First I have to describe the night before I describe the day. The night was so black it was exceptional. There were no lights anywhere on the mountains in front of us except for one lone security light across the way.
I decided to get up for sunrise photos because I happened to see one on Flickr and hoped to recreate it. Sunrise was at 6:15 so I got up at 5:45. Some vacation! It was overcast so I didn't really get the sunrise photos I was looking for but it was a wonderful morning. I walked around the hotel and listened to and watched the birds as the sky got lighter. I loved having the time to myself and the experience of sunrise. I was at peace (something rare for me) listening to the world wake up. I should get up at sunrise more often.
The Gamboa Rainforest Resort has add on trips that you can sign up for and the first one we did was a trip to an Embera Village. We went down to the hotel's marina, donned lifejackets and then got in our ride. In this case our ride was a wooden canoe! There were a total of eight people in the canoe: five tourists, two guides from the hotel and our indigenous guide, complete in skimpy dress. The canoe started backing up and then brrrrr.......the start of the motor. Yes, a motorized canoe. I have mentioned here many times that I love boats. I love boats. There is nothing so freeing for me as being on the water. I don't know where it comes from but it is something obviously deeply ingrained in me. I was in heaven as we sped across the Chagres River.
After about 15 minutes on the water we pulled up to the shore of the rainforest and went for a walk in the forest. We were on the Camino de Cruses trail which was used by the Spaniards in the 1500s to transport goods across Panama. We even climbed some of the same stone steps that they put in place all that time ago. I really felt like I was walking through history with the trees over my head, the sounds of the jungle and the steam and mud. I could practically see the explorers of old before my eyes picking their way through the jungle. This was not the main focus of our tour and because it was so muddy we didn't go very far but it was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
After about 30 minutes in the forest we got back in the boat and continued to the indigenous village. This village is a model that is on the property of the hotel. It had a performance area and some example huts. The name of the village was Cameratu. Members of a nearby Embera tribe come and do presentations at the village. There was music, a presentation on the customs of the Embera including their native dress (very little!), their traditions, their handcrafts and their history. The village was established by a guy who helped do survival training for the NASA astronauts in the 1950s. They passed around old worn photos of tribe members with fresh faced young Americans. After the presentation they had music, dancing and even lunch for us. I am not a fan of fish especially when the fish still has its head or tail but I ate it up (go me!). After lunch we were free to walk around the village, take pictures and buy their handcrafts. No worries if you didn't have cash because of course they took credit cards.
Even though I know that the village was mainly set up for tourists it was a really wonderful experience. Since it is in what is now a protected part of the rainforest (designation added in the 80s) they aren't able to cut down any trees or make any major changes to the location. Their main source of income is tourist money and I'm fine with that because they definitely make the crafts by hand. Then it was time to get back in the boat and have another glorious ride across the water (video below). This trip is the longest they offer (about three hours total) and definitely worth the money.
After cleaning up and resting at the hotel, we went on our second tour that afternoon. This one was much more low key. It was basically a walk between four adjacent areas they have on property. The first was a building that had some fish tanks and crocodiles. Nothing too exciting but I did enjoy watching a school of mackerel zip around their tank. Next up was the butterfly house. Houston has a great butterfly house and while this one was smaller, it was enjoyable nonethless. This structure was covered in netting so you could hear the thunder rumbling in the distance and feel the steam. It was a lovely place to walk through. I wish I could have stayed there longer, but the tour must go on. The next stop was a snake house. I hate snakes. I can't even look at them on TV or in pictures. I tried, I really did, but after looking at one snake I had to turnaround and wait outside. I hate snakes.
The last stop was the orchid garden and the main reason I wanted to take the tour. It was a large area with two different tents and in each was rows and rows of orchids hanging from tree trunk slices. Even though the orchids were mostly not in bloom it was a beautiful area with plants hanging all around and the trees and mountain rising up behind the garden. With the thunder constantly rumbling in the distance and the sky turning grey it made for a beautiful afternoon stroll. After the tour was finished most of the people walked back to the hotel but I waited with my aunt for the hotel transportation and we had a chance to talk to the tour guide for quite a while. His name was Arial and he was from the Caribbean side of Panama. He grew up speaking Jamaican English (his term) and Spanish so getting in the tourist industry which needs English speakers was a natural for him. Turns out he would end up being our tour guide on the rest of our trips.
The next two hours were some of my very favorite of the trip. I sat on the balcony of our hotel room as the sun set. I read my book and listened to the birds. I felt the breeze and watched the clouds roll by. The only way it could have been more perfect is if the hotel ever got their act together and got me the hammock that I was supposed to have on my balcony, but oh well. Sitting and listening to the sounds of the rain forest was so peaceful. My aunt joined me when deep dusk had fallen and we sat and talked and watched the rain move in. Perfect moments.
After that it was dinner at the hotel, a hot shower and a wrap on day two. What a great day.
Video: On the Chagres River