Saturday, 30-08-2014. Day 11.
Monkeys and Waterfalls.
We caught our shuttle bus promptly at 8:00 a.m. at the Sheraton (which was easier to find than the building we were staying in — heck, it's the Sheraton), and the driver was right on time. He pulled up exactly at 8:00 a.m. I was pretty surprised that his timing was so pitch-perfect, considering the traffic of Panama City. We picked up a few other people along the way: a couple from Montreal, a long-distance couple (he was from Brazil, she lived in the U.S.), and then a group of four friends from different places who were traveling together (they weren't on time; it was pretty apparent they'd had a good time the night before). There was supposed to be one more person to pick up, so we pulled into the local Puma/Super 7 until the driver got word on where to meet this person.
While we waited, we got to see a Brinks transfer in action with two armed guards, shotguns at the ready, while a third guard was recording the whole thing on video. The driver, though, looked like he was snoozing.
The last passenger apparently canceled, so we drove about an hour to Gamboa, where we got out and met Captain Carl. From the emails we'd received the night before, we suspected the Captain would be a character ... and he didn't let us down. He told us to tinkle in the bushes if we had to, but if we didn't grab a lifejacket and get in the boat.
We sped across Lake Gatún, the body of water that provides the water to the Panama Canal. Along the way, Captain Carl showed us where they were digging the new canal (or, in this case, weren't digging; there wasn't a single person working), and many of the the different types of heavy floating machines that worked on keeping the canal in operation.
He turned the boat off into a side channel along a little island and started yelling "Pablo!" A white-headed capuchin monkey popped out from atop one of the trees and started screeching at us. Captain Carl threw a few peanuts onto the shore and Pablo, reluctantly, left the shelter of his tree, scampered across the beach to grab the treasure, then scurried back.
We continued a tour of the canal area, Captain Carl, after regaling us with an anecdote about why you shouldn't really kiss the Blarney Stone in Ireland, handed everyone two peanuts. Then he warned us that pirates would try to board as he he pulled the boat up close to shore under some overhanging trees. A whole troop of capuchin monkeys came out of the jungle and jumped onto the boat, looking for peanuts. One was a mother with a baby on her back.
After we were done monkeying around, we continued the tour around the lake and saw a wide variety of wildlife, including snail kites, an anhinga (it was pretty far away, but it's another one of those Audubon specials I've always wanted to see), a troop of howler monkeys, and the biggest grasshopper we've ever seen. It was swimming alongside the boat. Really.
After a little more wildlife spotting (we stopped to wait for a manatee that only Carl had seen, hoping for it to surface), we sped along the lake until we got to a narrow outlet. Captain Carl threatened us with a five-kilometer walk, but he was, like any colorful tour guide, prone to a bit of the old exaggeration. Instead he steered the boat through narrow channels that wound through thick beds of weeds and toward a houseboat lashed to a barge. We had, at last, arrived at Jungleland.
Before we docked, Captian Carl gave us each a piece of banana, and the boat was once again invaded ... this time by rufous-naped tamarins (which were mighty cute).
Then we docked, disembarked from the boat, and had lunch ($1.00 beers!), which was, as Captain Carl described, "traditional but bland Panamanian fare."
After lunch, Captain Carl rallied us and we all got into two-person kayaks and paddled across the lagoon where the barge was moored, then across a body of water dense with weeds (it was like paddling in mud), and down a curving stream into the jungle. We dragged our kayaks up on a narrow spit and hiked about half a kilometer into the jungle along a path (not before the good captain warned us about the venomous snakes in the area). The trail ended at a small waterfall, about three meters high.
Captain Carl swam across the pool and climbed up the rocks on the far side, then eased down the rocks of the falls, and jumped into the pool. Everyone was invited to follow, so a few of us, including me and Frankie, took him up on the invitation. Frankie jumped off three times.
After the plunge, we kayaked back to Jungleland, handled a baby crocodile, and lounged on the hammocks there until it was time to take the boat back to Gamboa. You can stay at Jungleland overnight (for around $175), and the group of four friends were doing just that, so the boat ride back had fewer people.
It had been a long day, so when we got home we had just enough time for dinner, a little swimming in the pool, then packing. We were leaving for the airport for out next stop in Santiago, Chile at 6:30 a.m. the next morning.
- Hours in van: 2.5
- Hours in a boat: 1.5
- Hours in a kayak: 1
- Species of monkeys seen: 3
- Waterfall jumps: 4
- Workers working on the new Panama canal: 0
Header image: Rufus-naped tamarin hiding in the Panamania jungle.