That awkward moment when the jungle is actively trying to kill you…

Good morning, America, of both the North and Central varieties! Or anywhere else one reading this may reside. Each day is continuously more exciting than the last, and I can’t believe I’ve been here for almost three weeks. Time is seriously flying. The past week and a half since I last wrote to you has been quite a ride, so, once more, allow me to start at the beginning.

That first hike back into the valley was honestly liberating. Most of us were sporting a bit of a hangover, and you’d think that the three mile up hill hike would just be even worse, but honestly we all just sweat out all of the toxins in our body and once we finally reached Suicide Hill, all of us Kalu Yalans had lost our hangovers and were ready to go. It was a nice surprise.

Because I already gave you the low-down on my living situation (update: my hammock is still awesome), I want to focus on what I’ve been doing. As interns, we have “classes” where our instructors give us interactive lectures on different aspects of our program. Zouheir is awesome and incredibly insightful. I’m really excited to be able to work with him this semester. We kind of started out with a few identification activities to develop a better understanding of what type of worker we are and what types of environments we thrive in (I’m a Competitor and most closely identify with Intrapersonal characteristics). Our talks have a wide variety of topics to help us with both our personal and group projects, such as product development, how to write a project proposal, identifying markets, social entrepreneurship and how that impacts your market and vision, and how to properly develop and write a business plan. I’m so over the moon about how much I’m learning; I don’t know if I can go back to online school for much longer after this.

Speaking of projects, a little update on my personal project! We deemed creating a gallery space within the valley just not feasible during the wet season, unfortunately. However, we still wanted to work with art, and we eventually came to the idea to work with a local artist to come up with a shirt design. Our idea is to repurpose old tee shirts from places like thrift stores to print them instead of ordering them from a distributor, and sell them for x amount of dollars, the artist receiving a cut of that. It’s a tried-and-true business model, a creative way to repurpose something previously used, every shirt will be unique so it will be fun to do, and Josh and I will have the opportunity to get involved in the local art scene of Panama City. We’re really excited to get started on this new project idea and hopefully we can still cater to our original goal of bringing Panamanian art into the valley.

Speaking of projects: pt. 2! This past week, we got a project from Zou in which we need to create a project proposal for Chris, the man who basically handles the water system in our valley by himself, to create a water reservoir in the valley. I love that we’re implementing what we learn during our lecture time into actual activities. It was really challenging at first, but once we gathered the pieces, it really began to come together. We submitted them yesterday to Chris and he’s going to choose one and we will be using that plan to construct the reservoir next week. We gathered a bunch of data and considered the critical information necessary, such as budget, materials, risks, return on investment, and even drafted up a possible schedule to use to ensure that labor hours were equal across the board. I definitely took advantage of my knowledge in Microsoft Office and Excel, and it showed in our project. Everybody’s proposals looked amazing, so I don’t know which one will be chosen, but it was a great learning experience, and that’s what I care about the most.

In order to finish the reservoir proposal and begin on our personal project proposals, we came into the city this week! It was an interesting time getting here. About two thirds of the way down the hike, the dingus in me reared its ugly head. I lost my footing, fell, sprained my left ankle, and completely tore up my right leg. Yes, it hurts a lot, but I’m more upset about the fact that I can’t go out dancing this weekend, to be honest. It was honestly kind of funny, though, because I was walking by myself, and I just sort of sat there for a bit, debating whether to wait for a car to drive by and pick me up or just keep walking. I sat there for about five minutes, realized that I had literally no idea when a car would be coming down the mountain, and didn’t want to wait. Yes, I got up, made sure I could move my ankle, and just kept going until I got to Casa Llena in San Miguel. I casually rolled up with a limp and covered in blood; it was quite a spectacle. And to put icing on the cake, once we got onto public transport to go into the city, the bus kept breaking down so we had to get off and back on the bus about three times before we even reached the city bus station. It was kind of awful, to be honest. But hey, life goes on, I have a compression ankle wrap, and I think my creepy scrapes that slightly resemble claw marks are kind of healing. We will see how this next week goes, but in the mean time, you best believe that the hike is not happening. I am hitching a ride into the valley, or I am not going.

Aside from that nonsense, our place in the city, Casa Hispania, is amazing. Fun fact: it’s actually where the president of Panama used to live. We live in the top floor penthouse. There are no walls to separate the balcony from the rest of the house, so I guess it’s technically outdoors, which I love, since there is no bugs. You can catch a breeze from anywhere in the house, besides the bedrooms and board room, which are air-conditioned. The balcony has this gorgeous view of the park and the Pacific ocean, and there’s plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and bars around us. On the off chance that none of those strike your fancy, you can Uber basically anywhere in Panama City for about two dollars, too, so that works out wonderfully. Also, the interior of the apartment is loaded with really cool art. The building has an elevator too, which definitely appeals to me, given my current physical condition. It’s just an all-around good time, to be honest.

Today is Thursday, the day we go back to the valley, technically. However, we have a long weekend, meaning that we don’t have class tomorrow, so a lot of us are just staying in the city. There’s a lot of really cool stuff going on this weekend, including a Panamanian Oktoberfest that we’re all relatively stoked for. Craft beer is a huge thing in Panama, apparently. Regardless, it’s going to be an awesome weekend, whether I’m drinking beer at a Panamanian beer festival or Netflix and Chilling back at the hostel. Panama is dope, but I’m still pretty chapped about missing Michigan autumn. Also lowkey chapped that no one has sent me any fall pictures yet???? Y’all, I know when those leaves change. I see you in your beanie. SHOW ME THE LEAVES.

Anywho. I’m alive, I’m good, I’m drinking coffee and enjoying the sounds of the city for the first time in a while. Kind of weird to not be waking up to a mountain view these past couple mornings, to be honest. Who knew one would ever get used to that?

 

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Welcome to the Jungle.

What a week, let me tell ya, but I’ll start from the beginning.

The thing about me and traveling is that I freak out until the last second until I leave, and then it’s smooth sailing the second I’m in the car on the way. The last couple days up until I left were nuts in my head; I had a lot of trouble making decisions and freaking out about having enough supplies. I honestly should have just got an Amazon credit card with all the random crap I was buying, and not finding out that I was literally in the jungle until September 1st didn’t exactly help. The second I stepped into the airport, though, the stress disappeared. There’s nothing you can really do at that point, and I constantly remind myself to just roll with it. I had plenty of time at the airports, so that was a nice time to relax and unwind, too. Also, surprisingly good airport coffee in the international terminal in Chicago. There were a couple people on my flight that were also interns, so that was a comfort, too.

When we got to Panama, there were some people from Kalu Yala waiting for us with a sign, plus some more people that had flown in before us. When there was a good group of us, we piled into a van and set out. We all looked ridiculous, running across the parking lot with all of our hiking packs… it was quite the spectacle. I knew immediately just from talking to everyone for the first five minutes that it was going to be an amazing three months. Everyone is wonderful. It was also interesting, driving along and looking at Panama, just because I had never been in the environment before. Major culture shock, honestly. The land was beautiful, but there was also a lot of debris around, and it kind of made me feel like it is good that we’re here. Building a sustainable town from nothing is something fantastic that places like Panama could really learn from.

We stayed the night in San Miguel, a little town about an hour outside of the city where the Education and Health programs are based at. It was fun getting to know a couple people and just hanging out. It was also nice to take advantage of the last bit of wifi we would have all week. I basically passed out as soon as I laid down to go to sleep because traveling all day is EXHAUSTING. Probably nothing compared to the hike, though.

In order to get to the valley, you need to hike three miles, up hill, stupidly steep. Honestly, it was brutal. I felt like I was going to be airlifted out of there. Perseverance always prevails, though, and I eventually didn’t die or had to be airlifted out before I made it to the valley. There was this one point where the uphill stops and the rest is downhill from there (dubbed “Suicide Hill” by previous hikers) and the view is beautiful. However, that’s not to say that we didn’t run into a couple obstacles on our death march, both involving angry cows. The first incident was some cows in the road and a cattle herder trying to get them down the hill. They just kind of stood there until one of them took off, and the other forty followed. So here we are, all walking on a road with six-foot high dirt walls on either side, and people are screaming to get off the road and we just barely are able to climb up and get out of the way before being trampled by a herd of cattle. So that was definitely a time. About twenty minutes later, when we were all about to get a drink at a Gatorade stop that Kalu Yala set up for us hikers, a straggler cow with a guy trying to guide it shows up. The cow sees us, gets pissed, grunts, and charges at us. We all grab our things and get out of the way as quick as possible. One girl had to back up into barbed wire so that she wasn’t run over. It was pretty frightening, to say the least, but the adrenaline rush definitely helped out in powering through for the rest of that hellish hike. When we finally got to the wondrous place that is Kalu Yala, everyone else that was already there was cheering and welcoming us, which made the moment that much more monumental.

The valley is beautiful. The ranchos that we live in have air mattresses up top and hammock space on the bottom. At night, we have bonfires and dance and people twirl fire and play didgeridoos and guitars until we all fall asleep (which is early, as we are all now on the time schedule of the sun, which sets at six). I wake up, and the mountains are right in front of me. The air I breathe is the freshest to ever enter my lungs. It’s truly magical. I roll out of my hammock each morning and can do yoga, listen to some music, meditate, or have compelling conversations with eighty other bright, intelligent minds. The food is unlike anything. I am eating foods that I hate and loving them more than foods that I love. Have you ever had curried fresh pineapple? It’s a party in your mouth. Everything about the valley is inspiring. Before this week, I have never seen a banana tree, and now I’m surrounded by them. The critters, like Wandering Spiders, are a little intimidating, but I’ve yet to fall victim to any of the inhabitants of the valley, so we will just wait and hope for the best on that one.

A very cool thing about Kalu Yala is that each semester, all of the interns get the opportunity to a personal project, aside from all of the other great things that are happening in our programs. It’s cool that we each get to contribute something to the valley that we firmly believe will enrich the institute and be useful and enjoyable to future residents. It was really bugging me, what to do for my own project, but I got to talking with someone in my program, and we’ve decided to collaborate on an art space within the valley. We want to put up some sort of venue for arts, may it be for a gallery or for a music concert. We would also like to put up local Panamanian art along the hiking trails for hikers to enjoy. Art is so important to a culture and a people, and we think that art is essential for the Kalu Yala culture that we are all cultivating together.

Oh my goodness, everyone is so talented. I sit there at breakfast and have wonderful conversations with people about literature and art and science, and the breadth of knowledge that everyone possesses is just breath-taking. Just last night, I was having a drink at a casual bar and someone was explaining hedge funds to me. At all times during the day, as I said, people are playing didgeridoos and guitars. I don’t even know where one would get a didgeridoo. People are creating beautiful art and playing with fire as if it’s cotton candy. There are probably infinite talents that people possess that I don’t even know about. It’s just amazing to me how so many incredible, individual people wound up in the same place.

Also, the hygiene situation is particularly creative. There are showers, and there are toilets, but we have honestly found that bathing in the rio is so much more enjoyable. I mean, if you could shave your legs while watching monkeys jump around in the trees above you, would you? Yes. Yes, you would, because that is awesome. We are also highly encouraged to pee by the plants in our food forest because apparently urine is excellent for foliage growth! So basically we use the toilets when we have a Number Two, but other than that, we mostly just feed our plant friends.

This weekend, after a grueling work week (HA, as if I’m adulting or something…), we took the trip into Panama City! It took that three mile hike, two buses, and an Uber ride, but we finally made it to Luna’s Castle hostel! Hands down, probably the best hostel in the city. Large rooms, amazing location right in the heart of Casco Viejo, one dollar drinks happy hour from nine at night to ten, and included pancakes for breakfast! There was also a guy who lives in Hungary that was in our hostel room, so you can probably gather that this was a happy coincidence for me. We went out to dinner and I got to do my eyebrows for the first time in a week. I finally felt like me again. Honestly, we cleaned up really well for a group of jungle dwellers. The rest of the night began with the dollar drinks at the hostel bar and continued on with lots of boozing and lots of dancing. It was a really eccentric night, and definitely a great bonding experience for everyone. I loved it. Panama City is such an exciting place. Today was mostly just hanging out and getting some work done, which is what I’m doing now, sitting in a beautiful cafe called Casa Sucre, drinking authentic Panamanian coffee and listening to gracefully slow latin music and the traffic outside. Probably less boozing tonight, but I’ll probably fit a few drinks in me to go dancing again; hopefully this coffee acts as an effective pick-me-up. The guy at the counter actually triple-checked to see if I wanted a shot of rum or cognac in it “to feel energize!” No, sir, not that kind of energized… yet.

Anywho, that’s about all for now, so you can let out a breath of relief that the Longest Post Ever is finished. I am alive, and I have never been better. This place is already doing wonders for me. I’ll definitely be making the most of the next eleven weeks here in this extravagant country.

 

Cue the Van Halen song…

Two days from now, I’ll be getting ready for my final night’s sleep in Michigan before I jet off to Panama the following morning. Well, technically I’ll be jetting off to Chicago and then to Panama, but you get the point. Either way, it’s two days from now and I am freaking out. I feel like I have so much I still need to do!  It’s honestly probably just the nerves talking, but you can never be too careful when you’re about to just go to a random country in Central America for three months and live in the rain forest. You know, super casual.

There have been many stress-induced tears, angry airline phone calls, and panicked conversations with financial aid advisers over the past couple weeks. Hopefully I can manage to get all my ducks in a row by Friday, because there’s no telling what kind of internet situation I’ll have when I’m in the valley.

Oh yeah, The Valley. So about this mysterious program that I’m apart of that everyone keeps hearing about but no one really knows what I’m doing. It’s an internship! I’m a business intern with an amazing institute called Kalu Yala. The program changes every year because KY is continuously making progress, but of course I’ll share with y’all what that entails as soon as I have my syllabus for this semester. But to get the gist of it, Kalu Yala is an organization whose mission and purpose is to build a sustainable city in the rain forest with zero emissions, 100% eco-friendly methods of life, and using energy from completely renewable resources. It will be a lot of work getting to the end-point goal, but the ball is moving and Kalu Yala seems to only move forward. I’m so excited to be a part of it this semester.

Actually, it would seem that I’m not the only one excited to be a part of it! SUPER COOL THING RIGHT HERE. Ondi Timoner, a two-time winning Sundance Film Festival genius, and Spike Jonze, a man with many hats in the industry, including, though not limited to, screenwriter, director, and my personal cinematic hero (Did you see the ad video he just did with Kenzo?!), thought that Kalu Yala was a pretty cool dig and wanted to get in on it! These two fantastic humans are joining us this fall in the valley to film a ten-episode mini-series on what exactly we’re doing down there, and throwing it on Viceland this February! More to come on that, I’m sure, and I am personally looking forward to watch this process and internally scream every time I see Spike Jonze… aherm, what????

Anywho. Lots of interesting things in this Life of Dest right now, lemme tell ya. I’m also trying to downsize whatever I’m packing, so here I am, trying to fit three months of things that I may (or may not) need into just a duffel bag and a backpack. It actually is easier than it sounds, but still a great feat for a gal like me. This may be the only time in my life that I’ll be putting comfort over style, so I may as well embrace those Columbia hiking pants, throw on some hiking sandals, and get moving.

Most of all, I think I’m just really looking forward to embracing a new lifestyle that I never would have thought that i could handle. Not once in my life did I seriously consider living in a rain forest, sleeping in a hammock, bathing in a river, doing laundry in a bucket… and yet here I am, about to just jump into this whole thing. I’m glad I’m not alone, here, either; there are ninety other people who are just jumping in on this, too. I guess we’ll see what happens, won’t we?