For the Darien Archaeological and Terrain Research Expedition, the XplorMor Team boldly trekked across unexplored densely forested territory in the Darien Jungle searching for petroglyphs, including the mysterious Yarre Mongara, or in English “Monkey Stone” (shown right), first documented in 1995 by renowned world explorer, Robert Hyman, with the guidance of Embera elder, Daniel Castaneda.
The dense jungle acts as a natural border between Panama and South America, protecting northern regions of the Continent from the spread of disease. With no through roads, it is also the missing link for completion of the Pan-American Highway which has led to its nickname: Darien Gap. The southwestern section is primarily Parque Nacional Fronterizo Darien, or in English, Darien National Park. The Park encompasses 1.47 million acres of pristine tropical forest, pure rivers and complex ecosystems and was designated as World Heritage Site No. 159 in 1981 and a protected Biosphere in 1983. This large swath of undeveloped rugged terrain is among the largest untouched jungles on the planet. It was a privilege to hike and observe this stunning forested land and its remarkable inhabitants from giant trees to colorful birds to armored caiman and howling monkeys to large blue butterflies to welcoming native Indians.
The Darien territory we hiked is home to a native tribe known as Embera. We encountered their remote villages only accessible by foot and small boat, such as their piragua, dugout canoes which are able to float up narrow, shallow snaking rivers. Embera are curious, friendly People eking out life in the jungle with support from selling wares, such masks and baskets woven from fibers of the Nahuala plant and Chunga Palms as well as beaded jewelry, to the occasional tourist. If you ask, they may also serve a local catch, like Capybara, a large guinea pig like creature, grilled over an open spitfire in their kitchen. We truly enjoyed this local grilled fare and their hospitality!