Adventure Sail to Panama


Trip up the Rio Diablo, San Blas


 October 20, 2007

We had a 9am appointment for our trip up the Rio Diablo with Federico, and we were all pretty excited about seeing some wildlife on the mainland.  Capt Mark & Mike headed over to Nargana about 7:30am to go to the bank and get some lunch for our trip up the “devil’s river”.  The bank was not open at 8am as advertised, and they could not find any lunchmeat so they were forced to have a nice breakfast at Nali’s and wait for the bank to open.  While there, they went ahead and ordered a few hamburgers to go for lunch.   As they walked around town that morning after breakfast, Capt Mark and Mike served as human playgrounds for the little Kuna girls who insisted on being picked up and hugged, and once one would get them close to the ground, several more would jump on for the ride.  Those children have no idea about the toys, video games and other entertainments that children in the developed world have access to, but we have never seen children have more fun that the little ones on Nargana.  After getting change at the bank and stocking up with more “pan de Kuna”(Kuna bread) and then headed back to Stray Cat. 

Federico and Tomas arrived shortly thereafter in a large cayuco with a 20hp motor on it – they were ready to go – we piled into the cayuco and headed toward the Rio Diablo. 

At the mouth of the Rio Diablo were many fallen trees, submerged trunks and limbs - it was tricky to navigate to say the least.  With Federico on the bow and Tomas at the tiller, we worked our way through the maze and luckily we only touched bottom a few times.  The river was very pretty and lined with a dense wall of very green palm & banana trees.  We saw many wading type birds including tri-color herons, great egrets and ibis!  We even spotted the elusive toucan!!  They were high in the trees and were difficult to spot, but we did see at least 3 or 4 of them and one toucan flew right by the cayuco!  Mike was very quick with his telephoto lens and captured an incredible photo of the toucan in flight.  Federico & Tomas took us about a mile up the river, pulled over at a bend in the river, and told us that it was time for a little side trip.  We all exited the cayuco and Federico took us up into the jungle on a small path.  It was an interesting little hike – we saw some very colorful birds up in the canopy and in several places on the trail, leaf cutter ants were scurrying back and forth along their well groomed highway. 

When we got to the top of the hill, we found a clearing with odd structures scattered about and realized that it was the Kuna cemetery.  We instantly knew that we were in a sacred place and we all became very quiet and listed intently to everything that Federico told us – we were experiencing a truly unique cultural moment.  Federico showed us his family plots and told us how all Kuna are buried with their favorite personal belongings.  The gravesites were littered with plates, cups and bowls and Federico told us that all of their clothing was buried underground with them as well.  We explored for a while, took pictures and tried to take it all in before heading back down to the river. 

On the return trip, we were running with the current and did not need the motor.  We wound back down the river, seeing more birds, Jesus Christ lizards running on the water, and finally 2 monkeys.  Mike spotted them in the trees and we were able to stop and watch them for just a few minutes and even get a few quick shots.  They were very small - black with white heads.  They were called TeTe monkeys or “mono” en espanol.  After exiting out the mouth of the river, we took a few minutes to visit the local airport at Corazon de Jesus. 

El Corazon de Jesus was the smallest airport we had ever seen and one that Walter had briefly stopped at on the way to Porvenir.  There was a very small runway and a a small “concourse” (a.k.a. a shed) and an outhouse that was built right over the water.  We got a few pictures and headed over to Nali’s for some lunch.  We had many Atlas cervezas and Federico joined us.  We had again.  Lunch consisted of pollo, hamburger, conch or cambombia and squid or pulpo – it was good and inexpensive.  We headed back out to Stray Cat for a nap, and spent an evening resting up for our visit to the traditional village Isla Tigre the next day!!!!

The trip up the Devil's River or Rio Diablo

We left Stray Cat in a cayuco Captained by Tomas and guided by Federico

Tomas was our Capitan on the cayuco

Walter rode in front with Capt Mark & Stu behind him and then M&K in the back, with Tomas bringing up the rear

The mouth of the Rio Diablo, the name of the river translated to "The Devil River"

It was called the Devil River because in torrential down pours the river rises quickly and rages viciously out of control 

The mouth of the river was very tricky to navigate with all of the fallen trees from the Devil's past rages

Tomas was an expert Capitan and navigator

The mangroves inside of Rio Diablo


Federico on the bow with Walter, Capt Mark & Stuart

The river was as calm as it could be and was not looking like a Diablo at all this trip, thank goodness!

The banks had many coconut palms and they were home to many shorebirds, exotic birds, monkeys & lizards

There was some traffic on the river although not much, and no locals lived on the river due to malaria 

The locals did go up river to obtain bamboo & palm fronds for making their homes or huts, these Nargana locals were bringing back some supplies for building

The palms bent right out over the river and still turned straight up, eventually they would fall in and become a part of the debris at the mouth of Rio Diablo

Mangroves on Rio Diablo

A ringed neck Kingfisher

He was gorgeous and we saw him catching fish on the Diablo

Ring necked Kingfisher


Yellow bellied sap sucker - As far as you know.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Locals with building materials

There was perfect geometry in this reflection of a palm frond

The river was quite still

Looked like a tricolor or Louisiana Heron

Jesus Christ lizards sitting on a log, one had just taken off and you can still see his trail across the water, they run on top of the water - hence the name

Night Heron

He kind of looks like Lurch from the Addams family

Night Heron

Bamboo tree with a local cayuco nearby

Flora on the Diablo

A submerged tree

Another bird on the Rio

Local Kuna men in the bathing suit of choice, tighty whities or tighty Grey's

Federico on the bow

Hiking through the forest up to the burial grounds

Mike on the path

Some of the older gravesites in this area, the locals visited their relatives often

It is traditional in Kuna Culture for all of the deceased's personal belongings to be placed on top of the gravesite -see the shoe? 

Rocks outlined many gravesites, you can see the plates and cups that the deceased would have used

Some graves were more elaborate

It is easy to see the personal belongings on top of this grave

Some people even built a shelter above their loved ones - this site looked fairly new

This was a young boy only 4 yrs old

You can see his cars inside here with a little video game he liked to play

Leaf Cutter ants building a nest and feeding the queen

[movie camera illustration] Click here to see video of the leaf cutter ants

[movie camera illustration]

Rio Diablo

A Toucan in the trees of the riverbanks


Toucan in flight

A Heron flying down the river bank

More curved tree trunks

Sugarcane growing wild

More Bamboo

A Monkey!!!  Or Mono in Espanol

One of the locals had been cutting bamboo to build a shelter

A couple of local children with their dogs

Back to the mouth of El Diablo


After the river trip, Federico took us to see the Airport at El Corazon de Jesus

The Kuna name for the island is Akwanusadup

M&K notice the outhouse over the water behind us

A private plane at El Corazon de Jesus or "The Heart of Jesus" in English

Our guide Federico coming out of the Bano or bathroom

Walter the Muscovite(Russian) posing for the camera

The Crew in our cayuco Captained by Tomas


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