Day trip to Embera Indian Village

Trip Start Jul 02, 2012
Trip End Oct 04, 2012

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Today we were met at 8am by Garceth, our guide to the Embera Indian Village. ( )

We travelled by van to our pick up point, through an area which was more impoverished than we'd seen previously. Rubbish  was strewn across the sides of the roads and piled high in some areas.  Some houses were barely more than shacks and there were dogs and chickens running freely. 
We stopped briefly at a small convenience store which was very run down and packed tight with products and people.  Drinks are cheap in Panama – a 500ml bottle of sprite for 85c and a litre of water for $1.  Despite the conditions, no one looks miserable.  The children play happily and everyone just goes about their business.  Michael was keen to buy a machete onsale for $4 but I think customs may have had something to say about that!

We drove down another incredibly rough road - at one point we had to squeeze past a taxi parked on the side and passed by with inches to spare.  The road was rough even for a 4 wheel drive - we’ve been on several like it since being here and it’s surprising just how rugged the roads are on main thoroughfares.

At the end of the road we disembarked and walked over a small rise to the edge of the river.  It was less than impressive being very polluted and with slimy mud on the banks.  Within a couple of minutes our canoe arrived, piloted by two Emberra Indian men in traditional dress which simply consisted of a colourful loincloth.  One was at the back operating an outboard motor and the other at the bow with a long pole he used to assist in guiding the boat past obstacles.
We all climbed aboard and set off.  A few minutes later we were out of the polluted water and on the main river itself.  It was a fantastic mode of transport.  The scenery was stunning – lush, unspoilt and breathtaking.  We raced along in some parts and more slowly in the shallower places.  The men were amazing how they knew exacly where to guide the boat to avoid obstacles and the shallow parts.  A few times it was too shallow and so we jumped out and pushed until we floated again! 

We saw a few other boats on our journey up the river – a couple of families and a few men out fishing.  About 2 hours later we rounded a bend and saw a woman at the river’s edge washing out pots.  We could see the thatched huts amongst the bush and several more canoes on the riverbank.  We had arrived at the village.

As we pulled up, villagers came out to greet us and some of the men played music on traditional instruments to welcome us in.  We walked up from the river and in to the village and gathered in the large meeting house.  First impressions were of the beautiful colours the people wore – the men and boys in bright, single coloured loin cloths and the women and girls in brightly patterned wrap around skirts.  The reddish brown packed clay that we walked on.  The hand crafted soccer posts in the middle of the village and a great pitch on the clay. The amazing thatched huts all built by hand above the ground for coolness and protection from animals, snakes and bugs.
We were introduced to one of the village’s two medicine men who took us on a 20 minute walk up in to the forest and pointed out trees and plants the villagers use.  One tree is used for making fishing spears, bow and arrows because of the flexibility of the wood.  Another tree’s bark when dried and made in to a tea will cure asthma so it doesn’t come back again.  He showed us a plant which has the same properties of Viagra – they use 3 plants that grow in a place where the sun rises on it and 3 where the sun sets.  As he was telling us about another plant which you bit on it 4 times and it would numb your tongue (Josh tried it and it worked!), Michael started hopping up and down and his feet were covered in ants which were biting him.  The medicine man got him to take his jandals off and then picked some leaves from a nearby plant, crushed them and rubbed them over his feet.  It helped with the pain and swelling of the bites within a few minutes.
When we arrived back at the village, we were taken up in to one of the huts and were given lunch.  The hut is essentially on stilts, and has a platform made from palm trees which they sleep on, with a high thatched roof.  Each hut has a fire place in the corner which is a square with dirt packed in to it that is used to cook the meals 3 times a day. 

We were each given a pocket made from a leaf which had fried fish caught in the river and fried plantain picked from the many trees surrounding the village.  There was also a huge platter of freshly cut fruit – watermelon, melon, oranges, banana, pineapple, laid out on a banana leaf and all picked from nearby.  It was a delicious feast!
As we ate our lunch, the chief talked to us through the interpreter and gave us an insight into life in the village.  Once finished, we noticed a small boy kicking a soccer ball.  Never one to miss an opportunity for a kick around, the boys and I went down and via sign language, picked up teams and await we went.  It was all bare feet of course, and apart from a big puddle at one end, It was actually a great surface to play on.  I wish we had’ve known the state of their ball – the surface was all but gone so we were playing with an inner mostly, and it was half flat.  Despite that, we had a great time playing – I might have been the first white woman who’d played soccer with them and I think they were surprised I could play! 
When we are all dripping from the heat, the kids all went down to the river and played there for a while.  It was lovely to see how quickly they became friends even though neither could speak the other’s language.  Play and fun in universal I guess.

We had brought small bouncy balls to give the kids and they loved them.  Soon there were balls flying all over the place and some of the kids got thin vines to tie around them and use like conkers.  There was a Dutch guy who joined out group and he gave the men a couple of sports magazines – it seemed slightly incongruous to see the village men sitting in their environment all huddled around the magazines!

We were brought together back to the meeting hut where the villagers performed some dancing and music.  The instruments were fantastic – a flute made from bamboo, drums from bamboo and using deer and wild boar skin, a turtle shell drum and maracas made from wood and small stones.  A small boy came over to me and pulled me up to join in one of the dances which was lovely!
The women also offered to give us all temporary tattoos.  They use a vegetable dye which doubles as insect repelant and put it on with a two pronged stick.  Apparently it will last 2 weeks!
After taking time to look at the handicrafts the villagers had made and had on display (Michael and Richard bought an awesome necklace each with a jaguar tooth on it), sadly it was time to go.  We all loved our time there and could easily have stayed longer. 
The canoe trip back was much quicker downstream, and we were lucky to get back before the rain started which was surprising given the thunder which had been rolling for the previous hour.


It was an incredible day and one we will always remember.

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Elaine on

Great blog you guys - you are truely having the most amazing time which is awesome xx

vicki on

Photos are amazing - love reading your blog, looks like a fantastic holiday. Looking for a lotto win tonight so we can all join you!

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