Sunday, 24 April 2016

Aboard MS Expedition: Survivor and the Panamanian pirate islands

ex-pat expedition guide, Brandon, relives an episode of Survivor at Mogo Mogo
The former drug lord's mansion on Chapera, now occupied by the Panamanian Coast Guard
Dirty looks from Survivor TV series security as their new secret location is sprung

From on board G Adventures MS Expedition in Panama

Mogo Mogo and Chapera Islands, ArchipiƩlago de Las Perlas (Pearl Islands)
Friday 22 April 2016

Well, it's easy enough to deduce the origin of the name since a mighty 32 carat number was produced from the molluscs who still inhabit these shallow waters south of Panama.

But the islands are full of stories of intrigue and skulduggery even to this day. Pirates of the like of the 17th Century English privateer, Henry Morgan, operated in these waters during the English/Spanish conflict of the time and would have almost certainly have used the Pearl Islands as a hideout in between looting galleons and trashing Panama City.

Our activities were far more sedate. Zodiacs took guests ashore at both the uninhabited Mogo Mogo and adjacent Chapera for swimming and lazing about. The latter has been in the media in recent times for a number of reasons.

Many believe it was a drug staging point for the infamous Noriega prior to his arrest by US authorities and soon after the island was purchased outright by another drug baron, the Colombian Nelson Oriega. The figure of 1.5 million dollars was mentioned. He then built a sprawling beach house on a point overlooking the two islands but had the entire package confiscated after he annoyed someone in the Panamanian government. Oriega spent seven years in prison on a hastily concocted money laundering charge and is currently suing for the island's return.

Many will remember the island as the setting for one of the early 'Survivor' TV Series and the producers of the evergreen reality TV show are currently in the process of building a new set for a return installment. Our Zodiacs stumbled on the crew at work and gained some unwelcome stares from the set builders and their burly, shirtless security thugs. Secrecy would seem an impossible task as the waters just offshore make a popular route for yachties. That and the nearby populated island of Isla Contadora with its many elite mansions would make the activity hard to conceal. So, you heard it here first, Survivor returns to Panama! Location: 8.60, -79.03


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