Used to be a ‘new’ Jersey Girl   : now A Colorado Girl

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jungle walk with sloths!

Our hotel offered a “jungle walk” on the grounds behind the hotel. Rick and I tried twice to take it but it was cancelled because of the heavy rain we’d had the day before. I couldn’t understand why they would cancel because of rain. That is, I didn’t understand until I finally took the walk. Then I understood just fine.

Somehow I had envisioned a somewhat flat walk on a decent trail around the base of the hill/mountain behind the hotel. I should have known that in Panama nothing is flat. It’s either up the side of a mountain or flights of stairs.

Walks were offered at 10:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m. Claire and I decided to try for the 3:00 p.m. walk after our walk on the beach. Weather permitting, of course, and in Panama at this time of year we soon learned that the sky can open up and pour rain at just about any time of day, but mostly in the afternoon. We got lucky because when we showed up pool side to meet our guide he told us we would go ahead and do the walk even though the sky looked a bit threatening. We told him our main goal was to see a sloth in its native habitat and hoped that would be possible. We doused ourselves with insect repellent, grabbed a couple of water bottles and off we went.

My first clue should have been the machete our guide was carrying. Hmmm ... is he going to have to chop our way through the jungle?

The trail started up (of course) over rain-slick rotting vegetation. Now I see why the trail could become treacherous from being too slippery. At least it had dried out enough from yesterday’s downpour to make hiking easier but you still had to watch where you were walking. The mosquitoes were thick once we entered the jungle. It was very hot and very humid. Within minutes of walking I was drenched with sweat. My clothes were sticking to me and my hair was plastered to my head. I could feel the heat in my face and knew that it had turned bright red from the heat and exertion. Claire and I both looked at each other and decided it was a good thing no one else could see us just then. Yikes. At one point our guide offered me more bug spray and I said I didn’t think I needed it, that they were leaving me alone. He and Claire both started laughing and swatted away a mosquito that had just landed on my cheek. I put more on after that.

Before we had gone very far our guide stopped and was looking into the dense vegetation on the side of the trail. Sloth! he said and started swinging his machete, making a trail through the tangle of plants. Claire and I looked at each other, shrugged, and followed him. I was starting to feel like I was in some kind of Indiana Jones movie. He continued to chop at the plants, but no sloth. A few minutes later, close to the same spot, we found this: fast asleep, high up in the tree—a sloth at last. Can you find it?

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Our guide shook the tree until we thought it would pull itself out by the roots and still the sloth slept on, oblivious to his shaking perch. There was no waking this guy up from his nap. If you have trouble seeing it in the photo above, I’ve highlighted it in the next photo. You can see it isn’t even hanging on to the tree with one arm, which is flung outward. You can see the nails on its front leg and also on the back leg that is wrapped around the branch. That was one dead-to-the-world sloth.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

It rained a little bit but it didn’t matter because we were already wet from sweat. I had to put my camera under my shirt at one point but it was only a drizzle.

A lone pineapple plant!

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

The trail got very steep at one point and I had to force myself to go on. I have been battling rib and stomach muscle injuries since the winter and had not been getting any type of exercise at all while I tried to get everything to heal. So, I was out of shape and afraid to make anything worse. I could feel every steep step in my gut. Do you realize how much you depend on your stomach muscles to climb?

Further up the trail and close to the top of the mountain our guide found another sloth. This time he was able to get it to move by smacking the trees with his machete, and as the sloth changed trees we had a great view of it. This series of photos shows pretty much how slow it was moving as each frame is a move.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

It finally found a spot where it could settle back in and continue its nap!

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Cute! I had always heard sloths were dirty and smelly animals but this particular sloth looked very clean. Just look at the length of all that hair! They are a lot bigger than I expected too. This one when all stretched out was probably as long as I am tall.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

We saw a few more along the trail, but just as gray looking balls hanging in trees. All the sloths were saw were of the two-toed variety, our as our guide called them “white-faced.” He told us the three-toed sloths have a dark face and can be very aggressive when disturbed. I wondered how aggressive could a sloth really get?

Claire was out in front at one point and saw a small, brown animal run across the trail—twice! I didn’t see it and neither did our guide but he said he was pretty sure what it was. We didn’t recognize what he was trying to tell us it was though. Mystery animal. We saw lots of vultures sitting in trees and ant hills full of fire ants. We didn’t see any snakes or scorpions or any other kind of creepy crawly things. A group of monkeys with babies on their backs were a welcome sight. Can you see the baby hanging on?

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

From time to time our guide would use his machete on plants and vines that had started to encroach into the trail. It doesn’t take long for the jungle to start reclaiming its territory.

There were several nice view points along the way overlooking our hotel far below and one to the distant skyline of Panama City. I have no idea why I didn’t take a photo of the view, but after going through my photos I didn’t find any. I think I just got tired of switching between the telephoto and my normal lens.

We also saw several morpho butterflies along the trail. Sorry, no photos as they were there one minute and gone the next. Kind of like being visited by a medium-sized blue bird—they are huge. Absolutely gorgeous! You almost felt as if you had been blessed after they flew by.

We heard a noise kind of similar to a frog croaking and our guide stopped us to have a listen to what he said was a toucan! Such a strange sound! We never did get a look at it before it flew off. Too bad. I’d loved to have seen one.

There were some strange and very large trees along the way like these orange-barked ones. Our guide called them “stomach trees.” When he thumped on the tree with his fist you could hear that it was hollow. The natives used them for making dugout canoes. They had a strange root structure too, like gnarly fingers gripping the ground.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

The walk took almost two hours and I can tell you we were ready to hit the showers! We cleaned up our mud-spattered shoes and legs at an outside faucet before entering the hotel grounds, tipped our guide for being such a great sloth-wrangler, and headed to our rooms. I can tell you that air conditioning and a cool shower have never felt so good! Hiking in the tropics is not a glamorous thing. Would I do it again? You bet!


Really enjoyed your Sloth adventure.  Shared your photos with my kids…they thought it was pretty interesting too.

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