Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Darien Jungle

This morning we were able to sleep in a bit and take our time getting ready for the days events. Instead of the regularly scheduled breakfast in the dining room, we were treated to brunch on the Sun Deck after which we would be briefed on what to expect once we were ashore visiting the village of the Embera.

Before I relate the events of the day let me give you an idea of what we were told. The Embera are a peaceful people living off the lands bounty as well as fishing and hunting. They are approximately 4 hours by motorboat from the closest large town where once a month they would take the goods they craft by hand to sell in the markets. The money made from these ventures would go towards items such as tools and clothing used back home in the village.

Located far from modern towns, they are without most of the conveniences we take for granted, the most basic being electricity. This means after the days work is done they are unable to relax in front of the TV watching American Idol or listening to the kids fighting over who is next on the Xbox. Instead, once darkness comes, everyone goes to bed. Really.

One of the benefits to this cruise is that we are able to visit with these people in their own homes without all the trappings of modern society and see for ourselves just how dependent we have become on technology. Most of which are simple conveniences, yet for some reason or other we have come to think of as necessities.

Another key advantage is that guests on the Pacific Explorer are the only people to visit this village. No other tourist groups come into the area. Very nice if your are tired of quickly shuffling from place to place so the next group can have their 30 minutes of "authentic cultural experience" too.

Our day was to be spent with these peaceful people being entertained with traditional music, dancing, buying crafts and enjoying a truly authentic cultural experience.

After our briefing, we waited our turn for a zodiac ride to shore in the Tucan Lounge. Looking out the windows we were able to see a couple of small canoes come out to meet our ship and saw something I think would give most parents in our overly protective society today a heart attack, Dani and I included. The canoes that came to meet us were being paddled around by children. Kids roughly the same age as my son were happily paddling around our ship as if the ocean were simply the local pool.

Once on shore we were met by the local villagers. A handful of elder males gathered near and started playing music while a couple of the local children walked up to Danielle, grabbed her by the hands and began walking away. They were taking her to show her around the village so I followed behind to get some pictures of Dani and her personal tour.

During the walk we visited the school house, walked by several of the villagers homes and through orchards growing a variety of fruits including bananas and something that looked like an oddly shaped green apple.

We walked around for a half hour or so before everyone began gathering at the largest grass covered shelter we had seen so far. This was apparently built for our use and was to be where the children would perform their dances for us. The Chief welcomed us and we were treated to more music as well.

When the dances were finished, a dozen or so families set up tables and blankets on the ground to show the crafts they had to offer for sale. During the whole cruise, this in my opinion was one of the two best options for getting souvenirs. Partially because of prices, but primarily because it was apparent the items were made here by these people and not brought in from other areas. To me that makes a difference.

The variety was pretty good and we were able to get a nice necklace for my daughter and a cool looking wood spear for my son. They were also giving people henna type tattoos similar to the ones they themselves were decorated with so Dani took them up and had one done.

A bit later the captain and crew played a heated game of soccer with the locals and even won.

The day was pretty interesting and one of the best parts was watching the children. They were very friendly and eager to have their pictures taken. But the best part was watching their reactions as they looked at the pictures on the digital cameras.

This pretty much wraps up our day with the Embera but before we return to the ship I think I should pass along a tip we learned today that may help.

As you know, the landings we have had are pretty much all wet landings. As such, we get out of the zodiac and step directly into the water. While in the boat however, things are pretty dry and people have been in the habit of wearing their cameras around their neck. We have done this ourselves actually but today I decided to put our camera back in the zip lock bag we brought along for this purpose. It is good I did.

The tide had come in while we were on shore and the surf was much stronger and the waves much bigger then when we landed. So this time, as we were going out, the crew and villagers were timing the waves so as to get the zodiac out at just the right time. They had what they thought was the perfect wave but at the last second changed their mind and pulled back. Too late.

The wave that came in went right over the top of us and drenched everything on board. It was pretty hilarious, but if you want to make sure your camera is safe make sure to close it in whatever waterproof contraption you have brought along for all zodiac trips because you just don't know when a rogue wave is going to make an otherwise dry trip into a surprise public bath.

Now it is back to the ship for social hour, daily review and dinner so we can rest up for tomorrow. We are headed to the Panama Canal and I want to be ready.

See you there.

Photos taken with Canon Powershot A570is

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