The Horror Movie Atop Panama's Volcán Barú — Page 2
By Luke Maguire Armstrong

Despite my lack of baseball, when I picked up the rock, Ghostface must have realized his joke had gone too far. He tore off his mask and in a snickering voice said, "We do that to mess with people who climb up here."


Behind the mask was a bright-faced Panamanian of about twenty. He extended a hand and introduced himself as Victor. Another friend approached and introduced himself as Carlos. They were excited for the company: they had been camped up on the mountain for the last three days. I noticed a tent off in the distance.

"Do you want some rum?" Victor asked, extending me a bottle of Bacardi. We declined, freezing and exhausted. Carlos noticed my teeth chattering and offered to make a fire. I helped him gather some branches. The thin atmosphere and wind made lighting it difficult, but Carlos added some rum to the dry branches and soon we had a blaze that seemed to save our frozen lives.

Just then another group approached with a puppy eagerly following at their heels. Victor motioned for us to shush and put his mask on and pulled out his knife to scare them with his I'm-going-to-murder-you act.

From the Heavens to a Roadside Ditch
When the sun finally broke over the distant clouds below, it looked like someone had cracked opened the earth's crust to create a fulgurating horizon. The clouds cleared enough for us to glimpse the oceans that keep both of Central America's shores washed. It was as beautiful as Ghostface was terrifying.


The walk down showed us the jungle view the darkness had hidden on the way up. We were tired, but no one complained. Mariaclara and the Italian began to fall back and told me that it was fine for me to go on without them. I pressed on, eager for my bed.

There is an anticipation right before along awaited arrival when you imagine just how comfortable the sitting down in a cab is going to be. You imagine your pillow, smothering your face, and your blanket covering you for an epic Rip Van Winkle slumber. These were my thoughts as I approached the ranger station where we had been told we could call a cab upon our descent to take us back to Boquete. Upon my arrival I discovered the second surprise of the day—the ranger station was closed on Sunday. Must keep holy the Sabbath.

After no sleep, 26 kilometers of distance walked and a few thousand meters climbed, walking another 25 kilometers sounded about as enjoyable as running back up the mountain. When faced with situations like this you can either lie down and die or suck it up and carry on. I chose the former, and fell asleep on contact with the sun-soaked grass of the ditch along the road.

I woke with a start. Where the hell was I? Oh yeah—in a ditch by the road at the bottom of a volcano. I thought about waiting for Mariaclara and the Italian, but had no idea if they had already descended and passed me. I hit the highway and headed towards Boquete. The highway was quiet and mostly car-less. When one did pass, I stuck up my thumb pleadingly. At first no bites. Then a pickup whose bed was filled with Sunday churchgoers pulled over and motioned for me to hop in.

An older man clutching the frame seemed the spokesman of the pickup. His grey moustache nodded with a Central American smile to every word of small talk I obligatorily offered. The truck dropped me off in front of my hostel, refused the money I offered and sped away. Then what I'd been dreaming about all day—a pillow—touched my face and soon I was having the intensely vivid dreams that occur during a disrupted sleep schedule—visions of Ghostface mixing with the glow of distant mountains, vibrant and deep.

Volcan Baru

Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About and How We Are Human. After finishing degrees in philosophy and English in Chile, Luke backpacked from Chile to Guatemala, where he spent four years as director of development organization Nuestros Ahijados. These efforts were featured on the 2010 ABC News Global Health Special: Be the Change, Save a Life. Follow him @lukespartacus.

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Related stories:

What to do about Barriles? by Jim O'Donnell
The Burning of the Devil in Guatemala by Luke Maguire Armstrong
Alert in the Americas: Inside the Farms Growing Our Coffee by Tim Leffel
Loco Bill, the Expat Killer by Richard Arghiris

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