Next up is another, yet larger, Ngöbe community in the Comarca Ngöbe Bugle, Norteño. Norteño is not open to tourists yet, but the community is looking to expand its infrastructure so that tourists can enjoy its refreshing river and jungle hikes. A group from the community is applying for government grants to build latrines and an eco-lodge, and they envision bringing in tourists for river rafting and hikes to waterfalls and local fincas (plantations or ranches). I envision this as a great place to enjoy the landscape and gain an authentic experience in a Ngöbe community.

Comarca Ngobe Bugle, Panama, Bocas del Toro

Enjoying Norteño

Norteño is blessed with some great paths into the interior that most likely originated from the paths from the community to their local fincas. Nelly and I hiked out and passed wild growing plants including some I had never seen before – Pifa (pixbae in English), coffee, cacao, and plantains amongst others. It was a very humid day, so half way up we joined a young lady who was bathing in a swimming hole beneath a series of rapids. The water was quite cold, but it was the kind of cold that you look forward to after hiking in humidity. We also ran into Nelly’s neighbors who were on their way up to their finca to collect pifa. They invited us along, so we trekked out another 40 minutes to check out their farm. The path to their finca was less defined and quite muddy from the morning rain. We hiked along the edge of several farms and got a glimpse into the local sustenance farming. Some also sell their food, like pifa, but a lot of the food is used to feed the families who own and run the farms.

Comarca Ngobe Bugle, Panama, Bocas del Toro


Later that evening, one of the women who makes artisan goods opened up the artisan center so I could take a look at their products. I purchased a larger “chakara” bag that I am sure will be put to great use as a reusable grocery bag at home. Chakara’s are woven by the Ngöbe and are made out of a twine-like material that comes from a native plant.

Nelly and I took a “paseo” (a walk, around the community) and I got a glimpse into a typical evening in Norteño. A boy was getting his haircut from another young man under a tree, an older couple was walking back carrying the day’s harvest from their fields on their back, and a group of children were playing soccer in the dirt outside their home. We stopped by a neighbor’s to see her newborn baby and chatted a bit as the sun set. I bought a bag of pifa from a local boy who couldn’t be more than 7 years old. Peeled and eaten raw with a bit of salt, it tastes starchy, almost potato like. And apparently it has some great health benefits. I’ll take it.

Bocas del Toro, Comarca Ngobe Bugle, Panama

To end the evening, we took a “shower” in a nearby swimming hole that was closer to Nelly’s place. The water was clear and cold, but felt great after the long day. Darkness came quickly, and luckily I had my headlamp to guide us across the riverside rocks and back to Nelly’s place for bed.  There is no electricity in the community, so Norteño is quiet once the sun goes down. Nelly’s computer was fully charged from an afternoon spent in the city, so we treated ourselves to a laptop movie before climbing into bed. A big storm rolled in, and was so loud on the tin roof that we had to get headphones in order to listen to the movie!

The next morning we enjoyed a hearty oatmeal breakfast and walked back out to the bus stop where I had come the day before. I felt energized after my time spent exploring and meeting the Norteño community.

Comarca Ngobe Bugle, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Getting there

I took the bus from Chiriqui Grande to the Norteño bus stop. I’m starting to get the hang of the bus system and was proud to confidently step on and tell the pavo (the bus driver’s assistant who basically manages the bus riders) where I was going. He alerted me when we came to my stop, and I met Nelly, the Norteño Peace Corps Volunteer, at the bus stop. From the bus stop, we walked down a gravel path for 20 minutes until we arrived in the community.