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November 22, 2001

Rolling the Jeep on Volcan Baru

One of the early highlights of the trip was driving to the top of Volcan Baru, at  3474m (11,397 feet) the highest mountain in Panama. Supposedly, in good weather, it is one of the few places from where you can see both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean at the same time.

The best approach is from the town of Boquete, a pretty highland town (which has recently been overrun by foreign real-estate development).

The plan was to drive as far as possible, camp, and then hike to the top the next day.

Mistake #1 was that we didn't bother taking the boats off. Then again, it made what followed even more humorous.

As I was driving, I stuck close to the left, since the road on the right was rather bad. Unfortunately, I could not see what was under the vegetation on the left. When we hit a relatively large rock, the left side of the jeep went up, and partly because of the high center of gravity, we tipped over.

Mistake #2 here was that I was driving too fast.

Fortunately, it's a Jeep. Until that moment, I didn't really know what that meant... After some fun time gathering up scattered whitewater gear and lightening the load on the roof, a plan was made to right the jeep back up. With a Hi-Lift jack, I got it to a roughly 45 deg angle, at which point I tied the roll bar to a tree (at that point, at least the throw bag in the whitewater gear came in handy), which freed up the jack. Then, I used the jack to push one of the tires sideways... and eventually we were back on our feet (err, wheels).

The damage was quite minimal -- the water jug was clearly beyond repair, and the mirror had shattered. The passenger door wouldn't close, but that was it.

Now what?

Well, easy decision: continue to the top!

About half way up the mountain, we ran into a group of panamanians who were headed back down and reported that we'd be able to go all the way to the top. We did -- camping on right on the highest peak of a country was quite an experience, although the view was less than perfect -- it was a cloudy couple of days.

I'd definitely like to go back some day -- but during the dry season, to see both oceans, and maybe even my house in Bocas del Toro, from where I can see Baru on many days, reminding me to go back.


Back in David, we left the Jeep in the hands of Bredio, who runs a little shop a bit outside of town. Nothing happened for a couple of days, and then I realized that nothing would happen unless someone pushes a little. Another day and just $20 later, everythying was repaired, and we even managed to replace the jerry can of water.

Posted by rick at November 22, 2001 01:43 PM