My husband, two friends, and I set off for a day trip adventure in Chiriqui Grande, a town on the Caribbean Sea in Panama. We drove the two hours from our home in Boquete to visit a remote Indigenous village, Man Creek, only accessible by boat.
There, we hired a local guide to take us via boat through the Caribbean Sea to Man Creek to explore how the Ngöbe–Buglé indigenous Indian tribe live. The boat ride took 30 minutes. (coordinates are Lat 8.93333 and Long -82.05) Little did I know that our day would be forever etched in my heart from the amazing experiences I had.
On Our Way to Man Creek in Chiriqui Grande
The four of us started our drive dodging potholes along the Panamanian roads and making our way through the dangerous 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 where the weather turns very gloomy, dark, and winds can range 40-65 mph easily.
Descending Devil’s Ear, we came to a hydroelectric water plant. 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. The clouds lifted from the mountains and palm trees snuck into sight. Colorful plants lined the road and the temperature heated up 10-15 degrees. We passed beautiful waterfalls.
Luck was in our favor when we saw a sloth climbing along a utility line, backward and upside down. We pulled over, 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. There were literally hundreds of Panamanian Brahman cows lounging and enjoying the sunshine.
Arrival in Chiriqui Grande
We arrived in the town of Chiriqui Grande and secured a parking place. The town had several stores, mostly ones that provide the indigenous with their living supplies. There was a restaurant, 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 boat transportation back to their homes. The children were dirty, but regardless, they were beautiful and sweet.
My Spanish speaking friend, Delia, 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 waterway, 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. The houses were mostly concrete and 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 landscape was dotted with tropical trees, colorful birds, and indigenous ladies standing in the creek washing their clothing. I watched in astonishment 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 about the motorboat. My husband and I often bring stuffed animals, Barbie dolls, and other toys from the US to pass out to the indigenous children, most of them who have no toys at all. Edy pulled our boat over on the bank and all of the kids ran lickity split down to see us.
The Sweet Children of Man Creek
An older girl came running from the house carrying a chubby naked baby boy, bouncing him all over the place to get in on the action. The children were smiling and happy to receive some trinkets and snacks. It pleased us to no end that the families were so excited to see us and accepted 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 Panama, a country that is so appreciative. Of course, there were many more details about our visit, but they were so special that I wanted to keep them stored in my heart.
A Day Filled With Love
We explored a bit more then turned around and headed for shore. Though the ride was bumpy, we felt safe with Edy’s skill level and driving. Back at Edy’s house, her family had prepared a lovely table on the porch for our dinner. The table was complete with a tablecloth and ice cold beer.
The food arrived consisting of fresh fried red snapper, rice, and veggies. My friend Delia was salivating over the delicious looking plate. When she took her first bite, her eyes literally rolled in her head at how wonderful it was. I had opted for a vegetarian meal.
My plate contained rice with lentils and guandas, patacones (fried green plantains), and hojaldras (fried Panamanian bread). They were delicious! We encouraged Edy to join us and soon the whole family was sharing their home and stories with us. We will be forever friends.
One Single Day Etched in my Mind
The day I spent in Man Creek, Panama was filled with many emotions & sites that I will cherish forever. I am grateful to have been received by these indigenous people with wonder and acceptance.
There are many places just like this all over Panama. I hope to explore them all and fill my soul with more special experiences like this one.