Boquete on the Rocks

Boquete, Panamá, haven for North American and European expats (ex-patriots) has gained worldwide attention for being a superb retirement community. Former residents of many countries have flocked to Boquete for a new life. The reasons for this include a moderate climate (yearly average 70º F), clean air, no hurricanes, and sometimes a lower cost of living.

Expats, however, arrived late on the scene in Boquete. The town is nestled in a valley with mountains rising on the sides. As such, it was a pass through to reach more distant lands. Miners going to the California Gold Rush of 1868 often stayed, but they found no gold here. There were no roads in the early days; most people traveled by horseback. The district was founded on April 11, 1911, but people have existed in the area since about 600 BC. This is evidenced by petroglyphs in the outlining community of Caldera.

There is evidence of even earlier habitation. Anthony Ranere from Temple University conducted an archaeological survey in western Panamá in the 1970s. What he found has astonished not only archaeologists but also general history buffs and inquisitive people. Outside Boquete, Ranere excavated a site which came to be known as Casita de Piedra, a natural cave-like indentation in the mountainside. His discovery shows this structure had been used for thousands of years for domestic life and work, as well as for shamanistic practices.

A natural cave-like indentation in the mountainside
Casita de Piedra – HuffPost.com

In 2007, Ruth Dickau, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Exeter, arrived on the scene and discovered a cache of unique stones. Below these rocks was a piece of charcoal radiocarbon dated to be 4800 years old. A similar fragment was found in the layer above which was dated to be about 4000 years old.

Carbon dating further indicated the base of the rock shelter showed this area had been used about 9000 years ago. The way these rocks were placed, as well as their composition, suggests they were used by a shaman. If so, this would be the earliest material evidence of shamanistic practice in lower Central America, according to Richard Cooke of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panamá.

It is a known fact shamans used rocks and crystals in their practices. These rocks were often unusual in some way. Some of these would have been quartz, pyrite, and magnetic minerals, carved or uncarved. This evidence shows the Boquete site was most likely to have been used by a shaman.

Quartz, pyrite, and magnetic minerals

Why these pre-human beings gathered crystals is still a mystery to modern science, but it is possible to deduce crystals had some intrinsic value for these people, and if they were making cave drawings, they had a spiritual life and, if they had a spiritual life and, if they gathered crystals too small for use as tools for manipulating objects, the crystals may well have had a spiritual or energetic value to them. [attrib. to Richard Cooke, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute]

Crystals are more than a power object for the shaman. He and his practitioners believe these are living beings from the spirit world and they transmit energy for healing and can affect a change from negative energies such as sickness to health.

The receivers of shamanistic knowledge were hunters and gatherers living off the land. They gathered fruits, nuts, and roots and captured animals and fish. These people progressed to be herders and farmers. Farming is an indication people moved from finding food to growing food. This occurred some 10-15,000 years ago, a significant practice which is still primary for survival.

Expats have made their mark on Boquete, but Casita de Piedra shows a handful of rocks are an even bigger mark for the town. Even though this excavated site must remain in seclusion for its protection, just knowing the importance of its existence puts Boquete on the map.

Fact: Boquete is home to Barú Volcano National Park
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Panamá Has a Desert

A desert in Panamá. Doesn’t that seem contrary to tropical living? Yet, a desert does exist and the worst thing about it is that is man-made. The desert is now a national park, a contrast to the Ecoparq of an earlier post.

A northeast portion of the Azuero Peninsula has been stripped bare from over grazing and cultivation for thousands of years. What had been there were coastal forests and mangrove trees. This vegetation was chopped down in the 20th Century to allow for farming. Unfortunately, the loss of trees caused the soil to be blown away and farming was at best difficult to sustain. The Azuero Peninsula is the driest region of Panamá, and this desert area has higher temperatures and less rainfall than even adjoining areas. The rock pictured was split due to heat.


https://recorriendopanama.com/
cracked by the heat

Fortunately, this area has become the Sariqua National Park in an attempt to revive the land. It consists of 20,000 acres or 18 square miles on the Pacific Coast. It had once been covered by the sea and remains a salt-encrusted land. What mangrove trees remain at the edge of the park serve as breeding grounds for shrimp. These shrimp have contributed to the renewed growth of vegetation, which has slowed the loss of soil due to winds, rains and tides. Sariqua might be more correctly called a salt bed than a desert.

Sarigua is likely to be the oldest, pre-Columbian settlement in Panamá. The area was settled by fisherman 11,000 years ago and was a farming community from 3,000 BCE to 500 AD. There still are remains of ceramics and tools used to farm.

This land was farmed until the 1900’s when the devastation began. Eventually the farmers had to move to greener pastures. The land they left remained devastated for decades until recently. See nature’s attempt to revive the land in this 6 minute video:

People come to this sad-looking park to see the beauty in eroded valleys, the salt deposits, quartz, and volcanic rocks. What they also see is a park on the mend with flocks of pelicans, and 162 migratory birds that have stopped on their way to somewhere else. With the slow growth of new trees, forestation is taking over where it once thrived and now this land is beginning to show a new life.

Fact: There are 16 national parks in Panamá
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