For a tiny, little Panamanian town nestled in the mountains, Boquete has produced some incredible people, like Cesar Augusto Melendez, whom I wrote about the other day.
And Boquete continues to attract incredible and interesting people who want to visit, and many who want to make their home here. We’ve been fortunate to have rented our little casita for a few months to such a couple, Penny and Simon. The first thing you notice about Simon is his crisp, English accent, somewhat mitigated by having lived all over including the States. Being typically “short-sighted” or “near-sighted,” like most somewhat “able-bodied” people, the first thing I notice about Penny is that she is blind. And then there is “Otto”, the dog. Who, when not working, just wants what all dogs want. Once I get over “she’s blind”, I discover an enthusiastic, one might even say vivacious, educated, independent woman who, although legally blind, manages to avoid banging her shins on the coffee table, something I’ve never mastered. Penny is also a very good travel writer. and, having heard of rock climbing in Panama, and never having done it, of course Penny wanted to climb the mountain.
Enter Cesar …
First, here’s Cesar’s impressions, then Penny’s article about her adventure.
¨Between a rock and a harness¨…Few days ago had the opportunity of being introduced to Penny (sixlegswilltravel.com), a super inspiring, positive 63-year-old blind woman who kindly and motivated to experience rock climbing, trusted me a chance to teach her how to climb on the basalt rock formations of Gunko.
The result…an inspiring experience that not only expanded my perception of rock climbing but also resulted in a wonderful new experience for Penny´s journey.
I would like to share her extraordinary example of personal growth and strength and extend my deepest gratitude to Penny and her husband Simon for their trust on this new experience for me.
Between A Rock and A Harness
Unable to get my right foot up high enough to reach the next crevice, I felt my left shoulder seize up from the effort of trying to pull myself up the rock face just a little higher. With a combination of resignation and regret, I let go. Hanging from a rope, safe in the cocoon of my climbing harness, I leaned my head back, and murmured, “WOW!” to a cloudless Panamanian sky.
I could have stayed there all day, communing with the warm sun and soft breeze, but my purpose for being at a rock face seven minutes outside of the town of Boquete was not to hang suspended in mid-air, catching rays. So, I reluctantly let Cesar, my instructor, lower me down to terra firma.
My first attempt at rock climbing was a total flop, and a definite WOW experience, and, like Deanna Bogart, Cesar Augusto Melendez Castillo is a definite WOW person. That meant that I was in store for a doubly terrific day.
Born in Boquete 32 years ago, Cesar started young, climbing small rock formations as a hobby with his father. Today, he is Panama’s first professional rock climber.
Cesar caught the climbing bug when, as a computer engineer in Panama City, he was sent back to his home town to design a website for a real estate company. While in Boquete, he met Gary Henning, a professional rock climber from Canada. Gary introduced Cesar to the techniques and equipment he used, and became his mentor. Since then, Cesar has climbed in international competitions, has three international sponsors, has developed numerous climbing routes, has climbed in 19 countries and is dedicated to developing the sport in Panama for future generations.
“This sport allows you to find yourself as you climb,” Cesar explained. “You are not competing against anybody else. You try to push your own limits to get to the top of the mountain.”
Cesar has his own philosophy about climbing. It’s a philosophy to which, as a travel writer and enthusiast, I can fully relate. “It’s not all about the mountain. It’s also about the journey,” he said. “It’s like life itself, in a way, because you have to face different challenges, and overcome these challenges of this journey in order to learn some things as you go. And once you get to the summit, you realize you’ve changed. When you get back to the ground, you’re someone different.”
For Cesar, rock climbing is an intense experience. “You don’t have time to think about anything else as you climb, he said. “you need concentration, because you’re living in the moment.”
It was Simon who suggested that I might like to interview Cesar, after hearing him speak at a Boquete Rotary Club meeting. Simon usually makes good suggestions, so we arranged to meet at his office, and go out to the rock face.
My plan was to do the interview, and then try scaling the rock wall to see what it was like. Cesar, being the adventuresome fellow that he is, was up for the challenge of teaching a 63-year-old, un-athletic, overweight, short armed, short legged blind woman how to climb a vertical hunk of solid rock.
Once outfitted with climbing shoes, a helmet,and harness, I was almost ready to go. Cesar attached a pouch containing magnesium carbonate to the back of my harness. This was to put on my hands periodically to keep them dry. Then he expertly attached the rope to the front of the harness.
Cesar explained that the rope was attached to a bolt anchor approximately 33 feet high, at the top of the route. The rope had a slight amount of elasticity, so that when a climber falls a long way, the tautness of the rope would not cause injury. Instead, there is a bouncing motion, like a modified bungy jump.
Thus outfitted, I began to climb with specific directions from Cesar. “Find the next foothold up and a little to your right,” he would instruct. “Find the next handhold up and to your left.”
I was doing pretty well, until I reached high and to the left, barely grabbing a handhold. My chronically troublesome left shoulder began to protest. In order to get my right foot to the next foothold, I had to try to hoist myself higher with my left hand.
At this point, I found myself unable to move. My shoulder betrayed me, my leg was too short to reach the next foothold, and there seemed to be nothing on my body I could utilize to help me out of this predicament. Finally, I had to let go.
After Cesar lowered me to the ground, I learned that I hadn’t even made it up six feet. My shoulder was easing up, but my pride was in ICU.
Cesar then folded a T-shirt into a blindfold, and went up the same route I had just attempted. To play it safe, he attached his rope to the metal bolt at the top of the route; something he doesn’t normally do on a wall he knows as well as this one.
Follow Penny’s adventures at Six Legs Will Travel.