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Colon, Panama with My Friend Mario (a sort of DIY tour)

Colon, Panama with My Friend Mario (a sort of DIY tour)

Postby Wansbrough » 02 Apr 2011 18:17

Celebrity Equinox - Saturday 9 January 2010 – Colon, Panama
http://www.myfriendmario.com

Canal: Gatun Locks +Chagres River + Waterfall + Embera Indian Village +
Category: Natural adventure and Cultural experience
Length: 7-8 hours
Departure time:
Equinox 8:40am (SHIP TIME)

Return time:
Equinox 4:30pm approx. (SHIP TIME)

On Saturday 9 January 2010 while on a cruise in the Caribbean on the Celebrity Equinox, we ported at Colon, Panama. I had researched the tours available to us and had eventually decided to book an excursion with one of the local company’s called My Friend Mario (http://www.myfriendmario.com) after reading a lot of very good feedback that they had received on Cruise Critic.
The tour which took our fancy was CL007 which involved a visit to Gatun Locks on the Panama Canal, followed by a short trip in a minibus to the Chagres River where we would been taken by canoe to a waterfall for a dip if you fancied it and then on to an Embera Indian village for a spot of lunch and a talk about their culture and how they are trying to preserve their way of life in these modern changing times.
The initial enquiry was sent by e-mail and the response was almost immediate quoting a prices, itinerary and departure times. We were quoted a price of US$85 per adult and US$75 per child under 11. This was much cheaper than the ships tour which asking for $89 just for the Indian village tour.
We confirmed our booking via e-mail and no deposit was required as all payment would be in cash at the end of the tour.
The day arrived and we left the ship via the terminal and started looking for the guide who would be holding a board with the company name. After making contact we were directed to a 20 seater coach for the transit to our first stop which would be Gatun locks.
Along the short journey to the locks we were given a talk on Panama’s history and the story of how the canal came to be, our guide Laurie was excellent and did a fantastic job in making it interesting for the younger members too. Our party consisted of 2 Australian families and a couple from Bath. The atmosphere was very relaxed with everybody hitting it off from the onset.

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When we reached Gatun we were issued with entrance tickets and were free to roam around the visitor centre, we were given a small guide brochure which explained how the locks operated and it also included information on how the canal had been run since Panama assumed full responsibility for it on December 31, 1999.
There is a viewing platform where you can watch the ships being guided through, at unfortunately for us one of the ships tours had just beaten us there but they eventually went leaving us with a virtually empty platform and fantastic views of this master piece of engineering which was opened in 1914 and is still being used to day with all of its original lock gates. Amazing!

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After everyone was back on board the coach, we started the journey to where we would start our canoe trip up the Chagres River to the waterfall and Indian village.

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Upon arrival we were all issued with life jackets and guided to a long wooded canoe which was powered by a small outboard motor. Someone on one of the forums had advised us not to sit at the front as you would get soaked from the spray coming off the front of the canoe. We timed it to perfection and ended up with seat almost at the rear.
And so it was off along the river for at least an hour. We experienced absolutely fantastic views of the river, its banks and wildlife and inhabitants. There was one stage about half way through where the river widened and the wind picked up making the water very choppy. I understood the need for the life jacket then and was very pleased that I was wearing one!

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We slowed up after about 50 minutes or so and noticed we were heading towards the mouth of a small tributary.

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Steadily we navigated our way up the small river until the canoe had nowhere else to go.


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The 2 Embera Indians who were controlling the canoe manoeuvred it to the side and we all got out and followed them further up stream. Eventually we came to a large pool with a waterfall.

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I wasted no time in getting into the water as it was really hot and the water just looked so inviting. We spent about 45 minutes there just soaking up the pool, waterfall and surrounding area. Times like this don’t happen too often and I felt really privileged at being able to experience this little bit of the world tucked away in a far off country. Something, that without cruising I would never have had the chance to do.
After walking back down the stream we again took the canoe for another trip, this time back down to the main river where the canoe was again pushed on to the bank just next to a small settlement of huts which were made from un milled tree trunks. I hadn’t noticed until now but the 2 Indian’s had brought with them 2 cool boxes and they were now carrying them into the village.

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Our guide ushered us to follow them and we were shown to an open sided hut which had bench seating all around the outside and a table in the centre.

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Over the next 45 minutes or so we were given a talk on Indian life and how modern times had forced many of the tribes to simply just disappear. There are small pockets of villages which are defying modern life and trying to maintain their indigenous life style but they admit it is becoming increasingly difficult to survive in this manner. We were treated to some of their food which included some sort of fish??? No idea what it was and along with some roasted plantains.
We were then invited to another hut for a demonstration of some their native music and dances which for the final number members of our party were invited to join in with them. I managed to escape but my good lady did her bit for queen and country! (Phew that was close!)
The final part of the visit to the village concluded with the Indians selling ornaments and handmade gifts which if you are to believe have been made by them. Not expensive and we bought a small tree frog which had been carved from some kind of nut. It had been very skilfully carved and I wondered how much truth there was in how and where it had been made.
Our visit to the Embera Indian village had been very enjoyable but I did wonder how much of this was put on for the tourists? From where we were there were no signs of modern living (apart from the small diesel generator near the toilet block) and if it is all genuine then good luck to them. I can’t imagine a more peaceful way or place to live.
And so it was back to the canoe and the return journey to the coach and then back to the ship.

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We passed several other canoes on our way up and down the river but never met anyone else at the places we visited. Are there lots of waterfalls and villages????
Even so, we had a thoroughly enjoyable day out and one I will long remember. We had great companions and just the most amazing scenery. All done in one day!
If you are ever in that neck of woods, why not give it a go yourself?
One final note, cruising has opened up a whole new world to me and it is an absolute privilege to experience the world using this form of transport as a base for life’s little adventures. Long may it continue!
Last edited by Wansbrough on 02 Apr 2011 19:51, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Colon, Panama with My Friend Mario (a sort of DIY tour)

Postby arkangel » 02 Apr 2011 18:31

Wow, that's great - and excellent photos!

We did a ship's excursion that included the Gatun locks, a rainforest walk, and a short boat trip, but your expedition looks much more adventurous than ours. The highlight for us was seeing wildlife such as toucans (which we'd never seen before in the wild) and monkeys in the tree-tops.
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Re: Colon, Panama with My Friend Mario (a sort of DIY tour)

Postby JollyJill » 02 Apr 2011 18:52

What a fabulous review and the pics are great too.
We are calling at Colon next January on our Bouddica cruise. I shall certainly refer to this nearer the time.

Thank you for taking so much time to do it.
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Re: Colon, Panama with My Friend Mario (a sort of DIY tour)

Postby JollyJill » 27 Nov 2011 20:26

Good grief- I had forgotten all about it. Thanks for bringing it back to my attention. :oops:
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Re: Colon, Panama with My Friend Mario (a sort of DIY tour)

Postby Stan Deasy » 27 Nov 2011 23:16

Thanks Wansborough...first time I've seen it....excellent......you really are the David Attenborough of Cruisingmates!
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