The Panamanian adventure left off with Astarte having a restocked pantry and the intrepid travelers heading onto their next journey--a trip to the jungle. We had arranged for a guy to take us by lancha (skiff) to Rio Carti (pretty much south of where we were but on the mainland), where we had arranged for transportation to the jungle lodge. The lancha ride was smooth---and NO RAIN! We got taken to one of the Carti islands and dropped off--I expressed some concern about not being on the mainland and needing to meet a driver (my Spanish was improving!). I was told we had to wait for another boat to take us up the river. So we did and got a good look at life in a Kuna village while we waited. Eventually, this other boat came--it was quite similar to the lancha, but driven by others, presumably willing to take more of our money. So, off we went, up the river.
I was envisioning our destination being a little village up the river. With each passing bend in the river, crocodile, iguana, low-hanging tree branch, and local, I was beginning to think we might be starring in a re-adpatation of "Heart of Darkness." Don't get me wrong, I actually kind of like Joseph Conrad, but really, I was beginning to wonder when we passed the Kuna cemetery and saw a few empty boats along the river banks.
Eventually, we slowed down and the guy asked me if I was going by car--when the answer was affirmative, we pulled to the side of the river and sure enough, there was a road and our guy, Michael was waiting. No town, no telephone, and definitely no rental car agency! We loaded up our packs and began the ascent of the Llano-Carti road--what a trip. It is in the process of being rebuilt, and after having seen the video of what it used to be like, it now looks like a super-highway. But it was like a roller coaster. We stopped and snapped a few pictures and had our first jungle wildlife encounter: an anteater! Very cool.
We got to Burbayar Lodge and had some lunch and went out on our first jungle hike. Michael turned out to be our guide as well as our driver and he was very good, pointing out all sorts of very tiny frogs, ants with very painful bites (bullet ants), and telling us about the many birds and plants we saw. We saw our first sloth but were told our hopes of seeing capybaras (the aforementioned ROUSes) wouldn't be realized because they stay in the lowlands. Oh well.
We survived that outing and must have proved ourselves well enough to get taken on a much longer, more difficult hike the following day. Keep in mind, it has rained a lot and the forest floor was a mud pit--we were given Wellie boots and walking sticks at the get go, but the muddy conditions meant lots of awkward slides (but no wipeouts!). We walked for about 3 hours out to a beautiful waterfall and were really impressed when Michael called in a few birds for us--very neat!
The lodge itself was a bit more rustic than what we had figured on (based upon the rather exorbitant price)--no electricity, we had running water but not hot nor potable, and one of the most uncomfortable beds I've ever slept on! And the bugs were a bit creepy--with no bug net around the bed, reading by headlamp at night was not an option! Lights=bugs. But of course we lived to tell the tale and our early consumption of the non-potable-but-not-advertised-as-such water hasn't rendered us bound to the bathroom...yet, anyway!
We left the jungle still wanting to see howler monkeys (we had heard and smelled them, but not seen them) and of course, capybaras. We got our bird fill--the hummingbirds of many varieties were like kamikazes flying around the main building and dining table. And the toucans and parrots were abundant. Some of the smaller songbirds were really beautiful and this jungle experience did give me a new appreciation for birds, even if I can't remember any of their names. I'm sure the typical clientele comes with spotting scopes, Swarovski binoculars, etc.--we had some point and shoot cameras and a cheap pair of backpacking binos, but they did the trick for us.
Our final day got rained out (seemed to be the theme of the trip), so we didn't get our last hike in, and we headed back to Panama City for some city exploring and a trip to Gamboa and the Parque Nacional Soberania. There we finally did see our howler monkeys--very cool. And they really do swing on vines! We'll have to make another trip to Central or South America to finally see a Rodent of Unusual Size.