Trip up the Chagres River to visit the Embera Drua Village

On Monday, January 12, a group of cruisers and friends got together and took a trip up the Chagres River to visit the Embera Drua Village.  See embera-drua-village and further-information-on-the-embera-drua from our 2006 trip to the same village.  We left from the Balboa Yacht Club early for the two hour drive to a landing on Madden Lake near where it becomes the Chagres River.

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There we boarded cayucas (canoes) to continue our trip up river to the village.  The cayucas are hollowed out logs, many times repaired and powered by outboard motors.

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Two men from the village stood in the bow with long polls to guide us thru some of the narrower and shallower sections of the river.

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Part way up the river we turned off into a narrow tributary.  After following it up until it got too shallow for the cayucas, we all got out and hiked the rest of the way to a nice waterfall.  The waterfall was quite pretty but the best part was the great pool of water at its base!  Doreen immediately jumped in and spent the entire 30 minutes that we were there swimming in the refreshing not-too-cold water.  Most of the rest of the folks just watched from the bank but Bill and a few of the other cruisers joined her in the water for a short swim as well.

Back in the Cayucas, we continued up to the village.  The water got quite shallow and swift moving as we got closer to the village.  There were even some spots so shallow that the guides got out and walked the cayucas thru.  It did keep the two natives in the bow with the polls real busy fending off and keeping the boat pointed in the right direction.

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When we arrived at the sandbank below the village we were greeted by a small group of young boys playing traditional instruments.  They got together and posed for a photo.    We climbed up to the village and passed other men working on fixing old cayucas.  The cayucas were originally hollowed out logs but have been patched many times with new wood, and some metal flashing in the floor.

When we all got to the village we were gathered in a new structure (bohio) that has been built for entertaining tourists.  It is raised off the ground on stilts like the rest of the village structures with a palm thatch roof.  One of the village elders gave a short history lesson on the village which originated in the 70s when a band of Embera moved up from the Darien to be closer to Panama City.  They lost their ability to grow cash crops and to hunt when the area became a National Park, so they have turned to tourism to earn some money.  They still have small gardens to grow food for their own use and they do hunt some as well.

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While we were being educated, a group of the women sat along one corner of the building visiting, watching the youngest members of the village and weaving on their baskets that they make for selling to the tourists.  Some of the baskets are quite fine and they take lots of hours to construct.  They also carve a type of rose colored wood and tagua nuts for the tourist trade as well.

We were given time to explore the village and make any purchases of their artisan objects.  Then we again gathered in the new bohio for lunch.  Lunch was fried fish from the river and patacones (fried plantains) prepared by the women of the village, which was quite good.

After lunch Doreen went back to the river for a short swim; “short” because the river water was much cooler than the water at the waterfall.  The girls gathered to perform some native dances for us and then it was time to head back down river.

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The trip down river was much more rapid as we were going with the current.  As we quickly passed thru the shallow areas the current carried us along swiftly, keeping the men with polls busy trying to keep the cayuca in the center of the flow.  We did not get back to the Balboa Yacht Club until almost 5PM, hungry and tired after a wonderful day.  We enjoyed dinner at the Yacht Club while rehashing the days adventures with our friends before we returned to Lanikai.