Rafting the Rio Chiriqui Viejo, Panama

rafting in panamaAs the raft bounced and bobbed through the umpteenth rapid of the day, I suddenly found myself in the air, then in the water beside the boat, then under the boat and popping up on the other side. My brother, Scott, leaned over the gunnels, grabbed my PFD and pulled me back in, saying, “”You won’t make a very good bumper”.”

Scott talked me into this rafting trip. My normal travel M.O. is to go as cheaply as possible, but since he was footing the bill, there we were on the Rio Chiriqui Viejo in Panama, near the Costa Rican border. We were bonding on our first trip together since family camping vacations as kids.

The Chiriqui rapids were big and fun; it was the most exciting whitewater I’’d ever run. But the scenery was the most impressive part of the day. Cormorants, kingfishers, vultures, and other birds glided over the river landing on rocks to fish or soaring into the jungle on the other side.

Between the countless class II-IV rapids we were able to stare in awe at the waterfalls pouring into the river, spider monkeys chattering in the trees, and iguanas sunning themselves on fallen logs. It was the jungle we were here to see without the effort of hiking through think vegetation or being eaten by tiny bugs. This trip was the easy way to discover the tropical rainforest and I was definitely digging it.

We passed the “Tourist Tree”—, red with peeling bark—, and a “Panama Tree” which Panamanian Indians used to make canoes to cross the Panama Canal before bridges and modern boats took their place.

Hopping out of the boat, we floated through a short, flat section of river with sheer canyon walls closing in on either side. Water wept through the walls, growing vines, ferns, impatiens bigger than any seen in the Unites States, and bromeliads. The sky cut through the narrow opening above us and both Scott and I were mesmerized.

At lunch Scott cracked open rocks and found fossils inside, reminding us of how old this place was and how much had changed since those mollusks lived here. Dynamic as the river, but always in the present, the trip wasn’’t just about creating memories and bonding, it was about being excited and content right now.

Just the Facts

Rafting company: Chiriqui River Rafting
Stayed at: Cabanas La Via Lactea (A little more than I normally like to spend, but this place was really nice, the gardens are gorgeous and it is right on a boulder-strewn creek.)

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