Digging around in my backpack on our approach to the floating lodge, I was only half listening as Captain Carl explained the fauna that could be found in the immediate area; herons, turtles, sloths, snakes, monkeys…awesome! As we docked up and the staff started helping us off the boat he enticed us to jump off the top deck and swim once we had returned from our kayak and hike through the jungle. Finally locating my Dramamine, I popped another one as I contemplated the murky, chocolate milk coloured water surrounding us; “what about gators?” I asked quietly. Captain Carl shook his head no and I sighed in relief, “Nope, no gators. We got some crocs around the place though!”.
We jumped in our paired kayaks and it was immediately evident that the majority of our group had no clue what we were doing. While I would love to tell you all that we were the exception and we navigated with confident precision, that’s not how things went. The truth is, kayaking through pristine Caribbean waters or the Cayman mangroves has NOTHING on doing it through the wild Panamanian jungle, knowing (not imagining, but KNOWING) that there were thousands of crocs just waiting for us to flip that flimsy vehicle, depositing our soft, delicious limbs into the tangle of river plants and then devouring us without a trace.
Using our advanced technique that involved randomly kayaking in circles and then veering off sharply into trees and thick grasses, therefore needing our paddles to push our way out, we masterfully survived the imminent croc attack. Huzzah! Minutes later, we arrived to where we now would continue on foot, walking upstream to the waterfall that was our ultimate destination. In case any of you were wondering, all rivers apparently share the same approximate temperature range and every sensible bone in my body was screaming at me to stay with Captain Carl on the river bank, watching all the other guests who apparently are lacking in nerve endings, as they frolicked in the sub zero pool at the base of the waterfall.
I started organizing shoes and shirts for everyone else, I was dry and warm and happy. “Hey! Jamaica!”, I froze and held my breath, I know what a call out sounds like and I was pretty sure I was about to be called out. I exhaled and turned to see our Captain grinning at me, dammit Carl.
I dislike being cold but nothing was worth being called a punk and if my heritage was going to be brought into question, well I would just have to freeze then wouldn’t I?
Point proven, we packed up and hiked/kayaked our way back to the house boat. As my body slowly thawed, my anticipation of a well deserved lunch wiped away any thoughts of attack gators. Isn’t it awesome how food solves pretty much everything?
Prior to heading out on our jungle excursion, we were promised a simple, typical local lunch and that’s exactly what we were greeted by; a meal that ended up being one of the best I enjoyed in Panama. No fancy ingredients and certainly no fancy plating, just real honest food; cubed chicken, strips of beef, yellow rice with peas and carrots (and lots of pepper), cole slaw, plantain and yes even the bread was devoured, the only thing that was left on my plate was the banana leaf.
With ethnic fatigue now setting in, we spent another couple of hours hanging around on the house boat. We met the parrots and boa that lived on board and some of the guests chose to take Carl up on his offer and jumped from the top deck of the boat. Good for you guys, enjoy. With a few hours to spare before sunset, we packed up and left Jungle Land to head back to the city.
If you are in Panama City, I urge you to put a day aside to make this trek, Captain Carl and his team also have several other excursion options including night hikes and overnight stays at the floating lodge, a real immersion into the Panama jungle and one you will certainly never forget. Tell him the Jamaican sent you.
[While this blog post is more than two years after the fact, take a look at my TripAdvisor review from August 2014.]