Dear Luke and Leia,
Today we went on our own Indiana Jones adventure to learn about Inca gold and the Royal Road, which is called the Camino Real here in Panama. We went with the guidance of a scientist and historian named Christian Strassnig, a scientist and historian who had mapped the entire trail.
The Royal Road adventure begins
Our adventure started at a local coffee shop in Panama City where our group gathered for a final meal before beginning the trek into the unknown. Okay, maybe that is a little exaggeration, but it added to the fun we had learning about the Inca gold and the Royal Road that carried their pilfered gold back to Spain.
After loading onto a small bus we drove to a very small marina. Okay, again I'm stretching the truth some. Actually it was a muddy place where small wooden boats were resting on the side of the lake. The fun was walking single file onto these boats without turning the other guests into crocodile and caiman food.
Once loaded, off we went into the vast expanse of Lake Gatun, which was formed when they built the Panama Canal.
Our boats wound through flooded graveyards of trees that used to make up the Panamanian rainforest. The tree tops made for beautiful pictures and dangerous navigation for these sailor captains. Not all of the tree tops are visible; some lie just below the surface of the lake.
After a while we arrived at the first stretch of the Camino Real and just as gingerly as we loaded, we attempted to unload. So far, so good. There were no mishaps and everyone was still high, dry and fully alive.
At the Royal Road
The old trail was built of dirt and flat stones. Very interesting and in surprisingly good shape for having been constructed in the 1500’s. It stretched as far as we could see, sinking into the water and back out again on the other side. We then got a lesson about the trail origins, how it was used and what to expect as we explored the area hoping to find a bit of the hidden treasures of gold that fell from the mule teams transiting.
While conducting a search, I found an old horseshoe which I showed our fearless leader and he passed around to the group. We found many artifacts, but as to our high hopes of becoming filthy rich? No gold was found by anyone.
All this heavy, hard work in the hot Panama sun brought us to near exhaustion and in desperate need of food. Carefully loading back up, we chose a small winding river to raid a local Indian encampment, just like those soldiers of the 1500’s would have done back in the glory days of the Camino Real.
Lunch in a local town
But much to our surprise, the welcoming committee of these warriors had been tipped off about our secret mission. The campesinos paraded us up a trail and deep into their jungle city. Okay, village. They sat us down at tables and brought us plates of their food and cups of their local fruit drink, all of which we quickly consumed. Nana made sure to get the recipe for their Sancocho, a Panamanian chicken soup. It was really delicious.
Then again, paraded to what we knew was our final destruction, we were taken to another open building and sat in a circle around what could only be a staging area for mass executions. Then it happened…
Suddenly accordion music began and the children, dressed in local costumes, started dancing right in front of us. This must be the tribal death dance we had heard about back in school, when the locals selected their victims and made them dance the dance of death. I was selected as a victim. Oh, no.
We must have made a great impression of the tribal elders, because when the music stopped, we were paraded back through the jungle and loaded, yes carefully and in single file, onto our boats and sent away. We had escaped a fate far worse than death: More dancing by us unschooled new tribal members.
Still searching for Inca Gold on the Royal Road
For one last lesson which involved an excursion deep into the rainforest, we explored a beautiful cave.
It was not a large cave, but quite interesting nonetheless. One lady screamed when a bat flew over our heads.
Seeing what could become of us, we preferred to load back onto those stupid boats, of course single file, and return out of the deep dangerous jungle and back into civilization.
We must have made the news or something, because a group was gathered to celebrate our return. They disguised it as a baptism service.
Well, Luke and Leia, your grandparents are back safe and sound and still missing you guys.
Nana and Pap