Join us on a tour to the Embera Quera Community on the banks of the Gatun River in Panama. Knowing their customs and way of life.
The Embera Quera are an indigenous people of Panama. They live in the jungles and mountains of the Darien province and have a rich culture and tradition. They are known for their beautiful handwoven and beaded baskets. I was lucky to meet them and here I tell you my experience.
You have to cross the Gatun River a bit to get to this native community of Darién, which is totally open to tourism. They do everything to maintain their customs and share them with the world.
Road to the Embera Quera community
The road to the place where we would take the canoe that would take us to the community was surrounded by greenery.
Along the way, the combination of high humidity and strong air conditioning, which was because it was hot, made me start to get cold, but it didn’t end there.
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When I got out of the car and started taking photos “oh no” but what happens to the camera?, it seems as if I was inside a cloud: no, what happened was that the lens fogged up and even if I cleaned it was Impossible, since due to the humidity, it fogged up again. So, oh well, cloud effect photos came out for a while.
We arrived at the Gatun River and got into the pirogue and there we were received by some friendly Emberá, I started speaking with one of them and when I told him that I came from Mexico, he mentioned to me that he had a friend from there, from Guadalajara to be more exact.
Then we ended up talking about the spicy food, about the banana fields that we see as we pass by, about the birds, and so time passes quickly until we get to his house.
What is a pirogue? It is a long and narrow boat, larger than the canoe. Made of one piece with board or cane borders, typical of the indigenous people of America and Oceania.
And just before arriving, we met another boat belonging to a group of tourists, who stopped in front of some trees from which some friendly monkeys came out, curious to see what was there.
Our pirogue didn’t get too close, but it wasn’t necessary, when it stopped for a moment I was able to enjoy watching the little animals come and go when they saw that there was nothing for them.
Arriving with the Embera Quera
When I arrive carefully, I get out of the pirogue and I see before me a totally green place with some buildings that have a cone-shaped roof that reminded me of the palapas that can be seen in my country. Upon arrival, we are greeted on one side by the men playing music on one side and on the other by the women waving. The funniest thing is that just after the group that we had seen just before arrived, and I could see the reception of the visitors from the opposite angle than I had had it a moment before.
When all the visitors arrived, they took us to the main hall where the community leader explains that they are from Darién, but that they had to move for a long time due to the guerrilla problems and other sadness that exists there. They explain to us that tourism is the mainstay of the community. I am struck by how young the leader is, but he seems very sure of himself as he speaks.
After the informative talk, the Emberá boys got ready to put temporary tattoos on anyone who wanted. I was going to do it later, but eventually, it was not possible, because of what I’ll tell you at the end of the story.
I have to admit that, although I had previously seen it in photos, their way of dressing caught my attention. It’s normal since it’s different from mine and when I saw them that they were so comfortable I couldn’t stop marveling at the cultural differences that exist in this world and that despite all that we are all the same: human beings living life.
The visit with the Embera Quera
A man from the community takes me on a tour to explain to me how they use the medicinal plants that grow in the surroundings, he also told me that they have some rooms built especially for the people who stay in the community. In other words, there is the possibility of sleeping there. We walked for a long time and, as expected, I couldn’t stop sweating, so when we got to the little school it was a relief.
They explained to me that there is a school in the community that covers up to the elementary level, to continue their studies the boys have to go to the nearby cities in the same way as we arrived: by canoe. There is no other way. In fact, that day the classes had started later than usual, since the teacher who comes from a nearby city had a delay due to the weather. It was curious to see all the children, of different ages, very attentive to the teacher who explained to them about mixed numbers (and look, even though I am an engineer when I was in elementary school I hated those mathematical operations).
On the way back I found a nice pencil sharpener on the lawn, probably one of the children had lost it, I gave it to my companion to take it to the teacher, it was very nice to have it in my hand, with its shape of sweetheart, I felt like I was back in elementary school again.
Coming back from school, I had the opportunity to talk for a while with various members of the community. With the leader, I was impressed to learn that in addition to having a position in the community that has to occupy him a lot, he has studied in tourism. When he told me, the first thing that came to my mind was: “you couldn’t have chosen a better career being where you are” since he uses that leadership plus the knowledge he has to promote the cultural value they have, which is great.
Later I stayed speaking with one of the girls from the community who was already several months pregnant and her belly was protruding from the pareo she was wearing. Then I talked to a family and the father, who looked very young, told me that he had not continued his studies (I do not remember whether he had finished high school or not, but the fact is that he did not continue) and we talked about having to prepare.
I told him that in Mexico it is difficult, since we study for a degree, but from there to find a job it is difficult, he notified me that he had committed to continue studying to help the community (will he study tourism too?)
My new friend: the Embera toucan
I couldn’t help it, it was love at first sight. Only, it was a very slippery model, since it came and went from one side to the other. When it finally decided to stay still (that is, when it felt like it) I got ready to eat it with my lens, oh, it’s beautiful!
This is another strong point in terms of community subsistence: handicrafts. Part of their income comes from visits and part from the purchases made by those visits. And the options are very varied: there are from masks, hair items, earrings, decorative things. All full of color. It’s like taking a piece of Panama with you.
One of the handicrafts that I liked the most were the decorative objects made from the tagua seed. This seed is known as vegetable ivory, and the carving of the forms is done entirely manually. I could see forms of toucan, hummingbird, flowers, among others.
Delicious food and hasty farewell
Normally, the food would follow, and then we would see a small dance performed by the community for all the visitors, but it could not be, since when I began to taste my delicious fish with patacon the clouds began to get dark. Ah, but let me enjoy my fish, it was GREAT. And it had a piece of green lemon, one of those that grow right in the community that he had seen on the initial tour.
The best thing was to leave after eating because if it started to rain hard, we would have to wait and who knows for how long. The group that was making the visit stayed there.
And said and done, when I was in the pirogue I already felt some rain, but little and as soon as I stepped foot in the car: a huge downpour began to fall. Phew, we are saved!
And so, my experience with the Embera Quera Community ended, to whom I thank for having received me and for continuing to be as they are, although the world becomes increasingly global and uniform.
If you want to book a tour with an Embera community (not necessarily Quera), check out this tour
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