Monday, January 6, 2014

Native Life Up the Crooked River

We left the Rio Sambu this morning at sunrise.  Had a gorgeous run down the river with the sun rising over the trees.  It was so peaceful with only the sounds of birds chirping and water flowing.

This was our third trip to the Darien region.  This time we brought 5 other friend boats with us on the "Darien Rally".  We returned to our favorite village, La Chunga that is an Embera village.  They live very traditionally, no roads, minimal electricity, no Claro dishes, etc.  They grow most of their own food, make their art from locally grown materials, build their own houses form materials grown in the local area, cook over open fires, etc.  It's all very impressive.  They are a hard working people.  They also seem to have excesses despite their daily manual labor.  They are able to sell us eggs and bananas, and gift us coconuts and papayas, etc.  They have time each day that we are there to visit, both in town and out at the boat.  Often they walk us down a mile long trail back to the boat from town.  So they are not burdened with work or effort despite their limited use of machines.

The other beauty in their society is that they appear to have fewer stresses.  They certainly don't have the material goods that we have, but they have some; pots, pans, clothes, toys, etc.  When you have material goods, you worry about protecting them, taking care of them, charging the electronics, getting newer/better ones, etc.  They don't have these worries.  They don't worry about accidentally leaving their cell phone or keys somewhere (by the way no doors = no keys) and someone taking them, about dropping and cracking their iPad screens, about having the latest iPhone and keeping up with someone else who has something better or more, etc.  There is no dependence on electricity, Internet and technology.  You miss some things, but you gain others.  They have free time to be spontaneous.  They appear to accept each other, there certainly appears to be no judgment about the "haves and have-nots".

They seem to look out for each other, make sure that everyone is taken care of, and share food when they have excess.  Obviously there is no refrigeration (I can relate!).  A guy came into town with a nice bundle of fish he caught.  Later that day I saw a girl carrying a bowl with some of the fish to another house.  Of course they are unique, some do the Jagwa (tattoo art), some do the dances, some cook the food, almost all the women make the Canasta (woven plates and bowls to sell), and some seem to lay low when we are there.

Upon arrival we were greeted by the male leaders of the community who had gotten word we were there and came out to the dock (a mile walk, then another mile on the boardwalk).  We picked them up, brought them out to the boat, invited the members from the other boats, and had "negotiations."  They asked what we wanted - dance, music, sugarcane press, etc. and we laid out a great day of entertainment.  It worked out to $30 per couple basically for music, dance, sugarcane press, then a traditional dinner (rice, beans, chicken, and coconut milk).  It also covered the fee for the Didigente up the river (chief of the region).  It was really a great price considering a day in Vegas, LA, or anything else trying to "see the city".

Just as negotiated, there was a wonderful presentation, greeted at the bridge with music, a dance which brought in the audience members, then a treat of fresh pressed sugar cane juice.  We had a little downtime, so we took the kids to the "pool", a little eddy in the river, which was a swim hole for the locals, especially the kids.  Very refreshing!!  Cool river water.  The kids jump from a hillside way up on the side, maybe 15 feet?  After some building up to it, Integrity was in just like a local kid, right off the top!  From the swim hole, we went back to the "community center" for the dinner.

We had many impromptu hosting parties on our boat, took the local kids for dinghy rides and rides on the towable.  They tried out our kayaks and went to visit the other boats in the fleet, at one point abandoning one of the kids on another boat. They tried the fishing gear to no avail.  We served many dishes of popcorn.

Loyal found and captured an awesome Huck Finn log raft.  It was 5 logs rafted up together.  The fronts and backs were cut with machete into a semi-pointed shape.  The fronts had a notch with a piece of wood in them.  This piece of wood was held into the raft with wooden "nails" that were driven into the main logs.  I've got pictures, hard to explain, but it was impressive. Apparently these rafts are made quite a ways up river.  They ride them downstream to the main town of Sambu, and then discard them.  I can't imagine this much work as a disposable raft!  I also am not sure how they get home?  We got extensive use out of the raft!  The kids rode it; Courage took it up the river to the town.  Heather and I paddled it back out to the boat from town.  That sure took some work, both to push and to steer.  But we made it.  We were losing the left two logs by the time we were done with it.  Guess it wasn't designed for ongoing use?

This trip up the river I think we got more bugged than the last times.  There were mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and probably chiggers too.  We all have lots of red, itchy bumps everywhere and are doing our best not to scratch and let them heal.  Bumps are tolerable, hoping that we don't get anything subsequent like malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever or anything else those pesky mosquitoes carry; so far, so good.  We had bug screens on our windows and doors as well as over the kid's beds as a secondary protection.  We used bug sprays as well as the thiamine patch.  All with limited benefits.  Imagine if we hadn't done all that!

We bought the village out of eggs almost every time we went to town with each of the boats wanting eggs.  On our final trip we bought 45 eggs, all they had, we had been given bundles of bananas and coconuts and a papaya.  We were restocked for a few days at least!

We headed back down the river early one morning and made a direct passage over the mud flats and back to the Perlas Islands.  We celebrated Integrity's birthday the day after we returned.  He told me that he didn't want it to be his birthday until his friend Isobel arrived.  She was with us in the Darien and returned to the Perlas the day after we did (on his birthday), so that evening we had his birthday party.  We made pizzas, swam and kayaked at the shore, played some games, and then someone spotted a turtle swimming by the boat.  We all ran out to see it.  Courage noticed it had ropes hanging from it.  We went to help it.  When Courage and Bill and a gaggle of kids arrived in the dinghy they found the ropes to be wrapped many times around its neck as well as a fin.  They'd been there a long time, his neck was swollen and his skin mottled.  They brought it back to the boat, gathered more sharp tools, and then used a spatula to pass under the ropes to protect the raw skin when they were cutting.  Finally they freed him from a large wad of ropes!!  They let him go and he rapidly swam away, popping up 20 feet away and looking back, then off he went.  He must have felt sooo free!!  Yeah turtle!!  We got some pictures, that'll be a memorable experience for us for a while!

We will be out another day or so, then head back to Panama City to have our meetings for our long stay visas in French Polynesia, resupply for another month, hopefully get our tarp cover for our cockpit installed, drop of Cassidy and Grandmother for a trip to the states, then head back out again.