A trip to the Panama Canal and beyond travel blog


Lago Alajuela

Tuispond Embera



The trail from the waterfall

Welcoming Embera

The big man of the village

Dug out canone under construction



Healing dance

Head man dancing

The village people (dance)

Big man with mask


Repaired dugout canoe


Up at 7:00 again and breakfast. This time they had cold omelets – maybe a rotation - eggs and all the other stuff. Still not a bad meal. Then back to the room to pack up for the day and this time we got to the lobby before the guide!

We met Alex and packed into the van with eight other people – two young (and tall) guys from Holland, two sisters from Mississippi, and a family from Denmark. We headed out of town and it looked like rain.

We arrived at Calzada Larga on Lago Alajuela – the feeder lake for the canal. At the top of the dock were several houses, one with a bed in the front with a sick person in it that they were taking care of. The lake itself was down about ten feet to feed the new construction. Our transport was a very old dugout canoe run by two men from the Embera – one in the front to give directions and one in the back to run the engine.

The boat itself was really a mess. They had patched where the boat had split with strips of metal. Where the seats were attached we could see water leaking in. The start was not great – the boat got stuck and we all had to move to the back to free it from the mud. As we traversed the lake and the Chagres River the boat continued to leak. One of the Dutch guys started bailing… The lake was quite interesting with any dead trees and grass growing about 15 feet from the shore – the level they had lowered the lake for the new canal.

As we started up the river from the lake we ran into some strong currents and scrapped bottom a couple times, but all in all not a bad trip.

We got to the landing and disembarked near a small stream. We followed it up hill for quite a ways – mostly muddy stuff, crossed the stream a few times, lots of boulders… We eventually arrived at a small waterfall (after passing two or three groups going back down the stream) and most of us got into our suits (ours were under our clothes) and went into the pool. The water was quite cool but refreshing. After about half an hour of swimming and pictures we got dressed again and headed down stream. It was just as muddy and rocky as going up. Luckily, no one fell.

Back at the dugout the crew had cleared out all the water so we headed back down stream to the Embera village. We were greeted by a long line of men and women who all shook hands with us in a big line like a ball game. At the same time a village band of six or seven folks played for us – flute, drum, turtle shell, bamboo, rattles… A very nice welcome. They were all dressed in traditional clothing – the men in loincloth and some with a beaded skirt. The women in colorful wraps and beaded or coin bras. The kids in either a loincloth or nothing.

We made our way to the kitchen and welcoming area. Lunch of fried plantains and tilapia (caught with nets) as well as pineapple, watermelon, and papaya (and bottled water) were passed out, with the fish and plantains in nice banana leaf cups with flowers. The fish was very hot but nicely done.

Once the meal was done the headman told the group about some of the history of the tribe and how the traditional crafts were made. He answered (through Alex the guide translating) some questions about marriage practices (they still practice polygyny but most often the informal kind with mistresses rather than additional wives). They still practice bride service (the husband to be lives with the wife to be’s family for some time before marriage) and their celebrations are not of the marriage but of the construction of a hut for the married couple to live in. I wanted to ask more but the guide moved us on…

We went to the Big Man’s hut which is the communal gathering place for all the local villages (three – about 600 people). It’s also where they perform dances and other ceremonies and celebrations. The women performed two dances – the Healing dance and the Meal dance – both pretty much the same. Then the whole village danced – from the old folks to the youngest kids – all circling to the music of e same group that played when we entered. The last dance was the tourists with the villagers – the head man asked Minna to dance but nobody asked me :(. I finally got up and cut in the head man and danced a bit with Minna. The people seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves in doing all of this.

When the dance was over we had a chance to shop at all the individual family tables – the same crafts as yesterday but in much greater variety. I bought several masks from a variety of tables. The big man told me he made one of the masks – but weaving is women’s work so he may have been exaggerating a bit…

Minna and I got henna tattoos just before we left and we got in a quick picture before getting back into the leaky boats. Many of the villagers lined the banks to bid us farewell. All in all a very nice visit.

The trip back was quite wet – we were sailing into the wind and the waved and wake splashed all of us so by the time we got back to the dock we were all soaked. It had never rained but we got wet anyhow.

We drove back to town through rush hour traffic but it wasn’t bad. Once at the hotel we dried off and headed out for dinner at Jodi’s – a nice place around the corner. We had a couple mojitos, broccoli soup, and sandwiches. They also had karaoke... Then back to the hotel. No plans for tomorrow yet as I have developed a sore throat. Quite an adventurous day!

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