Monday, December 10, 2012

Rio Chagres: Three Day Oasis

Since the moment Mark and I reached mainland Panama again, a month and a half ago, we wanted to check out the Chagres River. The plan was to anchor there for a few days on the way to or from Bocas del Toro. We all know how that adventure went… After the productive days in the Colon city, we exited the breakwater and motored ten miles west for three days of refuge in nature. The entrance of the Rio Chagres was a little bit tricky – not to be done in big swells – but once inside, the surroundings were serene and beautiful solitude awaited.

Fuerte San Lorenzo towered above Irie, when we passed by close to shore. Seven years ago Mark, Darwin, Kali and I visited these ruins at the end of a jungle road with our camper. Back then, we could see a sailboat anchored in the river underneath. Who would have guessed we would do the same thing one day. Only, we skipped the beginning of the river, which was quite choppy and ventured further upriver for about three miles. On the way we passed one other catamaran, anchored in peace. We would be the only two boats there. Our first anchoring attempt seemed to be in one of the narrower parts of the river – we are new to this river cruising – and we ended up pretty close to shore. We wanted to be near the rainforest, but not being part of it! So, we moved a mile further up and found a perfect, wide spot in a river bend.

It was quiet and peaceful. The water was fresh and flat. What a spoil. Taking showers felt clean and awesome; the water less cold than expected. We took turns washing up. While one person jumped in, the other watched for approaching crocodiles. They stayed hidden and I even managed to scrape the long green beard off Irie’s bottom without being eaten. I have to say, it is a bit more tiresome to stay afloat in fresh water than in salt water.

We paddled the dinghy up and down a small river near us, being swallowed up by the jungle and the quietness. Egrets, kingfishers and herons were the passers-by and a herd of howler monkeys made a loud ruckus from time to time. We never managed to spot one. The absence of interesting wildlife was compensated by the amazing night sounds of the jungle. Once it was pitch black outside, we looked for red eyes along shore with a strong flashlight. Only once did we spot a set, belonging to a crocodile. When we wanted to venture closer the next evening, the creature was gone.

With our dinghy we followed the Rio Chagres until it dead ended at the Gatun dam, where car traffic was sparse. We followed the banks of the river back and forth to spot crocodiles, but they all looked like logs.  Rowing up and down the short side rivers was magnificent and the highlight of our stay. Being one with the jungle in such a peaceful environment is magical indeed.

But then, one morning another streak of bad luck hit us. After a short visit to shore, while clambering back into the dinghy to avoid mud getting all over it, my (underwater) camera slipped unnoticed out of my pocket… into the deep, fathomless and murky water. Gone! The Rio Chagres absorbed my dear, expensive camera (which was a previous birthday gift from Mark) and with it a bunch of unreleased pictures and movies. What I felt was indescribable.

Once back on Irie, Mark slipped on our step – the one without anti-slip material since we fixed a hole there – while trying to rinse something in the water. He fell hard on his tailbone and hurt his back as well. Right before our boat yard visit where we plan loads of heavy work. At least we had a couple of nice, enchanting days before it is back to reality and to a less fun part of boat ownership! We wish we could have stayed longer.

(PS: Reduced amount of pictures due to loss of them and their apparatus)

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