Chagres River

A couple of people had recommended the Chagres, and we had wanted to visit earlier but never had a long enough window. Now, we were all set up for a canal crossing and had three full days off, so we took a short sail west out of Shelter Bay and into the river mouth. (It would have been four nights, but we were too tired coming back from Panama City.) The Bauhaus charts proved accurate, and we had a smooth motor into the river mouth. And Chagres was magical. This video is actually us leaving at the end; we were experimenting with the new GoPro and put the camera too low on the way in.

This trip was soul-nourishing, a much-needed reminder of why we live on a boat amidst a couple of hard months of repairs and refits. This was our first time taking Villa up a river, and it may be our last, as we’re headed towards islands and atolls. We dropped anchor in thirty-some feet of water, because the whole river is thirty to forty feet deep, and prepared to relax and watch the wildlife, and to read some books.

Of course, because it’s us, we couldn’t sit still indefinitely, and had to make a little project progress. Our latest box of goodies had included a big set of keyed-alike locks (and a magnifying glass for scuba diving, which Jazz was more excited about), and Andrew went around taking off all our old mismatched locks. Some of them didn’t go willingly and had to be clipped. (Why even lock, if they’re clippable? Because a sufficiently motivated thief can always get in; we’re defending against the casual ones.) He also took a clay bar to the windows to finally take off the sanding dust from the yard.

As it got darker and the wind died, the water became mirror-like.

The next morning we got up, hung around the boat, and listened to the toucans in the middle distance.

We moved the boat a little deeper into the river for a different view and a chance at an internet connection, to figure out our line handler situation and have a chat with a guy from a magazine. Our boat swung around as the wind changed, and we ended up with the stern pointing right at the jungle, which was awesome. Andrew decided to ignore the view and start soaking some soap in the dirtier vegetable oil containers.

We didn’t work very hard, though, because the howler monkeys started howling, and when we howled back, they answered us. So we spent at least an hour howl-barking at the monkeys and listening to their confused answers, which we imagined were along the lines of “your monkey accent is terrible!” Eventually we also flew the drone, staying low because we’re not sure drones are welcome close to the canal. (This is the river that was dammed to create Gatun Lake, and a little further up river is the dam.)

There were birds, and Captain got to stare at them.

As it got close to sunset, we were visited by a Capuchin monkey. (We heard howlers pretty constantly, but didn’t actually see one.)

He bounced around the tree, sticking his face deep into the flowers. It was awesome.

On the third morning, Captain called our attention to some toucans.

And then there was another monkey.

For our daily dose of project, we got the new soap dispensers installed in the bathroom. And then there were more toucans.

And we had another lovely sunset, reading our books surrounded by the sounds of the jungle. At this point Jazz was finishing her fourth book in Chagres, her second pass through Ilona Andrews’ Innkeepers series. Meanwhile Andrew had finally finished Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota books, and was trying out the Expanse series. Jazz is sad that we often don’t talk about the books we’re reading, or listening to, as they’re a source of much joy.

But we couldn’t stay here forever; our canal date beckoned. So the next morning, we hauled anchor, and shot the video at the top of the page on our way out. The little birds stayed with us for a lot of the trip; they’d really enjoyed flitting around our boat taunting Captain, and they were indignant that we would move their mid-river resting spot.

Captain was not happy with us, either for leaving his favorite place or for breaking our promise not to go east any more. Fortunately it was only a couple of miles, and we were soon back behind the breakwater.

Back at anchor, we watched a huge sailboat come out of the marina, first backwards and then again forwards. And we started cooking for the canal transit, and scratching, because on our last night in Chagres we had been eaten alive. Maybe the bugs were particularly bad that night, or maybe we’d previously kept them out by closing the windows on a nightly rain, but we both ended up with dozens, or maybe hundreds, of bites. Still totally worth it.

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