My friends in Boquete had been telling me about a unique adventure we could have in Chiriqui Grande, a town on the Caribbean Sea in the province of Bocas del Toro, Panama. There we could see a remote Indigenous village only accessible by boat in a location called Man Creek. My husband and I, along with the two friends, set out on a journey two hours from our home in the mountains of Boquete, driving through many climate changes, to reach our destination. We hired a private guide to take us by boat through Man Creek to explore how the indigenous Indians, the Ngöbe–Buglé Comarca tribe, live in that particular part of Panama. Little did I know that my day would be forever etched in my heart from all the beautiful and amazing experiences I had.
We started our drive dodging potholes in the roads and making our way through the dangerous and snaky curves up and down mountainsides. We came to the top of a mountain, referred to as Devil’s Ear, where the wind whips so fast it could knock you down. This is slightly past the Continental Divide and the weather turns very gloomy, dark, and winds can range 40-65 mph easily.
Descending the mountain, we came to a hydroelectric water plant and once we had crossed the bridge, admiring the beautiful river below and the deepest mountains in the back and foregrounds, we visibly noticed the difference in the weather. As we entered the Caribbean side of Panama, the sun poked its head out and things were brighter and clouds lifted from the mountains. Palm trees snuck into sight, colorful plants lined the roads, and the temperature heated up 10-15 degrees.
Along the drive, we passed beautiful waterfalls. We lucked out and saw a sloth climbing the telephone lines, backwards and upside down, and were mesmerized by this cool creature and his sluggish, monotonous behavior. Next came the water buffalos, smaller than the ones in the US, grazing through the fields with white birds by their sides. We saw hundreds of Panamanian Brahman cows lounging and enjoying the sunshine.
We arrived in the town of Chiriqui Grande in Bocas del Toro and secured a parking place. The town has several stores, mostly that provide the indigenous with their living supplies, which are delivered by boat to their homes. There was a restaurant, a hotel, an Indian bar, and some food/supply stores as well as variety stores which are typical in Panama. The roads were muddy and in poor shape. Dogs wandered the streets, but none appeared to be hungry. The indigenous Indian families gathered their goods and waited for transportation. The indigenous children were dirty, unlike the ones in Boquete who are always clean and well dressed, but regardless, they were beautiful and sweet.
My Spanish speaking friend talked with a local man, Chirro Valencia, about taking us up to Man Creek to see where the indigenous reside. They negotiated a fee and the man even offered to prepare a local fish lunch for us when we got back. His daughter, Edy, a college student in David, and her younger brother took us through the ocean and across a sandbar to the beginning of Man Creek.
We trolled along the water way, gazing at the families, animals, and beauty we encountered along the way. For us, it was most interesting seeing how different the indigenous live in this area of Panama as opposed to Boquete where we are located. The houses are mostly concrete and very open with many family members living in the same household. There is no electricity. Several of the homes had big fat pigs, boars, or cows and an occasional dog.
Hand-carved boats made from logs held children as young as 4 or 5, and they rowed themselves along the creek. The scene was that the landscape was dotted with tropical trees, colorful birds were chirping loudly, indigenous women were in the creek washing their families clothes, and I was totally mesmerized witnessing this simple and most amazing way to live. These people have nothing, comparatively speaking, yet they seem so happy and content. It was magical.
The best part of our day came when we found several children along the waterfront, probably curious to see who we were coming down their waterway in a motorboat. We often bring stuffed animals, Barbie dolls, and other toys from the US to pass out to the kids, most of them who have no toys at all. Edy pulled our boat over on the bank and the kids all ran lickity split down to see us. At one point, an older girl came running from the house carrying a chubby little naked baby boy, bouncing him all over the place to get in on the action. It pleased us to no end that they were so excited to see us and accepting of our gifts. We drove away, myself in tears, and I was once again reminded of the reason I love being a part-time expat in a country that is so appreciative.
We explored a bit more then turned around and headed for shore. The ride was bumpy, we were impressed with Edy’s skill and felt very safe with her driving. We arrived back at her house and they had prepared a lovely table on the porch for our dinner, complete with tablecloth and cold beer. Our food arrived and the meal consisted of the freshest fried red snapper imaginable; my friend Delia was salivating over the delicious looking plate and when she took her first bite, her eyes literally rolled in her head at how wonderful it was. I ordered a vegetarian meal and the rice with lentils and guandos (a luxury food item in Panama), patacones (fried green plantains), and hojaldras (fried Panamanian bread), were delightful. We encouraged Edy to join us and soon the whole family was sharing their home and stories with us. We will be forever friends.
The day I spent in Man Creek was filled with so many emotions and new sites that I will cherish forever. I am grateful to be received by these indigenous people with wonder and acceptance. There are many places just like this all over Panama and I hope to explore them all and fill my soul with more special experiences as this one.
Man Creek is about a 30 minute boat ride from Chiriqui Grande. Its coordinates are Lat 8.93333 and Long -82.05.
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