The Jungle Walk
Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama
We are staying at Shelter Bay Marina, one of the nicest we’ve stayed at. They have a pool and comfortable Captain’s lounge, as well as a good restaurant. There are many kid boats here, mainly because this is one of the safer marinas on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. The marina is located on a peninsula to the west of the Canal. The spit of land where we are docked is covered in thick jungle.
The rain forest is full of monkeys and leaf-cutter ants and other, unseen denizens of the trees. Stone ruins and bunkers dot the area, relics of the U.S occupation of the Canal Zone starting in 1903. They took over the construction of the Canal and built forts and gun batteries to protect their interests. The rocky buildings have been taken over by the forest since the army left, and collapsed walls and dark tunnels offer nesting places for bats and snakes.
When the Battery Mower (an abandoned Battery) was forsaken, the army didn’t do a very good job of cleaning up. Many blown claymore trap parts lie scattered amongst the undergrowth of the jungle. Empty bullet casings as well as fired bullets riddle the dirt. It is an eerie place, with stone tunnels and staircases festooned with flora. Piles of smashed rock and faded writing on the walls give the place a melancholy air.
At around 9:30 we set off for a hike: Hugo, James, Charlie, Fin, Stella, and I from a collection of kid boats in the marina. Hugo, James, and Charlie had already been to the Battery Mower before, but none of the rest of us had. We followed a narrow path behind the boatyard into the trees. Charlie warned us to run past the fire ant hills in the track. It was a five-minute walk through the jungle to get to the Battery. After three minutes, the sounds of civilization faded behind us as we hiked deeper into the leafy shadows.
We rounded a corner and there it was! Stone stairs led to the upper levels of the bunker-like structure. Dark tunnels went deeper into the base. We could see faded graffiti on the wall of one of the rooms in the front of the complex. We walked in. Those of us with lights led the way. My headlamp died as soon as we entered the foreboding maw. Stella was using a sketchy flashlight that she found washed up on a beach, and Hugo’s light was dim. Fortunately, James brought a bright torch, as he called it, that lit up the entire hallway.
As James led us into the darkness of the bunker, we disturbed several bats roosting in what looked like an old air duct. Amid a chorus of squeaks, they flew away from the noisy invaders. We came across a tall concrete object resembling a table with metal rails on top. The intrepid band of adventurers were forced to squeeze past what we think was a mount. A right turn led us out of the shadows and into a sunny clearing full of new growth and dotted with small saplings. We slowly walked out, scanning the ground for bullets and claymores.
The first find went to Hugo. He found the blown-out bottom of a claymore. I found the next, the entire top of the device. It went on like this and soon we all had pockets or shirts weighted down with metal and plastic pieces. I found two broken bullet casings and one fired bullet lodged in the dirt. Leaf cutter ants formed a line going back and forth over the casings and I had to be quick to avoid disrupting the line. Every few minutes the guttural howls of howler monkeys echoed through the trees, an eerie reminder of the untamed jungle where we found ourselves.
When everyone had their hands full of souvenirs, Charlie revealed that he had brought cookies for everyone. We decided to take a break and eat. As we trooped back through the tunnels, we took a wrong turn and ended up in another long hallway. There, Hugo found a nearly intact claymore missing only its bottom section and explosive charge. We also found a pile of broken snake eggs atop a tumbled pile of rubble. A quick look around took us directly to the entrance, where we trooped out the “door” and up the steps to the second landing.
Charlie passed out the coconut wafers while we sat down on the hard rock. I decided not to partake because of my dairy allergy. As we rested, Stella walked back down the path to take some pictures. After about ten minutes, Hugo announced that he wanted to go back inside to keep searching for bullets and claymores. As we walked through the battery, James and Charlie split off to look for bullets at the “indoor shooting range”. They found none and we convened in the main hallway. The brackets holding pipes to the walls and ceiling had fallen and were scattered in the bottom of a drainage ditch by the wall.
I found a large bullet casing and three blanks in the dirt. Hugo was fortunate and found two right on top of each other. Anxious because of our earlier jokes about live mines and explosive traps, Stella was on edge. When she heard three shrill beeps, she asked us if we had noticed. When the rest of us responded negatively, she continued, saying “It might have been a mine.” We soon discovered that it was her camera, which she had forgotten to turn off. After another ten minutes, we decided to head back to the marina.
There, we washed the dirt and detritus from the pieces of claymore and bullet. Hugo, Charlie, and I were able to make ourselves complete replicas of the original trap, minus the explosives. I gave my extra bullet casings to Fin, James, and Charlie. Stella had already left for her boat. Hugo and I went to his boat, where his dad threw our training bullets in the harbor because they could still explode. I then returned to Counting Stars and relaxed and had lunch.