Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Taboga Island, Panama

There are few places in the world where the history of a place is so apparent. Taboga is one of these places. It's the oldest continualy inhabited cities in the Americas, and has the oldest church in this hemisphere. The beaches of Taboga are packed with glass from Spanish occupation, wrecks are common, cannonballs have been found, and if you have dive equipment you can fine many intact bottles from all periods of Tabogas history.
The city of Taboga was well positioned as a base for Francisco Pizarro, from which he plundered both Las Perlas and Peru. Later, the city served as an ideal place for pirates to raid the rich Spanish treasure ships.
For me, the real treasure of Taboga is before Pizarros arrival, when Taboga was called "Haboga", and where the city now stands, there stood a well established native settlement.
Even before leaving the outskirts of the city, you will note that the soil is absolutely packed with all kinds of shell. A closer look will reveal that mixed in with the shells, are fragments of pottery. We were able to find middens of shell, pottery, and stone tools. From the fragments found, it appears that they decorated their pottery simply with red pigment aroud the rim and simple etching. One piece was found that had markings made with a shell in a simple repeating pattern. All the pieces are tempered with sand or crushed quartz, and some are up to an inch thick.
The stone tools are basic, with no sign of pressure flaking. Most appear to be flakes struck from a core, used, then discarded. Interestingly, they are all of types of stone that I have not seen anywhere on the island, and range from a deep black/blue to almost bright yellow.
I found no glass or earthenware mixed with the shells and pottery.

Taboga is an excelent place to hike. We spent some time exploring some of it's then dry creeks as well and found a species of animal we had not seen before.

These green and black frogs are Dart-Poison Frogs, and we were told they are a type that is endemic to Taboga, though we are not certain. They live in colonies so if you see one there are usually many more around.
Of course every paradise has it's hidden dangers, and Taboga plays host to tarantulas, scorpions, and snakes.

Return to the Pearl Islands

After our ordeal at sea, and with Bristol Rose repaired and fully functioning, we took a week to return to the Las Perlas Achipelago to relax and enjoy the last of Panama before we attempted the passage to the Galapagos for the second time.
After returning to Panama City, I happened upon a book written by Robert Vergnes that details several interesting sites of historic significance in the islands, relating to both native and Spanish occupation.

We visited serveral islands we had not stopped at the first time though, and one of them was the well known island of Contadora. This is a very well built up island, and according to Vergnes, pottery fragments were found during the constructions of the buildings you will find there. On the northern end of the island you can also find a face etched into the cliffs, made by the native people before the Spanish arrive. We weren't able to visit this pre-columbian site however.

The island of Chapera to the south of Contadora was said to have an old colonial Spanish well, so we made a point to anchor off it's southern shore and use the dinghy to locate the well using the directions given by Vergnes.
This is Vergnes' first landmark, which is more noticable at low tide. It stands near a beach, which we landed at and located a dry creek bed that would lead us to a path. This path snaked it's way through some of the most beuatiful terrain in the Perlas, until it opened to a clearing with many Royal Palms.
In the middle, with beams of sunlight shining through the canopy, stood this well. It is 17 feet deep, and 12 feet wide at the top. There was signs around it that someone had made attempts to rebuild it, and it had a partial outer wall that is not present in pictures taken by Vergnes in 1980.

On Isla Saboga, on the western shore, is a very large fish trap made from good sized stones. We found it at high tide, but you can see part of an inner wall in this photo. The outer wall is much larger, and can easily be seen on Google Earth.

During our explorations of these islands, we also found some very old shell midden piles, as well as pre-columbian pottery fragments in some places.