Visit an Embera Community in Gatun Lake – A unique experience

by:  Anne Kehmeier, Intern

Luckily I had the chance to join an exciting EcoCircuitos tour to the indigenous village of the Embera Drua people to get to know their lifestyles and traditions. Accompanied by a great naturalist guide we started our trip with a ride through the Canal Zone and the nice Soberania National Park where we even saw a small anteater on the street. Arrived at the bank of the Chagres River we boarded a motorized piragua (dugout canoe) with an indigenous guide and captain and traveled the Gatun Lake to the communityt. We had a stop for a small hike of the botanical trail “Venta de Cruces” off the community. This forest was full of interesting trees, plants and small animals like the rana hoja, a frog that looks like a leave and is very well camouflaged. The indigenous guide explained us how the trail was used and showed us many different plants. He described how these plants were applied and still are nowadays, for example for medical purposes. After the small hike we continued our boat tour to the village. While enjoying the view out of the boat over the river and the nearby forests and the refreshing water that spilled over to us in the boat from time to time we reached the bank where the Embera village is situated. Our arrival at the “dock” was accompanied with local music and we were welcomed very friendly. After some time of enjoying the marvelous location and the view of the river we were given a presentation about clothing, handcrafts and other traditions and lifestyles by a young representative of the Embera community. Most of the arts and crafts are made of natural resources like seeds, leaves and different kinds of wood. Then we even had the pleasure to have a traditional lunch which existed of delicious fried plantain and fish, followed by fresh bananas and pineapples as desert. After this yummy lunch the Embera women showed us a really fascinating dance accompanied by interesting traditional music presented by the Embera men. We were even invited to join the dance and learn some steps; this was really exciting and fun! After this program we had the opportunity to explore the village and the surroundings a little bit, of course in way that does not disrupt the daily life of the community. By doing so we could also buy some of the beautiful handcrafts made by the Embera.

I was very pleased to hear and to see that the local community really benefits from tourism and this is a way for them to demonstrate their traditions and sell their self-made products. As this community lives in the Chagres National Park, thus a protected area, they are not allowed to hunt, to cultivate fields and use the wood of the forest to keep their farms. Therefore it is a great opportunity that they profit from tourism as they welcome regularly small groups and thus they have the opportunity to sell their handcrafts like nicely designed plates, small statues, neglects, bracelets and much more. In this way they do not only preserve their traditions but also conserve and preserve the nature around them.

I really enjoyed this adventure, the people were really friendly and open-minded and I learned a lot about the life in the Chagres National Park. It was a pleasure for me to get to know the Embera people and I am really glad I had this opportunity. Thanks for this great, exciting, personal and very unique experience!

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