During my first week as in intern for Kalu Yala, I had the opportunity to explore the true Panamanian jungle. No I don’t mean the kind of hike that is structured for tours and has roped off trails but the kind that is untamed, overgrown, and wild. The only things that have seen the jungle as I have are the hardcore Campesinos who live there and cows.
Our journey started off early Saturday morning with a group of nine. Our first adventure was to find Ramon who lives about a mile above the Valley, the property that is currently in the process of being developed by Kalu Yala. All nine of us started off and made it to Ramon’s house to find his brother Darian who said Ramon was off in search of fruit and would be home in about fifteen minutes. As we waited for Ramon to come home we cooled ourselves in the river that runs parallel to Ramon’s property named the Pacora River. Finally Ramon returned home and agreed to take our brigade on a trip through the jungle to the waterfall.
Off we go and Ramon isn’t joking around when I say hike, we went on a hike. He was prepared too with his Panamanian hat, pants, galoshes, two dogs, machete, and rifle. Ramon told us that the rifle was for protection because only a few days before we had arrived a jaguar had crossed over the path we were currently walking on. As we start off on the trail we are moving through canopy of the jungle at a pace I would say was a little faster than I would have liked. Being the gringo, I wanted to leisurely stroll through the jungle looking up at all the foliage and searching for birds, snakes, animals, or anything that was out of the ordinary to me; but no, Ramon was on a mission to get us to the waterfall. So off we go through the jungle trying to snap pictures every now and again when I thought I could afford a minute to fall behind. In total the hike was supposed to be about an hour and a half uphill and downhill. Luckily for us we were under the protection of the canopy for most of the hike so the heat didn’t effect us too badly. After about an hour, still on Ramon’s property, we make it to one of his native style shanties where he keeps his cattle. Here we stopped and had a short break where we got to pick and eat juicy oranges, which were unlike any orange I had ever had before. They were delicious to say the least.
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After the short break in the cow/orange field we continued on our journey to the waterfall. Ramon said we had another thirty minutes from that point. Uphill we climb through the head high grass and jungle foliage. Luckily for me I had worn quick-dry pants which protected my legs from the sharp grass; unfortunately several of the girls wore shorts though and got a little cut up. Nothing too bad though. As we begin to round the top of the mountain the sky begins to cloud up and we can tell the heavens are about to open up on us. Down we climb, down the biggest, slipperiest, mountain slope I have ever been on. In front of me I see Ken slip and take out the girl that is sliding down ahead of him on her butt. Glad I wasn’t in his way. Behind me I hear Nathan and Kate questioning whether or not we should turn around since the slope is already pretty slick and the rainstorm that is about to hit is going to make matters a hundred times worse. Regardless we continue down the mountain and begin to hear the churning of the waterfall. At the bottom of the slope we see the breathtaking sixty-foot waterfall. It was an amazing sight to see and well worth the hike. As we begin stripping off our hiking gear and begin jumping in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall the rain begins. It was a surreal moment to say the least. Never have I seen such a beautiful sight in Panama. The surrounding environment was so pristine and untouched that I couldn’t do anything but think about how I may be one of the only people to have seen this waterfall. We asked Ramon if this waterfall even had a name and his only response was “cascada”, so for story telling purposes I have named it Ramon’s Waterfall.
As we begin jumping off the rocks into the water we notice the temperature in this river called the Iguana River is much much cooler than any of the other rivers we have come upon so far. It almost took my breath away when I first jumped in. After we all had a little fun of jumping off the rocks and swimming around Kate unpacked our lunches of PB& J’s and we all grubbed out. As we were eating and swimming Ramon motioned for us to look up into the distant trees, where there was a family of spider monkeys watching us. I know they thought we must have been aliens because they just kept watching and swinging from limb to limb trying to get a better look at us. Seeing monkeys in their natural environment was another amazing sight to see.
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After about thirty minutes at the waterfall we decide it is best to begin our long journey back. It is still raining which means our trip home will be taking even longer. Our first mission is to climb the now muddy, slippery, steep slope. This time I refused to be the back of the pack and was the first person behind Ramon. As we began our climb Ramon started cutting steps out of the mud with his machete to help the people who were climbing behind us. Instead of taking the slippery slope I decided to make my own trail and cut though a side path which I thought would be less slippery and messy. I was climbing holding onto trees and roots for support when I came upon a hole in the earth about a foot wide. In this hole was a hodgepodge of spider webs. My instant reaction was oh my gosh this has to be a nasty spider, maybe a tarantula or maybe something even bigger and badder. Regardless I scrambled away from that hole as fast as possible. Up the mountain I went and was the first one up. When Ramon finally reached the top he was amazed I was waiting on him and he told me I was a very strong woman. That was a good thing to hear from the Campesino who had been living in this jungle for over forty years.
Once everyone made it to the top of the muddy mountain we continued on our hike through the canopy, while Ramon pointed out wild trees such as the cacao tree, and coffee trees. I had never seen wild coffee before so this was quite a thrill for me. As we approached out first river crossing we realized that the rain had already changed the color of the crystal clear river to a murky red color. We also noticed that the water level had risen and was flowing at a faster rate than when we had previously crossed it. Ramon told us we needed to pick up our pace because the water level and the current would continue to get worse as we progressed back to the Valley. This worried us a little because we had fourteen more river crossings to go before we made it back to camp. As we hastened our pace we became more of a team helping one another across the rivers, and always making sure that safety came first.
It was amazing to me the stability and pace that this sixty-four year old Panamanian could maintain while going through these jungle trails and crossing rivers. Only once did I see Ramon slip. This was one of the roughest river crossing we had to make. Anyway he had his machete, and rifle in one hand, and his little five pound dog Salsa in the other hand. Although he slipped, he was up, out of the water, and crossing downstream before another person could even cross. That man knew what he was doing.
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Finally after what seemed like hours we made it back to Ramon’s house where we dropped him off and continued on our way back to camp. It had been a long day but well worth the struggle. The waterfall was amazing and the chance to actually be in untouched jungle territory was unlike anything I had ever done before. I am glad I decided to go on that adventure. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity in my eyes and now I have a great story to tell. The story of Ramon’s Waterfall.