Friday, January 24, 2014

2. Go Rock Climbing Outside in a Foreign Country

Occasionally, a new thing makes the list as a way to fix a deficiency that's been bugging me, and that is the case with this one.  I've climbed outside before, and I've climbed in climbing gyms in foreign countries before (in Nepal and in Jordan).  But it's more than a little ridiculous that I've never been outside to rock climb, particularly during the almost-year I spent in Jordan.  So, when Jon and I decided to go to Panama as our new country choice to kick off the year, it was selected in part because it has outdoor rock climbing (and at least according to the all-knowing Internet world, Nicaragua does not).
Jon and me posing at the end of the day in front of one of many carvings done by a local artists (and in front of the cliff we'd been hanging off of for the last few hours).

There's a bunch of other climbing-related New Things on the list, but most of those will require actual work to progress from where I'm currently at.  This one was just fun.  As I mentioned in the previous post, Jon and I both thought that Boquete was our favorite of the places we visited in Panama and the fact that they had not only rock climbing, but climbing on really memorably-shaped rock, helped seal the deal on its "favorite status."
Me coming down off the "memorably shaped" basalt that made the day's climbing so interesting.

Lots of times I've found that the quality of a new experience (or even a not-new one) is determined as much by who else is participating as by what we are doing.  Our fellow climbers, two father-and-son sets (one son celebrating his college graduation, the other barely started in elementary school) and a newlywed couple on their honeymoon, varied widely in their skill level but shared a common sense of fun and appreciation for what we were doing. 
Favia was one-half of the newlywed couple (Brian was on the ground below).  She was the only one of us who did lead climbing that day -- here she is, making it look a lot easier than it is.

We were all also tremendously lucky to have the founder of rock climbing in Panama leading our experience.  Cesar is not only the best climber in the country, he's the person who started the sport there, and set all the routes.  Although his demeanor is very low-key and modest, at the end of the day, when he cleaned the routes at the end of the day by free-climbing them in a very rapid succession, it was like watching a professional acrobat at work.
When Cesar took down the ropes for the day he did by free-climbing (attached to nothing).  It was a little nerve-wracking to watch, though he never seemed to skip a beat.

I still have lots of limitations as a climber, which dictated that we climbed in the easiest area, called Gunko.  But the rock, which had a strange shape -- kind of as if square and rectangle blocks had been stacked with the corners sticking out -- made the whole experience novel and fun.  As did the knowledge that we were climbing on the first-of-their-kind routes for the country. 

In Boquete, some people talk about the fear that too many foreigners may find out about what a great place it is, and overwhelm it.  But I kind of hope that at least a small stream of rock climbers will hear about the climbing and come check it out. Given the natural beauty of the setting, the uniqueness of the basalt rock, and the enthusiasm of the tiny climbing community and its leader, Cesar, my bet is that they wouldn't regret the decision (and to learn more about him. his climbing, and how he got things started in Panama, check out this video.  For me, it was a great way to crack open the sport activity side of the 2014 list of 52 more new things.
One last shot -- this one of Jon, doing some tricky moves with his feet on that stack-of-blocks basalt rock.


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