Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Petroglyph August 2008

(You may click on the fotos to enlarge them)

Check my profile, click on audio clip to see a movie of Michael dancing with Embera women in Churoco, up river. It be amusing amigos, trust me ! You will need quicktime to play it !

Thanks Bob !

The quest for the Darien Jungle Petroglyph

My past research on the WWW has unveiled the existence of a mysterious stone, 5000 to 7000 years of age.

The stone, discovered by Robert Hyman
and Daniel Castaneda in 1994 , has unique carvings from antiquity. It is located deep within the Darien jungle, seven hours up the river Sambu.

Only a handful of "outsiders" have actually seen this stone. No one knows who created the petroglyph or what are the symbols significance.

Early August 2008, I return to the village of Sambu and the rivers of the Darien jungle.

SambuHause is welcoming three new adventurers to the magic and mystery of the Darien jungle. All in their twenties and coming from varied backgrounds.
All seeking the taste of the Darien jungle, raw.

I am Michael, owner and constructor of SambuHause, a retreat that I have built in the Darien jungle so that others may enjoy the majesty of the Darien, yet have a safe and comfortable home base to return to after an exhausting jungle trek. I have traveled the Darien since 1995.Guiding three young individuals through the Darien would be a tough challenge for the 62 year old Michael, known as "Gringo" to the local Embera Indians that populate the Darien.

We have Lucy from England, Nico from Chile, and Reid, an American that has been working in Guatemala.

We meet at the regional airport (Albrook) in Panama
that flies the small Air Panama propeller aircraft into the Darien.
The typical departure delays (it's da tropics) allow us time for introductions and for me to put them somewhat at peace over fear and horror stories about the Darien.

Luck is with us as that the flight is only delayed one hour on departure and that the flight will be direct to Sambu rather than stopping in several Darien locations before landing at our destination. (this occurs frequently)

We arrive 50 minutes later on the rough runway of the village of Sambu. We depart the plane, collect personal possessions, and deal with the local enforcement authorities that insist upon knowing who you are, why are you here, and don't you know the Darien is a dangerous place. (They are not my favorite people, nor am I theirs)

Under the famous Sambu Mango tree (the village social center)
I see a young European female, I assume and I am correct, that this is Francesca, a guest of SambuHause for the last 4 days. Francesca has elected to extend her stay in the Darien for 3 more nights (it was that good!). Below are Francesca and Lucy. I introduce my new adventurers to Francesca, allow them private time, and time to freshen up and eat, while I check out the status of sambuhause.

I converse with Maria (sister inlaw) and Augustina (87 year old mother inlaw) at SambuHause and all is well. I head to Kolacho's local tienda to purchase ice cold beer (24 oz bottles only here) for a meeting on SambuHause's balcony.
I have called the meeting with iced down beers with the trio to discuss the trip up river in our search for "the stone".

I travel the short distance to rio Sabalo and cross the rickety bridge that separates Sambu from the Embera Comarca to negotiate with the Calcique about permission for the trio to travel up river.

My guide in the Comarca will search for a Piragua (river craft), a motor, gasoline, the motorist (him) and a marino (a front positioned Indian that watches for river clearance and submerged things that can flip the Piragua). All of this has to be negotiated and firmed up before the trip. Variables are always changing with the Embera, no two trips are the same.

The Guides are the most important choice, our health and well being rests with them. I only select and employ the best.

I have one unbroken rule for my travelers in the Darien, watch, listen, and follow the guides closely...If they seem agitated...be careful, and be concerned.

I secure the permissions to enter the Comarca for the Up River adventure. My guides will return to SambuHause with the "proposal" (costs) of the trek, this evening. I am confident we can negotiate the trip within budget.

We come to an agreement on the terms of the trip financing. I am later to discover that this trip will cost me (personally) substantially more dollars, but that is another story.

The departure is set for the following morning (Saturday)

Here is our Piragua launch with Nico (WISP hat) then Lucy, and Reid, just behind the marino with the pole. We are off on the seven hour trip up the River Sambu to Pavarando, the last village up river. Our over night destination, before our 4 hour trek into the Darien jungle in search of "the stone".

First Obstacle.....da tree that dropped into the river Sambu, during the previous night's storm.

We have about 1 and 1/2 meters of clearance off to the right river bank, but do not know what is submerged there and the current passing through that small space restricted is 5 times the normal river rate. Gets a little tense here.

The motor shudders with the current requiring more gas feed, we pass mid way then drift backwards and sideways.

More acceleration and power to the motor corrects the dangerous drift and powers us through the opening clear of the fallen tree.

Another Darien moment, no extra charge for that.

On we go up river Past Villa Grecia and rio Tigre, Boca Trampa, both Embera villages, we are looking to land for a while three hours up river at Churoco, a beautiful Embera village. I have Embera friends there and am looking for meat of some kind for us to cook this evening and for lunch in the jungle on Sunday.

This is Merci, the Churoco Embera village chief. A freshly hunted and killed wild jungle tapir is on the menu for the meals this evening in Pavarando and for lunch at the stone site on Sunday. Life is good. We will smoke this critter, tis the best way to enjoy the flavor. Merci,the Churoco Embera chief, this man moves through the jungle like one of the Darien's panthers...he is amazing to watch...so connected with the jungle. He smells, hears, sees, feels, knows things that people like you and me have no idea be lurking dere. Just Amazing !

Further up river after the Churoco stop, the view up the jungle from the Piragua continues to amaze.

You cannot move through this growth, even with a machete it is grueling work. The river is the best way to experience the sights of the Darien.

We will eventually hike into the jungle, but trust me, you are going to wish you were back in the Piragua. The jungle trek by foot is exhausting and demanding on the human body and spirit.

The Darien jungle is a magical place, explored by so few. The upriver Comarca area of the Embera, a pure jungle experience that will forever imprint on your mind and soul.

Just before our arrivial in the village of Pavarando that late afternoon, they skys darkened and opened up with a deluge type Darien "Agua Cerro" rainstorm. We were a mere 300 meters from the village. The Rio Sambu shallowed out. The piragua scrapped the stony river bottom and ground to a halt. My guides exited the piragua and attempted to get us to the village. 45 minutes later and absolutely drenched, we arrived in Pavarando.

I do not charge extra for the soaking.

Below are Nico (soaked) Lucy and me behind (rain gear) and the guides pushing the piragua to Pavarando during da storm.

Pavarando, Embera Casa

Pavarando, locals (twins actually) cooking, serving late lunch for us. (SanCocho)

Following morning (Real early mind you) coffee and ricecakes with wild Tapir and we are off. Just a small tributary river is the point we are seeking, off rio Sambu.
Once sited, the piragua is beached and we are on our way into da jungle.

Immediately, it is clear to me that no one has treked this way in years. We have to slash our way into the jungle.

The jungle is rain soaked from last nights storm, it is indeed ugly treking. I insist that anyone hiking with me and my guides wear knee high jungle rubber boots. This proved very usefull in the jungle clay like muck that lay below 4-6 inches of water.

This and the boots are your only protection from the possibility of an encounter with Darien's famous Equis...known to the world outside as the feared Fer-De-Lance snake. A creature right out of the stone age that has no fear of mankind.

Oh! The sights you will see,
look at this tree trunk,
The canopy blocks out the sun, it is forever twilight here.

Spectacular Jungle Waterfall, deep within the Darien.

Reid, with that.....
you got to be kidding look......

We crossed this same damned winding Jungle creek 20 times,
each time dangerous. Currents, holes you cannot see, critters lurking !

Should a hard jungle rain break, you are stranded the river will go raging in seconds, like a flash flood.
You are there till things dry out...could be days !

The current can sweep you away in a heartbeat.
Footing on the river's stony riverbed is treacherous.
You cannot see the holes you slip into.
A broken leg or ankle here is not a good thing!
Site of the Equis (Fer-De-lance)Snake attack
Reid was at point behind da guide, Guide started screaming and shaking. Fired off two rounds (missed naturally..he wuz so scared) and da snake booked into da jungle. This wuz mid trip to the stone.
Reid, who had advised he was not smoking until he arrived at the stone, as I recall had a lit cigarette in his left and right hands...smoking both !

The Darien Equis.....Fer-de-Lance.......SNAKE !
I told you......and you did not believe me......this SOB is absolutely out of the stone age....and once again for those who do not bother to read detail.....this creature has NO fear of humans.

Break Time, half way in and a
t this point I am exhausted...

I am now referring to the sacred stone as
"That F*****G Rock" ....

It is going to kill me.....

My bone joints are grinding from the continual impact of slipping and falling and twisting on slippery river rocks...I am getting concerned about my ability to be able to get back to our piragua.

I will....... will, myself to da stone, but back ?

A massive jungle tree trunk
A glimps of the up and down valleys we traversed, I mostly tripped and fell.Another incredible Darien tree with amazing vine growth. I have seen vines 2 feet thick there.The Stone ! Robert Hyman (discoverer, 1994) advises the large petroglyph image is a Cayman (type of alligator) and this is what makes this petroglyph site so unique. This design is unlike any others in Panama!Michael and VidachoUp River
Up River From the StoneUp river from stoneUp River Boulder
The Crew !Looking Downriver

The Lucy !
The Lucy swimming in 4 meter deep fast current river stream...The Nico from Chile!Reid, the Gringo from Guatemala cleaning da stoneChrist I am tired, my bones just ache ! And....we have to hike back after our inspection of the stone, 4 hours more just to get back to the piragua! Arrrgh!BEEN THERE ! DONE THAT! Michael...
My personal thanks to all ! An amazing adventure for all!
A great carving on the stone, and Edvard Munch thought he created "The Scream" in Europe !Oh........and this would be the Darien's Equis...the fer-de-lance snake, has no fear of mankind ! This one is over a meter long !

Sweet Dreams....................Michael
Jeesh..this snake gives me da creeps !......... and I am scary !