you are interested in learning how to scuba dive, Rio Encantado offers lessons in the pool. A better place to start than the river :)
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For more information on the facility and availability check trip advisor

Sunday Morning, fantastico

Part of the charm of living in Boquete Panama is the tranquility of our lifestyle and the abundance of opportunity for enjoying our quality of life. Today I seized the moment and took advantage of a great opportunity. Boquete Safari Tours has a of season deal on horse back riding, $25 for a couple of hours riding through Caldera.Rancho_Caldera_Panama002.jpg

After our ride we took the opportunity to visit Rancho Caldera and enjoy a fantastic brunch. A year ago the Panamonte was the only place in Boquete to have a Sunday Brunch. That has changed, there are now several places serving Sunday brunch. Rancho Caldera is special for several reasons.

The synchrony with riding helps set it apart as does the quality of the food and drink. Gina has made Rancho Caldera a spiritual haven. The food and the atmosphere are fresh and clean. Her new chef, Craig, has brought a higher than normal standard to local cuisine. I think the mantra could be stated as quality food, quality drink, quality service and great preparation makes Rancho Caldera worth the ride from Boquete.

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Start with the unique smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict below, my breakfast was fantastic.
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The eggs are from local chickens, dill literally clipped by the chef in front of me.

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Other menu options were equally wonderful as were some temptingly toxic deserts. Consider a chocolate cake made with chocolate from Bocas del Toro.Rancho_Caldera_Panama000.jpg

After Brunch you can round out your Sunday with a cooling dip in the Rancho Caldera Swimming Pool. Look at the surreal view. I really urge you to try the whole enchilada, ride the horses, eat the brunch and get wet in the pool. Make your Sunday “muy especial”!Rancho_Caldera_Panama009.jpg

A rant about devastation and Hydro Electric Projects

I major topic in Boquete and Panama are new hydroelectric projects. This region is rich with rapidly flowing rivers and some have already been harvested for hydroelectric uses. When I first arrived her I considered hydroelectric an environmentally friendly source of electricity. I was wrong!

On my recent trip to Bocas del Toro I saw a finished Hydro project, La Fortuna. That project is not new and I have little awareness of the impact on the area around La Fortuna. I just had the opportunity to see a new project in Caldera during construction. The negative impact of the construction is very clear as you can see the earth being washed away.
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This impact is devastation for a small area for a construction time that provides a few short term jobs for the region. The real impact of the type of project they do here is the rerouting of rivers. This photo of the Chiriqui river just downstream from the project is one for the history books. After the dam is built only 2% of the flow will continue.caldera4.jpg

The remaining 98% is rerouted underground for several kilometers and then emerges again after being pushed through turbines. What happens to kilometers of now lush forest when it?s water disappears? What happens to any human settlement along that river that relies on the water? Does anyone even care?

Who benefits from this? Will local people have reduced electric rates? Other than a few jobs first in construction then in running the plant where is the positive impact? I hate to sound anti capitalist but the only winners in this will be the investors in the project who will have cheap electricity to sell someplace at the cost of one more environmentally sensitive location in Panama/

There are options, solar, wind and less destructive hydro projects. Why an equating capitalism and greed in the same breath; because the blind destruction of the planet for personal profit is fundamentally wrong. There is no reason why compromises to more environmental ideas cannot be made to provide both the needed electricity and not destroy the very ecological treasures that make Panama special.

In Boquete the current Mayor and community have said no to new hydroelectric projects. These projects might produce a profit for investors but they would destroy the very environment that draws people to Boquete.

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