Published: August 19th 2006August 16th 2006
Canoe up the Rio Teribe
That's Luis, our hiking guide, at the head of the boat. You can see the bamboo reeds they used to help navigate the boat.
So like I said in the last blog, Josh and I wanted to go to the rainforest in Panama (especially since we didn't have time to do so in Ecuador). We had read about a place called Wekso, which is an ecolodge on the mainland deep in the rainforest and within hiking distance of the Parque Nacional La Amistad - one of the few places on earth that is still considered somewhat unexplored. We made arrangements with them in advance and headed out early in the morning to take a boat from Bocas to Finca Sesenta (Farm #60), a port near the banana company town of Chinguanola. There a very friendly Wekso volunteer picked us up in an air-conditioned S.U.V. (which was a little bit of a shock after living in the open-air with no cars for days) and drove us to El Silencio, a tiny congregation of bodegas and cooking shacks where we were going to meet up with our boat to the lodge. We boarded a canoe built out of a single tree trunk and loaded with a motor in the back (not necessary but very common because we were going upstream against a pretty strong current) and our
Josh on the cayuco
The open shirt kind of tempers the gringo look, dontcha think?
two sailors, Luis and Raul, guided us up the Rio Teribe. We arrived at Wekso around 1pm and got a tour around the place. Oddly enough the ecolodge is built on the site of a former military camp that was actually the jungle training center for the infamous School of the Americas. The whole thing is now part of the only remaining kingdom in all of the Americas, that of the Naso indigenous community. Amidst all the stunning natural beauty (accompanied by the most vibrant nature sounds you have ever heard) were old concrete remnants of the old training center buildings, still peeling with camo paint and creepy military slogans. A traditional lunch was prepared soon after we arrived - fried bocachica
("small mouth" fish), rice, and fried plantain, washed down with fresh squeezed lemonade. Then we went on a hike into the rainforest, where we hoped to see several types of frogs, birds, and maybe a monkey if we were very lucky. It was incredibly hot and humid, and we had to be wearing long pants and sleeves and big rubber boots to protect us from the bugs and mud - so we were dripping with sweat within minutes.
Red poison dart frog
Aren't they cute? They're the size of your thumb, but poisonous enough to send you to the emergency room.
We walked along the river for a few minutes when Luis, our guide, drew a few lines in the sand indicating that we had over an hour to go before we would be on the sendero
, or actual rainforest trail. Since it was already after 2pm we were disappointed, but trudged along. We passed a few traditional Naso dwellings, as well as the place where those huge canoes are made out of the local trees. (I asked about whether boat construction caused deforestation, and was assured that no, because a boat lasts someone at least 15 years.) After drinking most of our water and being soaked in sweat, we finally reached the real trail, which Luis informed us was entirely uphill - and he wasn't kidding. It was incredibly steep, and involved much more climbing than hiking. I was exhausted and definitely wouldn't describe it as enjoyable - until we saw our first green poison dart frog, or rana verde
. We were deep in the rainforest, which is actually very dark because the sun doesn't penetrate through the trees that much, and there are dark leaves layered all over the ground. Against that background, the vibrant, fluorescent green of the
He's a little hard to see, but in the middle you can see his white claws and pink legs!
frog was almost cartoon-like - it just didn't look real at all. We watched it intently until it hopped out of sight. (Luis tried to catch him with some leaves - it is poisonous to touch - but it was too fast.)
Soon after that we saw probably the weirdest thing of all - a crab, way up in the mountains nowhere near any ocean or sea. Luis explained that it was a mountain crab - it was white, with pink legs - definitely an odd sight to see creeping around a forest. We then saw a red poison dart frog - they are even smaller than the green ones, about 1/3 - 1/2 the size, and have black feet. And they make the most unbelievably loud sounds considering their tiny size! Luis would point out to us when we were hearing one. We later saw the tiniest frog of all - I don't know the name, but it was smaller than my thumb, with a black body and tiny brown feet. After about an hour in the rainforest Luis said we had to turn back - which I was really excited about, because it meant getting to downhill
Luis and Martina deep in the forest
I am grinning so big because we are on our way downhill at this point :) Just kidding, this is right after we saw the capuchin monkeys (with which we were too engrossed to get photos).
:) but also disappointed about because we hadn't seen monkeys. We were hurrying down the path when Luis stopped and waved us over silently - he heard monkeys nearby. After straining our eyes to catch a glimpse of one, we could see the silhouette of one jumping from branch to branch in the distance. It doesn't sound that amazing, but the fact that it was in the wild made our hearts pound. We continued to watch, hoping to get a better view, and then the monkey spotted us
! It stopped on a branch where we could see it, and watched us for a few minutes - it was a cari blanco
, or capuchin monkey. It was the most amazing moment on the entire trip. After a few moments of mutual staring, the monkey got bored and scantered off, with us striving to follow it with our eyes. We saw one more frog on the way down, one that looked so much like a leaf it took several moments to spot - and then we were back by the river. Luis brought us to his family's area so we could see his father's medicinal plant garden (his father is the local
Green dart frog
See what I mean about the green...it looks too bright to be real!
shaman). By the time we got back to Wekso I started feeling nauseous, and it became clear I was severely dehydrated. I wasn't able to stay at the dinner table for long, I barely got a chance to taste the delicious meal (seafood soup made in a broth of lemongrass, which grows wild everywhere, and heart of palm-salad) before having to go lay down. I was freezing even though it was hot out. Luckily I felt much better by morning! We took another boat ride, further upriver to visit the Naso kingdom capital, where the king resides. The king wasn't present that morning (otherwise we would have had an audience with him!), so instead we got to hang out with the local Naso kids who were on recess from school. That was another top moment from the entire trip - I was still not feeling great, but watching Josh entertaining them really raised my spirits. He was quizzing them in math, Spanish, and Naso (asking them how to say different words in Naso) - a game that would never entertain American kids, but they were LOVING it. Our guide eventually explained that they were a little weirded out by Josh's
See if you can find the frog in this photo
They are so well camouflaged they don't even try to run away...they let you get very close because they can be so confident you won't see them.
beard, because Naso men don't have beards, so the only place the children have ever seen beards is on the mono negro
(black monkey) - Josh's new nickname :)
As much as we loved being in the rainforest, Wekso itself and its facilities were a little disappointing relative to the prices they charge. We paid $40 per night for accommodation and food, and yet there wasn't even toiler paper or light in the bathroom. (This wouldn't be such a big deal if they warned you to bring your own t.p. and flashlight!) We were also given the impression that we would spend the entire day hiking, but we spend 2 hours in the car driving around while groceries and gasoline were purchased, so we ended up hiking for probably only 4 hours total (which cost us around $65) - only 1.5 of which was actually spent in the rainforest. The guides who work there know everything there is to know about the local flora and fauna, and make you feel incredibly welcome. But we were the only people there - despite their boasting of the 40-person capacity - because they haven't quite gotten a grip on how to make
it appealing to tourists. For one thing, no one there speaks anything but Spanish and Naso - this wasn't such a problem for us, because Josh and I both speak a fair amount of Spanish (far more than we ever thought we did!) - but the day we left a Canadian tourist arrived - alone! - who spoke not a single word of Spanish. We definitely had him in our thoughts the next day, wondering what the experience would be like without being able to communicate. I know that personally it wouldn't have been as rewarding to go on that hike if I couldn't understand what creatures Luis was trying to point out to me - some of them are so small or so far, it would be hard to see unless you had an idea what you were looking for.
Anyway, we ended up running into the Canadian back in Bocas (where we returned after the rainforest), and although he managed fine, he experienced a lot of the same feelings we did. He went on an even longer hike than we did, and they gave him about a cup of water for the entire journey - so we
Martina in front of cayuco factory
This isn't even the longest of the boats you see...the cayuco we rode to Wekso was far longer. The trees these boats are made from, Josh tells me, can get as large in width and height as Sequoias, but not in mass.
were really lucky we brought our own. Like us, he found the site and the rainforest amazing, but the actual ecolodge a little weird. We couldn't support more strongly what they are trying to do - preserve and educate about the rainforest and the Naso traditions - but they need to work on their hotel management a little :)
Anyone who reads this who wants more details on the place feel free to ask! We recommend it, but with some conditions :)
Martina and Josh
There are more photos below