The Kalu Yala Blog
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August 4, 2010by Ellie Schwing
Posted In: Adventures in the Tropics
4:30 A.M. Alarm goes off waking Betsy and me. We wipe our eyes pondering how we can get out of this early start to go whitewater rafting (despite being excited all week)!
5:00 A.M. Picked up in an Adventuras Panama truck from the Intercontinental Hotel. We shake hands with our guide and hop in the car, going directly back to sleep until breakfast.
6:00 A.M. Arrive at a roadside restaurant, a cinderblock box building with 4 tables inside, each with 4 chairs. We find out that before each excursion, the rafting company tells them the number of people they’ll need to serve. I don’t know how they feed rafting trips consisting of more than 12 people because of the pequeno (small) size of the restaurant. However, our eggs and coffee are amazing, not to mention the hojaldras – flat fried dough – which reminds me a lot of my hometown beignets! There was no powdered sugar sprinkled on top of these, but I improvise with coffee sugar.
6:30- 8:00 A.M. Sleep in the back of the truck, bouncing like rag dolls through the trails of the Chagres National Park.
8:00 A.M. Sign wavers (too tired to read how we’re signing our lives away) followed by preparing for our hike, the first part of the Chagres Challenge.
8:00- 10:00 A.M. Walk up and down the mountains of the beautiful Charges National Park. Half way through the hike we stumble through a swarm of yellow jackets. Of course, I’m stung by one and drop my water bottle. Still too tired to move quickly away from the swarm, I casually pick up my water bottle and am stung a couple more times. The spreading pain shocks me into finally waking up.
10:00 A.M. Arrive at the water where we will put in the boats once they arrive. Our “crew” consists of us and 12 local Panamanian friends who are about our age. They swim in the waterhole while we take in the view. About thirty minutes later horses arrive with our boats tied to them. Adventuras Panama arranges for a local campesino (term for a farmer outside the city, or a person who lives in the country) to strap the deflated boats to their horses and carry them down the trail to the river.
10:30 A.M. 3 tour guides manually blow up the rafts with pumps while we put on our life jackets and helmets. Time to start our 7-hour rafting adventure!
We begin on the Rock River,” and yes, it’s full of rocks. There are barely any rapids and we get stuck skimming on rocks the entire time. If the boat isn’t flowing downstream the way our guide wants he physically moves the boulders to create a path for the boat.
11:30 A.M. The mouth of the Rock River and the Chagres River meet. The Chagres River is less rocky and the rest of the trip feels more like the white water rafting adventure I’d been hoping for!
1:30 P.M. Time to eat lunch – turkey and ham sandwiches with fresh pineapple!
We continue rafting for the next 6 hours. During this we raft through the canyons of the Chagres and follow beautiful scenery. I jump off the boat mid-ride, climb a large boulder and jump off!
Later in the afternoon the tour pulls over the boats again. One of the guides hops out and climbs down the rocks about 100 yards away with a bag of rope and a whistle. The other guides tell us we’re heading down a small waterfall (the only Class 4 we will go through today) and if we fall out we should swim hard to the right. I’m excited for the adventure but I think Betsy was secretly a little scared; when the first branch came our way she fell to the bottom of the boat (spastically). I just dipped my head under. Her reaction was a bit over the top, but very entertaining (Thanks Bets).
5:30- 6:30 P.M. We pass 3 Embera villages (one of the indigenous tribes in Panama) on our way out. Our final pull over is to climb out of our rafts and into canoes. The rafts cannot go through the last part of the river because there is no current and would take forever.
The canoes are made of a long carved-out piece of wood. Everyone sits with their legs crossed and in a single file line. The narrow boats each hold 8 people. There is a man in the back controlling the engine and a man up front with a very large stick directing the boat, feeling for rocks and anything else we might hit. We stop a couple of times to shift weight. We can’t move because it rocks the boat too much. I think we’re going to flip multiple times (exactly what I want). Stopping and going for 45 minutes, we arrive at our destination. The same cars that dropped us off are waiting for us. The boats are deflated and we part ways, getting in our assigned van.
On the way home, Betsy sleeps (of course, she can do it for a living) as I pick our tour-guide’s brain with questions.
8:00 P.M. We arrive home after a 16-hour day, dead to the world, the Chagres Challenge a warm memory we won’t forget.