(NewsroomPanama)House boats are a way of life in some parts of the world. But In Panama they are a rare breed unless you include living on a yacht. But at least one genuine one exists … as near to Panama City as Lake Gatun.
And it is from that surprising location that “Captain Carl” Davis runs one of the most satisfying back to nature trips in the region Jungle Land Explorers’ HQ is far from the beaten track. In fact beaten tracks don’t exist, as the only way to reach his floating hotel is by water.
Carl’s journey to creating his waterborne exploration business began when, as a young “Captain Carl”marine he did his jungle training at Fort Sherman, near Colon’s San Lorenzo Fort. In one of his joking asides, and they, as you will discover, are many, he muses on creating a mud crawling ecological tour, based on his military training.
After leaving the service he entered the tourism industry , first as a crew member on cruise ships, and later creating tours for passengers in the Caribbean, until he finally sailed back to Panama with the first part of his houseboat, later enlarged with a second floating home, constructed in the US and towed to Lake Gatun.
Moored to the floating hotel is a mini fleet of his own cruise craft, each holding up to 20 passengers. Around them lie motorized cayucos and man (or woman) powered kayaks and canoes. (Yes Victoria, those wooden things are paddles).
So let’s go back to the start, and join Carl on one of his day long safaris. There are night cruises too, and the houseboat is set up for overnight stays, but a day tour, covering six hours, is a perfect curtain raiser.
Entering the LakeOn a given day he can set out with over 100 passengers, but the normal voyages encompass only one powered vessel until the lunch break, and then, for those fit and willing enough, the paddling kicks in, or you can take the easy route with a powered cayuco. No one gets left behind.
The start point is the public wharf a short distance past the El Renacer prison on the road from Panama City to the Gamboa Resort.
For those new to Panama, the route is an enthralling introduction to tropical vegetation and
Working on the Canal widening
you have some 30 minutes of driving to wonder how the 49’ers trekked through jungle like this when they crossed the Isthmus on their way to getting a ship from Panama City to the goldfields of California.
At the wharf you board your jungle tour craft, and from the moment you set sail on Lake Gatun, created during the building of the original Canal, you get a non- stop presentation in eco tourism, history, and the progress of the current widening .
Raiding the supermarketCarl has an encyclopedic knowledge of the 1200 varieties of trees that surround the lake and the canal, identifying them by name, detailing the fruit they provide and which wild life lives or feeds there.
But he gives equally detailed descriptions of the canal widening works and the equipment in use.
There is the expected stop at Monkey Island where the inhabitants, recognizing the floating supermarket are on the canopy before the craft stops, hands ready to collect the proffered peanuts (or anything else).
Soon after the houseboat hotel comes into sight, but first a stop at an adjacent small island occupied by only four Rufus napped Tamarin Monkeys, a tiny breed but with big appetites for their favorite bananas They take small slices from your hand with demonstrably more courtesy than their larger Monkey Island cousins.
A few meters back to the house boat and lunch. Carl moves to the upperdeck and loads the barbecue while his staff get to the work in the kitchen, preparing local dishes.
The Captain displays his culinary skills
The meal is on the house. If you want to wash it down with beer or wine it’s available only $2.
Over lunch Carl demonstrates his knowledge of the original canal construction, and the building of the railroad linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
We also get to meet some of his fellow boarders including a lively toucan who takes Carl’s finger in his beak and plays tug like a young puppy on a leash, or a six years-old boa constrictor draped around the host’s neck, a large iguana who looks ready to nip like a
crocodile, and a lemurin night monkey who happily curls up on an available shoulder, and like a new born in diapers leaves a small warm pool to mark his arrival. He then eats from a plate of avocados and pineapple. Avocado first, pineapple as a dessert.
A quick tour of the five guest rooms sleeping from one to eight, and a king size bed for couples.
Then it’s time for the adventurous to climb into a kayak or canoe, or for the less a powered cayuco.
This is where the journey become truly jungle as you are hidden from the sun moving slowly under canopies of tropical shrubbery, towards a hidden waterfall where Carl has constructed a mini beach giving visitors the opportunity to swim in a crystal clear pool at the foot of the falls.
From there, along channels carved out by Carl and his staff through floating vegetation which rises and falls as you swish by. For those who have seen the classic African Queen, all that was missing was the funnel and Humphrey Bogart. Carl was a pretty good substitute.
Back at the houseboat a quick visit to the small but well stocked souvenir shop before heading for the public wharf, and a drive back to city life, only 30 minutes away. Hard to believe.
Avocado followed by pineapple dessert
And for the future: a commitment to one of the Jungle Ex plorere renowned night expeditions and the opportunity to let Captain Carl did deeper into his fund of ecological knowledge and reminiscences.
Carl’s swimming oasis