The Chagres Challenge, by Jackie Jenkins, from Canada, March 16, 2007
We decided to go to Panama and to spend
some of the time exploring the rainforest with a tour company. The 2007
Frommers Panama book recommended Aventuras Panama ("one of Panama's top
rafting and kayaking tour companies", p.71) and the website was easy to
access. Ahhh, the "Chagres Challenge" - it was exactly what the 5 of us
wanted and we were very excited at the prospect of it. I was fairly timid
about booking and paying for the trip through the internet and emails.
Speaking to Javier on the phone reassured me especially as he was so
professional and pleasant, and we quickly agreed on the trip we could do and
the amount. The payment procedure through a website in B.C. was pretty scary,
the amounts didn't seem to match the amount we had discussed, the deposit
went through as more than twice the amount I had intended with a click of a
button. Emails to Javier and the other site quickly reassured me again, and
even though the amounts didn't seem to make any sense, I felt comfortable
that it would be worked out once we hooked up in Panama.
Communication once we arrived was
messy. We were away from the resort for the first 2 days so missed Javier's
call and the front desk at the resort told him there was no one staying
there by that name, no party of 5, even though I had left specific contact
instructions with them about our whereabouts. On our return, I thought a
quarter would be the charge for a local call so my calls to Javier were
strange, me plunking in quarters and running out of time and coins before we
were clear about the details.
But 5 a.m. Friday arrived and we waited
for the pick up at the lobby - no show....wondering if it was all a scam....back
to the room to find Javier's cell phone, not knowing the name of the guide
picking us up....feeling sick with guilt for not paying better attention to
the process of booking the trip.
Then at 5:30, a fully loaded 4x4 was there, raft, kayaks
and tents on top, a sight that was so good to see. And Raphael, lively and
friendly, there with the visa slips to sign, still the amounts were strange
but we figured it out and put off paying the balance until the end of the trip.
He was not only a naturalist and very knowledgable about Panama, but he was
also a very accomplished birder complete with big heavy bird books for us to
The road ahead passed through Panama City
urban sprawl and traffic jams into winding mountainous mixed forest and
farms, getting smaller and smaller until it was just a track, steep and
deeply eroded. And there at the bottom of a steep hill beside a river were
the 5 horses tacked up and ready, and men to help us. We explored the river
while the horses were packed up. We left two small bags as instructed in the
vehicle, clean dry clothes to change into at the end.
We hiked for a long time (1 1/2 hours?),
up and down steep hills, through forest and farm, birding and soaking up the
surroundings. One of the highlights of this part of the trip was that we all
walked over a quiet little brown snake that was identified as a young fir de
lance, still curled up and stiff from the night. At one point Bree became a
little faint and so the horseman cut us all some coconuts for a drink. And
after crossing yet another river, we stopped. We swam in a deep crystal
clear pool in the river while Raphael and Rigo made our lunch. The rafts and
kayaks were inflated and packed and we said goobye to the horses and helpers
and set off on the river.
We were to stop around 4 to camp. We
crossed many small sections of rapids, often having to push our kayaks a bit
as the water was low, getting used to the boats and enjoying the beautiful
water and scenery. The river joined the Chagres and the last part of the day
was in deeper water, moving fast and much more challenging rapids (still
only class II ). All beginner kayakers, it was a great way to learn how to
manage the rapids.
Around 4 we pulled over onto a sandy
beach and stopped for the night. It was paradise. We were surrounded by
steep hills covered with primary rainforest. A little tributary joined the
main river at this beach and the lighting from the sparkling water and
overhanging trees was stunning. The beach was thick with tiny frogs that
leapt for safety at each step. We floated in our life jackets down the
stretch of river in front of us. We had learned our lesson about snakes and
stayed on the sand and rocks, exploring, napping, reading. Raphael told us
why the bird life was so quiet, that when the forest is climactic, there
isn't the busy-ness of disturbed areas. We absorbed our surroundings while
Rigo and Raphael set up the tents and cooked dinner. At dusk we found a huge
spider behaving strangely. As we watched, she slowly emerged from her old
skin into a be-jeweled new body that hung limply and gradually swelled with
some secret fluids. We played with the giant frogs who had arrived for the
evening. We dined on beans and peppers, potatoes, sausages and chicken and
I found myself thinking of my father's
four years on a wild river in Thailand and Burma. He was a Japanese POW in
WW II. It must have been a little like this place. Did they eat up all the
frogs, spiders and other creatures there? As they moved on did they leave
behind ravaged nature that would gradually send out new life and remove all
traces of their stay? What part of him did that experience become?
The night was long trying to sleep on the
hard sand with only a thin mattress. We laughed the next morning finding out
that we had all been longing for the morning to come quickly as we lay there
looking at the sky through the tent vents. Who needs to sleep at times like
this. Four sunbitterns were having a morning across the river as we packed
up. They didn't seem to realize we were so close, with the sounds of moving
water and the shade of the overhanging trees obscuring them.
As I sat on the stony beach looking out
over the water I had the thought that this is the only place in the world
where I feel totally safe. There is nothing that is impending here, it is
all done, and we are there just to be in it, to experience it. No one is
making use of it, forcing it into some kind of human purpose, it just is.
That was the most important moment of my whole trip to Panama.
Back on the river we spent our second day
scanning the forest for wildlife and playfully racing, splashing, capsizing
and floating as the river took us with it. The surroundings were stunning
and the water clear and inviting. At lunch time Raphael and Rigo made us
rice and squid and we worked on finishing the wine. We discussed Panama's
history and politics gaining a richer understanding of this country.
In the middle of the afternoon we saw our
first signs of human activity and a piece of my heart broke. I said to
Raphael," We are leaving the wild?" And he said,"Yes." And the river
gradually became busy with Embarro homes and finally we changed from our
kayaks to dugout motor boats. We passed tour boats coming up the river with
more folks like us. I felt very grateful for our entended and personalized
time on the river.
Back to the incredibly complicated human
way of life. Home to the resort, visa chits finally signed, goodbyes and
thank yous to Raphael and Rigo. John's sandals missing from the bag we left
in the vehicle. Check the room to see it we forgot them. There must be a
security break in the system somewhere as nothing else was taken and the bag
must have been searched. Probably won't see them again. Better let Javier
know and tell him how much we loved the trip.
So, it sits there for me as a very special experience. Thank you again
for the trip and for your professionalism.
No, I didn't see the
peccaries but the others did. I think Rob spotted them first then the
big raft , I was last at the time. Yeah, that was amazing so they said, the
disadvantage of going last.
1. Dare to Live, "Atrevete
a Vivir !", has turned to become an english written ezine due to popular
Almost everyone in Panama, its market,
speaks english and every day more and more foreigners requested an english
version. Hopefully we can satisfy everyone.
2. The Rainy Season has
Yes, It has been raining as never before in a regular April.
It seems we will have an excellent paddling season 2007.
Althought rivers still low, hopefully by
May we will be able to run rafts in all our rivers. Right now we are
taking both, rafts and inflatable kayaks on each trip to choose the best
option or combination at the moment.
3. Plan Ahead with Year Long Scheduled
Aventuras Panama has incorporated an online booking system that will allow
everyone to know ahead of time about its scheduled trips through out the
paddling season. Check this feature at the "BOOK NOW" button on their tour
Very close to these dates you might receive a "last
minute call" email to offer you available spaces at a discounted price or you
can secure today your participation on any given date by booking at regular
AGENDA for April 2007 TOP
||Regular price, per person
|| B/. 95.00
|| B/. 95.00
For reservations please call us at
260-0044/774-3434 Cel 6679-4404 or email us at
. Payment is required at least a day
prior to tour date.
Note: Listed prices for above
dates are good
only for residents of Panama that had joined "Atrevete a Vivir !" Ezine prior
March 2007. Tour participation is subject to availability and our own
Terms and Conditions.
If a member is interested in a particular
destination or activity we welcome suggestions. This ezine is also available to
post members available preplanned trip into the outdoors.
Patronato Amigos del Águila Harpía
The mission, objective and goals of this ONG are
focused on preservation of the Harpy Eagle and its natural habitat.
Currently it manage the Harpy Eagle section
Jardín Botánico Summit (Tel. 232-4850, 232-4854), Panama
Panama's Resources around 2,000 links to websites related to
adventure, paddling, Panama, and the outdoors.
" GREAT ! End of the journey for me. This is where YOU get YOUR
cargo and dissapear from my sight downstream"
Picture by Jackie
Jenkins, March 16, 2007
Be a good buddy to your buddy, if you know he will
appreciate becoming a member of
Aventuras Panamá ezine, Atrevete a Vivir, let him know about it:
(refer this ezine to a friend)
Chagres Challenge |Chagres
National Park |
peccarie | duckie | harpy