Saturday, July 12, 2014

Colombia/Panama Day 15: El Parque Nacional Soberanía

El Parque Nacional Soberanía is 25 km from Panama City.  It took about 45 minutes to get there by taxi and cost me 15$.
The park is almost 50,000 acres in size.  
I didn't know where to begin so I had the taxi driver stop at this map located at the main visitor building (which was closed) and decided to have him drop me off at sendero el Charco (I am not sure why, the map was confusing initially and it seemed like this trail was in the middle of the park).  Upon arrival I realized that el Charco was only a 1 km loop but I walked it anyway.  It was beautiful and I was the only person on the entire trail.  

He was desperate to be my best friend (I could see that we had a lot in common) but I couldn't take him with me.  

It is hard to describe what it is like in a rain forest, but one word I can use is LOUD.  
I am not sure if this video captures it but you get the idea.  

Corozo palm is known as the plant with a thousand uses.  It can be used to make oil, soap, candles, headache medication, wine, and 995 other things.  

Ceiba have buttress roots; large shallow roots common in nutrient poor soil.  

Ceiba is incredible.  

After el Chaco, and having more time to look at the map, I walked along the highway 1km in the direction I came from to hike Camino de Plantación to Camino de Cruces.  As I was walking on the road a guardabosques (park service ranger) truck past me and by the time I reached the trail head he had turned around, ready to collect the 5$ that I never paid.  (I wasn't avoiding paying but no one was around to collect money.)  I told him my plan to walk to Camino de Cruces to the Chagres river and then back to the main highway that leads to Panama City.  He was not a fan.  He said it was way too far for one day (it was already 10:30 by this time, it would have been about 22 km of hiking).  He suggested that I just want to the Chagres (about 13 km) and he would call a boat taxi service to pick me up and take me to the highway I was walking along earlier.  I agreed that this sounded like a plan.
He then began asking me questions, do you have bug spray? -No.  Do you have a machete? -No.  Do you have a cell phone?  -No.  It wasn't going well.  I told him I realize that I am not exactly prepared, asking if the trail well marked.  He said yes, it was very well marked, but there are fallen trees and leaves on the ground which cover the trail. 
He then made it very clear I was not allowed to go off of the trail.  I told him that is fine because I have no desire to off of the trail.  He said that it didn't matter if I wanted to because I can't.
I could picture this conversation never ending so I just stopped talking.  
 Then two bike riders, who the guardabosques asked if they had any bug spray I could use although they didn't, got involved in the conversation.  Their opinion was that the trail is very hard to find, and hard to stay on, and began explaining what turn off to look for, etc.  The guardabosques just nodded in agreement.
 Then the guardabosques piped in, going down the list of the things I don't have, so you don't have a machete, you don't have bug spray, you don't have a cell phone...  Eventually I just stopped everyone and said thank you but I was going to leave now, and I began to hike.  

Camino de Plantación was very well marked, and almost completely unoccupied.  I thought of the guardabosques often wondering why he asked if I had this, that and the other.
Throughout my entire hike I saw one group of three people and four cyclists (and this was just on Camino de Plantación, on Camino de Cruces there was no one, although at one point I heard drums being played in the distance).  
When I had walked more than half of camino de Plantación the bike riders from earlier were making their way back from the end of the trail.  One of them stopped me to show me pictures he took of where the trail ends and the new one begins.  People are so nice!  I ended up needing that visual since there was no sign, just a post.  

I love fungi.  This one is new to me; and is super cool.  

Bugs are so organized!  Or lazy.   It is hard to say but I found these markings on many trees, and enjoyed the pattern.   

After the turn on to Camino de Cruces, I started to see what everyone one was talking about.  There were leaves on the ground making the path invisible, and branches and vines in the way. 
If only I had a machete...

It wasn't until a few km in that I realized how tricky this trail was.  I crossed many streams, and there were entire trees in the path which meant I had to go off of the path to get around them.  Some of the path was in what was mostly a dry stream and so the trail was not visible at all.  I have to admit there were points during the hike when I was apprehensive and almost regretted my decision to hike alone (accept that I was taking awesome pictures...).  At one point I did get off of the path on accident, when it went out of the stream bed and I missed it, continuing up the stream, until I got to pools of water.  I tried to avoid the pools by climbing up out of the river but this was tricky.  Live roots immediately come out of the dirt wall because it is so wet, dead roots fall apart to the touch because of the moisture they begin to decay into hollow nothingness, and those trees that seem stable are covered in spines.  It was a little frustrating.  After all of this I realized that I wasn't even on the trail and had to back track!  I did end up putting away my camera so I could keep my eyes on the trail.

Well, that didn't last long.  It is impossible to not take pictures when animals patiently pose for you.  

It was around this point that the mosquitoes came out, I was totally fine without it before.  
If only I had bug spray...

After over 4 hours of hiking I made it out to the Chagres river.  There was no boat waiting for me and I wondered how long I would wait before I left as it was looking rather ominous and I was all alone.  

I was hoping this flag marked the place where boats come in, and I was right.  I was so happy that the guardabosques suggested this, and that everything worked out.  

Soon after getting picked up the motor stopped working.  We drifted for a while and the driver had no minutes on his cell phone and couldn't fix the motor.  He asked me if I had minutes.
If only I had a cell phone...
Eventually we were able to get help/towed and I was taken to the highway.  I started walking back because no taxis were going by and no one was picking me up.  I don't ever hitchhike but I was so dirty and my shoes and socks were wet and I was covered in mosquito bites and could not wait to shower.
I walked for maybe five minutes, and who flashed their lights at me signaling they would pick me up?  
None other than the guardabosques!  He said he was worried about me and wanted to make sure that I had a ride to the main highway, 10 km away.
He asked me how the hike was and I said it went well and thanked him for setting up the boat.  
When I flagged down a taxi on the main highway I told him where I was going and he said that he was going that way anyway and that he would just charge me 5$ instead of the usual 15$.
Panamanians are so nice.


  1. Hilarious! Boy you sure had guardian angels watching over you on that hike. BEAUTIFUL pics.

  2. I can't believe I'm seeing so much of your amazing adventure. I love it all.

    The video really does capture the Rain Forest. I love the cacophony of noise. It's so exotic.

    The one 'flower' that looks like a blown out umbrella is breathtaking. Wow.

    I am so glad your excursion turned out so well and that you actually overcame all the obstacles to actually be able to write this post. I am so glad I didn't know about this before you headed out. I would have freaked.

    It sounds almost surreal. Thanks for sharing. Wow.

  3. Ruby says "I liked the rain forest, the clear butterfly and whatever that thingy was.... a lizard or something. And I liked the flower, fungus, and all the pictures."


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