Saturday March 30th: We boarded the bus to Chilibre to go to Chagres National Park and Alajuela Lake to visit the indigenous people of the area, the Embera tribe. The Embera people are indigenous people of Panama and Colombia who are originally from the remote Darien Province in the rainforest. They currently reside in Chagres, and many have mixed lives that include retaining their culture through dress, dance, weaving, fishing and living off the land, as well as taking buses into the city for work to provide for their families. Although the Embera have adapted their lives into current society, many still live in the way that their ancestors lived and provided views into their culture and way of life to tourists from around the world.
Claudio, our tour guide, informed us of the various entities developing the different areas of Panama as we drove to our destination. After an hour-long bus ride, we arrived at the river. People from the Embera tribe greeted our group and had dugout canoes ready for us to start our adventure for the day. Although the trip wasn’t always smooth sailing, the journey down the river was beautiful, and no complaints could be made, even with having to push the canoes occasionally.
After the canoe ride, we were lead through the wilderness by an Embera guide. We walked along a shallow rocky river, wading through the water when we needed to, and climbed over boulders that were in our way. At the end of the path, there was a beautiful waterfall with a cool water pond. Many of us enjoyed taking in the beauty and relaxing in the cool water.
After our waterfall adventure, the Embera guides took us back to their village. The Embera people and their Chief welcomed us and directed us into a small hut structure. The Chief gave us a brief history of who the Embera were and the current health and economic problems the village was facing. We were served a beautiful lunch of freshly caught tilapia, plantains, pineapple, and melon.
Following the presentation and lunch, we were able to visit tables that various family members had set up to sell the items they had crafted (earrings, baskets, woodworking items). Some of us received traditional style tattoos, using a dye made from berries of the genip tree. The end of our trip was when Embera gifted us with the Dance of Macaws.
We were all very thankful for the experience that the Embera people gave us. It was an unforgettable experience that none of us will forget. We were all sad to leave such a beautiful national treasure.
Authors Kacey Luensman and Amanda Lum