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.

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…

xx