The 5th continental crossing for Madswimmer initially seemed quite easy, a quick dash across the month of the Panama Canal and then a long swim down the coast of Panama.. if only.
After 6 months and numerous letters to the Panama Canal Authorities, requests through the South African Government’s regional ambassador in Mexico, requests through the office of the President of South Africa, visits and more letters to the Panamanian Ambassador in Pretoria, the group eventually opted to cross the Chagres river, which forms the mainstay of the Panama Canal and is the natural split between North and South America.
A further consideration was that the Chagres river is home to one of the worlds largest American crocodile colonies. The group considered various risk mitigation options including rifleman support, acacia root juice and crocodile cages.
Due to logistical constraints the Madswimmer team opted to use local help. The Embera Indian tribe are a semi nomadic indigenous people in Panama, with some of the tribes living along the banks of the Chagres river. Having bought large quantities of fruit and vegetables as gifts we motored up to a suggested Embera village and with our guides managed to persuade two of their bravest young warriors to join us and help find a safe place to cross the river for our North to South America swim.
Just before our swim we saw two large crocodiles enter the water, as well as a large anaconda, but fortunately they did not hinder us. We stationed our Indian friends at strategic lookout points on both sides of our entering point to spot potential crocodiles or electric eels before we did the river crossing.
The second half of our swim on the Atlantic coast of Panama was less eventful, but long. We had a slight ½ knot current against us and warm water with temperatures reaching up to 30 deg Celsius at some stages, but to make up for this the weather was perfect with slight cloud cover and calm seas. The swimmers covered the total swim of 21.3km in 7 hours and 12 minutes, linking North America to South America, thus completing their stage 5 of the swim successfully.