Panama City – Sambu, Friday 31st January 2003

Embera Children, Southern Panama


A posh cab waiting outside the Malparaiso charged more but I wanted the standard rate. It is not looking good at the airport: a two hour delay that turned into a four hour delay. I bought a few sweets, which were handy for giving out to indigenous Embera children. We eventually took off for a 45-minute flight following the coast then turning deep into Panamanian jungle.

The contact Ricardo Cabrera was not in town so I talked to locals. In answer to how good is your Spanish, perhaps the correct response should be enough to fly into an isolated jungle, drink with locals and enjoy the Embera culture while cruising the Sambu River in a dugout canoe. After a few beers, I had a quick walk around and a couple of hour’s trip on the river where I saw hardy children swimming. The water level was low in parts so extra use of the oar was required. My position was stable. We relaxed on the bank with sounds of the forest and visited a family on the way back – and pigs, chickens, and a cat before picking up an extra passenger. An authentic experience, cheaper and more interesting there compared to paying £150 a day for a fully organised guided tour. Tokio accompanied me, and the mute local bloke helped and he felt comfortable enough with my Spanish so things were looking good. I am writing this from a wooden hut somewhere in this village. It was a contrast yes, but a lower level of quality is sustainable where the cultural experience is so real. It is probably the most isolated place I have stayed in to date, accessible only by boat and air and nice to experience some real jungle and know what real nature is all about. I am continuously improving my vocabulary and building on sentences I hear. It does help reading the subtitles on the American films, finding out which words are similar. I even picked up the word “unico” from an advert somewhere. It is warm and I am using plenty of insect repellent. It does not really matter if I do not sleep or eat well. I am happy to be here. The room has bamboo walls and even has electricity for a fluorescent light! I just agreed to have dinner at Tokio’s home – should be great, at around 8.00pm. He came in with his baby son on his shoulder. The bed is hard, flat and acceptable. Chewing gum is comforting. It is great to take a digital picture with flash, as I normally have no flash for my SLR. The background noise is of insects and Latin music, lots of accordion in the music mix and pretty noisy for the Panamanian rainforest. Although I was feeling pessimistic this morning, I believe this has been a success, probably better than an extended organised tour. Who needs cable TV? Geckos are hunting flies on the ceiling. I ate a meal of fish and plantain at Tokio’s house – first floor up wooden stairs, on stilts, and sat in large armchair; baseball on TV with snowy picture, his baby is called “Munchie”, three daughters, a high thatched roof, and wife relaxing on a hammock. I quickly visited the fiesta: a couple of blokes were sleeping on the ground and bench due to beer. I must remember to send the photos (preferably printed on paper) to Senior Tokio, Sambu, in the Darien, Panama.

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