El Valle is about an hour from Rio Hato — 30 minutes down the Pan American highway and then a slow trek up a steep, winding road into the mountains. El Valle offers not only a vibrant public market but a rain forest experience — which during the first week of our Panama trip was drippy and slippery and humid and very, very green.
Malaria and yellow fever are under control in most areas of Panama now, including this rain forest. But it’s not hard to cast your mind back to the building of the Panama Canal from 1903 to 1914. Those diseases were most certainly not under control then, nor did they have good insect repellents, or breathable waterproof clothes or GoreTex work boots. Hacking through rain forest to excavate a canal must have been a miserable experience. Just over 5000 people died during the endeavor, from accidents and illness and mudslides that buried both workers and equipment.
Now a rain forest walk is a tourist thing, and they give you walking poles and there are paths cleared and ropes to hold on to and more or less sturdy suspension bridges that allow you to walk over the running water instead of through it. None of that existed when the Canal was built.
I like going to El Valle because that’s where the market is, and the zip line, and we have a favorite restaurant. But I never go without thinking of the people who built the Canal, for whom the words “rain forest” must have been synonymous with utter misery.
Photo by Bob Levy