La Ensenada

A home in La Ensenada perched on a hill.

A home in La Ensenada perched on a hill.

I traveled from Boquete to David where I met up with Erik, the Peace Corps volunteer living in La Ensenada. La Ensenada is a Ngöbe community in the water of a peninsula in the Ngöbe Bugle Comaraca. While it is connected to mainland Panama, it is only accessible by boat and does not have any paved roads or cars in the area. La Ensenada also borders Nidori Beach, a pristine beach with white sand and surfing waves.

The ride

A front row view of our rainy boat ride from Chiriqui Grande to La Ensenada.

A front row view of our rainy boat ride from Chiriqui Grande to La Ensenada.

We woke up bright and early in the morning to catch the 7:45 bus from David to Chiriqui Grande, which allowed us to catch the 11am boat from Chiriqui Grande to La Ensenada. There is only one boat to catch to La Ensenada, so if you miss it, well… they come back again tomorrow!

The bus ride from David to Chiriqui Grande was beautiful as it weaved around the mountains and down to the Caribbean side of Panama. As we got closer, views of the ocean came into view. It was raining for part of the ride which made it seem like more of an adventure and added to the beautiful landscape.

We arrived in Chiriqui Grande in time to do some grocery shopping before catching the boat.

We arrived in Chiriqui Grande in time to do some grocery shopping before catching the boat.

Arriving in Chiriqui grande, we grabbed some groceries at one of the local markets and downed a fried chicken lunch (sadly, pretty typical Panamanian lunch food) before hopping the boat. (We made the boat!) It was a choppy almost 2 hour ride across the Caribbean waters and up to the tip of the peninsula. We were traveling to another part of mainland Panama, but since La Ensenada and the surrounding communities are only accessible by boat, it feels like you are entering an island. Homes and huts sit over the water on stilts, and docks jut out into the water as the entryway into these otherwise secluded communities.

La Ensenada

Some children of La Ensenada come to Erik´s house to redeem their good homework grades for a small prize.

Some children of La Ensenada come to Erik´s house to redeem their good homework grades for a small prize.

A small boy in La Ensenada looks up with big eyes awaiting Erik`s final check before receiving a balloon or bar of soap for his top grade on his homework.

A small boy in La Ensenada looks up with big eyes awaiting Erik`s final check before receiving a balloon or bar of soap for his top grade on his homework.

When we came to our last stop, La Ensenada, children descended upon the boat. Erik was just getting back to the community after a few days away and they were obviously excited to see him. Without saying much, Erik started walking to his home, and the children, all still in their school uniforms, followed along like little ducklings. After setting down his things in his home, he opened up his window and the children all peered in as if looking at a storefront window. They began handing Erik their homework booklets – if they could present a top score on their homework, they get a prize! The children could earn a bar of soap (one of the many which Erik has compiled from what seems like every hotel stay in Panama) or a balloon.

Erik and a local family walk the path towards Nidori beach.

Erik and a local family walk the path towards Nidori beach.

Erik tries to stay dry on our walk to the beach!

Erik tries to stay dry on our walk to the beach!

 

It was lightly raining, but we decided to make the trek across the peninsula to Nidori Beach. I say trek, but it was more like a 20-minute walk. But it was still raining a bit and the path a little muddy.

A view of Nidori Beach taken beneath the trees.

A view of Nidori Beach taken beneath the trees.

Large waves crash on Nidori beach. Surfers, eat your hearts out!

Large waves crash on Nidori beach. Surfers, eat your hearts out!

Of course, it was totally worth the trek. Because of the storm, the waves were loud and forceful along the white sand beach. Erik is the surfer, and I’m still very much a beginner, but he said the waves were “barreling beach break, pre-dominant off shore.” I hope that means something to you surfers. They looked big.

Local men bring in a sea turtle they caught in the Caribbean waters. It will most likely be used for food.

Local men bring in a sea turtle they caught in the Caribbean waters. It will most likely be used for food.

Off in the distance, we also saw a couple men brining in a sea turtle from the water. We walked over, and the animal looked beautiful and sad at the same time. We asked how old they thought the turtle was, and they guessed at least 30 years old. They brought the turtle in for food, a custom for many of the Ngöbe in the community. I couldn’t help but feel sad for the animal. While it’s illegal to catch these endangered animals, the Ngöbe have historically used turtles for food. While I know this topic deserves much more attention, I am no expert on sea turtle conservation. I decided to post this encounter so that people can see this activity still exists in the area despite efforts to prevent turtle hunting.

After walking the beach, we headed back to a relaxing evening reading on Erik’s porch after the long day of traveling. A few neighbors came by to say hi, and I learned that one is currently building an eco-lodge for tourists on the water. He was quick to say that it is still slowly coming along, but the plans include a large wraparound balcony with hammocks. In a place like La Ensenada I imagine it would be a beautiful retreat, a restorative place for surfing or just relaxing.

I found this guy outside the shower.

I found this guy outside the shower.

 

This trip marked a new milestone for me: I spent my first night EVER in a hammock, and it wasn’t difficult at all. Fatigue and a couple glasses of wine may have helped with that.

I captured this sunrise over La Ensenada as I left on the morning boat to Chiriqui Grande.

I captured this sunrise over La Ensenada as I left on the morning boat to Chiriqui Grande.

I woke up the next morning ready to catch the 6am boat, the only boat out for the day. It was then that I captured some of the most picturesque photos of the trip. Still waters, the community quiet, with the sunrise over this remote land. Even pictures can’t do it justice.