08:17.75N 78:54.25W King Toe and the Pile of Pearls Isla del Rey

Wed 23 Mar 2016 16:12

08:17.75N 78:54.25W King Toe and the Pile of Pearls  Isla del Rey


19th March 2016. We headed around numerous islets and skirted shallow areas passing close to the southern tip of Isla del Rey (Island of the king) to the sheltered, sandy bottomed anchorage off Rio Calcique, which means local chief.

Back in the 16th century King Toe reigned supreme here until the Spanish came along, overturned his rule and in 1551 plundered his entire stash of pearls, tons of the beauties. One was worn by Queen Mary Tudor. They would have shipped them to Panama, transferred them by land across the isthmus to galleons waiting off Colon and as they sailed eastwards through the Caribbean, may well have fallen prey to the French and British privateers, for a little unwelcome re-distribution.

It is always a relief to know the holding is good in an anchorage and very quickly we were taking in our surroundings from the excellent vantage point in the cockpit. A Swiss yacht was anchored near us and the family of four were ashore swimming and, well, being a family on their circumnavigation.

The Rio or river runs inshore from the right hand side of the beach. None of the Bauhaus photos went far enough inland to show us the extent of the river, but we thought we’d explore by inflated canoe the next morning.

We paddled via the Swiss yacht for a chat. They, like us, were waiting to head south out of the Panama Bay, and then they were off to Galapagos with their two blonde-haired girls. The girls had to get back to their school books so we paddled on to the shore to explore the beach before starting up the river a couple of hours before high tide.

Following a track into the jungle, suddenly a dog, rendered thin by the heat, appeared around a corner and then a young boy with a sack over his shoulder. He was followed by his older brother in the same activity and another dog, a female with many litters to her name judging by her under-carriage.

The younger boy started to ply us with Spanish. They had papayas and melons to sell, but we had to sign language we had no money on us. They understood we were from a yacht and as they still had plenty to do would await another opportunity to sell to us later.

They were subsistence farmers and apart from fruit and a few veg grown in a clearing they appeared to be cultivating what looked like caraway seeds for the Chilean market, they were Chilean sacks anyway.

At the river end of the beach rollers were breaking over the sandbanks so we carried the canoe until we were upriver from them and then launched ourselves into the complete unknown, for us. Crocodiles, I wondered as we were carried by the three knot tide upriver.

The water was so clear we saw the many varieties of fish inspecting our black hull. In the trees birdsong, some tuneful, some raucous like a squeaking door, filled the air.

As we went further in the river narrowed, the banks encroached and the canopy of trees closed over us. Mangrove roots sucked goodness from the bubbling mud and white Ibis with curved orange beaks perched on low branches. The sheer beauty of the light playing on the water and foliage reminded me of the English canals.

The river meandered in sensuous curves and bends and as we came around one something about a metre and a half long, brown in colour, slithered down a bank and, making a loud splash into the water, disappeared.

“Rob do you think that was a croc?” I asked in subdued tones.

“Could well have been babe.” In silence we both reasoned that if it had scurried out of sight on our approach it was more fearful of us and was not likely to attack. Also if it was an animal that could live on land and in water, was low slung and needed some smooth bank clear of mangrove roots to move, there was little else it could be.

This encounter enhanced the knowledge we were travelling in an area that was virtually untouched by human activity. I wondered where King Toe’s tribe had lived. Maybe like the Mayan Jungle, it has all been reclaimed by nature.

The tide continued to lead us in for another hour before it slowed, the floating leaves slowing down alongside us and we turned to paddle gently back down-river. Tiny silver fish jumped above the water next to us, our mini escort like coins in a fountain. The Croc Bank was by now underwater of course and before we’d even thought about it we were back where the river widened to the estuary.

As the tide was now high and the sandbanks were covered the rollers were much reduced and by keeping close to the shore on the left we paddled a quarter of a mile further out before turning for Zoonie, our delightful home target.

Back aboard with the canoe drying upside-down on the foredeck we took another cooling swim around Zoonie, then just as I was showering off the locals came out to us in their boat, two ladies, dad, the two boys and the two dogs with a dozen of the sacks loaded aboard.

They sold us two melons and two papayas, one of each was ready to eat and the others would be in a few days! How thoughtful I thought, enough fruit for about 8 days. So thanks to the local people we had fish for four days and fruit for a week – who needs supermarkets!

Our planned Rio Cacique expedition now complete we prepared to leave the next day. In the evening we had a candle lit supper in the cockpit and marvelled at how the waxing moon was scattering tiny pieces of gold leaf in the clear water around us.