Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Up the Rio Diablo

The “double” town of Rio Diablo consists of the villages Nargana and Corazon de Jesus, connected to each other with a stone bridge. Both towns have abandoned their Kuna traditions and many thatched huts have been replaced by concrete structures. Nargana has a few stores with fresh vegetables and fruits, a bank, post office and laundry lady, which makes it a decent stop for cruisers to stock up on food and money. Even though the towns are relatively modern (they have a huge generator producing electricity 24/7, a cell phone tower and satellite TV), running water and plumbing are absent. The usual outhouses dot the waterfront and for water, locals take their boats – dugout canoes or motorized pangas – up the Rio Diablo to an area where further traffic is prohibited and fill jugs, buckets and barrels with clean river water. Women take their laundry near the same area and it is also a great place for a bath.

One day, Mark and I took our dinghy up this river and arrived in a pretty and different world. Following the river for about three miles, we saw it turn from brown to clear, from salty to fresh. Kuna men in ulus were paddling up and down to collect water or their usual crops. Once in a while, a bigger wooden boat with outboards would pass us on its way to the “water reserve”, carrying massive barrels to be filled. All around us big mangrove trees, green jungle and picturesque palm trees protruded from the banks and stretched way inland. Wading birds and kingfishers went about their business, Kuna Indians worked their lands and small cemeteries were hidden in the foliage. We enjoyed a slow ride upriver, once in a while dodging shallower areas and fallen trees, while taking in the amazing scenery.

When we arrived at the “end of the road”, a barrier spanned across the river, indicating that no one is allowed any further up river. This was where people tied off their boats and filled their containers with fresh water. We met an old man, Donaldo, who just came back from his “finca” and offered us bananas, VERY spicy seeds and another sweet/sour fruit. We took a bunch of green bananas for $2, but since he didn’t have change on him, he would come by Irie later to collect his money. This point is also the place where one can take a hike inland, following a white PVC pipe. The path is well worn and used by Kunas on their way to and from their fields. It is supposed to end at a pretty lake with a waterfall, about three hours down the trail. Since it was already noon, Mark and I decided to follow it just for a bit.

We embarked on an easy hike through the jungle, hoping to see monkeys, but instead watching colonies of leaf cutter ants, a couple of woodpeckers, and on the way back a colorfully beaked toucan. About an hour into the Panamanian interior, we saw the river again to our right and decided to have our lunch on a little sandy island in the middle. I went for a refreshing swim afterwards scaring a bunch of lizards, who funnily ran away over the water’s surface. We turned back to our dinghy along the same flat trail, discovering a couple of graves in the underbrush and greeting friendly Kunas cutting a new path with their machetes.

The leisurely dinghy ride back to Nargana was not boring at all, since different vistas opened up facing down river. Mark and I had filled a five gallon water jug before returning and took a nice bath together with some locals. It sure feels good to wash in fresh water for a change! Next time we go back up the Rio Diablo, we hope to follow the trail all the way to the waterfall and fill plenty more jugs with water.

Kuna Indian going to get water upriver in his ulu.

The "modern" way to collect water up the Rio Diablo.

 Our lunch spot along the hike/river.

Having a fresh water bath in the Rio Diablo.

Small Kuna cemetery along the river.

White egret along the Diablo River.

Massive mangrove trees with enormous roots.


Janine said...

We have fond memories of the Kuna and San Blas. We got to take a dingy ride up a river to thier cemetary, very special and spirtual day.

Liesbet said...


We didn't realize that you and the boys cruised here as well. Quite the magical place indeed! Hope you're all doing great in NZ!!