It had been two days since landing in Panama and with only five days left in country it was important to get to Sambú quickly.
In the morning, we asked Pablo to help us find a way to Sambú, a town nestled deep in the Panamanian jungle. He left us at the table on his terrace and came back with a man named Jonny who could take us to the town of Garachiné. From there we would take a truck to Sambú. Jonny, the boat owner, seemed to want to rip us off on the price, (sacar los ojos as they say in Panama, which translates literally as “to take ones eyes.”) Pablo paid close attention to Jonny.Once he realized his guests were about to “lose their eyes,” he pulled out his machete in the same fashion someone would pull out a nail file. As Pablo meticulously cleaned the dirt from under each of his fingernails with his massive blade, he inquired about the price again for us. With a stammer, Jonny cut the price in half.
Pablo’s intimidation factor must have been included in the per-night rate.
Thanks to Pablo’s almost-wordless negotiation skills, we were on our
way to Sambú within the hour. The journey on Jonny’s bote, as planned,
would bring us out the narrow inlet where we had fished the day before
and out into the Bay of San Miguel.
We sat next to a seasoned man named Navál with bursting forearms and
bunion-laden feet. He was a 71-year-old fisherman from a place called
Tamatí, a small town north of the delta. Navál knew all the
intricacies of the local waters.
He told us a story of “two pirate ships, full of gold, that fought with their cannons…each sunk the other. The ships are still underwater.”
He pointed to the battle space, over by a group of small islands in the
northeastern part of the bay. He told us that their booty is still at
the bottom of the bay and that the survivors had taken some treasure
and buried it in the jungle.
Navál’s story may have been old fishermen’s lore, but something in his
rash voice and the thick salty haze made it easy to lucidly imagine a
time when Jonny’s 12-person motorboat was dwarfed by fog-slicing pirate
schooners protecting their stash of tesoro.
The Sambú River runs from east to west and dumps into the eastern
waters of the Bay. Garachiné is on the south side of the river’s
delta. The delta was an incredible sight. Seeing it for the first time
was one of those transcendent moments, when all of Earth’s mystery and
beauty is captured before you. At some point in your life, you must
experience a moment like this!
The delta is guarded on each side, north and south, by mountain ranges.
Approaching the southern mountains was a warm wind being forced upward
by the terrain. The cooling air released a plentiful amount of rain on
the shoreline in a process known as orographic lift. We boated along
the shore just outside the rain.
Upon our arrival in Garachiné, Jonny found one of his friends to take
us to Sambú. We got in the bed of a 1980’s Toyota pickup and said