Embera Adventure

Before we moved to Panama, Mikkel had purchased a discounted voucher for a tour to an Embera tribe village outside of Panama City near Gamboa. When we were first in Panama City, we tried to schedule a day to visit, but they were booked. You have to take a boat on the Chagres River off the Panama Canal to get to the Embera island and there are only so many spaces. We tried again when we were back in Panama in September for the VA conference. We did get a reservation, but had to cancel due to a huge rainstorm. So we finally booked the trip for October 17th, hoping the weather would be okay.
The day before we left, Tuesday, we had signed up for internet with Cable and Wireless. They told us it would be 3-4 days before the installer would come. That was fine since we were going to Panama Wednesday and Thursday. But just before we got to our hotel on Wednesday, the installer called to say he was at our home in Pedasí. Very unusual for anyone to come sooner; it’s usually much later. I explained in my limited Spanish where we were and that we would be back Friday. So not sure when or if he is coming back.

Mikkel also still had to get his Panamanian driver’s license and arranged for our friend Luis in Panama City to help him on October 16th, at least that’s what we planned. We drove that morning to the Tryp Hotel at Albrook Mall where Mikkel met Luis and I would go shopping. Mikkel had to present a doctor’s letter to the license bureau stating he was of good mind and health because Panama requires this for anyone over 70 years old. He had acquired one from the Health clinic in Pedasí. But when he got there, although he had all the correct documents, the doctor certificate was not acceptable. It needs to come from an internist or geriologist, not a general physician, something we were not told before. Luis tried to convince them to accept it since Mikkel had come all the way from Pedasí, but unsuccessful. So we are back to square one. He does have an appointment with a internist (we believe) in Las Tablas on Tuesday, and then can go to the license bureau there or in Chitre if he can arrange for someone to interpret for him. He has until November 1st, 90 days from arriving in Panama. Oh well, if he doesn’t get it, I guess I get to drive.

In the meantime, I went shopping at the mall and found lots of little things we needed off our list. When Mikkel came back, we spent 5 hours going from store to store where I had found different items and bought some of them. We had 3 large bags full of things we absolutely believe we needed; didn’t cost all that much, just a lot of stuff. (My sister Debi would be amused that I bought some things from El Costo. She lives in Panorama City, California and there is an El Costo in the mall there. Never saw another one in the states, although there may be; and we always called it the “tchotchke” store, which it is, but there were a few things there we couldn’t find elsewhere.) Nevertheless, I’m sure we were a sight walking through the mall and in through the hotel with all those bags. I believe I wrote in another blog that this mall goes on and on, so we really got our workout. Later we drove around to some of the stores just outside the mall, looking for a specific toolbox and BBQ for Mikkel. (Didn’t find them.) And then had dinner at TGI Fridays.

The next morning we finally went on the tour to the Embera village. The weather was good, cloudy but sunny and warm. We met with 3 others, from Florida, Panama, and Belgium, at a dock near Gamboa and were greeted by our guide who proceeded to share a little history about the canal, river, and Embera tribe on the Chagres River. We rode a small canopied boat through Lake Gatun, a part of the Panama Canal, first and discovered a crocodile basking in the sun on the shore. Then we went back under the bridge to the Chagres River and got off on the shore of Las Cruces Trail, where a few 100 years ago silver and gold was stored in the town of Chagres, which no longer exists. We walked through the jungle and our guide shared about the history and the various plants & trees and how the Embera used them for them for medicines, building, housing, clothing, etc. I am amazed how a indigenous tribe was able to figure out that a certain plant or combination of plants helped with migraines, kidney infections, the common cold, etc. and the ingenuous ways certain trees were used to build houses, canoes, cloth, and make wine. Afterwards, we took the boat over to the Embera village located on an island of the Chagres River. We were greeted by the Embera playing their native musical instruments and many children in their native dress (or no clothing) at the dock. The leader welcomed us and explained about the tribe and its culture, dress, and crafts while the guide interpreted in English for us. We observed their traditional dances and were invited to join them. (Got another workout.) They brought us lunch, fried fish and pantacones, in a traditional dishes. We washed our hands before and after in a bowl of water and lemon leaves. Then we were free to look around the village and buy at the marketplace. Mikkel and I bought a few small items and also got ink tattoos (non-permanent). The woman who painted the tattoos got a kick out of Mikkel’s request a tattoo on his face. He keeps living up to his name “the Crazy Gringo”. All in all, it was a very interesting adventure. If any of my Panamanian readers haven’t taken such a tour, I would highly encourage you to go some time.

On the way home to Pedasí, we first stopped in Clayton, an expat area formerly built by the US for employees of the Panama Canal. I had found a fake Christmas tree for sale on Craigslist, and it was still available and a lot less than the ones we had found at the stores. I did ship over one packing box of special ornaments from the states. They say I could buy a real one in Chitre that was exported from North America, but I think it would turn brown before Christmas. So we returned home with a car-full of things, stopping in Coronado for one more try to look for the tool box and BBQ Mikkel wants. We were excited when we saw the right tool box for sell on the shelf, but then very disappointed to find it was locked and 7 employees searched high and low through the store for the key with no success. They offered to sell it for $7 less, not a real bargain, and we left. So the search continues. I figure if it is meant to be, it will be found.

Glad to be home and I told Mikkel I really don’t want to go anywhere far for awhile. There are still lots of little projects to do around the house, and I am starting to feel comfortable now that we are finally in our home. Of course, there’s alway something different or unplanned here. That’s what makes life exciting and adventurous. I will write about our next adventure shortly.

Centenial Bridge over Panama Canal

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Boat Trip on Lake Gatun


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Crocodile on bank

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Chagres River


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Las Cruces Trail


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Embera Village




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Village homes


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Proud Mom

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Cruise Ship on Canal


4 thoughts on “Embera Adventure

  1. indacampo says:

    Mikkel said that you weren’t very happy about his “tattoo face” when he stopped by the sale on Saturday.
    Just go to the Las Table office for the driver’s license. The young lady behind the desk speaks English and is very helpful. We have nothing but good things to say about the service we received there. 🙂

  2. Lorraine Keeffe says:

    Hi, Connie and Mikkelthanks for the update and all the info. on your life in Pedasi…..It really sounds fun at times….
    We are all fine and plodding along. Bible study has gone well. You are missed. Love, Lorraine and Mike Keeffe

  3. Allison says:

    This is on my list of things to do once in Panama, so thanks for posting. I have read other blogs that have had great experiences as well on this tour. I am just so sorry the driver’s license task didn’t pan out (but you at least got some shopping time in!) Oh well, another day and now another thing put on the to do list of “busy work” (lol) when retired when in Panama.

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