Jungle People hit the real world

Greetings, friends! It’s been a wild week, in the best way possible (in stark contrast to my unfortunate beginning of this week’s adventure). After spending the night in Almirante, I was ready to go. I wasn’t sure if the bed that I was sleeping in had bed bugs or not, so I had curled up on top of the covers in as many layers of clothing as I could to protect myself from any possible bites. I was clean when I woke up, so I took that as a good sign! I grabbed my backpack and took to the water taxi port.

Might I just note—Yes, I said “backpack”, for anyone laughing to themselves at home. There is no way that Destiny just took a backpack on a week-long trip. Actually, my friends, that’s exactly what I did. I have realized after being out here for so long with so little that I really don’t need a whole of stuff. My 35L pack has done me just fine all week! I took a couple pairs of shorts, a few shirts, a swim suit, and a sweater, along with my shower stuff and my laptop for the whole week. It all fits quite comfortably. Be amazed.

Also, may I note that this is my week off! I have been on vacation all this week and it has been glorious. Kalu Yala calls it “Inspiration Week”, which is fitting because the idea is to go out and see a bunch places you’ve never seen and do things you haven’t done, but we couldn’t help but look at each other every now and then and, out nowhere, ask one another if they felt inspired. Yes, I know, we are turds.

The water taxi took me to Bocas del Toro (Isla Colón, to be exact), and I arrived around 8am. Things were already looking up. The place was gorgeous, with palm trees and brightly painted buildings right on the water. Exactly what you’d imagine upon hearing the words “tropical island town”. I headed over to Selina’s Hostel, where I was supposed to have slept the previous night, explained my situation, and the girl helped me out with my reservation to change the dates, which was really nice of her. I headed over to have breakfast, and I ran into a bunch of other Kalu Yala interns; it was so nice to see people that I knew. We all talked plans for the day while we ate. A few of the guys in the business program made the executive decision to go to Red Frog Beach, apparently a nice place on a different island, so we all agreed on that one. After about an hour of settling in and changing, we set out on a water taxi to the beach on that beautiful Sunday morning. Right as we were pulling into the dock, I looked over the edge and saw a fleet of jellyfish just floating around, doing the whole water living thing. I kind of freaked out, since I had never seen a jellyfish before and was a little too excited about it. They were so cute!! The driver warned us not to touch the water, and someone offered to pee on anyone who did touch the water; that apparently reverses the sting of a jellyfish. How thoughtful of them to offer their urine.

It was a short hike to the water, and when we saw it, we all picked up the pace pretty quickly. By the time we reached the water, we had kind of just flung our things randomly and were sprinting toward the ocean. The waves were enormous. It felt like jumping into salty bath water, it was amazing. Jumping in and out of the waves was a ridiculous amount of fun for someone who only really knows the frigid mass of ice water that is Lake Michigan. After a good amount of time, we got out, put on some tunes, and got a game of beach volleyball going. Naturally, I was terrible, but I was having too good of a time to care; I think we all were at that point. The afternoon played out like a ridiculously cheesy island movie with no plot and no antagonist; just the ocean, volleyball, excellent food, and delicious drinks on a white beach. After a while, we went back to the hostel and split up into a few different groups for dinner, followed by a long night of drinks and dancing. A perfect way to start off the week.

The following day, we set up an afternoon on a boat. Those who were divers went diving (naturally), and the rest of us went snorkeling and hung out on the roof of our boat. It had a nice sound system, so we switched off the position of DJ periodically. At some point, my glasses fell off the boat and into the water, and one of the divers found them before I even knew that they were gone, which was bizarrely lucky. It was a solid four hours of chilling out, having a few beers, and swimming. Working in a climate that is always 80˚F or hotter year round turns out to be a good thing when you want to do cool things but can’t afford, or don’t have the time, to travel very far.

The next day, a few of us were eating breakfast and talking about what we were all doing for the rest of the week when I was invited to jump on someone’s trip to Costa Rica after I said that I didn’t have anything planned. I said yes, of course, because Costa Rica, and kind of surprised myself by it. I have never been the one to make last minute travel decisions, especially when it comes to going to different countries, and yet there I was, suddenly packing and making sure I had my travel documents for the next day. You find out a lot about yourself when abroad, I guess. Later that day, we went to Starfish Beach (or Playa Estrella, as the signs say), which was just beautiful. I also got to drink a piña colada out of an actual pineapple, so I think I might be able to die happy now. And, yes, there were plenty of starfish.

The next morning, three other girls and I left Bocas for the famous beaches of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. The town was really cute, and it was an incredibly relaxing few days we spent there. On the second day, we rented bikes and biked a little over twenty miles and just beach-hopped. I must say that the most beautiful beach was definitely Punta Uva; if you ever go to the area, you must go to this beach! It was an actual postcard photo. Honestly, most of my life has been a postcard photo since I arrived in Panama, but this was especially! There’s really not a whole lot to say, just a lot of relaxing. Oh, I also got the first sunburn that I have received since arriving in Panama (hashtag rainy season life), so that was exciting, and now I’m extremely tan. I will not fit in when I come back to Michigan in December, I’m tellin’ ya.

On Friday morning, we made our way back over the border to Panama for one more night in Bocas. We physically walked over the Costa Rica-Panama border, which we all thought was kinda cool. The bus ride went by quickly and before we knew it, we were on our water taxi again. Probably the roughest water taxi of all of them, for some reason, because the waves were brutal, and I’m pretty sure my tailbone is bruised now. But it’s fine. I met up with some people at Selina’s, had a couple beers at Happy Hour, ate dinner, and hung out with the ladies I went to Costa Rica with a little longer. The island’s power kept going in and out, which was bizarre, but also funny, because even though the room at Selina’s had no power, their bar bringing the island’s open-mic talent definitely was not out of power. No electricity to play our own music and no way to block out the strange noises coming from the bar downstairs. After a while, I essentially retired for the night, knowing that I had to get up early for the bus back to Panama City.

Which brings us here! Yep, still on the bus, though much more enjoyable this time, and I’m not solo riding. We got on the bus around 8am and it’s about 1:30pm now, so I reckon we still have four or five hours left. Inspiration Week was so good and I’m eternally grateful that I had time to decompress my head from all the work we’re doing. I did do a little work and started typing up the business plan for my personal project to kill some time, but that’s all, I swear! It was a crazy relaxing week and I think we definitely all needed it. I’m sad to leave my sandy white beaches, but I’ll be happy to be back in the valley and with my Kalu Yala fam once more.


When the Worst Case Scenario is the scenario

Remember that time that I said that the next time I wrote, I would be hanging out, carefree in Bocas del Toro? Well AHAHAHAHA no. Do I have a story for y’all.

On Friday, it was Parents Day in the valley, and then everyone was leaving after that to go on Inspiration Week! As a recap, Inspiration Week is basically a week in the middle of the intern program where you, essentially, are kicked out of the valley and forced to go and do something cool in Panama or in a surrounding country. Everyone is going all over, which was basically the point. Sounds dope!!

So after leaving the valley, a few of us make it onto an early bus out of San Miguel when I realize that I do not have my phone on my person. I was mildly freaking out, but I also knew that freaking out wouldn’t change anything, so I stayed chill. Another girl offered to let me send a message to a ton of people to locate my phone. It was found in San Miguel, and someone messaged back that it would be dropped off at the front desk of the Sortis Hotel, where they were staying. This was great news! I’ll have my phone for Inspiration Week! Hooray me! So a few ladies and I grab a few hostel beds at Posada and go buy a bunch of food to make a beautiful dinner and chat with the camera crew, complete with goat cheese spread and sparkling rosé with guava juice. After dinner, I hopped in an Uber (from a friend’s phone) to said Sortis Hotel, feeling confident that I would have my phone back so soon! So I saunter up to the front desk and politely ask for my phone, and they kind of give each other confused looks and said that no one dropped off a phone, and the person who was going to drop it off, looked up by last name of reservation, had checked out that morning. SO I WAS CONFUSED. AND SLIGHTLY CHAPPED. Like, real chapped. I get back to my hostel and find a different group of friends there and we all complained about our awful luck with technology thus far, as most people have had at least one device cash out due to water/humidity damage, which I have been lucky enough to avoid. We all went for a beer, and then I went back to the hostel to sleep off my stress and hopefully be awake early enough to grab a bus to David so that I could get to Bocas as soon as possible.

Naturally, I wake up at six in the morning, as always. I very quietly pack all of my things into my pack and am ready to go by 6:30am. There was still no word on my phone, and I had honestly already given up on it at this point and accepted that it was stolen and I’ll never see it again. RIP Destiny’s iPhone 6s. The lady at the hostel’s front desk said that the whole trip, with my bus to David, another bus to Almirante, and then the water taxi, would be between eight and nine hours, and I had to be there by 6pm, so leaving on the 8am bus was good! I was well on my way. No one else was awake yet, so I just sort of went ahead by myself. Honestly, I love traveling on my own because I feel like a badass when I can figure these things out in languages that I don’t speak in places that I’ve never been. It’s a thrill, truly. I also made a few friends on the way, a small group of backpackers from Canada! They’re going to Bocas later this week, so hopefully I run into them. Anywho. I get on the 8am bus and realize that I forgot my Kindle, and then I realized after that I forgot my notebook with all my project plans, too. A six-hour bus ride with literally nothing to do. I was ready to be laid into the earth at this point. The next six hours would have been unfortunate, if it weren’t for the fact that Panama’s roadwork is strikingly like Michigan’s is, which was made for a terrible EIGHT-HOUR BUS RIDE. Oh, yes, you read that correctly. I was on that damn bus until almost 4pm.

And then, the next leg of the journey, was a (apparently) two-hour bus ride to Almirante from the David station. The station was complete and utter chaos. None of the buses had a city in which I recognized the name. Chinguinola was apparently the bus I get on to get to Bocas, said the security guard, whom I trusted and jumped in the one leaving at 4pm. The guy told me it would $1.45 for the ride, which was awesome. It was similar to the Diablo Rojo buses that we take out of San Miguel into the city, except that it was just a larger sized minivan with twenty people packed in there pretty tightly with Latin pop music with accordions blaring from the speakers. I was the only white person and the only English-speaking person. The children were staring. It was a time. Honestly, it was a gorgeous ride, despite the discomfort. From David to Almirante is a lateral cross of the northern region of Panama, which is really mountainous and teeming with life and lush greenery. The driver of the bus was also going extremely fast, which was a little nerve-wracking and I wished that I had someone to grab onto for an anxiety cushion, but that was a decision I made against when I decided to travel by myself (it’s a learning experience, right?). I felt like I was in a movie, though, just because it was such a bizarre situation that I found myself in with no one else that I knew; I kind of realized how cool it is that I’m out here just living life, running around countries and not giving a rat’s ass about anything but the adventure. I’ve always aspired to be one of those people, but I never thought I’d actually achieve it, and I definitely never thought that I would achieve it at the age of twenty. Anywho. I’m chilling in this cramped bus, and it’s a bit past six, but it’s still light out, and we must almost be there, so maybe there will be another water taxi going out that I can jump on last minute. We stop in this little town, and everyone gets off, and I nearly have a panic attack because this can’t be the last stop. We are surrounded by mountains still. Where is the ocean. I ask the bus driver in broken Spanish if this is a rest stop, and he says the bus will keep going in ten minutes, so I take that as a yes. In ten minutes, sure enough, some people get back on, and we keep truckin’ along. And keep trucking, and keep trucking. And we continue to truck and suddenly it’s 7:30pm and I am still on this god damn bus. I ask again, and they say three minutes, whisper to each other, and then say the price is $8. I retorted that it was funny, since when I got on and asked about Almirante, I was told $1.45, and the guy just smiled and said $8 again. This dude was not going to let me off the bus until I gave him his $8, apparently, and I just wanted to lock myself in a room and be angry at the universe for the rest of my life, so I basically shoved the bills in his face and hopped off the bus. It was dark, sketchy, and, not going to lie, I was pretty scared for my safety, but I took a few breaths and calmed myself down. I was gonna do this, and I wasn’t about to die so soon after that freaking day.

Almirante is truly an armpit. It smells bad, there are things randomly on fire here and there, and I was already in a shite mood because of the things that happened to me. I called over a taxi and jumped in, and attempted to tell him in Spanish where I needed to go, but didn’t know how to say it in Spanish. Basically I just started saying words that describe what you might do in a hotel room, like “Dormir”, and he said not to worry and called his dad, who speaks English, to talk to me and ask me where I wanted to go, which I really appreciated. The driver ended up dropping me off at a hotel, and didn’t charge me for the cab ride because he could probably tell that I had the worst day ever. I profusely thanked him; that was exactly what I needed. I got a room at a hotel for $25, where I am now posted up, not on the beaches of Bocas del Toro. I went to check my Facebook to see where my friends were and if they had taken an alternate route and made it to Bocas. Instead, I saw a post on Facebook that someone had randomly found my phone in their backpack. Suddenly everything seemed fine because I didn’t have to spend money on a new phone! It sucks that I can’t take any photos for Inspiration Week, but I’ll just use someone else’s phone and send them to myself, I guess. I’m just happy my phone isn’t gone forever!

After some reflection on the day, yeah, it was definitely a Worst Case Scenario day, but I think it’s also kind of an experience. If I was here with my friends or on a formal vacation, we would have just flown or taken a charter bus or something. Everything about a culture, even the annoying, weird, crazy, and irritating things, are important to experience and understand. I keep needing to take a step back and remind myself that, yes, this is my life. I am here, doing these incredible things in foreign places that I used to daydream about in high school. Things that I never thought that I could do. Even after today, I am so inspired by my own life right now, and by the lives of everyone that I’ve met here. It’s been a pretty bad past couple weeks, to be honest, but I have a feeling like today was the last bad day. I feel really good. Things are changing. The universe pulled this crap on purpose. Lesson learned, Universe. I’ll appreciate everything more, I promise.

0 to 100, real quick.

My work life out here has exponentially become more hectic since I arrived in the city last Saturday. New advancements, hiccups on other projects, and an upcoming vacation have all been extremely relevant topics of conversation and stress, but we’re all handling it! I guess that’s what makes us the business program though, right?

Saturday was a whole lot of hanging out. Got some bread, some wine, some cheese, and some Netflix, posted up at my hostel, and chilled. I definitely needed that. I was also inspired by Pulum’s talk about astrology, so I started researching my birth chart. It was honestly too accurate for me to feel currently comfortable with, all the way down to my interest in Transcendentalism. I’ll definitely be revisiting that. I also started planning my week off for next week! Some things have been switching around, but I think that tomorrow night, I’ll try to make it out to some of the MBFW Panama City events (Fashion Week yassss), Saturday leave for Bocas del Toro, spend a good amount of time there to beach and such, and then go to Boquete for a coffee tour! I really want to do so much during this week, but I keep reminding myself that I’m here for two more weeks after my internship ends for more adventures. Trying not to try to fit the entire country into one week.

This week, we met with Willie further about our business plans for the distillery, and we think we might have a few cool ideas for that and are working them into the document, so that’s exciting! We’re pumped to share them with him and talk further. Yeah, I’m accidentally getting super attached to all my projects and have a personal need for them all to succeed and be awesome. I spent an extra night in the city at the Hispania apartment (will get into the why on that in a moment) so I finished out the rough draft of the business plan. I’m excited to share it with my team for the project when I go back to the valley later today.

Now for the most exciting part! My personal project has surged in progress. Josh and I went to meet with a graphic designer, Mariery Young, at a coffee shop on Tuesday, not entirely sure what to expect, but mostly hoping to just gain some insight on the industry. We still hadn’t found our artist and were having minimal luck with finding distributors and print companies. We got to talking with her, and it turned out that she had global industry experience, having worked with companies like Nike and Red Bull, as well as doing art around Panama City in trendy bars in Casco Viejo, and she was from Panama. She agreed to work with us, and suddenly Josh and I had a million things to do. We began conceptualizing a design, and since Kalu Yala has such a close connection with Jaguars and researching them, we decided that we wanted the tee print to feature a jaguar. We’re still working out costs and such, but that’s actually one of the reasons that we stayed in the city. In ten minutes, actually, we have a video conference with Kristy Strait, who head of art, marketing, and web design here at Kalu Yala. She’s really interested in our project and wants to help us with whatever she can, and we needed a solid wifi connection for this to happen… so here we are! Esteban and Zou approved us for extra night in the city so that we could do more research for distributors in the city and be able to have this meeting with Kristy. We’re so psyched to have this opportunity to work closely with our superiors and have a project that almost ensures longevity with Kalu Yala.

I’m honestly just so jazzed about this meeting so that’s all I can really think about right now. We’re so incredibly happy that our project is actually moving, since it was at a stand-still for so long. The next time I write, I’ll probably be posted up on a sundeck or a balcony in beautiful Bocas del Toro, but your USA cold weather will be in my thoughts.

Also, still no autumn photos? Y’all are letting ya girl down…


Please, baby, no more parties in Casco…

Written on a sleepless morning a few days ago. A new post to come soon, as I will be in Panama City at Casa Hispania once again this week! Until then, loves…

Currently writing this at 4am on a fresh, new Thursday because someone moved my hammock a bit, which doesn’t sound like much, but now it’s much lower to the ground and my bug net is super messed up and I cannot sleep for the life of me. As always, the past week has been interesting.

Last Thursday was my actual first Netflix and Chill night. We ended work on Thursday afternoon and had Friday off, so literally all of us just stayed in the city for the rest of the weekend. I bought a bottle of wine and drank it while watching How I Met Your Mother (yes, I am living my best life). I tried, at one point, to be social and learn poker because the guys in my program that I was at the hostel with were playing it, but I gave up after about a half an hour and went back to my wine. Friday and Saturday both definitely had their ups and downs, but collectively was probably the best weekend I’ve had here. There were many good talks walking around Casco Viejo at 5am, staring out into the angry Pacific Ocean as it crashed against the walls of the twenty-foot platform we were standing on. I got to know some people extremely well, and they, me. It honestly feels kind of weird to have someone here know so much about me, but since I don’t normally share a lot of things, I guess it’s just new so it feels weird. Vulnerable? Is that the word I’m looking for? Maybe. It’s 4am, don’t listen to me.

Anywho, business in the city was fantastic, and coming back to the valley was honestly a bit stressful for me, just because of the lack of wifi with some recent events that have happened at home. Also, in the valley, everyone is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nowhere to be truly alone. In the city, I can go off by myself at any time. As a very intrapersonal being, it doesn’t need to be silent or anything; just no one interrupting my flow of thought. No familiar faces. I can be alone in a sea of people, no problem. If I know that sea of faces, however, that’s when things get a little funky for me. As someone who is alone literally all the time at home, being in a small space with over one hundred other people at all times is a big adjustment to make. I’ve been working on it, and I’m not there yet, but I will be… hopefully. If not, I have a really great group of people that I consider close friends here that I can talk to about it, and those individuals have been, and are, truly incredible.

This week, we began building the water reservoir that we wrote proposals for last week, which would have been a lot more fun if my ankle wasn’t sprained! I tried working the first afternoon, but my ankle hurt more than it did the previous three days after working, so I figured it probably wasn’t the best idea for me to continue if I wanted this thing to ever heal. So instead of working on that, I’ve been doing a couple random things around Town Square, like helping Gabby with her tiki bar signs or reading in my hammock, which is honestly dope. And yes, tiki bar is FRIDAY and we are all super hype because tiki bar last time was just wild. Willie supplies most of the alcohol which he distills on sight and they run a little bit of a bar. But don’t misconstrue this – the alcohol is not sold, because that wouldn’t be right. However, you can make a charitable donation, and then be compensated for that donation, as such… you feel? It’s a good system we’ve got going here. Willie also has recently made a ginger beer that a few of us got to taste yesterday, which was lovely, and he made some kombucha, too, like last time. So delicious, y’all.

Yesterday in itself was honestly a pretty productive day. Everyone took a day off from the work site and got to work with Zouheir a bit on our personal projects. We also talked about projected incomes and forecasting problems that we may run into along the way, which definitely spurred some critical thinking on all of our parts. Business, I have learned, is approximately 70% poking holes in your own ideas and seeing if they still hold up; if they don’t, you need to figure out how to patch up the big ones so that your business can stay afloat. Josh and I are definitely making some headway on our project. Last weekend, we went to this cool bar/art gallery in Bella Vista to find Insano, a popular Panamanian street artist that actually had also painted a mural in casa Hispania, Kalu Yala’s place in the city. Not only did we find Insano, but it actually turned out that he owned the bar/gallery that we went to, and got to talk to him about his work for about an hour. Josh got his contact information and we plan on reaching out to him to see if we can line up a studio visit. We were honestly just really glad to be able to have a breakthrough within the local art scene in Panama City. Our plan is definitely to keep networking and finding other artists that might potentially want to work with us.

A lot of plan on going into the city on Saturday morning, after tiki bar, of course. The business program is in the city again from Sunday night to, I believe, Wednesday afternoon, and then we come back to the valley. I want to go in on Saturday because I found this apparently world-renowned jazz club in Casco Viejo that I would just love to go to. All I want in my life right now is to drink a glass of red wine at the bar in a beautiful jazz club, to be honest. Can you blame me?

Also, a notable anecdote from yesterday morning. Yesterday morning, I started reading I Am Malala. I had just gotten through the chapter about her attempted assassination, and everyone else around me was also very deep into their books and readings and such. We looked like quite the serious bunch. All of a sudden, Esteban, our head honcho, so to say, here at Kalu Yala, slams down a speaker on a counter top, starts playing this very funkadelic song, and begins to dance for us all. “Happy Wednesday, guys…” he said with a very sly smile. We were all losing it, it was so ridiculously funny. Definitely was not about to go back to Malala after that one (no offense girl; you’re awesome).

It just sort of dawned on me how often I talk about Casco but have never really defined what that place is. Casco Viejo is the historic district of Panama City. It’s old, with a casual ruin church that’s probably around 400ish years old, and it also has a banging party scene and some of the best hostels around. If you’re trying to go out and party, you stay at Luna’s Castle, and if you’re trying to chill, I definitely recommend Magnolia’s. We stayed at Casa Areka in Punta Pacifica last weekend, just because we had some things to do over there, and that was pretty good, too. Situationally, it was perfect, actually, but if I wasn’t staying in a room exclusively of people I already knew, it wouldn’t have been that great, to be honest. Casco Viejo has the best bars, coolest restaurants, and the most dope dance clubs in Panama City. Casco is essentially where the action happens. After the insanity that was last weekend, we even rewrote a bit of a Kanye song in honor of it…

No more parties in Casco; Please, baby, no more Casco Viejo…