News for February, 2015

The MET Meet the Guna

By Elliot Blumberg 25 February, 2015

The largest group of outsiders to ever visit the mainland Guna village of Cangandi made its way there this month. A group of 40+ made up of MET students, teachers, and Earth Train team-members hiked over rainforest and abandoned asphalt for a day of back-breaking work, connecting with Guna children through art, a breathtaking dip in the nearby river, and culminating in the renewal of Earth Train’s official agreement of collaboration with the village and local Sahilas.

This visit was part of the Metropolitan School of Panama’s visit to Guna Yala as hosted and coordinated by Earth Train. The crew embarked on a 4-day adventure that exposed them to many facets of Guna Yala - some of which are rarely, if ever, experienced by tourists.

Guna Yala is undeniably beautiful, but signs of climate change marr the landscape and remind us of our impact on the environment. We stayed for three nights on Asserdup, a miniscule Guna island that is showing signs of erosion on the sea-facing side. The nearby Gardí Islands get inundated with floods due to rising sea levels; many communities face a difficult decision of whether or not to move to the mainland. Students discussed climate issues and took part in cleaning the island on which we stayed.

In addition to environmental and biological messages, MET students witnessed some of the most outstanding aspects of Guna culture - the celebration of the Guna revolution in 1925, and a coming-of-age ceremony in full swing, among other things. On the Gardí island we visited, murals of famous Guna leaders of the revolution plastered the walls along with paintings announcing “LONG LIVE KUNA YALA” and “90 YEARS OF FIGHTING.” Children performed dances, played indigenous flutes, and shook maracas. Local students dressed up as colonial police in a dramatic and outlandish reenactment of the cultural and physical oppression that the Guna endured, leading to their revolution. The crew even toured a local museum and learned how to make winni - beaded Guna bracelets.

On the mainland, students saw firsthand the difficulty of living in a remote location. Cangandi is at the top of a precipice with incredible vistas of the valley below, but what they have in beauty, they lack in resources - most notably potable water. The easiest access is to ride a boat through a canal left from American occupation and then hike for over an hour across an abandoned airport tarmac and through the rainforest. Suffice it to say that the village’s location doesn’t lend well to importation. Despite these speed-bumps in logistics, the hospitality could not have been more thorough. In anticipation of the students' arrival, the village prepared dozens of smoked fish and piles of boiled yucca. We enjoyed a bit of Guna singing and spent time with the students coloring, building chairs and preparing classrooms for the upcoming school year. Finally, the kids played in the river, jumping from banks into the deep water.

Some of the most important questions asked on the trip are too complex to answer in a single blog post: as a society, what can we learn from the Guna and vice versa? How do their lives and ours differ? How can the Guna improve their quality of life without sacrificing their indigenous roots? Students pondered this and more as Earth Train staff charged them with finding the answers over the course of their careers and lifetime.

A Different Kind of Carnaval

By Elliot Blumberg 14 February, 2015

Carnaval: a wonderful excuse to take off work, walk or ride downtown, crack open a beer, dance and get sprayed in the chest by a firehose. If you’re a parent or enjoy peace a quiet, it may be the excuse you need to get out of dodge for a few days until the noise and parties blow over.

In any case, we’re sure you won’t be surprised to learn that some Earth Train staff and company enjoyed Carnaval from the gorgeous green perch of Centro Mamoní. It could have been either the gorgeous surroundings, exhilarating hikes or the personal concert from Panama’s incredibly talented Yomira John, but in any case, smiles plastered the faces of everyone there. Check out some of the highlights of our hike to La Madroñita in these photos.

MET Students Savor Nature at Centro Mamoní

By Elliot Blumberg 7 February, 2015

Last week, 34 students from the Metropolitan School of Panama mounted the road from Las Margaritas through the rugged terrain of the Mamoní Valley, landing at Earth Train’s own Centro Mamoní.

As always, biocultural leadership and renewal were front and center in our itinerary. Our drive through the valley gave us an opportunity to survey the borders between barren pastures and primary forest and reminded us of the need for sustainable development and balance between our need for food and the global need for biodiversity. Our trip leaders mirrored this lesson on several hikes, where we saw the separations between primary and secondary forest, took notice of several endemic species, and reminded ourselves that it would be over a century before speciation in the secondary forest on one side of the ridge we hiked reached the same level of the primary forest on the other.

Equal to conservation on our priority list is fun. The students enjoyed a dip in the white water at Junglewood Falls, hikes to pristine mountain waterfalls and workshops that gave them leadership and team-building skills.

Students constructed star domes and boats with bamboo, gaining teamwork experience and a lesson in the properties of natural building materials. They participated in the ancient Embera and Wounaan art of body painting using ingredients from the rainforest and also learned about Centro Mamoní’s closed-loop agricultural system. Some even baked and ate all-natural pop-tarts with ingredients found in the rainforest.

This upcoming week, MET students will explore Guna Yala and learn loads more about biocultural renewal in Panama. Onward and upward, MET!

Restless Creatives Wraps Up

By Elliot Blumberg 2 February, 2015

During the last week of January, a pack of restless creatives followed, accompanied, and sometimes led our Earth Train teammates through the Mamoní Valley along the continental divide for a two-day hiking and kayaking adventure before settling in for two unforgettable nights in Guna Yala. Our guests delighted in the natural splendor that the Mamoní Valley and Guna Yala provide.

To start, we enjoyed a dip at Junglewood Falls, working as a team to remove a fallen tree from the depths of our favorite jumping spots. Nathan trained the newcomers in Kayaking 101, while Lider hung hammocks for a brief jungle respite before the hike and ride up to Centro Mamoní.

Every night we reveled in the tunes from two of our more musical creatives – Juanito Pascual and Richie Barshay. Acoustic guitar strummed by Juanito’s long fingernails and genuine rainforest-made percussion instruments tapped and banged by Richie’s hands and mallets rang through the night at the Comedor.

Our transcontinental kayaking trip took us through Earth Train’s portions of the valley, descending to the Cangandi River to kayak and camping for a night on the river before continuing on to the Guna village of Cangandí. After a meal and introduction to the entire village in the Onmakked Nega, the team hit their hammocks (or tents) for some well-deserved sleep.

The next morning, we ventured from the mainland to the ocean on a boat and landed on the Guna island of Asserdup for some R&R – snorkeling, hammock-lying and beers on the beach.

As if a transcontinental kayaking trip wasn’t enough, the journey wrapped up at Panama City’s famous Biomuseo, where Lider led a tour with part of the museum’s architectural team (and Restless Creative participants!) Anand Devarajan and Patrick Dillon. Princeton University’s a capella team, Shere Khan A Capella, sang with Panama’s own Yomira John. Big shoutout and thanks to all the artists, and a video to come!

The trip saw exhilarated faces and new experiences for our guests and staffers. We absolutely can not wait for round two.

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