Summer Travel Series: Path of the Jaguar

By Canopy Team on July 31, 2017

Mamoni Valley Preserve

Mamoni Valley Preserve

Welcome to the third installment of Canopy’s Summer Travel Series! Follow along with us as we journey to the southern US, Central America, and beyond, encountering a diverse range of fun and unique trees. New stories from the Canopy team published every other week. 

Next up, join Community Forestry Program Manager Uriel Hernandez on a trip to Panama, home to the elusive jaguar.

Jungle top view of Mamoni Valley Preserve

One day as I walked along the Bay Trail between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto watching construction crews expand a creek, I met a scientist named Kimberley, who was working with the contractors to keep an eye out for the endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse.

We talked about travel and nature, conservation and big cats. She told me about her research working with jaguars in Panama, and how her project, Kaminando, could always use volunteers; that’s how I ended up in Panama at the Mamoni Valley Preserve a few weeks later. My task was to replace the batteries and install fresh memory cards into 18 cameras hidden in the forest to film the elusive big cats.

I arrived in Panama with my camping gear and a couple hundred AA batteries. After hitching a ride to Chepo, a town about an hour out of Panama City, I met up with Nico and together we bought some food for my trek into the jungle and some supplies for the Center at Mamoni Valley Preserve.

I immediately understood that, though many different people may pass through the Mamoni Valley Preserve partaking in many different projects, they were all working towards a common goal of understanding and cooperating with the natural world.

As we drove from Chepo to the Mamoni Valley Preserve we crossed rivers and bumpy dirt roads as the last hints of civilization disappeared and were replaced with woodland.

The Center at Mamoni Valley Preserve

I met my local guides in the nearby village of La Zaina, which was a 1.5 hour horse ride away from the Center. I consider myself a very competent camper, but without my two guides the work would have been impossible. It would be an understatement to say they knew the area; they saw game trails invisible to me and knew the easiest, zig-zagging paths up and down the hillsides when the GPS and maps were deceiving. Their eyes for the local flora and fauna was an extra help, as they pointed out everything from the beautiful Blue Morpho butterflies fluttering along the river to the fearsome fer-de-lance hiding in the hills.

Guides from La Zaina expertly navigating the jungle.
Guides from La Zaina expertly navigating the jungle.
Replacing batteries on a tracking camera and a jaguar track nearby.
Replacing batteries on a tracking camera and a jaguar track nearby.

Upon arriving at the Mamoni Valley Preserve Center, the weather was the first thing I noticed and it would set the tone of my travels. Coming from urban, drought-stricken, temperate California, it was a wonder the amount of life some water and heat can produce.

Water would be a constant during the trek through the jungle; rain would fall from the sky, the river would splash into our boots, and dew would coat our hammocks and camping gear each morning.

Camping in the jungle
Camping in the jungle
plants of the Panama jungle

Fire was another constant. The thought of its warmth kept me going on the cold, muddy treks back to the campsite. The campfire provided warmth and comfort, and acted as a centerpiece to the many conversations the guides and I shared. Our biggest common bond was over our respect and love for nature, after all, we had all willingly ventured deep into the forest together!

Uriel in Panama

Between the trees, water, and mud and all of the challenges and awe they presented, throughout my time in the jungle I was in a constant state of amazement (and dampness).

Trees of Panama.
Trees of Panama.

P.S. Are you traveling this summer? We’d love to see your tree photos and hear your stories! Email to [email protected] or tag us on Facebook or Instagram.

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