Mogue, Darian, Panama

Trip to Mogue

Its sunday morning about 9am. I take a shower in the common bathroom. Get dressed. I knocked on Riana’s door but no answer. I am not sure where she is. I assume she is having breakfast so I decide to go looking for her. I head out of the hotel and start walking towards our favorite restaurant. Church was just letting out and people were in their sunday best.

The streets are full of people, taking and shopping. Its just starting to heat up. Its not even 10am and the temperature is already in the high 80s. Regardless of how hot it gets, people still hear jeans. And most are in long pants.

Here is one of the little stores I passed. I never figured out how people make money. There is no visible employment. No office building or factors. But lots of little stores.

My favorite stores are the ad hoc one set up on the side of the street. A family plops down and set up shop. Some sell food and some sell dry goods. The entire family sits and waits for customers. I was surprised at the weight of some of the town residents. Much heavers than I have seen in other frontier towns in other parts of Panama and in Costa Rica and the Philippines in general.

I find Riana at our favorite restaurant. You never know when it is going to be open or closed. And they never turn their “open” sign around the correct way. The sign will say open and the door will be locked. Or it will say closed and the door is open. This bugged Riana to no end. They has the best coffee in town. It is was set wrong she would fix it.


The restaurant owner is showing her family photos to Riana. I order some chicken, rice and bananas, my usual. Riana tells me she wants to go to Mogue today and asked me if I am interested in coming alone. The store owner tells us that there is a trail we can take and it should take an hour or two. I ask if she has walked there and she had not. A few hour hike thru the jungle sounds like fun. She tells us that the villagers will open their homes to visitors to sleep and eat for a small fee. Its almost 10am. There is 8 hours of sun light. We should be able to make it there, look around for a few hours and possibly make it back to La Palma at sun down.
Riana and I talk about the details of our next adventure and enjoy the women cooking.

Mogue is a indian village on the Mogue river about 10 miles from La Palma. Most people take boats there but as I have learned the boat system is not dependable. You never know when a boat will leave. They might say it leaves at 2pm and it might have already left or it is postponed until to morrow. Walking sounds like a much better option. Especially if it is only a few hours walk. The village is the closest indian village. This is where people live as they have for 1000 of years. I am told that people still wear traditional clothing. Men in loin cloths and women in bright colored shirts. Everyone is topless. The village still fish and gathers fruits as they did for generations. I am excited about visiting a place that has still holds on to its traditional culture and values. I like to visit places as far from the nearest McDonalds as possible. I am told everyone lives in simple houses on stilts in the jungle. The people are used to some visitors. There are a few eco tours that visit the region. But visitors are still quite rare. I am excited to visit a place that exists in only a few places left in the world. A place with out all the things I take for granted every day.

The owner continues to tell us about it and shows up a little guide to the area. I buy one for $2.00. Finding any information about the Darien is pretty hard and this look like a great source of information. Its getting close to 11am and we decide to head back to the hotel to pack for the hike.

I decide to travel light and I only take my fanny pack. I bring along my steri-pen water purifier, my hand held Garmin eTrex VentureĀ® HC GPS. , liquid bandage which is great for cut and scrapes and is better for wounds than a adhesives bandage and take up less room in my fanny pack, a very basic map, 3 days of battery’s, and 5 flashlights, 4 of which I can use to give away as gifts to those that where kind to me, a whistle for help and emergencies, a day glow hand towel and my pocket sized letterman multi tool, my passport and a couple hundred dollars stashed in my money belt. I’m traveling pretty light. Just the basic survival needs. Riana and I spend about an hour getting ready, We double check our gear and compare notes as to what we are taking. I change from my shorts and T-shirt into my Indiana Jones safari outfit complete with my stupid looking hat and we head out to start our adventure.


We have been told that we need to get to a village called Mogocenega where the trail to Mogue starts. There is a road to Mogocenega and from there its a trail. Mogue is about 10 miles from La Palma. Mogocenega is half way. So its 5 miles of road and 5 miles of trail. The entire trip is pretty much due south. Easy.

Here is a screen shot from Google Earth and I highlighted the road to Mogocenega. The road end there. Everywhere I go seem to be the end of some road.

Its about noon. Riana and I talk about getting a ride to Mogocenega. Not much excitement in walking a asphalt road. We would rather spend the time it would take to walk the road in the village. So we start looking for a ride. Their is no bus to Mogocenega. It will take us half way then we would have to walk a few miles on a dirt road. So Riana asks around if anyone would drive us there. A guy with a pickup truck wants to change us $7.50 each for the ride. Riana is not happy about getting ripped off. We continue to ask around but no one will take us there. Fifteen dollars for a short ride. Its Sunday, what else does he have to do? But he will not budge on the price so Riana and I start to walk. We head out to the edge of town and stop at the last store for water and some snacks for the hike.

After we are stocked with water and supplies we hit the road. Its in the mid 90s now the sun is over head. Its really hot and humid. Did I mention I am in the Jungle. The paved road does not make it any cooler.

There was a little group of children walking on the road. There are so few vehicles here that the road is more of a wide sidewalk. You can see how far the road goes before you see any building. And these kids are walking alone all by them selves. My spanish is not good enough to learn what they are going or where their parents are. But it is so safe where that the kids can walk alone for long distances. Everyone is happy here. All the kids are having fun and are all smiles. I take their picture and move on.

I like their road signs. They leave nothing to the imagination. Its a hill. Riana and I both laugh at this and get nervous as to what is around the corner.

After about 30 minutes of walking up a hill Riana and I are getting tired of waking on the road. We stop and wait to see if anyone in a car will come by that we can hitch a ride with. We stop here and wait under a tree.

After about 15 minutes a truck comes by. Its the same guy that wanted to charge us $15 for the trip. Well, we learned our lesson. Its hot, up hill and hot. The price? Still $15, $7.50 a person. We agreed and jumped in. Riana got in front with the air conditioning and I climbed in back.

After a mile or two we turned off onto the one lane dirt road.

The view is amazing. The jungle goes on for ever. And that is what Riana and I are about to hike. I am excited.

Along the way we stop and pick up another passenger.

We enter a small village of a half dozen homes. A man is sitting on his porch drink a beer.

Soon we come to a stop. We are in Mogocenega. This is not much of a village. 6 homes and a bar. Its the end of the road. Riana and the driver talk to a local man about a ride back to La Palma later in the day so we don’t get stranded here after a long walk through the jungle. We are told there is a little cantina and we get some cold beer. 65 cents a beer is a great deal and its ice cold. We drink it out of small plastic cups as is the tradition in most of Panama. The cantina is the building in the background. A few old men sit in its shade and drink their Atlas Beer.

We ask the driver to take our picture under some palm leaves that Riana was using for shade.

The guy with the truck is ready to leave and we ask him where the trail starts. He asked the local man who leads us to a path.

He tell us this is the path to Mogue and starts walking with us. The path looks good. People walk it, its worn down. Five miles of this will be easy. Its 1pm. We will make it back to here by dark. Its going to be a great day. So with beer in hand we start.

Just past the tree line we forge a stream with children playing in the water.

And walking along we hear noised coming from the trees. We look up and there are a group of boys high in the branches. What an amazing life to be a kid here where the entire world is a play ground that is safe and fun. It reminds me of going to see my Grandparents in Pennsylvania and playing in the woods around their home, the same woods my dad played in as a kid. Living in urban Detroit as a kid I was never allow to be out late, or walk around the neighborhood. But in Pennsylvania I could play and play, run around in the wood, having fun. My dad know those every inch of those woods. I had nothing to fear. Its was heaven. I smiled as I remember being young in Pennsylvania and enjoyed watching the children play in the trees and water.

A few hundred feet past the stream we came to a pasture. The local man told us to go through 2 gates and the path curves to the right. I asked Riana if he was coming with us. Nope. We are on our own. This is going to be easy and fun. We have cold beer, supplies, and lots of daylight left. We double check everything with the man. Yep, its a easy path, clearly marked, about one hour walk. Everything he say matches what everyone else said. Given the local sense of time, we joke it will be probably 2 hours. The only difficult part we are told is there is a river we have to cross. Its dry season so if we find a shallow place to cross is should be only knee deep. People cross it all the time. We say good bye and thank the man and tell him we will be back before dark and don’t forget he owes as a ride back to La Palma.

I felt like the movie “Wizard of Oz”. Follow the yellow brick road.

The nice man walks away and Riana and I start headed across the pasture. The pasture reminds me of being in the states. A lot of Panama has been cut down to make pastures. Its a big debate here and around the world. Cutting down jungle for cattle. There is a huge environmental debate raging. From my bus rides I have seen some pastures replanted with trees. The national government is supporting this and is looking to eco-tourism as a way to preserve the natural beauty and generate income for locals. Its hard to complained about deforestation in other countries when the US cut down millions of acres for farm land. We sound like hypocrites.

Back to the adventure….

This was our first obstacle.

So far so good. Its the dry season so the mud is not that bad. But the little bridge is a nice touch. Gives the feeling of a real adventure. A sense of danger. It was fun to balance across this old board. I could of treked. I had on my Vasque boots.

I am ready for anything. Gortex. Water proof. Super gripping sole.

Along the fence I found this huge spider. This one is about 5 inches across. The web glows golden in the sunlight. Its a beautiful spider. I have no idea what it is. I have never seen a spider like this, and never one this big before. Perhaps it can be petted. It might like is belly rubbed. I have no idea. I assume this is the most poisonous spider in the world. I am taking no changes. I think of all the people I know that hate the tiny spider the size of a dime on their wall and the magazine or shoe that is the weapon of choice to destroy the invader. But I am the invader. And I shall leave this fella alone. Since I have been back I have looked up this spider and it is a golden orb spider. They are very common and yes it is poisonous. About as deadly as a black widow. Almost, but not quite. Its silk is among the strongest in the world of any animal the spins web. Its web can reach over 3 feet across. And this is the female. The male is very small. Some people call it a banana spider.

Another bridge. This stream has water and is much more fun to cross.

I am not sure what kind of cattle these are. They must be suited to the heat of the Jungle. They look like something brought over from Africa.

Their ears flop down like a lap dog. There is a bull with horns starring at me. He seem quite interested in me. I’m glad there is a barb wire fence between He and I. I wonder how fast they run? Riana and I keep walking. We tell stories about our lives and wipe the sweat from the heat.

I look over at this one. Then I realize there is not fence between He and I. He is watching my very closely. I back away and move on.

He huge and the hump on his back does not look friendly.

Over behind some trees is a couple of horses. I ask Riana if she can ride bare back. We laugh that it would make our trip faster. I think I need Jessica. She would whip up a something or other and we would be galloping thru the jungle in short order. Me, Id probably fall off into a huge spider and die.

Oh, more cows.

I am thousands of miles from home. Deep in the Panamanian jungle surrounded by cows. Am I in the right place?

Walking thru the pasture we lost the path. It became hard to figure out where to do. There was allot of cow paths and we could not figure out which one was ours. We start walking around the edges to find the correct path. Riana and I split up looking for our path. I see a path that seems to cross this river or creek. It does not look to deep. We were told we would have to cross a river. And this look like it could be very deep after the rains. I walk up stream looking looking for a shallow spot to cross.

This looks like a good place.

It looks shallow and dry in spots. But the leaves were floating on top of the water and I sunk in to the mud. But I had my trust Vasque boots on and I stayed dry. I walked up the the other side and this path came to a dead end. I turn around and headed to meet up with Riana.

She had not found any better option for us. We walk around the pasture checking the edge for any sign of our path. We split up again. She went left and I went right. I found another path and followed for awhile to see if it was a dead end.

I wish I had a Machete. Its amazing how dense the jungle is. You can only see 20 or 30 feet. Its a creepy feeling.

here is a video I shot. Its a 360 degree look at where I was standing. I was not that far from the pasture. But the pasture seem a long ways a way.

This path was a dead end. I soon head back to the pasture and Riana is in the distance. She has not found anything either. We are starting to think our little adventure is over. Neither of us are really to make our own way thru the jungle. No path, no adventure.

We stand and go over what the local man told us. two gates. We had go thru two gates. But did he count the first one? May be he have to additional gates after the first one. I don’t know enough spanish to understand his directions so I leave it up to Riana to make the call. I start walking along the fence and I see what could be a gate. The barb wire is attached to posts that are not in the ground And one end has a loop holding it closed. This is a gate. But is is our gate? I open it up and Riana say lets try some more pasture. We go thru and I relock the gate and start looking for a path. We split up again. And Riana calls me that she found what might be our path.

I walk over to see her path.

This is a great path. Its wide and mostly shaded from the sun. Is quite pleasant in the shade. No bugs. Wide path. This is fun. Riana asked me to take her picture. Notice she is in a skirt and sandals.

And I am in Indian Jones Mode. I love that walking stick. It was the perfect size, strong and light. U can see my fanny pack under my shirt. That is all I brought with me. I lost 20 pounds on the trip. But that shirt and the fanny pack makes me look fat.

Another stream to cross.

We lost some time in the pasture trying to find our path but we can make up some time on this path. Riana wants to slow down the pace. She wants to look at the plants and take pictures. I agree that a fast pace will probably make us miss allot of things. And I want to see monkeys and may be a sloth. I want to see a sloth. Never seen one. Not sure what they look like except they hang upside down from the trees.

We have time. I am guessing Mogue is no more than an hour ahead of us.

I don’t know what the reddish things hanging from these palms are. Some kind of fruit. I have never seen anything like these. They are everywhere.

The path reminds me of hiking with my dad in Pennsylvania when I was a kid. There was a oil boom town near the town dad grew up in and a rail road was planned. A grade we built and cleared but the oil ran out before it was built and all that remains is the path to it. Dad and I used to hike it and he would tell me stories and amazing tales. It is one of my favorite parts of being a kid, going to Pennsylvania, hiking with my dad, heading stories. He would pick leaves from plants and have me taste them. Some where mints. Other I don’t remember. I wish he was here and could tell me what everything is.

Along the way I find some leaf cutting ants. I am fascinated by ants and these are among the most remarkable animals in the world. A nest might have 8 million ants and they forage the forest cutting small sections of leaves they take back to their nest. There the leaves grow a fungus that the ants eat. The ants feed the fungus with a constant supply of fresh leaves. They make trails thru the jungle and protest them from any intruder.

Here is a video of them as they crossed my path.

Here are some shots of the jungle as we walked.

The path is getting narrower.

Its about 3pm. We have been walking for a while. And no sign of Mogue. Then in this jungle is could be 50 feet ahead of us and we could not tell.

This flower was the first color besides brown and green we had seen for awhile. Its a beautiful flower that seems to be growing from a vine.

We stop and rest for a few minutes and admire the flower. Riana tells me that we should head back. We are at the point of no return if we want to make it back to our ride to La Palma. We were told it would be an hour. We assume 2 hours. We have walked longer than that and no sign of a village and the path keeps getting narrower. If we are to make it back by dark we need to turn around now.

More later…..

One Response

  1. Camila
    Camila April 28, 2012 at 10:18 am · Reply

    The crazy thing is, it’s not even a border. The brigde starts in Panama and ends in Panama. But it spans over a part of that famous strip of water … the Panama Canal … that effectively divides the two land masses. A little more fanfare is definitely in order though.; )

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