Jungle Dest: Reprise

I’ve been struggling with how I was going to write this, and when it would be appropriate and accurate to say that I really am back in it. Today marks one month that I’ve been back in this insanely beautiful, though beautifully insane, country. I think one month is a good amount of time to go off of.

If any of you reading this has somehow happened to exist under a rock and out of my life in general since the end of May, surprise! I moved to Latin America. The organization that I interned for last fall hired me full-time, so I’m currently working as the Assistant Director of Admissions and Communications at Kalu Yala. No, I didn’t think this through; no, I haven’t graduated school yet; yes, I will graduate — eventually; and yes, I am so, so happy.

Despite leaving a lot of loose ends blowing in the wind as my plane lifted off of the ground in Detroit on July 3rd, I’m desperately trying to keep my life together and my relationships stable. Of course, this isn’t exactly a simple task when I’m also managing new relationships with a nearly brand new set of coworkers and acclimating once more to a very, for lack of a better word, unconventional work environment and lifestyle that I jumped back into on July 4th. I would be a shameless liar if I said it was all palm leaves and sunshine all of the time (especially since we’re coming up on Rainy Season). Life, while amazing and colorful and everything that I hoped for, is still difficult, stressful, gross, and dangerous. I have a hard enough time just walking down a street at home; here, I’m also maneuvering over jagged rocks, getting snagged on barbed wire, collecting nips from machetes, and living with the constant fear of waking up to a wandering spider or a scorpion in my boot. This life is not for the faint at heart.

With that being said, I’m so grateful. Unbelievably grateful. I am back in this amazing country, getting paid to do something that I love, developing further personally, and gaining valuable knowledge of programs, skills, and strategies that will help me in huge ways throughout my professional career. While I miss many wonderful humans in Michigan, I vehemently remind myself each day to be where my feet are and focus on what is happening in my current reality. Accepting and loving where I am is key, spiders and all.

On another note — I will be visiting Michigan for a bit in mid-October. If you feel like hanging out with me and don’t mind if I smell a little weird, October 17-25 will be the time to chill! Mark your calendars, friends.

Live from Panama, this is Jungle Dest signing off. xx

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Not Everything in the City of Lights is Bright

Let me begin by saying that I did love Paris. Paris was just beautiful, exciting, and brimming with all of the things that I love (art, bread, and coffee). Every Parisian that I met was lovely, and so many people demonstrated such kindness through helping me on the metro, showing me all of the places that they loved in Paris, and offering insight on just how to be a Parisian without actually being one. It made my time in Paris so much more worthwhile.

On the plane from Chicago to Paris, the woman sitting next to me was a fast friend. The plane hadn’t even taken off yet, and she had offered me half of her avocado sandwich (of course, I could not decline. It was avocado…) She was originally from Venezuela but moved to the Miami area in her teens, and was to enjoy some time in Paris before meeting up with her husband in Amsterdam the following week. She was such a peach, and we made dinner plans a few nights from then. Already off to a good start.

My week was filled with, I think it ended up being, seven different art museums, as well as strolling through the streets of Le Marais district, finding myself at the Eiffel Tower on more than one occasion, and exploring neighborhoods on the Paris Metro lines. I was even able to actually use my French for the first time ever. I also, of course, visited the Palace of Versailles; you’ll always find me where art and history meet. The palace was gorgeous, and I couldn’t believe that it was in that very palace that so many people that I spent years learning about in history classes had spent their days there. On the way, I had also listened to this podcast on Stuff You Missed in History Class about the OG Womens March that actually happened at Versailles a few hundred years ago. To be fair, it wasn’t about women’s rights — it was about bread. But hell, I would lead a march, too, if there was a bread shortage in Paris while the king was swimming in it.

I also had the opportunity to enjoy a wine tasting of different wines from around France with a French sommelier. We had five different wines as well as a type of champagne, all different on a scale from the lightest of white wines to the darkest of red wines. It was honestly quite similar to a coffee tasting. It was just with wine. I complain about neither. For some back story, I had happened across this on AirBNB while checking on room prices to make sure I was getting the literal cheapest place in Paris. What came up wasn’t rooms to sleep in, but experiences. AirBNB was testing out an Experiences feature that basically has locals of that specific city to offer interesting things to do that would be difficult for a traveler to be able to take part in or find on their own. I thought, What the hell! I can get down with some French wine. So I did, and it was wonderful. Thierry was very funny and extremely knowledgeable about aromas, flavor notes, and how to tell the alcohol content just by looking at the glass, among other things. It was very informational, as well as delicious. There were four others there, and I learned that three of them were actually developers working for AirBNB specifically on these experiences that they were selling. As we were all talking and laughing, the five of us decided to go out to dinner after the wine tasting, as it was two hours long, and we were in Latin Quarter, where a plethora of fantastic restaurants was. We settled on this little place a couple blocks over, and the food was so good. We talked about what we did and what we were all doing in Paris, and Thierry even dropped by for a glass of wine and chatted about the French election. Since we did talk about their work at AirBNB a little bit over dinner, they paid for dinner and wrote it off as a “business expense”, which was good for everyone. All in all, a fantastic evening.

Paris was lovely, but it was dirty. I actually have gotten a little sick (sniffs, coughs, being always completely parched, etc), and I think it was the germs from the metro. Honestly, I think it may rival the grime of the NYC subway lines. On my last night, I went out with a girl who was studying in Prague for dinner and to see the Eiffel Tower at night. The tower was so beautiful as it lit up and sparkled at midnight, but the incredible number of rats scurrying between all of the bushes was slightly distracting.

The real problems for me actually happened yesterday, upon arriving to the UK. Yesterday was just a pretty horrible day that was very discouraging and I just kind of wanted to go home (obviously, I did not). The man at Customs was probably the most unpleasant person that I have ever encountered, and I couldn’t even give him attitude because he was literally the only thing barring me from getting to London, and I didn’t want to piss him off. Firstly, when he asked me where I was coming from, I replied, Paris, France. This seemed like a perfectly acceptable answer. Wrong. He stopped what he was doing, looked at me, and goes, “What, do you think I don’t know what country Paris is in? Is that why you included France? That would be like me saying that I was coming from New York, United States. Do you see what I’m saying?” No, he wasn’t even joking. He was just being a massive, steaming turd from a corn-fed cow. And then (I wish I was finished), regarding where I wrote the location of where I would be staying (Hyde Park View Hostel), apparently the title simply wasn’t good enough. He required a complete address. Now, mind you, never in my life have I ever had to present a complete address to where I would be staying when entering a country, and I have been to more than a few countries. So he made me connect to the wifi so that i could look up the official address of this hostel, all the while lecturing me about what I would have done if I didn’t have a phone, etc. I usually just follow maps, or order an Uber when I’m feeling particularly drained, when getting to hostels because addresses aren’t really helpful unless you’re taking a cab anyways, which is way out of my budget. Finally, he stamped the damn thing and let me out of his sight so that I could fume in peace.

While waiting for my bus, I was mulling over how upset first thing in the morning that guy made me. I found my bus with no problem, and it wasn’t until I was halfway to London that I realized I had forgotten my water bottle at the airport. Now, if you hang out with me at all, you probably know how much I love that water bottle. It’s covered in stickers that I’ve gotten from places that I’ve been and businesses that I love and support, and I take it literally everywhere with me, including Europe. I kind of started freaking out and immediately made the decision to go back to the airport to try to find it. The water bottle is my piece of home and kind of brings me back when things get a bit rough; very sentimental stuff. So I pay the bus fare again to go back to the airport, which is a round trip of about four hours, so I can’t say that I was surprised when I didn’t find it. I knew in the back of my mind that it would have been an actual miracle if I had found it sitting by the benches, right where I had left it, and of course, yesterday was not a day for miracles. I headed back to the bus to pay the fare for a third time that day, just wanting to head back into the airport to buy a ticket home.

Six hours and a wasted £25 later, I finally made it to my hostel around 5pm. I talked everything through with a friend who I knew would understand and help me figure out what I was feeling, which helped more than I am able to express. The day was definitely a huge reminder that solo travel isn’t always amazing. Really unfortunate things happen frequently, and I want that to come across accurately while I’m on this trip. Solo travel is an experience in self-exploration. I know that I can get really anxious and stressed and totally panic, and I don’t know how to control it sometimes. Traveling alone can be really difficult and can get lonely and forces you to push your boundaries, and sometimes that means experiencing alone what can feel like some heavy losses and knowing that, if you just push through, you can come out even better on the other side.

Later that night, I was sitting there, and I thought to myself, You know what? I’m in LONDON. I can’t just sit here anymore. So I grabbed my bag and hunted for the nearest metro station. I got myself an Oyster Card and made my first attempt at the London Underground, which was successful (It’s the small wins!). I could’t help but smile as I got off and found a restaurant with an excellent mushroom burger as a reward to myself for deciding to get out there, even if the day was a bit of a shame. Of course, today was a huge improvement, as I went to a few quirky museums and hung around St. James Park all afternoon.

And I know that tomorrow will be even better.

xx

One Year in Review

Let me reflect on where I was last year at this time. I had no travel plans at all for 2016 locked in as a 100%. I was working seventy hours a week at two jobs that did nothing for me mentally. I was in school with a defined major that I cared about but didn’t know what I wanted to do with. On New Year’s Eve, I was at the same gross club that I was at the year before with the same people.

A lot can change in a year.

Let’s start with item number one: travel. The following is the list of places out of the United States that I had been to at the beginning of 2016:

  • Canada, when I was four
  • The Bahamas for a few days on a cruise
  • … Does China Town in NYC count?

Yeah, it’s a sad list. I had such an interest in the world around me and hadn’t seen much of it. I was feeling restless and unfulfilled. In March, I finally got my passport and haven’t taken a break from traveling until right now, as I’m writing this. I began by traveling by myself around the United States, such as trips to Chicago and New York in the spring, just to see if I could do it successfully without dying (spoiler alert: irrational fears are dumb and everything was literally fine). In early June, I went abroad for the first time — for over a month, with a bunch of people I didn’t know. Everyone I knew told me I was insane, but I just had to go and it was such a great opportunity that I couldn’t say no. What followed turned out to be probably the most monumental thing I had ever done, Reconnect Hungary. I went to the country where my ancestors are from and learned about my family’s heritage and who I was. It was so eye-opening, and I left with a whole new connection to myself and where I came from. I decided it was as good a time as any, since I was already there, to run around for a little while, because why not? I’ll be the first to admit it – it was insane. I did things during my first trip to Europe that not one person I know who has been there had done. Most times, the insane things are probably the best things.

With just over a month in between, my next stop was Panama, the Latin-American secret oasis that I am so proud to have found a home in. While interning with Kalu Yala, I made the strongest relationships that I have ever had in my entire life with the most incredible group of people from all over the world. I learned a lot about business, sustainability, and community living, but in the process, I also learned a lot about myself. I learned how to understand the things that I was feeling and recognize where my headspace was. I found an inner peace that I wouldn’t have access to if I had not experienced the things that I did in the mountains. I wish I could say more, but I just can’t find the words. If you want to know, just go there. You’ll get it.

The following is the list of places out of the United States that I have been to at the end of 2016, in addition to my unfortunate previous list:

  • Hungary
  • Romania
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Slovakia
  • Panama
  • Costa Rica

So it’s been an exciting year, and I am all too excited to expand upon this list and adventure more in 2017.

With the weird enlightened feeling that probably most feel once they’re home from traveling, I have learned to find joy and happiness in things that I didn’t before. I quit the job that I hated and am learning to take things that frustrate me at Starbucks and find solutions through research and informed conversation. It’s okay to be angry about things that upset you if that anger is fueled by a passion to fix and improve the things that are wrong. I am officially starting a second job on January 2nd, finally beginning my professional journey with Coach, and I am so excited for the opportunity. I’m returning to school on January 9th, and I’m looking forward to diving deep into my studies and devoting my attention to expanding my wealth of knowledge into different subjects and further fueling that anger and passion to improve the world that we live in. I plan to make every decision in 2017 angled toward getting one step closer to my personal long-term goals. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a crucial year in setting myself up for success in 2018, and I want to make the most out of every opportunity.

Finally, I realized that most of the friendships I was working so hard to maintain in 2016 were very surface. Most of those people don’t actually care what I’ve been up to or how I feel or what struggles I’m dealing with. Right here, right now, I am promising to myself to focus only on the people that matter. I spent this year exhausting myself to include certain people in my life that made no effort to include me in theirs. I am worth more than a back-up plan, so I’m riding this year out with middle fingers up to y’all, because your backup plan just dipped. I have no bad blood towards anyone, but I’m done with pretending to myself that I am best friends with people that have no idea who I even am anymore. In 2017, I’m focusing on myself and the relationships that matter. I’m focusing on the people that care about me as much as I care about them.

Much love to everyone. I’ll see in the new year.

Cheers xx

Integrating Back Into Society

As most of you hopefully have figured out by now, I have been back in my quiet little Michigan home for nine days now, far away from the jungles of Central America. Too far away, if you ask me, but life happens.

Leading up to my leave from Kalu Yala, I was talking a lot about take-aways and learning experiences and opportunities for growth. As grateful as I was that I had experienced anything like that at all, an actual change, I was anxious to see how that would translate into my “real life” back home in Michigan. I wasn’t sure if what I had gained would still be a part of who I was or if those gains were to be left in Panama. Either way, it would be what it would be, but I obviously wanted to keep with me the things I had learned. So you can probably imagine my delight, nine days in, that I am so different about everything.

Probably the first thing that I had noticed right off the bat was my attitude,, demonstrated almost too clearly at work. Us baristas like to complain about literally everything to make ourselves feel better about having to wake up at 5am every morning to serve some man in a bad mood a much too complicated drink that probably tastes like ass anyways. This definitely used to make me feel better, too. However, upon coming back, I realized that there are so many more important things to be angry about that the grumpy man with the ass latte should not matter at all. My coworkers will sometimes irrationally freak out about the wrong size lid accidentally being stocked in the holder or the fact that, yes, we are unfortunately out of the sandwich that you ordered and now we have to awkwardly ask you if you want a different thing once you get to the window, which takes an unnecessary amount of time. Little things like that can somehow ruin someone’s day the way it used to ruin mine, but I just can’t bring myself to be bothered by it anymore. I’m honestly embarrassed by how I used to empathize with really stupid problems like that. If running out of a sandwich at work is the worst thing that happens to me in a day, then I can assume that it was a pretty damn good day.

However, a change of me getting angry at work also happened. Coming back, I became hyper-aware of how unsustainable a lot of the business practices we employ are. Why do we double-bag trash cans, rather than just get stronger bags? Why do we throw away so much food when we can just donate it? Why do employees use the disposable cups when we have glass mugs that are free to use already, reducing an enormous amount of waste? I  began to question everything, as we were encouraged to do at Kalu Yala, to open up that conversation of Why? Going back to my no-complaining point I made previously, I don’t intend to just sit on these questions and grumble about it under my breath. I’m beginning to keep track of these questions, write them down, and research deeper into the practices. If I am unable to find an answer to the why, I intend to channel the little Clare Bassi that lives in us all and write a letter to corporate, asking them why and hopefully be able to work together and come up with a solution. Starbucks has a long history of actually listening to the partners, even at my level, so I have high hopes that, if the information is compiled correctly, I can really change some things around my workplace.

I’ve also noticed in myself a patience that was not there previously. A lot of things are a very different at home due to some challenging events that took place within my family while I was away, and dealing with that has been hard for me. However, I take one day at a time, as we all do, and continue to keep a positive outlook on everything, even when things are hitting that figurative fan. Actually, I’m not even sure if patience is the right word; maybe “centered” is more accurate, being able to come back to that place of mental stability and solidarity when things become too much to handle, however patience is definitely still a key factor in many other ways these days. I don’t know how in depth I can go into this without airing the dirty laundry of my personal life, so I’ll leave it at that and trust that you will understand.

And as far as being centered goes, I am very proud to say that meditation has been helping me a lot since I returned home. That was something that I was almost sure wouldn’t carry over, but ended up being instrumental in my transition back into the American society. No, I don’t know anything about crystals or constellations or drink weird green blended concoctions that may or may not scare me — it makes me sad that a wonderful thing like meditation has such a weird lifestyle stigma around it. You don’t have to lead a specific lifestyle or be a certain way or wear certain types of clothing or jewelry to take a moment every day for yourself and recenter your mind and thoughtspace. It’s so important to be able to just take a breath and clear your head sometimes, and that has been one of the most incredible things I have been able to bring home with me. (DISCLAIMER: If you’re into crystals and constellations and weird green concoctions, you know I love ya and would never knock on a fellow human for an interest that simply don’t partake in.)

One last specific thing that has changed is definitely my diet. I find myself making most of my own food now, just because I now feel more comfortable knowing exactly what is in my food and where it’s coming from. I also realized how simple a plant-based diet actually is and  have implemented a lot of those meals into my schedule, as well. No, I’m not a vegan now or against eggs, but I will never again argue with a big plate of veg! My food is now super colorful and involves several different food groups for balanced nutritional value, and I only eat meat once every couple of days. If you had asked me to do this a year ago, I would have told you that it was impossible, but all those delightful meals in valley showed me that a flavorful vegan meal is much simpler than we tell ourselves. Don’t let the V-word scare you, my friends.

Some things just don’t change, though; I came home and reveled in all of my wonderful cold-weather clothing that I had missed too much. I cannot begin to express how happy I am in my pants are cardigans and sweaters and scarves again, as much as I do miss the valley. I was too excited to put on perfume and throw on some makeup, and probably looked a little too good to just be going to Kroger, but it was so nice to feel like myself again. Jungle Dest was definitely a lovely version of myself, but I feel like a happy compromise between the person I was before Kalu Yala and the person that I have become because of Kalu Yala.

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

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…