Panama has had record rainfall these last few weeks – in fact the Panama Canal itself was closed for almost a day early in December; something that has only happened 4 times in its history. Despite misgivings that I might be consigning myself to a muddy walk through snake infested jungle, I signed up for the rainforest hike as our shore excursion out of Panama. I had heard that there is some excellent duty free shopping in Panama City and had been a little tempted by this but the opportunity to try and see some Howler Monkeys won in the end. I thought I was reasonably well kitted out in my shorts, running shoes and cap (liberally sprayed with Deep Woods OFF) but some of my fellow passengers really looked like they had stepped out of a Hemingway novel called Last of the Great White Explorers. I began to think that I was ill-prepared for this expedition. I need not have worried – it was all quite civilised, if a little damp. The only down side was the long transfer time – over an hour of driving. Was there not a bit of jungle rainforest a little closer I wondered?
Our rainforest walk was very interesting. We saw several sloth – some three toed and other two toed. They are not too difficult to spot as they don’t move much – in fact some of them move so little their coats were covered with green algae. Our guide, Luis, was accompanied by one of the Embera Indians. He pointed out the plants and leaves they use for local healing – including one which apparently does the job of Viagra. Apparently you soak this in whisky overnight and then strain and drink. Didn’t Shakespeare say something about provoking the desire and inhibiting the performance. At the end of our tour some of the local Embera women had laid out their wares and of course we all bought something. The Emberas are completely different to the Kuna people we met on San Blas islands. But like the Kuna they are gentle people with soft smiles and quite shy.
While the colonial towns and monuments of Central America are no doubt fascinating – to me it has been the contact with the indigenous people of the area that has been the highlight.