Sunday, October 25, 2009

El Camino Real

In August, myself and Eliecer, several other PCVs, and an Embera guide hiked the Camino Real. The route, stretching from our inland indigenous villages out to the Carribean coast, follows the Spaniards first attempt at land crossing out to the Caribbean. In 1555, they created a primitive push-and-pull railway across this jungle path, to bring the gold and riches from Latin America to the coast for exportation to Spain. Hundreds of years later, that railway has become overgrown and unchartered jungle. Only a few adventure-seeking tourists attempt to follow the railways tracks per year. I’m not quite sure how this self-proclaimed city girl, never having camped before in her life, was somehow finagled into attempting it. I guess I figured I’ve come so far as to live in the jungle, why not camp out there for 4 days…just me, my backpack and some buddies?

My fellow PC hikers and I kicked off our voyage with an Alcohol and Domestic “charla” (PC lingo for rural “chat”) in my community. I used the other volunteers, from a variety of different sites and sectors, as my outside “experts” to approach this very sensitive subject. Unforunetly, alcohol abuse and domestic violence are both are big problems in rural Panama, and especially in indigenous areas. The chat went really well, and was attended by nearly all of my community. I think that our group did an excellent job of intertwining important information with some humorous role play situations, which really held everyone’s attention. And I think it did make a notable difference; last month our tourism cooperative leaders decided to put a hefty fine on anyone caught driving the cooperative-owned motors drunk.

After finishing up that skit, and a nutrition chat in Elena’a site, Embera Puru, we began our long hike. The hike was absolutely unreal. It was a real physical challenge for all of us; we hiked straight uphill the entire first day, and spent the entire second day fording some scarily-flooded rivers. Yet it was so worth it, I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that pristine. From a historical perspective, it’s incredible as well. We followed the old iron tracks for over 2 days of the hike; the railway is now overgrown with massive tree roots, and the old railcars and wheels are half-buried in rivers and streams. The contrast of the railway in otherwise untouched jungle is so intriguing, and written descriptions just can’t describe it. Below are pictures.

Each night of our hike, we set up camp along the side of waterfalls and crystal clear swimming holes. After a day trekking in mud and sweat, we refreshed ourselves in the water and then cooked a big meal together on our little camp stove. On the fourth day, we ended up at the Carribean coast, where we had a huge lunch and copious amounts of Panama beer. Then we stayed a few days at Brandon and Ashley’s site in Nombre de Dios, giving charlas in their school and enjoying the beautiful Carribean. It was Eliecer’s first time to the ocean! Most importantly, the beach time was much needed R&R after being in the jungle for 4 days. We had a great time.

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