Chagres River & The Embera Community

By Aiman Tohid

On Saturday, the 26th, we left early at 7:30 am to the Chagres River National Park and to meet the Embera Community. Manuel, the tour guide was with us today. He is the most well read and well-informed tour guide, I have ever met in my life. We stopped over at El-Rey market to buy school stuff including notebooks, pens and colors for theEmbera community children along with rice and oil, as a gift. It was a long 1hour and 30 minutes long ride to the National Forest. During the long drive, Manuel kept giving us information about the City and the Embera Community aswell. Along our way Manuel showed us the bridge of the Americas known asCentennial or Cantilever bridge, which connects the North and South Americas.We arrived at the River Chagres around 9:30 am. I was amazed to see thebeautiful view of the river and the greenery, when we arrived there. We took a Canoe ride (Cayuka) through the river we go see a Beautiful waterfalls with theForest. The ride was once in a life time experience with that beautiful view. It was a 20 minutes long ride.

Later, we went to meet the Embera Community. We again took the canoe to reach there. The community played welcome music for us.They were all wearing their traditional outfits which is a small cloth covering, with jewelries and stuff. We went to the house of the community leader, whichwas a palm tree hut (Rancho). We helped the local ladies prepare meal for us. They cooked fish with plantains and served them with many fruits. I loved the fish, it was fresh fish that they caught the same day.

Later, the leader of the community spoke to us and gave us information about his community. He told ushow they moved from the Darien forest and now living in the National Park. Hegave us a lot of insights related to Public Health as well. It was interesting to know that as by Panamanian law, all kids have to have education till 9th grade and now Emberra Community is concerned about preserving their culture. There is no school where they live but they send their kids to anothercommunity close by to study. The Community uses traditional medicine for diseases but they also have a biologist who helps with modern medicine. He also told us that Embera women have their own natural methods of contraception. When we were leaving the Forest, it was raining really hard. Our canoes got filled with water and we had to use buckets to empty them. It was the most exciting and different experience I have ever had.