By Raul Arias de Para

August 2010

The history of Canopy Lodge begins almost a century ago when my father, Don Tomas Arias Revello, first went to El Valle de Anton in search of a peaceful and secluded place to build a week-end home. At that time the road ended about 20 kilometers from the center of the village and the last stretch was done on foot or on horseback. The trip from Panama City lasted two days and sometimes the traveler had to spend a third night along the way.

He came many times over a period of several years and explored the area extensively until he found the spot of his dreams. It was next to a clear and fast moving stream, the Rio Guayabo, at the foot of some of the tallest mountains in the valley and far from everything else. These mountains are now part of the protected areas of the Monumento Natural Cerro Gaital.

Many years later he told me he could have chosen any piece of land in El Valle, it was all unoccupied public land at the time, but he chose this spot precisely because of its solitude and its proximity to the stream. He named it Finca Escucha Ruido, “listen to the sounds” — no doubt inspired by one of the stops of the train which carried the gold from the legendary mines of Cana, in Darien, to the port in Boca de Cupe for shipping to Panama City and which was named Escucha Ruido. In his youth my father visited Darien many times to supervise the operation of the Cana Gold Mine in which my grandfather, Don Tomas Arias Avila, was a partner.

Raul's father who built Canopy Lodge
Raul's father
Raul's mother
Raul's mother

My father quickly built a small house in his chosen spot, a one bedroom structure made of mud and “pajita” (a special type of straw) following the traditional construction method of the “campesinos.” Shortly thereafter he married my mother Leticia, and, yes, you guessed it, they spent their honeymoon there. That happy union produced six children, four boys and two girls. I’m number five.

Raul and two of his siblings horseback riding close to where the Canopy Lodge stands today
Raul and two of his siblings horseback riding close to where the Canopy Lodge stands today

My earliest recollection of wilderness and nature takes place in El Valle: horseback riding, bathing in the stream, camping in the nearby mountains, eating “guabas” straight from the trees, watching birds without knowing I was birdwatching. There was no electricity, no TV, no newspapers; it was just a duo of us and nature. Some nights we would go to the stream to catch crayfish (“camaron de rio”) and to the forest edge for light bugs (“cocuyos”). There was also a battery powered Zenith short wave radio and we would all sit around it in the evenings to hear the news of the world and to listen to classical music.

Raul taking a swim in Rio Guayabo

Every year we spent the school vacations in El Valle, three months of every year in Paradise! We also came often for weekends during the rest of the year. It was absolutely wonderful! The days went by quickly, effortlessly, joyfully. I have no sad memories whatsoever of that period of my life. There was only one thing I did not like. Every year, before leaving Panama City, my mother would take me to a barbershop and cut my hair very, very short, in the style of Yul Brynner. There being no barbers in El Valle, the cut had to last all three months. Thus were spent the first eighteen years of my life.

As you can imagine, so many things have happened between now and then that it would take many hours to tell them all. I would rather share those stories with you over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine when you visit our lodge in El Valle. For the moment let me say that El Valle is my favorite place on earth and I’m so happy that, finally, I am able to share it with the many friends I have made in the Canopy Tower and the Canopy Lodge.

Happy Birding!