Central America | Panama – Heart of the Comarca
Heart of the Comarca, is what they call Kankintu. The only way to arrive is as we did, hiking over the mountains, or 6 hours by boat from the Carribean port Chiriqui Grande. Two hours across the Chiriqui Grande bay, and up the Rio Cricamola for 4 hours, thru thick heart of darkness-like jungle, and all of a sudden, you are in a city! In the middle of nowhere! A Ngabe metropolis.
Kankintu has around 2000 people, 40 teachers, huge health center, and a generator for electricity at night. I couldn’t believe it when I saw powerlines! But this is the part that amazes everyone: sidewalks! It was almost enought to make you forget you were in the Comarca, except of course, for the sea of Ngabe faces surrounding you. Kankintu is so big it even has different named neighborhoods, or barrios. The barrios I got to see were Alemania, Michigan, and Dos Mujeres. I dont know where they got the names. Rebecca lives in Dos Mujeres. So altho it is so big it is not representative of any Ngabe town, it is definately the heart of this whole side Comarca.
We celebrated by having a huge lunch of jonnie cakes. These are dense, flat, round pieces of bread, delicious! They only make them on the Bocas side. I wish they made them in Chami. So we had jonnie cake and tuna sandwiches, and layed around in hammocks recovering from the hike.
Later, Rebecca showed us around. She took us to her friends’ houses, the school, health center, the river where we would catch a boat out (and this is where we bathed and washed our sweaty clothes). And we went into a Nutrehogar, the government/Catholic church funded nutrition center, that has a rehabilitation center for babies. So we went into the building, dim, because the electricity is only on at night. There was a whole row of ten cute babies in high chairs being fed! It was so cute, I almost wanted to take a picture. Then my eyes adjusted to the light and I could see the babies clearly- they either were so skinny their bones were sticking thru their skin, or malnourished so that their bellies were huge and swollen with worms. It was such a sad sight. It made me feel guilty for being born into a position where one could go for 4 day long hikes just for fun.
Later that night, we had more jonnie cakes and played cards around Rebecca’s table by headlamp. She doesnt have electricity. The town doesnt have running water either, and the water table is too high for pit latrines. Lots of organizations are working here on composting latrines. But Rebecca uses the bucket system. She has a nice seat built over a 10 gallon bucket. Pee just goes into the ground where it is soaked up (its sterile), and solid waste goes in the bucket! However, then you cover it with ashes and dirt, from another bucket, and its totally covered up, no smell, no flies, nothing. Its actually much cleaner than any pit latrine. When its full, its dumped into a compost pile, everything carefully covered with ashes and dirt so the surface is all dry, and in six months, you have compost for plants! Its very efficient, as long as you are very careful.
The boats leave Kankintu at six in the morning. So it was an early night, and early morning to be at the Rio Cricamola to catch a lancha, a long, hollowed out tree trunk, with a motor on back. We said goodbye to Rebecca and the Heart of the Comarca, and were off downriver as the sun rose.
However, the river was so dry (its the dry season on the Carribean side, the opposite of the Pacific, where I live) we promptly had to get out and walk along shore for 20 mintues until it got deeper. A few more times, we had to get out and wade and push the boat. In their rainy season, they say the river is huge and scary, there are big rapids the lanchas actually have to navigate, going upstream and down! After about three hours, we arrived at a little rundown shack on stilts over the river. We stopped there for a few containers of gas, and a gross breakfast of fried fish and bad coffee. But I was hungry.
Back in the boat, few minutes later we reached the mouth of the Rio Cricamola, we were at the ocean! It was another couple hours across the bay, to Chiriqui Grande. Thats where the rest of us said goodbye and went our seperate ways. I was going to back to the Pacific side, so I caught a taxi to the gas station where you catch buses, then a two and a half hour bus ride over the mountains to David. The next day, back to Chami, to tell my friends there about the hike.