Day 5 |
Apr 01, 2012

Darién Jungle, Panama 

By Uli Kunz, Oceanographer and Zodiac-Driver

Position: 8°19’ N, 78°14’ W
Air temperature: 30 °C, 86 °F
Water temperature: 26 °C, 78.8 °F
Air pressure: 1005 hPa
Wind speed: 19 km/h

I remember a time about 13 years ago when I visited Costa Rica and Panama during one of my field trips studying biology: Arriving in Panama City, I had wanted to go further east into the jungle but the locals told me that it gets more and more difficult, getting closer to the border to Columbia. My guidebook at that time told me that this part of the world, hot, humid and heavily forested, was regarded as one of the last blank spots on the map of the Earth. And travelling to such a remote area was considered as a tremendous adventure into the unknown. I have never forgotten the name of that area I could not visit: Darien Jungle...

Today I found myself again very close to that area... but this time I would be visiting the dense jungle... The Silver Explorer anchored in the morning off the village of Punta Alegra in a big bay. The ship could not go any closer because the bay is uncharted and in most places very shallow. Together with the Expedition Team I jumped into our Zodiacs to prepare the disembarkation. We wanted to go on a long cruise into the jungle with all our guests, so we also used several local boats for our tour. The disembarkation took a long time but the first boats had already left the ship and followed our guides in the direction of the mouth of the river Mogue.

We entered the world of mangroves and dense tropical rainforest. The river was wide at its mouth but soon got smaller and narrower as we made our way further away from the coast. And the water got shallower... and shallower... in some places, I had to lift up my engine and was basically sliding over a sandbar or a sunken tree in the river. In other places, only the use of our paddles prevented us from being stuck in the mud. And we still carried on. Our convoy of 8 Zodiacs and 12 local boats finally arrived at our landing site, where the water was so shallow that we had to drag the boats to the shore. It was a spectacular sight. We were greeted by the local Emberá people who are dressed in colourful skirts and have impressive tattoos all over their mostly naked bodies. The river at the landing site was so narrow that finding a parking spot was the most difficult task of the morning... As the disembarkation of the boats was finished, we could have crossed the river by walking from boat to boat...

The Emberá joined us on our walk into their village where we were greeted by Jolanto, the local chief of the community and a group of musicians and dancers presenting several local dances and songs. The music was pretty unusual for our ears, but the colourful costumes and impressive tattoos that covered the dancers' bodies gave a glimpse into the amazing cultural life of the Emberá.

The women offered a broad display of local handmade arts and crafts for sale. The Emberá people are famous for producing baskets that are the finest in the world. They are woven so tight that they can even contain water without leaking. The intricate motifs woven into the baskets depict tropical plants, animals, fish, flowers, insects and geometric patterns. Our guests loved their work!

But we could only stay at the village for two hours, as we had to leave before low tide. The whole operation was strongly dependant on having enough water under the Zodiacs... Together with the rest of our crew, I helped our guests back into the local boats and the Zodiacs, and we carefully drove back over sandbars and sunken logs into the main branch of the river where we could speed up to reach the Silver Explorer safely.

It was an amazing experience and a Zodiac cruise in true expedition style!

The hotel department prepared a nice teatime in The Restaurant, so all our guests and the Expedition Team could relax for a while and enjoy our afternoon at sea.

Later in the afternoon, I presented a lecture about my work as an underwater photographer and scientific diver and I took the guests on several virtual dives into the fascinating underwater world of tropical coral reefs and submerged caves.

Before dinner, we had our daily Recap & Briefing in The Theatre, where guests were eager to ask their many questions about the life of the Emberá. The guests were answered with great information by our local guides Joshua and Roberto.