Life in Panama: Post KY

It has been just over one week since I left all things Kalu Yala. I guess it doesn’t feel completely over yet since I’ve been traveling and meeting up with so many Kalu Yalans along the way, but six days from today, I’ll be waking up in my own bed for the first time since the beginning of September in my little Michigan town. It’ll definitely be feeling pretty official by then, I’m sure.

On Sunday morning, I left with two others to go to a small surf town on the Pacific, about six hours southwest of Panama City, called Playa Venao, near Las Tablas/Pedasi. I stayed at a nicer hostel, enjoying luxuries of soft beds, hot showers, and air conditioning for probably the third time since arriving in Panama last September. It was pretty wonderful. With how crazy things were at Kalu Yala in the last week, everyone putting final touches on projects and presentations and Josh and I preparing for our launch party in Panama City for our project, a mental health moment was definitely in need. I got up around 6:30am every morning, waking up with the sun and hanging around in a hammock on the beach until breakfast.

I loved so much that suddenly I didn’t have a schedule and I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Traveling with no set plan is actually a lot more relaxing than one would think. Lots of beaching, reading (I’ve finished two books since leaving the valley… oops), and beautiful scenery. Playa Venao is kind of a bit of a cove, I suppose, a bit of a crescent moon type shape in the landscape of the Panamanian coast. There were beautiful little islands and places to hike all over, but walking on the beach was just as nice. Tons of different types of crabs were running around, and the stones that washed up on the shore were every color imaginable. On Wednesday, I tried out surfing for the first time! As a beginner, I wasn’t too hot at it, but I did manage to stand up a couple times, so I was proud of that. Honestly though, the best part about surfing for me wasn’t standing up and riding the wave; it was definitely the moment when you catch the wave and can feel it carrying you forward. That was my ish.

On Thursday morning, Thanksgiving, we set out super early to get to the northern mountain town of Boquete. Ten hours and five buses later, we finally rolled up to the main town square and headed straight to the grocer to grab our contributions to dinner that night. The reason why we were so determined to get to Boquete was because a number of us from Kalu Yala had planned to all meet back up there to celebrate Thanksgiving together since we couldn’t be with our families back home. The hostel that we were all staying at was owned by this really sweet American couple, too, so it was all quite the ordeal. Dinner had all of the fixings, save the turkey; we had a ham instead since turkey isn’t really a thing here in Panama. We even had grandpa ron there to start things off, if ya know what I mean! It was a wonderful night and a much-needed reunion, even though we had only been out of the jungle and apart for five days.

Everything has been very smooth sailing since. On Friday, we went on a coffee farm and small-batch roastery tour and tasting, which was absolutely amazing. I got to pick the brain of the guy who owns it, and we had a great conversation about the global marketplace for coffee, sustainable farming, and international trade and exports. It was so cool and interesting. The farm was gorgeous and roasting the coffee was really good fun. We toasted our finished coffee with a Panama Lager and sat down to have our tasting of both medium and dark roasts. The flavor notes were very pronounced and the aroma was lovely, as the coffee snob inside of me noticed. I was so impressed, and I’m bringing home a bit of each roast to brew at home; I couldn’t help myself. I’ve gone on a few hikes and went cliff jumping this morning and will most likely be hiking the waterfall trail tomorrow. We were going to hike Volcan Baru and we’re so stoked to, but because of the recent rain, mudslides have been happening and it’s not safe to currently hike… Whatever, just an excuse to come back! Preferably in the dry season, though.

Anwho. It’s been so nice to just relax and do whatever without deadlines and copious amounts of work to do. I’ve applied to a few internships for next summer and updated my resume, but that’s basically it, I swear! Life is good here in Panama, but I only have five days left now. Five days until I leave my home in Latin America. Five days. That’s so crazy to me.

Can you believe that I’ve been here since September and still have not seen the Panama Canal? Maybe I’ll try to fit that in this week…

Cheers xx

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When the last monkey howls

One sprained ankle, two cases of jungle rot, four Tiki Bar parties, seven ridiculous falls down steep hiking trails, ten Sundays for the boys, at least twenty meal time perch sessions, one hundred new friends, thousands of hugs, and an undocumented number of boxed Clos wine later, Kalu Yala has come to a close.

It has been one hell of a semester with the most insane, beautiful, eccentric, diverse, intelligent, amazing people that I have ever gotten the pleasure to meet, live, and work with. This became agonizingly evident this past week when everyone presented their personal projects that they’ve been working on the entire semester (I’ll delve deep into mine and explain it in my next post–). Sitting and learning about what everyone has done over the past ten weeks was such a treat. There was literally everything, from water quality assessments to ecological foot print analyses to sustainable iguana farming to #MakeAgricultureSexyAgain to starting Kalu Yala’s first general Store, La Tienda. The diverse interests and talents of everyone here is so incredible, and it just goes to show that there is always a wealth of knowledge that can be learned from the individuals around you.

On the final day of presentations, I couldn’t help but let a few tears slip; not out of sadness, but out of happiness and gratitude that I was given the opportunity to be a part of this community. I don’t remember the last time that I have felt this much at once, and I definitely think that I’ve said “I love you” and meant it more times over the course of the past ten weeks than I have in my entire life (Hector and the Search for Happiness, anyone?). Kalu Yala, to me, is more than just an internship, an institute; it’s an incubator for intelligence, innovation, and community. We all came here as strangers with a common goal and common values, and now we are leaving here as a family who is saying goodbye until next time, and making promises to uphold those values hat brought us together in the first place.

Last night, we ended it all in the only way we know how: a tiki bar party. Arguably the best one yet, really. When you have an on-site distillery for craft beer and rum, it normally makes things a little easier anyway. Everyone was drinking and dancing and expressing how much appreciation we have for each other. Oh, and we ate bread. Only a person living at Kalu Yala knows how incredible that feels, honestly.

BREAD! SO GOOD

This morning was the day we’ve been dreading for weeks. Half of us packed up our things and left our beautiful valley that we now can call home, and the other half of us leaves tomorrow. I obviously opted to stay the extra day, as I’ve lost so much time here over the course of the semester having to be working in the city. I’ve never seen it this quiet. It was emotional, but again, not because of sadness. Happiness, pride, love, and appreciation made the tears flow for me this afternoon, and I can’t wait to see where all of these truly fantastic people end up, to see what they do. It’s not goodbye, and we all know this. It’s just weird, being so close to so many people for that long, and then suddenly it’s over and were all in different corners of the world again. It’s so ironic to be grateful for the presence of technology and social media after reaping the mental benefits of it’s absence, but I have to be. These people have made an impact on me and my life in a way that I can’t even begin to describe to someone who wasn’t a part of my experience here. All I can do is hope that anyone who will never have the pleasure to visit Kalu Yala finds a space with a community like ours in which they can find a home in, like we did in each other.

Thank you, so much, for everything.

Nine Weeks in Review

I’m terribly sad because of it, only having one week left with Kalu Yala. In the time that I’ve been living here, our valley in the mountains of Panama has become a second home to me. I wish I had the opportunity to share each moment with my friends and family back home; photos just don’t do it justice. But hey, I still have one more week, and I’m not going to spend it being sad about life.

Today, I was reflecting on how I’ve personally changed and grown since arriving here. The following is my self-analysis:

  1. When I got here, I talked a lot about myself and my travels and my life. Not because I thought I was particularly interesting, but because I felt that I had to prove myself in some way to this group of amazing people suddenly surrounding me. Everyone had amazing stories about their trips to monasteries in India and camping in the wilderness of new Zealand, and I had just gotten my passport not six months before. Today, I realize that we all have our adventures and how they affect us in different ways. No one adventure is better or more exciting than another; it all depends on the person living it. I notice now about myself that I talk much less about my own life, and ask more questions and listen, because I’ve lived my own stories. I want to know theirs.
  2. Growing up the way that I did, I was never quite “body positive”, so to speak. I’ve always been curvier, and I was never able to wear the same clothes as my friends growing up or play the same sports or look as thin as them at school dances, and on and on and on. I was made fun of a lot because of my body type and the way that I looked in middle school (middle schoolers are literally the WORST), and that never quite left my head. It has always been a constant struggle, figuring out how to present myself on any given day of my life. I arrived here at Kalu Yala with this mental block of my physical appearance. I remember one day in the first week, we all went to Paradise Hole, a nice spot to jump off of a 25-foot ledge into a river, and I wore a sports bra and running shorts because I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself to be around people I didn’t know in a swimsuit. I was so embarrassed with how I looked, and now I look back and realize how ridiculous that is. I write this post right now, actually, wearing a bikini top, combat boots, and a sarong tied around my waist, and I think I look great; for the jungle, at least. I walk around comfortably in a bralette and leggings, as everyone in the jungle does, and personally, this is amazing progress for this rut I have been in my entire life. I never thought that I would get to a place where I felt good about myself, and yet here we are. Everyone, including myself, is absolutely beautiful in their own unique way, and I love that.
  1. I have always been a very introverted, intrapersonal being. I keep to myself and don’t want or need a constant human connection. I need a lot of time to myself and being around a lot of people for extended periods of time stresses me the hell out. My first week here, actually, I broke down sobbing because of the social anxiety I was feeling about suddenly being surrounded by one hundred people all of the time, when I was previously already having difficulties being around two. You’d think there would be plenty of places in a jungle to be alone, but they’re harder to come by than you’d think. However, throughout my weeks here, I have learned a lot about finding your personal safe spaces, whether it be a physical location or a mental state. I can get up early and meditate by the river, or find a nice, secluded spot and read. Being around one hundred people all of the time no longer scares me; in fact, I think I might be really lonely when I get home. I love our stimulating conversations over breakfast and making dinner with my friends in the city on the weekends.  Being around so many people has become such a joy in my life, and I hope this feeling stays with me.

With these things in mind, I am grateful for the jungle and the people that it has connected me with. I am grateful for Kalu Yala and the wealth of knowledge and personal growth it has brought me. I am grateful to be living in such a beautiful country, as it inspires me to travel more, do more, be more.

After I leave Kalu Yala a week from today, I still have two more weeks of traveling around Panama, so stay tuned! We’ll see what I come up with before I head home…

Too many FEELS

First and foremost, apologies for the longer-than-usual radio silence that y’all have experienced between my last post and this one. It has been a crazy past couple weeks, per usual. I mean, I am living in the jungle, after all; if it was anything but crazy, I would be concerned.

At the beginning of last week, Ryan Westberg, co-founder of Serengetee, came to talk to us business interns. Obviously, because of my personal career goals and my project goals for my time as an intern for Kalu Yala, this was a really big deal. Ryan was super nice, extremely knowledgeable, and was able to give some awesome insight on what Josh and I are trying to do for our project, regarding bridging the gap between local artists and Kalu Yala through fashion. He was in Panama because he wanted to buy some fabric from the indigenous peoples who inhabit the San Blas islands, so I can’t wait for the fabric to go online so that I can buy a dope shirt featuring it. Serengetee is seriously cool brand, and everyone should check it out for both socially conscious and extremely cool clothing purposes.

Meanwhile, Josh and I have been killing it, quite frankly. We have been working closely with Kristy Strait, the art director for Kalu Yala, who has been pushing for our project personally with other higher-ups at Kalu Yala. We have been running around like crazy, networking with powerful people in the Panama art scene, talking to shirt distributors and printers, and meeting with consulting specialists for the industry that we are trying to break into. We’re getting really important industry knowledge and gaining very important skills in networking, organizing information, creating business plans, proposals, and market strategics planning. Other things are also being discussed regarding our project, regarding launch parties with local restaurants and bars, partnering with other local artists for new designs and commissions for the valley, and shirts to be sold at this year’s Kalu Yala New Year’s Eve party, which I have heard are legendary. Josh and I are so grateful that we have gotten this far and are doing so much for the institute; we don’t think even Kalu Yala expected us to get this far, so that in itself is something to be really proud of. Going into this, one of our most important things we kept in mind was longevity of the product and not having it die as soon as we left the institute, and we think that might be achieved as of right now, which we are beside ourselves over. We are thisclose to finally printing these bad boys (the design that we got from our artist is badass!), so we are actually spending the entirety of next week in the city to continue working.

On a less professional note, last weekend was dope! One the personal projects of another business intern was a venture in adventure tourism, so he put together a hiking/rafting/staying in an indigenous community trip that I ended up going on. The trip started at 4:30am when the company came by and picked us up from the San Miguel house. We switched cars in Venti Quatro de Deciembre, a huge transportation hub between the city and the smaller towns that the roads branch out to. The vehicle we got into was an off-roading jeep-van type of thing, and the drive was just awesome. It was a bit bumpy at times, but it was so cool to be up on a mountain and see the city looking so small. After a while, we got out of the vehicle, ate breakfast, and began our several-hour hike through some more mountains. Oh my goodness, was it beautiful. There was gorgeous exposed rock, streams, waterfalls, and even a few monkeys staring us down from the trees. It would have been even more enjoyable if my shoes weren’t literally cutting into my feet the entire time, but I guess you can’t have it all, can you? Anywho. After a while, we finally reached the place where we could begin rafting, and after a quick cool-down swim, we jumped in our rafts, grabbed our guides, and hit the water. I hadn’t been white water rafting in a while, so it was awesome to get back out there, especially after feeling constantly inspired by all the Outdoor Recreation interns who live their lives through nature and outdoor sports and activities. It was an incredible afternoon filled with rapids, waterfalls, cascalitas, and pouring rain, and we got sandwiches for lunch! I know, it’s just a sandwich, but when you haven’t gotten a sandwich since early September, it becomes kind of a big deal. We were all very hype. Around 5pm, we pulled onto the beach and were picked up by our hosts for the evening, members of an indigenous community living by the shore of the Chagres River. When we got there, we were able to move into our beautiful raised rancho and sling up our hammocks for the evening. They served us freshly caught halibut and patacones with rice and lemon. It was one of the most delicious dinners we have eaten since we got here, and we even saw the women descaling the fish as we docked coming in, which was very cool. The tribe leader came by and talked a bit about the community and their practices and customs (through a translator, of course), which was very cool. It was just a really amazing day. The next morning, we got up early, drank a ton of coffee, and set off on a waterfall hike before we had to go back to valley later that day. The hike was short and the waterfall was literally one of the most beautiful things that I had ever seen. It was honestly just magical, if that word can even describe it, or maybe I’m just biased since I have never seen a waterfall like that.

The hike back into the valley, and the hike out in the early morning on Tuesday from the valley, actually went so much better than I had expected. Because of my sprained ankle, I haven’t been able to hike in or out of the valley since early October, but last week, I finally deemed myself good to hike. I am determined at this point to get better and improve my personal endurance, and I kind of killed the hike both times. Definitely made PRs for both times in and out, and even people that I was hiking with noticed that I was murdering my previous times and abilities. I feel so good about how far I’ve come physically since arriving in Panama and have actually discovered kin of a newfound love of hiking. I think I might actually be picking this one up as a hobby when I return to the States.

With just two weeks left in the program, we’re all stressing to make the most of the time that we have left together. I never imagined the bonds that I would make with people here at Kalu Yala, and I don’t think that I’m prepared for all of the feelings that I’m going to have when we leave our valley. Exactly one month from right now, I will be settling into my bed at home in Michigan for the first time since September, and I have yet to decide how I feel about that. I guess I do miss home in a way, but I have this infectious desire to travel and see everything, and I don’t know if I’m quite ready to go home yet. I mean, either way I have to come home, but there definitely will be some conflicting feelings about everything.

Man, so many feelings. More feelings than I’m used to. We’ll see how this week goes.