The Highlight of my Trip to Panama
You must visit the Panama Canal when traveling to Panama. It truly is a marvel, especially when you consider that the construction, which began in 1904, was plagued by malaria and yellow fever and was completed without the benefit of heavy equipment. Though impressive, the canal wasn’t the highlight of my trip. Rather, a side trip taken to a local village really stood out as the best part.
Before going to the village of Embera, I wondered how authentic my experience would be. Would it be for show, or a real view into the lives of the people? Now after having been there I can tell you that it was certainly not a show for tourists. The Embera people are warm and welcoming. The childrens’ smiles are infectious and I truly appreciated the experience that they shared with me.
We began our adventure at the port in Colon, Panama where we met our tour guide. He drove us out of the city to the banks of the Chagres River where we hopped into a dugout canoe with outboard motor. The ride to the village was beautiful and we were lucky enough to have calm waters. Upon our arrival at the village, we were greeted with a musical procession. We offloaded our overnight gear and made our way to our deluxe accommodations – an open air hut, approximately 10 feet off the ground. We were quickly joined by several children who were keen to meet us and take us around the village.
Though the lifestyle is humble, it certainly has its appeal. We were treated to a traditional dance by the women and children of the village and browsed the handcrafted items made by the villagers. Their handiwork was beautiful and my biggest regret was not bringing more cash to the village. I did buy a beautiful hummingbird carving which has become a cherished memento from my trip.
Later, we were lead through the forest by one of the tribe elders where we learned about some of the plants used as traditional medicines.
On our return we found one of the women busy making our meal over an open fire built on the floor of our hut. Apparently not a fire hazard! For dinner, we enjoyed fried plantains and fish. It was probably the freshest fish I'd ever had!
Our food was served in a palm leaf bowl - bonus, no dishes to wash!
After dinner, we sat around the fire as it became increasingly dark. With no light pollution you get a whole new perspective on the beauty of the night sky. When we’d had our fill of the stars, we called it a night and zipped into our sleeping bags complete with mosquito netting - firstly checking inside the sleeping bags for uninvited guests.
Morning started early, no fear of sleeping in with the resident rooster around. Breakfast consisted of freshly cooked flatbread, scrambled eggs and a hot beverage, which looked like coffee but the jury is still out on that one. I reflected on my time in the village during our trip back to the city. It was refreshing to see how happy the children were with so little. The memory of smiling little faces will always stay with me.