I arrive in Boca Guariviara on a misty gray day in mid-September.
The weathered fiberglass boat slows to a stop at a long wooden dock against the shore of a wide chocolate painted river. The muck from the shoreline lets off a distinct smell of rotting plant material that forces my nose into a cringe.
Looking towards my local guide he indicates this is our destination and I begin fumbling to collect my various bags. I am 1 hour from the nearest road, some thousands of miles from home, and into the largest Indian reservation in Panama. The Comarca Ngabe-Bugle.
Once I’d gotten my bags out of the boat and onto the narrow wooden planked walkway of a dock, I turn up to look at the adjacent house. A half dozen round blank faces with deep almond eyes observe my every breath and gesture. Instinctual as the animals of the jungle they gauge my position of body, direction of gaze, and edge of voice. Not a word is spoken while they fluently communicate between themselves.
Unsure of what to do next, I gather my life’s possessions up and into the large palm roofed wooden house following my guide. The house is tall and airy, with only half walls around the outside forming a railing. Inside there are various wooden tables where fellow water taxi riders may sit and refresh themselves with a cold soda and plate of freshly prepared catch-of-the-day.
I take a seat at an empty table and await further instructions. After several minutes the boat taxi pulls off, heading farther upriver to other more remote and unpaved communities. Left alone at the table in silence the time crawls and the loneliness pricks my side. I pull out my phone to check cell coverage..Nothing. The humidity is rising as the clouds desperately wish to bust.
Word of my recent arrival has spread like wildfire but as silently as a candle. Several young boys some 6 years old hanging from the outside of the house eye me suspiciously. They’ve never seen someone with blue eyes before, and much less a fully grown white human in their house. They’re shy to talk aloud and giggle between themselves.
A young woman walks out from the kitchen area of the house with a plate of food and sets it in front of me. Eat, she instructs me while gesturing at the plate. The fare is simple but filling. A portion of rice, a pair of boiled unripened bananas, and a small hunk of fried fish. I clear the plate and feel better almost immediately.
The grey sky has broken and a fine misting rain falls, cutting the humidity to a bearable level. I start to look around and familiarize myself with the mysterious new place I will call home for the next two years. I don’t yet realize how much the place will reshape my mind and open up my heart, but I feel it coming.
I feel a great challenge and transformation brushing on the tips of my psyche.
This is real.