Journey to Panama: Part III
All the darienitas we asked about Sambú said that it was beautiful, renowned Darién-wide for its relaxing pace; the opposite of a bustling town like La Palma. Many in the non-darienita world hold Sambú to a more precarious reputation. It is often explained as a place too raw for foreigners. Most equate it to less of a vacation destination than a contemporary setting for Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The latter group is wrong. Though they may have been correct that the town is an oasis in a hellishly mangled (though strangely beautiful) jungle, Sambú is certainly not too raw… it is just raw enough.
The town is cut in half by a rudimentary runway for the semi-weekly Air Panama flights. The concrete stretch also serves as a decent surface for bicycles, horses, and impromptu soccer games on its off days. Most of the houses in the area are thatched-roof huts built by the Emberá, the local indigenous tribe. Needless to say, there is a stark cultural duality in Sambú.
The Emberá hold tightly to their indigenous heritage. Many of the females walk around without shirts, wearing only the bright, multicolored skirts known as Uhua. Another example can be seen during the evening hours, when the elder women construct a series of fires around their families’ huts in order to keep the evil sprits from entering their homes as the sun sets and they prepare for bed.