Embera Drua Village

Wednesday December 27, 2006
Today we went to visit the Embera Drua Indian village on the Rio Chagres above Lago Alajuela.  The day started at 7AM by meeting with other cruisers at the Balboa Yacht Club Bar.  Rides to the river-landing had been arranged so we were soon in cars heading out to the lake that feeds the Panama Canal.  It was about a 1 ½ hour drive and we made only one stop.  When we were almost to the landing we stopped at the park offices to pay the park fees. 

At the river-landing we boarded wooden cayucas with outboard motors for the trip across the lake and up the river to the village.  It was about a 2 hour trip up and somewhat less down.  On the way up we took a side channel to visit a waterfall and swim at its base.  The last stretch of river to the village was swift moving water and very shallow over rocky shallows.  There were two of the Embera men with poles to get us thru this shallow area of the river where to outboard was of little use.  When we arrived at the village we were greeted by a small group of young men playing native instruments and received a nice welcome by the females of the village.  They escorted us up to the village that is built on a flat area above the river.  Their homes are all built above the ground on stilts to help keep the bugs and animals of the jungle out of them, at least as much as possible.  One of the village men gave a talk on the history of the village followed by a talk on the basket weaving that is done by the woman.  The men do the carving of wood and tagua nuts.  Bill and I purchased a carved tagua nut that represents a turtle hatching from a white egg.  The turtle was very intricately carved. 

The village that we are visiting had moved to this site from the Darien area in 1970 with just 4 families.  They now have about 23 family groups, but in the meantime, the area that they had settled has been declared to be a Panama National Park. They had existed by marketing their agriculture products, but they no longer are allowed grow or harvest from the forest more than is needed for their personal use.  A few years back they started inviting tourists into the village and now some of the large cruise ships have shore excursions to visit them.  They not only show the tourists something of their lives but crafts, baskets, wood carvings and jewelry are available for the tourists to purchase. 

We took a short hike with one of the old men of the village.  He pointed out several of the plants that they use for medicinal purposes.   Lunch was served back at the main building.  Some of the woman had been cooking it over an open fire.  Lunch consisted of a large piece of river fish and patacones (platanos that are sliced thin and then fried) and was very good.  After lunch the village got together and performed some dances for the tourists. 

This is the high tourist season for the village as there is still enough water in the river to motor to the village and yet the dry season is soon starting, so there is a higher probability that one’s visit will be in dry weather.  During this time of year groups from cruise ships anchored in Colon are brought in, as well as smaller groups by the various tourist agencies in Panama City.  During our visit there were only two other small groups visiting the village.  We had been scheduled to go the day before but we moved our date when the villagers discovered that a cruise ship was scheduled to bring a large group of guests that day. 

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Cayuca Ride up the River.  This is the second cayuca in our group.

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Swimming at the base of the waterfall in clean fresh water, slightly cool.

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The village when we first entered at the top of the path.

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Lunch was cooked for us in the traditional manner

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Children are curious about the photos taken of them

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Baskets that the villagers have made are for sale to the tourists in the space below the building.

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The villagers dancing for the tourists.