Travelers willing to expose themselves to different cultures, as well as local adventurers with a taste for nature, should make this visit at least once in their lives.
I think that even the most unsuspecting of our readers know that we love living and working in Casco Viejo. We believe that the “Casco Experience” is unique, as many of our blog posts surely demonstrate. That’s why you may be surprised to discover today’s topic. We are going to leave Casco behind to show you an equally incomparable expedition. Today we are going for a few hours to the indigenous community of Emberá Quera with Ancón Expeditions, a trusted Panamanian company specializing in Panamanian tourism (firstname.lastname@example.org). They organize this tour that barely needs 5 hours to transport you to another world and then return you to the city. It is an adventure that we recommend both to travelers coming from abroad, as well as to local adventurers with a taste for nature and the pleasure of exposing themselves to different cultures.
We began our tour in Gamboa´s public marina and sailed the waters of Lago Gatún. We went through several islands, including many of the ancient mountains that were flooded to realize the construction of the Canal. Today these islands are full of wildlife. From our boat, we saw several species of monkeys, including white-faced monkeys and different types of spider monkeys; also colorful and majestic birds, and even a huge and lazy lizard dozing among the waters. We pass the Tigre Islands near the Agua Clara locks of the Panama Canal, to finally travel under the old bridge of the train line, entering the Emberá Quera community. Throughout the tour, nature impressively envelops you but never becomes suffocating. Its like 360 degrees of nature that at the same time disconnect you from your usual landscapes and rhythms, while discovering feelings of deep calm in yourself.
The Emberá Quera community is very young, barely established in January 2007 with Emberá settlers who arrived from Darién and dedicated almost entirely to sustainable tourism. http://www.emberaquera.net/
The first images were his traditional homes built on pillars to protect them from possible floods caused by the swelling of the river. The roofs are conical, made from palm leaves.
We were received by the Noko (in the Emberá language means”Local Leader”). It is the maximum figure in an Emberá indigenous community and ensures social and economic welfare in the territory of its jurisdiction. Let me tell you that in the Emberá world the choice of the nokos is very democratic. Men and women can be nominated within a very simple dynamic: in the communal or traditional house, a local general assembly is convened to elect its leader. The candidates are presented to the plenary session and support the reasons why they aspire to the position. Then the candidates rise in the center of the cultural house, and the members of the full voters place themselves behind the candidate of their choice. The election commission counts and the one with the most votes is the winner.
After freshening up, the community danced for us. They performed the dances of the Hummingbird, the Highland and the Turtle. The women danced, and the men stood behind, playing local instruments. Do not misunderstand. I do not intend to propose an idyllic vision of the community, but I was struck by the lack of cell phones (unless they were invisible). And I was also struck by their children: very friendly and innocent, communicative and possessing a voracious curiosity.
The lunch was very rich and absolutely daily and local. Tilapia accompanied by patacones and presented on a banana leaf, to eat with your hands. Very fresh and without cutlery.
A visit to this community is not complete without a temporary tattoo with jagua. Body painting is a traditional aspect of the Emberá culture. The tattoos aren’t made by a single artist; It’s a collective effort. One can propose a specific design (or abandon yourself, as I did, to the creativity of tattoo artists). We entered an immense space. A community house that is used to display and sell their handmade products. Baskets and necklaces and masks. In that communal space, they tattooed us with tribal motifs or drawings of the local flora.
In short, it was a very profound and humane experience; Simple and warm. The Emberá are people who make up a very supportive society, with strong collective values. Dedicated not only to preserve their immutable customs but to love them, treasure them and share them with the visitors who come every day to its shores.
The return, also by water, felt very fast. It was like returning from another time, from another world. Once I put my feet on the streets of Casco, and while I was thinking about the trip we’ve just finished, I remembered a very famous phrase written by the French poet Paul Eluard (1895-1952). Eluard never visited Emberá lands, and yet he wrote a concept that perfectly illustrates the broad sense of physical closeness and cultural estrangement that is projected by the Emberá Quera community: “There are other worlds, but they belong to this one.”