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Panama Intertribal Youth Delegation
Seeks Models for Sustainable Tourism in Ecuador
Copa Airlines Assists in
“Traditional” Indigenous Education


Panama is known as the hub of the Americas and to many as “Heart of the Universe”. For indigenous people, it is an ancient meeting place for continental and global exchange. The InterTribal Youth Program’s Jovenes Intertribal Panama (JIP) “Earth School” project proposed to re-establish traditional ways of education and traveled south to Ecuador to interchange ideas and bring the findings back to Panama.

The goal of the delegation was to seek successful sustainable models of tourism in relation to traditional agriculture, ecology, indigenous culture and the use of traditional foods for improved social health. Ecuador has shared the top two slots with Panama as the “best place to visit, retire and relocate” for many years. It also boasts a strong eco-tourism market and celebrates living indigenous cultures.

Copa Airlines assisted in upholding a cultural tradition of continental exchange. Copa Airlines’s, Vice President, Joe Mohan, took interest in Intertribal Youth’s 2010 inter-continental “Earth School” project which included a series of travel and research in the Americas. The first in the series was research in Ecuador. With courtesy from Copa Airlines, the field study became a reality. “Travel is a privilege for many, and it was a blessing to have Copa share in extending this benefit to indigenous youth”, said ITY Director, Marc Chavez. The delegation was diverse and consisted of youth and young adults representing the Indigenous Comarcas of Kuna Yala, Embera Wounan, and the Afro-Antillean urban area of Panama City. The delegates also represented an educational, cultural non-profit sector and aspiring eco-tourism business.

The comfortable Copa Airlines flight was direct and only lasted an hour and twenty-five minutes. Delegates arrived in Quito in the early afternoon. They were met at the airport by hosts, Pablo Guana Quimbiulco of the Cicay Museo in Cayambe, and Rene Pinanjota the mayor of the Oton community. Both men were indigenous to the area and lived in small towns along Ecuador’s ancient Inca trail. From the airport, we headed directly to the popular colonial historical area of Quito, elevated high in the Andes. Quito is surrounded by volcano peaks and all noted the coolness of the climate. Something else was quite different – the level of city noise - it was significantly lower compared to Panama.


The delegation’s goal to identify traditional foods and new varieties of fruits was satisfied almost instantly. With just steps onto the colonial streets, along the first block, one was met by indigenous vendors selling traditional dried corn, toasted lima beans mixed with ceviche-like sweet onions, baskets of avocadoes (5 for a dollar) and sweet-sweet cherries. As we walked the next block, we noticed an abundance of walk-up juice bars serving 100% fresh juice. These were not mixtures with sugar, but using juicers extracting all pulp, leaving the essential pure juice of alfalfa, carrots, mangoes, oranges, etc. Many bars also served the “Boronjo” (a name our guides pointed out, that is Embera in origin).

Ecuador is also part of the large “Choco” biological corridor that stretches from Panama to Ecuador. The cooridor’s rainforest and Embera people span three countries and touch the Andean indigenous nations to the south. After the quick flight, it felt like the delegation arrived almost instantly, on the opposite side of the Choco Rainforest; as if the group got on a short bus to Chepo and all of a sudden were in Ecuador. It felt good to have wings and swiftly fly to a land that is connected through ancient blood-lines and tradition, joined by a giant rainforest with our Andean neighbors. Within blocks, the group was munching traditional crops and fresh juice with our brothers and sisters to the south.

Continued: Tour Guides

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