Journey to Panama: Part IV

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A sound night’s sleep revived us and gave us the energy to start out the day as English teachers. We met Marco outside the school at 7:00am and he assigned us each a class to teach. The children anxiously jumped at the opportunity to learn from native speakers.  By the end of the hour, the students had mastered the “good mornings,” “thank yous,” and “goodbyes.” Throughout the rest of our stay in Sambú, the students would greet us in English on the street just as they had in the classroom, “gut easevenings!”

After class, we ran back to the guesthouse and gathered equipment for our trek with Juan Loco. Bows, arrows, and fishing poles made of caña blanca, a plant that resembles bamboo, were our tools. With our arms full, we carefully walked down the muddy riverbank to the canoe. Though the mud from the banks of the Sambú devoured our boots, Juan Loco’s swollen bare feet kept him aloft on the clay. His 70-year-old wife, Otelia, joined us on the trek as well, and her pace was just as quick.

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Journey to Panama: Part III

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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.
31970016.JPGThe 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.

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