This past weekend Trey and I took some friends on an expedition to a really amazing waterfall.
It goes without saying that one of the most incredible things about living here is the natural diversity. When you get tired of beaches, jungles, mountains or islands, you can always go waterfall hunting.
And there are literally thousands to choose from. In fact, there have been many a Saturday where we’ve hopped in the car and set out blindly to track down a new waterfall.
We have yet to strike out…
Drive along any back road, stop in one of the small pueblos and ask the residents where to find “el chorro” and inevitably they will give you directions to some secret spot that is known only to the locals.
This waterfall however is unique…
First off, it’s big… Really big. It’s actually comprised of several falls: A lower set with a killer swimming hole, and — after a brutal hour hike and several smaller falls — a gargantuan upper fall that takes your breath away. Second, it’s also very remote… You need a four wheel drive to get there, and it’s extremely unlikely that you will encounter another bi-ped (at least the hairless variety) during the trip to the summit and back.
We did the hour hike – or I should say, we bushwhacked through jungle; climbed up boulders the size of three story buildings; waded through waist-deep water; crawled through thickets of thorns; shimmied up a cave wall covered with bats (really!); fought off fire ants; and traversed across rock ledges. Until we got here…
Like most natural marvels in Panama, there are no well-maintained hiking paths – there are no hiking paths at all!
In fact, there is none of the clutter that has sanitized so much of what us first-world sophisticates have come to expect as an authentic “outdoor experience”.
No signs telling you that “swimming is prohibited… No guideposts hectoring you to “stay on the path”… No areas roped off to protect you from danger… No park rangers, snack shops, trail maps, parking lots, RV hookups, or faux log cabin gift shops selling the little plasticized knick knacks of the awesome natural wonder you’ve just experienced.
As one of our friends, Chris giddily exclaimed with a silly ear-to-ear grin after reaching the summit out of breath, covered in sweat and dirt, shorts shredded, and with blood running down his shins from a nasty wrestling match with a thicket of thorns, “Now this is a hike with consequences.”
And that’s what makes it so cool…
There are risks involved. But it’s the risks that give you an entirely different perspective about the natural wonders that surround us. When we sally forth into the great outdoors without a safety net we gain a new appreciation for just how awesome it all is.
And that’s precisely what makes it so incredibly unique and exceptional. Here there are still completely intact ecosystems where the soil, rocks, water, critters, and plant life stand in defiance against the man made sterility that elsewhere Disney-fy’s so much of the outdoors for our comfortable, risk-free amusement.
Here you’re still on your own… You define you’re own boundaries, no one defines them for you. But the consequences and dangers are very real.
Right after we reached the summit, we watched a nasty thunder-clunker moving quickly across the valley in our direction. You can see it gathering right behind Trey’s shit-eating grin.
Being at the top of this particular waterfall with at least an hour hike back out is not a place you want to be in a big storm. In a matter of minutes, a big downpour can put the schnitz on a challenging adventure and turn what is already an intimidating hike into this…
In our case, we started off in the morning before the afternoon rains hit, but still had to double-time it back down as the clouds started approaching. After a quick swim in the lower falls we stumbled exhausted into the small pueblo nearby to quaff a few beers and swap war stories about our derring-do with these characters, one of whom was the local mayor…
Yeah, I know… It’s not like we scaled Mt. Everest, free-climbed Half Dome, or kayaked Victoria Falls. But for mid-life dudes sliding into geezerhood these are still the kinds of memorable adventures that make you feel like a kid all over again. And that’s a big part of what makes Panama special.