A day with the Embera

By Juliette Darmon

This experience has to be lived during your trip in Panama, so save some time for one day among the Embera community!

The driver will pick you up at your hotel early in the morning for around one-hour trip until Corotú pier. There, you will board on a motorized piragua and travel for around 30 minutes through deep jungle up the Chagres River to the the Indigenous village of Emberá Drua.

Keep your eyes open during this trip, you will be fascinated by the peaceful atmosphere of the dense jungle, the fresh nature and the wildlife you could observe.

Once at the village, the Embera community welcomed us by some traditional songs and dances.

We immediately felt comfortable, thanks to their friendly and warmly personalities.

The head of the community, elected by all the indigenous, then explained us their story and culture, the reason they came here, their way of life and traditions.

It has been so interesting listening to him and learning about their life!

The Embera community used to live in Darien, but some of them decided to move due to the real hard life conditions over there. Elias, one of the two founders of the community in Chagres National Park, arrived 41 years ago and they are now 106 indigenous living in the community.

They built all their houses themselves, while the women take care of the children and spend hours for handcrafted works every day. One of them also explained us which materials did they use, how did they collect and color them, but also the way they designed their works. It’s interesting to note that the prices correspond to the number of hours the women spent for making them.

Moreover, all the children of the community are schoolchild thanks to a school they have built, managed by one teacher and one professor from the city living in the indigenous village from Monday to Saturday.

Another amazing moment was lunch time.

During our way on the morning, we stopped by a local market with our guide, in order to buy some fruits and food for lunch to bring to the community. For lunch, we have tasted some grilled fish with typical “patacones” in a real banana leaf, following by fresh fruits! To wash our hands, we had to put them in water with lemongrass prepared by the indigenous. Funny vision of soap, isn’t it? What an amazing moment shared with them! At this point, we really realized the unique experience we were living…

Then we also had some time to have a look at their handcrafted market and buying whatever we wanted to, while we were watching them working on it.

With Elias, founder and doctor/ physician of the community, we had the chance to discover his secret botanical garden…! This man, 78 years old, is really impressive, and so endearing!
He has such an healthy life! Much more than ours…! He seeded all the medicinal plants by himself and each plant is used for healing something in particular. That’s the only way the Emberas heal themselves. It even exists one typical plant when pregnant women give birth, supposed to make them not feeling any dolor…! You could buy some if you are interested in.

Anyways, we could have stayed hours listening to him…

Before leaving the community, the Emberas offered us a traditional dance and music show that they usually do for some occasions, like a baby birth, a 15-years-old ceremony, or even for the end-building of a new house!

Time to say goodbye came, and we took the piragua to come back to the coast. The driver was waiting for us and he dropped us off to the city.

Trust me, this day will stay in your mind for a while!

P.S. Take your camera, a waterproof pocket and a raincoat just in case it will rain because remember that you are going into the rainforest and deep jungle!

 

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Panama EcoArt Program

Discover what truly makes Panama so special, its people, land, history and culture. The Panamanian culture is translated through its art. The mola that carefully handcrafted by is Guna (Kuna indians) is a reflection of how unique this culture truly is. During this program you will travel, learn and experience the true Panama, learning in person from the people who call this land bridge their home. You will journey to six of Panama’s provinces to learn from local artisans, while they work on their masterpieces that will be used in local celebrations or could be flown halfway around the globe. This program includes visits to Guna Yala – San Blas Archipelago (molas), Chagres National Park to visit the Embera people (Cocobolo and Tagua –vegetable ivory carvings), Cocle (sombrero pintado – woven hat) and Herrera (ceramics and diablo sucio masks).  This is a complete and fun itinerary that is ideal for those who love Latin American art.  Contact us for a detailed itinerary.

Fascinating Embera Tour

By:  Amber Platschorre

Almost finishing the high season I was invited to go on one of the tours from EcoCircuitos: This time I was able to go on the Embera Tour. This tour will take you to an indigenous community and this brought me some memories that I will cherish the rest of my life.

We departed from the Gamboa Rainforest Resort to drive to Chagres National Park to enter the boats. Upon arrival at the boat entrance, I met some people of the Embera community that would take us by boat to their small village. The men were dressed in colourful skirts or they were just wearing a loincloth. Although they speak their own language, I  understood immediately that they had lots of fun about my height and my blond hair. These people are so friendly and very proud to show us their small village.

The boat trip was an adventure on its own. We werefloating in long tail canoes that took us through the rain wood. Sometimes the water was so low that the men had to push the canoe through the water to continue our journey. During the boat trip we saw some amazing birds and some of us saw a crocodile. We enjoyed the beautiful nature of this area and enjoyed the boatride through the river. The community will make sure that you feel comfortable during your trip.

Once arrived, the community greeted us their own cultural way. They were making music for us and everyone was playing an instrument. Even the little kids were greeting us their original way which made us feel warm and welcome. The guide Fabio explained us about the village and how the huts were build. Furthermore he told us about the nature, the people and their culture. Wehad the opportunity to take a look around at the village and enjoy the friendliness of the community. Furthermore there were some handcrafts for sale and communicate a bit with the community.

The community gave us a presentation about their culture, their way of living and their norms and values, all translated by the guide Fabio. Furthermore they showed us their typical customs and I got inked with Jagua. Thisblack inked is coming from plants that are growingin that area and it will stay on for more or less 2 weeks. The Embera will paint you with this Jagua and you will have a temporarily souvenir.

During the presentation lunch was served. Lots of fresh fruit, platano and fish was served. It was delicious. It think it tasted that good because it was made by the Embera community with care and love. After lunch the Embera women performed their traditional dance and invitedus to dance with them as well. The men played their instruments and it was great to be interactive witha community that is so different from the life style that I am living. I don’t speak their language and they don’t speak my language but we did understand each other.

Furthermore the oldest man from the community and besides that the chief of the community, took us for a shorthike in the rainforest to his medical garden. He explained us about these plants in this garden and he told us thathe has been helping lots of people because of his medical plants. It was very fascinating to listen to his stories and we were able to smell and taste some of his plants. Finally we returned by boat under good care of the Embera to the entrance of Chagres National Park and saidgoodbye to the people of the community. We could not stop waving to each other when we finally drove a way to Panama City. These people will stay in my memory forever.

For more information about the Embera tour, contact EcoCircuitos directly.  www.ecocircuitos.com

Embera Indigenous Encounter with EcoCircuitos

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By Benita Rose

One of our tours that had interested me the most since I´ve started working as an Intern in the EcoCircuitos-office was the tour to the Embera indigenous tribe In the Chagres National Park. I had heard that it is a fascinating experience, and therefore I felt very fortunate when my supervisor Annie sent me on the Embera-tour with guide Fabio, driver Roberto, and our clients Mr. and Mrs. Sameth. I had no idea what was expecting me yet . . .

Our adventure started with a 1-hour ride to Puerto Colotun, where we embarked a Piragua, a typical Embera-canoe, for our exciting trip to the Embera Drua village. While on our way to the port, we were already able to see different sides of Panama: passing the metropolitan City towards the countryside, and from there entering the lonely Chagres National Park, where life is more laid-back than in the City, and skyscrapers and fancy restaurants are not a lot of people’s business. But the fun part started on the piragua, which carried us through green and ever greener landscapes that provided enough space and the perfect environment for all kinds of birds and animals. Our client Mr. Sameth was at a loss for words, while Mrs. Sameth got a little nervous on our quite unusual piragua-ride. Guide Fabio managed to keep us all in a good mood though, explaining us everything about the area, and all of us were excited to arrive at the Drua village.

Upon our arrival to the 93-people-community, we were kindly welcomed by the Embera, all of them seemed pleased to have us there, while at the same time we didn´t seem to distract them much from their daily routine, which we liked to see.

The village is built in a very rustic style and makes you think back in time, when people used to live without any technological devices and when capitalism wasn´t as present as it is today. The houses are all built with natural materials: wood & different types of dried leaves as protection against rain; to enter you need to climb up a latter.

A lovely young Embera girl approached us and wanted to explain us a little bit about her culture. She gave us a nice presentation about the history and present culture of the Emberas. Mr. & Mrs. Sameth, as well as myself, were listening carefully and questions about how things work in the community kept popping up in our minds. She patiently answered all of our questions while a number of other Embera girls were gathered under the same open roof than us, chatting, cooking or playing with their kids, just living their everyday life. To round-off the presentation about the Embera culture, we were served a typical lunch: fresh fish (oh how fresh!) & Patacones – delicious!

After lunch we were able to explore the rest of the village, take pictures, and have any new questions answered by guide Fabio. We spent some time watching little boys play soccer, and at the same time we were observing everything else happening around us.

With a bunch of new impressions on our mind, we left the Embera village with a smile on our faces. We were treated very nicely by everyone in the community and felt very welcome. On our way back to Puerto Colotun, where driver Roberto was already waiting for us, we barely said a word, but instead reflected on what we had experienced during this adventurous day.

 

For more information about our tour to the Embera-villages, please feel free to contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com, or visit our website http://www.ecocircuitos.com

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!

Panama Panorama 5 days adventure from $485.00

Embera Indian from Chagres National Park

5 Days / 4 Nights

A city tour featuring Panama City’s best attractions; you will spend a day Kayaking the Panama Canal and will visit the Miraflores Locks.  You will also be part of a National Geographic type adventure while visiting the Embera community from Chagres National Park.  This is a perfect package to be combined with a stay in Costa Rica or as an extension to any of the country’s beach destinations.   For complete program and prices please contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com

Geotourism in Chagres National Park

Early in the morning, we get to the Chagres River, the main reservoir of drinking water for the cities of Panama and Colon, also supplies water for the operation of the Panama Canal. Here we board a dugout canoe with motor and travel up the River to the Embera Drua village.

The boat journey of 45 minutes takes us through lush rainforest of the Chagres National park. From the boat it is possible to admire the beauty of the rich and flourishing nature; there is a complete silence, broken only by the sounds of the water and of the birds. The river is the only way to get to the Emberá village, otherwise it is possible to walk through the forest but that will take no less than 4 hrs. During the rainy season the river will rise a lot, while during the dry season the level of the water will be very shallow, causing problems to pass through some places.

The Emberá community was founded in the Chagres national Park in 1975, and today counts 115 inhabitants, of which 30 are kids. In 1996 a school was built also thanks to the contribution of organizations, tour operators and individuals who strongly support the protection and conservation of the environment end the life of the Indigenous communities. There are often volunteers who spend some time within the village, offering help and doing researches.

When we arrive, a representative of the Emberá community explain us everything about their history, way of living, traditions, dances, music, together with the help of some women that show us how they make handcrafts using palms fibers, woods, leaves, rocks, etc..

All the handicrafts they make are on sale at their small picturesque market.
We have also the chance to get our body painted, as the Emberá usually do, using a particular ink made of ashes and plant pigments. The tattoos will last about 8 days.

At lunchtime we sit together enjoying the delicious freshwater fish, Tilapia and Sargento, accompanied by crispy platanos y a bunch of fresh fruits, such as pineapple, passion fruit, watermelon, bananas..

After lunch we move to another open air building, where the Emberá women will perform local dances on the music played by the men using artesian flutes and drums. The first dance is performed in between them, while in the following ones everybody will take the floor and show their dancing skills!

Once we have done with that, unfortunately It’s time to board again on the piraguas and go back to the “real word”, but confident with the fact that our soul is fulfilled with the best emotions and feelings that the wonderful people of the Emberá community were passionately able to transmit to us.

Léa Maillard & Paola Alzatti.