Cruising with Soggy Paws
Soggy Paws is a 44' CSY Sailboat. In 2007, we set sail on a 10 year around the world cruise.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Chagras River, Panama - Listening to the Jungle Awaken
After our overnight the night before, we had an early night last night.

I was wide awake by 5am, so I made some coffee, turned out our anchor light, and sat in the cockpit listening to the jungle wake up.

It was still pitch black when the howler monkeys started howling. We have heard howlers in Trinidad, Venezuela, and Guatemala, but here we are totally surrounded by numerous, very vocal, troupes of monkeys. I have never heard such a racket. For Nicki, lots more and closer than the howlers we heard at the sunrise at Temple IV in Tikal.

As it started getting light, the howlers quieted down and the birds started waking up. Unfortunately I am not (yet) a birder, so I can't really identify the many bird sounds I am hearing. But there is a wide variety of tropical bird sounds coming from the surrounding forest.

Right now the wind is calm and the river is glassy. I can see small fish feeding and the occasional larger fish swirling.

The sun is now up, and it looks like it is going to be gorgeous day.

Yesterday we saw quite a few birds, including the finchy-looking little grey and white birds that like to sit on our life lines. They seemed very curious about us. (With Dave saying "I hope they don't poop on the deck"). While we were tarpon fishing up the creek, we saw kingfishers and several fishhawks. And at sunset we heard and saw several flocks of noisy parrots flying overhead.

Since the departure of the U.S. Military's Jungle Warfare Center in 1999, the area has been a nature preserve, and there isn't any easy way for visitors to come here except by boat. We have only seen about 6 sailboats scattered up and down the river from us. (ie no hordes of tourists).

There are several dinghy excursions we can do from our anchorage, including Fort Lorenzo, an old Spanish fort at the mouth of the river, the Smithsonian Tree Research Center, and Gatun Dam and Locks. Most of our info is word of mouth by other cruisers, and sometimes the cruising guidebooks. For example, here is what our friends on Gilana said about hiking to the Smithsonian center:

"Go another 300-400 yards downstream on the same bank (outside of the bend) and you will find overhanging trees and a cliff with a small cave. Look out for crocodiles! There is a tire hanging as a fender from one of the rocks. Scale up that cliff and follow the markers, plastic cord and tape tied around trees. It goes to the Smithsonian forest research station."

The Gatun Dam is at the head of the Chagras River. The Dam formed Gatun Lake, which is at the apex of the Panama Canal transit.

We have a couple of days here waiting for Caliente, so we'll probably visit all of them. I can't post pictures from here, but our friends on Gilana did a nice job of posting theirs.

(If this link doesn't work, navigate there by going to and clicking the 2007 button, and Panama. The Chagras section is towards the end).

Side note: We have heard that the Canal pilots are on strike, and traffic through the Canal is slowed way down. Normally there is a week or two delay to get a sailboat through, but now boats are having to wait as much as 6 weeks for their turn. We are hoping the situation is resolved by the time we want to go thru in June!

The strike is also likely severely affecting commerce, as the freighters are also stacked up on either side of the Canal (we could see them anchored outside Colon in the 'overflow anchorage' just before we entered the river). When working at Globe Wireless, I was told that the cost of idling a freighter for a day is about $10,000. The strike is costing somebody some significant dollars (which eventually gets reflected in the cost of the goods you and I buy).

Rumor has it that the pilots make about $250K a year, and work 10 days on and 40 days off. And they think they're not getting paid enough. (But I don't know the details of the strike... no internet here in the jungle).


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