The locks and canal were fantastic! We also decided to make a day trip through the rain forest, take a tour of Gatun Lake and stop briefly in the Embera Indigenous Village to see traditional Embera songs, culture and of course buy their beautiful local crafts.
The cruise line requires you to utilize their tours as trying to plan private tours can be difficult due to the entry and exit times into the Canal are not precise. One of the reasons we generally steer clear of cruise tours is the crowds. Though the company claims the tour is 24-40 people, they leave out the part that there are 6-10 buses. Some sites are so flooded with Princess tourists that it is difficult to enjoy. In this case, we didn’t have an option unless we wanted to stay on the ship all day — and that wasn’t going to happen! We lucked out that our tour had 38 people and no extra buses, so it was not as crowded.
As we traveled towards Gatun lake, we first went by the new locks that were completed in 2016. With modernized equipment and the ability to recycle the water used for transiting the ships, the new locks are more efficient. The new locks were designed for longer and wider ships, and only ships that cannot fit in the original locks are permitted to utilize the new system. Unfortunately for us, there wasn’t a ship in the new locks when we arrived. We watched an interesting 12 minute video that provided history of the original excavation of the canal as as information on the building of the new locks.
Leaving Agua Clara, the down pour began — such is life in a rain forest covered country! We arrived at a beautiful hotel that once was part of the American base utilized during the period of time that we had military based here. After the downpour slowed a bit, we headed to our boat for the Gatun Lake and Embera Village. The cracking sounds of thunder and huge lightening strikes gave us pause, but we all crawled on the boat joking about who would sit on edges.
Of course rain drives animals inward to find shelter, so other than one lonely little sloth that was clinging to a tree, we didn’t see any wildlife.
Arriving at the Village, we were greeted by drums and flute music and the small tribe of the village which numbers only 55, including the adorable children. The chief explained some of the traditions for craftsmanship, including showing us a teak tree leaf and how you can extract red dye by smashing it between your hands. That was amazing!
The Indigenous people are trying to preserve their culture and way of life in spite of modern encroachment and the fact that their children attend public schools which introduces them to non-cultural lifestyles.
Returning to port, we were greeted by a fun group of minstrels and Panamanian dancers. They were both funny and elegant. It was a great send off from Panama as we head to Limon, Costa Rica.