We arrived in Fuerte Amador just before 8:00 AM. Fuerte Amador is the port area of Panama City, Panama and is at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal. The first sight we saw as we went out on our balcony this morning were the many ships lined up waiting for their turn to pass through the Panama Canal heading east.
Panama City is a huge, thriving city of 1.4 million people, which is in the midst of an economic boom. From the ship we could see a beautiful big city skyline. Our guide told us later that the area with all the skyscrapers was virtually flat and all the buildings we could see now have been built in the last 10 years.
Today we would be taking a ship excursion to an Embera Indian Village, but because the start of the tour had been delayed until 9:30 we had time to eat a leisurely breakfast before we made our way to meet with our tour group. Because the tides vary by as much as 14 feet, there is no cruise dock in Fuerta Amador so today would be taking a tender into the dock (thankfully the last tender port of the cruise).
|The Panama City skyline as seen from the tender. |
According to our guide, this skyline did not exist 10 years ago.
Once on shore we got onto a bus for a drive into the interior of Panama. It was about an hour drive to our destination so we got to see a lot of Panama along the way. At this location, Panama is only 50 miles wide from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. We were traveling 25 miles into the interior so our final stop was halfway across the country. The roads we traveled on were very small and dirt in some places. Our tour guide, Carlos, made the time go by quickly with a lot of information on the country of Panama and its people and culture.
|The Panama Canal Administrative Building as seen from the bus.|
On our tour today we would be visiting an actual, functioning village of the Embera indigenous tribe located in the jungle along the Chagres River. The Embera people live much the same way they have lived for centuries, but there have been changes due to the fact that the land they live on is now a national park and there are environmental rules they must follow. Hunting is now limited so they must buy some of their food, and their children, as well as all the children in Panama, must attend school. So, they have made some adaptions to the modern world.
Our bus ride ended on the banks of the Chagres River where we were met by men from the village who loaded us into dugout canoes for our journey up the river to the village. Even though the canoes were much as they have always been, they did have modern outboard engines attached. There were five villages along the river in the area.
|Our canoes for our journey up the river to the Embera Village.|
|One of the boats from our tour getting underway.|
|One of the villages we passed.|
We reached the village, got out of the canoes and entered a world that was completely different than the one we were familiar with. The men were dressed in colorful loin cloths and the women were dressed much the same way with the addition of tops. We were told that when the tourists weren’t present they wore considerably less as they went about their normal lives. At those times the men wear a narrow cloth cover in front over their “parts”, and the women are topless with just a wrap at their waist to mid-thigh. For our visit they were dressed in what our guide said were their best clothes. Allowing tourists in is a way for the people to earn money to buy food and other necessities now that they are limited as what they can get from the land.
|We arrive at the village.|
As we left the canoes we were met by music and a friendly people who welcomed us to their village. There were cold drinks and snacks available to us, which hit the spot as it was warm and humid. There were also bathrooms available with running water and flush toilets, yet another change to modern times. The government put in the communal bathroom with a septic system to prevent waste from fouling the Chagres River.
After being allowed to walk around and take pictures for a bit, we then all went to the open air meeting area where we were given a welcoming speech by the village chief. He spoke of their culture and way of life. The language they use is their indigenous language, but the children are also taught Spanish in school so most of the younger people know Spanish, but many of the older people only speak their native language. One of the guides actually had been born in an Embera village and spoke the language so he interpreted the chief’s speech. There were also demonstrations of how they make some of their crafts. These methods are still practiced today the same as they have been for hundreds of years.
|The community meeting area.|
The village chief
We were then surprised with a lunch consisting of talapia fish and fried plantains served on a banana leaf, a very good lunch. After lunch we were able to wander around the village and explore the area. There were also families selling crafts they had made. Their handiwork was very high quality, especially the baskets and carvings, and Val made a couple of purchases.
|Our lunch is being prepared.|
Our lunch in a very handy leaf dish.
The homes in the village were pretty much open, but with some wooden sides half way up, and they all had thatched roofs made of palm fronds. There were also communal buildings, which were bigger, but generally had no sides, but did have the thatched roofs. We were told that each family cooks for themselves in their homes. It all looked very pleasant and idyllic, but I’m sure their lives are not as easy as it seemed.
We didn’t see many of the children while we were there as they were at school. We also didn’t see many older people and were told that they were not interested in the tourist visits mainly because most did not speak Spanish and could not understand what was going on.
After our “shopping” and exploring, we went back into the main meeting area where we were entertained by a group of young women performing Embera dances. The men joined in and they all demonstrated what our guide called an “Embera rhumba”. They then picked some of the tourists to join them in their dance and I was unfortunately one of them. Anyone that knows me knows that I don’t like to dance, but I didn’t want to be rude so I joined in (and Val took pictures to prove it). It was actually kind of fun, but I don’t think anyone will mistake me for a good dancer.
After the dancing we had a little more time to wander around and then it was time to go. The Emberas lined up to say goodbye and we took pictures of everyone who had been serving and entertaining us during our visit, and then we were back into the dugouts to go back to the waiting bus. After the hour drive back to Fuerta Amador we were on the tender for our ride back to the ship (it was quite warm and humid when we got back).
Our visit to the Embera village was a wonderful experience; we were able to see a culture, which is much the same as it has been for hundreds of years. There were obviously changes to accommodate the visiting tourists, but we still felt that we had experienced something very unique and authentic.
After arriving back on the ship and cooling off for a bit, we made our way out to the aft deck for the sail-away party. Looking around it seemed there were even more ships lined up than this morning waiting to go into the Canal. After the sail-away, we relaxed until dinner time when, as usual, we went to the MIX Lounge and were entertained by Chris and then dinner and the casino before calling it a night.
|As the sun goes down, there are even more ships lined up for passage through the canal.|
The next two days are sea days, which are always nice. After the sea days we will be spending four days in Peru. The first day will be in Trujillo, and then our ship will sail south and dock for three days in Lima. While the ship is docked in Lima Val and I will use that time to fly to Cusco, take the train on to Machu Picchu, and fly back to Lima to board the ship again.