In the beginning, I didn't think that this Soropta Canal would be of any importance nor would this write, but it turned out to be something very interesting. Neglected and ignored, this manmade canal has been taken over by water hyacinth and dead trees. On our way to the turtle program in the Humedales de San San Pond Sak and Caribbean shores(a wetland area of 160 km), we had to ride on this overgrown route to get to our destination.
This Canal was initially known as the Snyder Canal and used as a shortcut by Snyder Banana Co. to get their product ready for export on the Caribbean shores. It cut through, then, an area of rain forest between the banana town of Changuinola and Bocas Del Toro. The Canal was completed in 1903 but was later abandoned by the construction of a railroad. However, by that time, the damage was already done. This Canal allowed for people to move into the area and cut down the exposed rain forest. Today it is a nature haven overgrown with hyacinth! Some people still live on both sides at the entrance of the Canal in wood made homes.
|the water hyacinth|
The funny part to all of this is that the Canal is in TERRIBLE shape for humans but WONDERFUL for so many birds and mammals. There are river otters, which I did see, and manatees, which I didn't see. There was waterfowl everywhere because the water hyacinth has taken over the entire waterway allowing birds to walk on this emerald green carpet of vegetation. Boaters waste loads of gas zooming down this neglected area avoiding massive amounts of dead trees that have fallen into the Canal but then later getting stuck in extremely thick patches of hyacinth. During some parts, I wondered if we were ever going to get out! However, I used the opportunity for photography to keep my mind busy. Thinking about even entering that dark water freaked me out....
Some places, like the above pic, had open waterways, but there were many places where the vegetation connected both sides of the Canal. I saw plenty of Jacanas and other kinds of birds. This place is also commonly known as the Changuinola Canal as it connects to the town. At one point, we were stuck for a good 40 minutes using paddles to push ourselves out as we tried to reach the pier near Changuinola. It wasn't looking good for awhile, but it was beautiful....from the boat.
Some parts of the Canal still have rustic homes on it. I'm not sure how they get around as they are surrounded by ocean, beach and Canal. Here a strange image of a horse stands in what seems like water. If you keep your eyes open, you'll find freshwater turtles and caimans sunning themselves on logs if you are going slowly down the Canal. However if you blast through some of the area, you'll see a plunk here and there. Like most places in a forest or natural area, early morning or late afternoon are your best viewing chances for animals like the manatees. However if you are on this Canal during the late afternoon, how in the world did you get there? And good luck arriving to your destination before dark. I shudder to think of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere.
The first part of the Canal is open and clear of vegetation. As you boat awhile into the interior, it will start to close in around you. Eventually it gives way to forest and pure wetland. No homes will be spotted at all until you reach a little village outside of Changuinola. The village park was covered with dark trees full of bromeliads and it was rather creepy. We arrived at the pier counting our blessings. The local people in the park looked at us as if we were hostile aliens. My instinct told me that if we hadn't been there with the ANAM crew, we would have had things stolen from us. We left our turtle project and the Changuinola area with pleasure. It was a learning experience and the place definitely had a different vibe than the Bocas Del Toro area. The Chiquita Banana company still operates in this town. They've taken over everything...and talk about a timewarp!!! Old signs were clinging to falling apart buildings from the early 1900's. Let me put it this way. This town would not exist if it weren't for Chiquita and bananas. It's stuck between the pristine forests of the Costa Rican border and the protected wetlands of the Canal.....in between, it's nothing but bananas. The Soropta Canal was cool, and I'm glad we escaped the web of vegetation and evil sand flies. Birders, this is a TRUE bird haven and I highly recommend! I wasn't a birder at the time but it was impressive! Until tomorrow....