Locked Inside Panama’s Soberanía National Park

soberaniaTraveling provides me with plenty of new experiences. Most are welcomed and planned; others are not.

On my final full day in Gamboa, I hiked a lot. First, I took an early hike with some new friends who were staying in the same hostel. Later, I hired a guide through the hostel to take me on an early evening hike along Pipeline Road in Soberanía National Park.

Pipeline Road was built during World War II to transport oil across Panama in case of an attack or blockade on the Panama Canal. Of course, there was no threat to the Canal and the pipeline was shut down after the war. The road has been rebuilt (or really just re-cleared) a few times since the war. The jungle thrives and spreads across the road every few years, but now it’s maintained by the Smithsonian.

caiman alligator panama
A caiman near the entrance to Pipeline Road

It wasn’t a particularly long walk along the road — starting late in the day meant that we couldn’t do the whole trek (and it would have been a bit too long earlier in the day anyway). There was plenty of wildlife to see, but most of it was through binoculars so I couldn’t get many photos.

It was a slow walk with a purpose. My guide, Michael, was quite experienced and was careful not to make too much noise — he kept pausing to listen for the animals. We found plenty of birds and monkeys. Fortunately, we didn’t find any snakes.

We headed out just as the sun was setting. There was only one problem: we were locked inside the park. Michael had parked the SUV inside the gate, but since there was no guard on duty when we entered, no one knew we were there. We could have walked out, but we couldn’t drive.

agouti panama
An agouti posing for a photo

We looked for a way to jimmy the gate open. We even tried using pliers to open the fence and undo the locked chain, but we were unsuccessful. He made a few phone calls to see if anyone could come and rescue us. Fortunately, neither of us had anywhere to be.

After waiting in the SUV for about 20 minutes, an ATV rolled up and unlocked the gate for us (we repaired our attempt at dismantling it earlier). The man who unlocked the gate was a friend of Michael. We drove off to the lone convenience store in town to pick up food, water, and beer. And we bought some beer for the man who rescued us from an unexpected stay in Soberanía National Park.

possum panama
One of the many animals roaming the backyard

I sat outside that night with my beer and cheap dinner and watched the wildlife roam around the backyard of the Soberanía Lodge.

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