I’ve been a lazy/busy chap recently and haven’t applied myself to the task of either blogging about Panama or travelling. This is terrible! To raise my enthusiasm for both I’ve decided to write about 5 places that I really want to visit here in Panama. Some of them are on the beaten path and others stray a little further but they all have their own charms. This year – let’s make these all happen.
A land of opportunity. A honeyed land…. All these are word we use to describe an unobtainable paradise, a fleeting dream of what could be but never will be.
La Miel is that utopia.
I’m not making this up – I’ve heard some ludicrously fanciful things about this place and, with so many of the promises of beauty in Panama being kept, I’m prepared to suspend disbelief on this one. The bridge between the two sides of the Darien, this portion of coastline is meant to be heartbreakingly lovely. Golden sweeps of sand, soft blue seas, and a crystal clear sky (watch out for rainy season) should make this stick in my memory forever. The fact that the occasional poster of a wanted guerrilla is slung up on the walls of houses here is enough to make me pause but not enough to delay my voyage. I’m fascinated by the potential of this area, in all of its mysticism and natural beauty as well as its earthier, more understandable human side.
The walk between Colombian Sapzurro and Panamanian La Miel is meant to be one of the best ways of skirting the Darien coast, so I’ll have to find some time to disappear into this part of the world. La Miel is also the departure point for the Darien Gapster tour, so perhaps I’ll finally get to claim to have made the infamous crossing (albeit in relatively security and comfort). The fact that this is on the Caribbean makes it an even greater prospect for me. I’ll be making the trip to also visit a friend’s property out there and see what he is planning to do with the land he owns – it should be very revealing for what is (for now) a very isolated part of the world.
Crossing coastlines to the other side of the Darien, I want to visit this blend of cultures on the Pacific coast, a tiny settlement which keeps on crossing into conversations I have with Panamanian friends. “Visit Jaque!” they cry, while I fumble around trying to find a reason why I can’t afford to go with them quite yet. NO MORE!
You can drop right in via airplane, descending quickly after the short flight from Panama City. Or, take a small boat from one of the isolated port towns many miles away down the Pacific coast, braving the shoals and the occasional squalls to reach your destination. I’m going to fly in at first, hopefully with a one of my favorite couples in Panama so they can show me the Jaque ropes.
Apparently the town is absolutely bursting with life and has a picturesque, frontier town sort of vibe. I’ve yet to really explore somewhere on the edge of such a huge obstacle to travellers as the Darien. I think the idea of these places seduces me as much as the grittier reality provides fuel for my enthusiasm to photograph it.
The obstacle itself. The gap. The great divide separating two individual parts of a former grand whole. Colombia and Panama are very different places and this is where the differences truly begin, 160 kilometres of beautiful, if forbidding, barrier between two nations. The only place in the Americas where there is no connecting Pan-American Highway, it has captured the imagination of just about every travel writer, backpacker, visitor, eco-traveller, and wanderer for the last 100 years.
I have no idea where to start with it but I DO want to start somewhere.
Former Prison on Isla Coiba
Ghost stories, horrible tales of torture and brutality, poisonous snakes, deadly sharks, an untamed jungle, abandoned concrete shells of prison buildings…. why would anyone want to go to such a place?
Well, it turns out that quite a few do, as Isla Coiba has attracted increasing numbers of visitors to its shores. One of the world’s most bio-diverse environments, the largest island in Central America is, for all of its scarred and violent history, beautifully untouched. The fact that this island has such a huge wealth of animal, bird and plant life make it a huge lure for me. I also love taking photographs of decayed and decaying structures, so that prison isn’t a threat – it’s a lure.
They even have a tame crocodile. Who DOESN’T want to see that?
A former colony of Spain, so poorly managed and maintained that it drained itself into the surrounding landscape, becoming a harsh, arid and unforgiving place in a country of bounty and abundance.
Sarigua, unknown even in Panama, is one of those weird little places we often find in strange countries. A desert… amidst the tropical jungle? It sounds like a sci fi or fantasy conceit, a weird blend of reality, a videogame level crudely pasted to another different zone. It has been used as the scene for music videos, for texture inspiration in some Panamanian art, and as a warning of the dangers of deforestation to even the lushest environment. It is empty, desolate, and barren.
I find it fascinating. When can I go?