Two "Panama Wonders" Tours!
By Larry Larsen
Two of the most interesting tours in Panama include the "Eighth Wonder of the World", as they call the Panama Canal, and a visit to one of the Rainforest Jungle Indian
tribes. While staying at the beautiful Gamboa Rainforest Resort, we had the opportunity to do a partial transit of the canal and visit the village of the Embera Indians. Both tours
were offered at the tour desk in the resort lobby and are available from Gamboa Tours at many other locations in the country.
The history of Panama and the Panama Canal are closely tied to Spain, America and Europe. Panama became the crossroads of the world when it became the central point for exploration
and transportation of goods from the New World to Spain. It became free from Spain in 1821 and joined Colombia. In 1849, Panama was once again the focus of attention when gold was
discovered in California.
Going across this narrow isthmus was the fastest way to the Pacific Coast, and this resulted in the first railroad completed in 1855. The
railroad prompted greater thought to the construction of a canal to connect both oceans. The French began the effort, but malaria and
an impossible engineering design to cut a straight canal undermined its success.
Panama declared independence from Colombia in 1903 due to Colombia's unwillingness to
enlist the aid of the U.S. in the canal project. After signing a treaty with the U.S., the canal was redesigned to include a series of locks, which created Lake Gatun. Completed in 1914, the
canal, and Panama's favorable shipping and financial
laws, have made the country a power in world trade. You can learn about the interesting history by visiting the Canal's Visitors Center which is highly
recommended. Half and full day transits through the locks are also offered by Gamboa Tours.
The Embera Indian Village
One of the most interesting tours available for the true adventurer is a visit to the Embera Indian Tribe. We traveled
by van from the Gamboa Resort about one hour before reaching Chagres National Park and the shores of the Chagres River (well upstream
from the resort). We were greeted by our guide for the day, Elio Mecha, and our group boarded a long dugout canoe
(powered by a 40 hp outboard) for the beginning of our experience.
After motoring past a couple of Indian villages, we arrived at the first part of our adventure - a 30-minute trail walk bordering a rocky creek to a beautiful
waterfall. This guided walk is not recommended for some individuals who may have physical difficulties. The rainy weather created slippery, muddy areas for
us, and in general, negotiating a few rocky portages through and across the small river could
prove tricky for some. But at the end of our challenging trek, the beautiful waterfall appeared. Do bring a bathing suit to enjoy it!
We then returned to the dugout and rode to Mecha's village. The Tusipono Embera are one of the few native tribes that still
preserve their lifestyle and tradition. Originally from the eastern part of Panama, these Indians relocated to this area when hunting was no longer allowed in the wildlife preserves where
they had been living. The tribe now welcomes visitors to join them for a day. As if members of their family, we were greeted by the villagers and taken to the main thatched-roof lodge for
lunch. Fresh fried tilapia and fried plantains were offered on typical banana leaf "plates". Wooden carved trays of fresh melon and pineapple were plentiful. We ate our fill.
After lunch, the families celebrated by dancing and having us join them!
When do you ever get the opportunity to dance in the middle of the Central American jungle with an Embera Indian? Afterwards, they
displayed their handicrafts, which are truly unique and different from most. Minute carvings are made from Tagua, a small seed from
several kinds of palms that grow in tropical rainforests. Larger wood carvings are created from rosewood. Baskets are colorful and weaved
in such a way that they are waterproof and actually hold water! Every visitor can leave with a souvenir bought from the original maker.
Those are just a couple of the interesting tours we participated in while visiting Panama and the Gamboa Rainforest Resort recently. There are many other wonders of Panama and
specific tours to visit them. Gamboa Tours offers transfer and tour services to most adventures in the country. They can be reached at (507) 269-1262 or visit their website at
www.gamboatours.com for more information.
Info at a Glance
Direct flights from Miami and Houston to Panama City and you'll need a valid passport and round trip ticket.
While Spanish is the main language, English is widely spoken and the U.S. Dollar is widely used and at par with the local currency called
The Gamboa Rainforest Resort at the Panama Canal can be contacted by phone (877) 800-1690 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or
visit their website at www.gamboaresort.com.
For convenient in-town Panama City accommodations, contact the Intercontinental Miramar Hotel at (507) 206-8888
or visit www.miramarpanama.com