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Musings of a Travel Alchemist

Finding Never Land

PANAMA | Sunday, 11 May 2014 | Views [258] | Scholarship Entry

Mogue dawned upon my life like an Amazonian elf song in the night. The jungle foliage hung in heavy contours of black and midnight green. The scent of fresh river water, fertile soil, and pulsating vegetation filled my nostrils. The air itself was untamed, electric and alien to my pores. As we approached the riverbank, shadows appeared from amongst the trees, the flicker of torchlight illuminating details of their bearers: a flash of bronzed skin, a tattooed arm, a bare breast.

How in God’s name did I get here?! I thought to myself. One minute I was living in the heart of the New York hustle and bustle, the next I was entrenched in my childhood dream: the sole white girl, hitching a ride upriver in a canoe full of natives through one of the most impenetrable jungles on the planet.

We’d pulled off the muddy, garbage-strewn banks of La Palma an hour before sunset. I took my place near the five Emberá women who had gathered at the front of the fifteen-foot dugout canoe, along with their four children and a mountain of clothes and packaged food, stuffed haphazardly into cheap Chinese shopping bags. Six men huddled in the back, navigating the long commute home through the gulf and up the murky river waters. The women sat frowning in silence, staring ahead, no different than any suburban mother exhausted after a long day of errand running with little ones in tow. The men had separated themselves from us by what seemed an intentionally large gap, and were singing and laughing hysterically as we went, assisted by a bottle of Panamanian rum. A chill ran through my skin as I realized I was living out the adventures I’d played at as a child in the creek behind my father’s house. For twenty years I’d dreamt of the day I would visit indigenous villages and learn about their lives and values! Only in my imaginary games I hadn’t thought to include a bottle of Ron Abuelo, and my idealized natives were stoically conveying to me their ancient secrets, rather than rum-drunk and talking about titties.

I stepped out of the canoe and followed a young boy through the trees. The forest hummed with primordial nightlife. The thick vegetation opened up to a wide clearing, set about with stilted, thatched huts, and fragrant flowers. We made our way to the far end of the village, where my friend and host welcomed me, and showed me to the family sleeping room. I strung my hammock between the support poles and slept like a child who’s finally made it to Never Land.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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