25th March 2015
Our Panamanian guide Brandon, who was sanctified by many of the team for his assistance, enthusiam and love for the local tribes and their culture, gave us an excellent last morning in the San Blas islands by showing us around the Kuna community on Carti Sugdub. From there we moved inland to spend a night with the other main tribe in Panama, the Embera.
The way we were received was in line with the stunning boat ride up to their quite remote village situated above the Rio Chagres river. We were fed fresh fish from the river and several welcome dances were performed around the camp fire. We were given free run of the community and were taken out to the botanic garden by the local 'doctor'. Here we were shown a vast variety of plants, including one that he claimed could cure prostate cancer and another that however hard you tried to flatten would always remain upright. This, he informed us with a wide grin, helps with another male condition and is highly effective if the large percentage of children in the village is anything to go by.
Reluctantly we piled into the minibus to Panama City the following morning, but the trip was far from over. We had plenty of time to explore the narrow streets and alleyways of the Casco Viejo with its mix of newly renovated buildings and derelict blocks. Ceviche and Balboa beer were enjoyed at the fish market nearby, but for some the most memorable part of the trip was still to come. On Friday morning we were bused 35 minutes past General Noriega's current residence, El Renacer Prison to Gamboa.
Here we boarded a river cruise boat for a fascinating few hours along the Panama Canal, experiencing both the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores lock systems before being dropped off at the Flamenco Marina on the Amador Causeway on the outskirts of the city.
I have been lucky to have led some wonderful trips over the years for Wild Frontiers, but I believe I have not led one with a greater diversity of activities or sights. This was certainly reinforced when we gave our highlights around the table at the excellent Capital Bistro Panama on Friday evening. Some plumped for the chartered plane ride into the San Blas, others were amazed by the 1.8 metre leatherbacks at Armila, one or two chose the beauty of Cartagena and someone else remarked how good the Panama Canal trip had been. Even the mudbath near Lorica won a couple of votes!
It was not an easy trip and – as can be expected from a recce – not without its fair share of surprises and challenges, but it will certainly remain for me one of my most memorable trips for a long time to come.
Richard has just returned from leading our Colombia & Panama: Skirting the Darien Gap group tour.