Finding your way
The Darien is one of the most wild spaces in all of the Americas. Untamed tropical rainforest reigns supreme and new surprises are in store for anyone brave enough to visit. Finding your way into and around the Darien is difficult...the roads end and access to the best birding locations are reached by boat and on foot.
I've been poking my way through this magnificent patch of rainforest for the past few days and am only now back in "civilization"...as measured by access to cell service and the internet. I am now officially leading tours to the Darien and this trip was largely aimed at finding acceptable accommodations and dining options for my tour groups. The birds are easy to find...the lodging, well that's another story.
As you make your way to the Eastern border of Panama, something really magical happens. While there are many other fantastic birding locations within the country, the Darien is the only place where you feel the wild world around you closing in on every side. You are enveloped in a hot and humid blanket of life. Trees bordering the roadside are full of howler monkeys and Geoffroy's Tamarin, sloths dot the treeline, iguanas scatter across the road at the approach of a vehicle, butterflies in every shape and size float through the forests and everywhere...and I mean everywhere, there are birds.
Driving to the Darien is like going back in time. Leaving the city, the congestion falls rapidly as you head East. The skyline turns from one dominated by skyscrapers to a verdant blanket of green as mountain ranges to the North and South climb into the clouds. Traffic disappears until the only vehicles on the road are ferrying livestock to and from the many farms that dot the landscape. Before long, the number of people you see riding horses as their main source of transportation outnumbers the cars.
Here, in the Eastern lowlands of Panama, you can feel the earth breathing. The heat and humidity are inescapable and trees reach proportions that seem impossible. Each tree is its own world…harboring thousands of lifeforms, possibly millions. You come to the Darien to see big things: Kapok trees, jaguars, capybaras, Harpy Eagles. You come to the Darien to see small things: Pirre Hummingbird, Greenish Puffleg and Dusky-backed Jacamar. In the end, the reason you come to the Darien is to see life itself…lots and lots of life. It springs forth from every corner, it unapologetically invades your personal space and it has a way of making you feel very small.
When you venture into an area like the Darien, where the wildlife still reigns supreme, you realize just how wonderful this world is in the absence of humans and what we have done to the wild spaces on this planet. Yes, if you get a chance to visit places like this you should make every effort to do so…before things change. Once they do, they will never be the same. It is likely that in my lifetime, wild places like the Darien will cease to exist.