Friday, October 10, 2014

A jungle adventure of the very mild sort, near the Chagras River, Panama

IMG_20140926_094517Decided to go with my Harvard Botany colleague Judy to the jungle today. Arranged earlier to have my cab driver from the other day, Edgar, take us out to Gamboa. Up early and got ready. Device beeped, email from Edgar, he was on his way. Doorman called me over and said Edgar is pulling up. Judy and I hop in the cab, luggage in the trunk. Wait. Run back in to make sure I'm checked out. Away we go!

Drive about 30 minutes from the hotel, along the canal and past the Pedro Miguel locks. Down through a jungle road and past the prison where Manuel Noriega is still in jail. Get to Gamboa and the SINGLE LANE bridge that takes you across the Chagras River. Edgar says, just as we start across, that he's terrified of going across the bridge (which is about 100 meters long and very rickety feeling. We make it across and we pull up a side road to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Hmmm. Not quite where I planned. Grounds include the housing of the US engineers quarters and typical Canal Zone housing. When we get to the main hotel, I tell Edgar, we wanted the Panama Rainforest RESERVE, he goes into hotel and asks directions. Head back down, and turn off on a side road which turns into a dirt road and then a pot-hole filled road, and then an impassable road. All single lane with drop offs on each side.

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Edgar says he can't take his car further. We tell him, OK, we'll just walk and you can turn around the car and we'll meet you in an hour. Judy and I strike out up the road and get to a, what looks like abandoned ticket booth. As we're looking at it, a truck pulls up with a bunch of birders in it. The driver asks us for $5 each entrance to "the park" (he seems official and gives us tickets and everything). We look at the booth and there's a plaque thanking the James Smithson Society for building it (!). Take our picture in front of the booth and one of the birders offers to take another. We start to chat and it turns out he's a medical librarian from Houston and the others in the group are Houston librarians. Brief library chit chat. I hand out BHL swag. Judy and I head deeper into the forest.

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We see many plants, some fungi, on our return, we run into the birders again and they point out some howler monkeys sitting in a tree, H-o-w-l-i-n-g. Continue on and cross back over the slippery wooden bridge over a stream,See a spectacular spider. And then, an agouti (tailess giant squirel-rat) dashes across path. Turns out we made a wrong turn at the abandoned ticket booth and instead of heading towards the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, we were on the old Pipeline Road and into the Soberania National Park. All was well though!

Make it back to the car (seemed much further). Edgar has it turned around (!). We hop in and head back. We tell him to go back to the Gamboa Resort, we're buying lunch for all. We get a table out on the balcony of the Monkey Bar and Restaurant that has an amazing view of the Chagras River.

Starts to POUR just as we get back in the car. Make it back over the single lane bridge and zip back to the Tryp Hotel and drop off Judy. Edgar and I chat a bit, I ask him to take me to the airport on Saturday. Get to the Marriott. Pay Edgar and I hop out of the car and he zips off. I run after him shouting, as do the Marriott bellman since he still had my luggage.


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