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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Down to the Wire

It’s that time of year — everyone’s semester is ending, and everyone is thinking abut the infinite possibilities that this summer can bring. Some are off to internships in new cities, others are back home in their old cities, and if you’re like me, you’ll be indulging in the freedom that this one American life that we have gives us.

My next adventure begins in just five days. Sheer insanity! It hasn’t even hit me yet, and I think that’s why it’s so insane. For those that don’t know, I have indeed locked down an itinerary! I’ll be flying into Paris, spending about a week there, popping over to London for a week, jumping over to Copenhagen for a long weekend, Amsterdam for my last week, and then literally one day in Switzerland to say hello to an old friend. I’ll actually be meeting up with several people along the way in different cities, and if you happen to be in the area between May 2nd and May 23rd, please let me know! I would love to see ya.

I was actually really worried up until yesterday that I would have to call off the whole thing because I had debilitating migraines for the last five days and couldn’t keep down anything that I ate or drank. My muscles were excruciatingly tense and it hurt to breathe. I have a vendetta against hospitals, and I even went to one. That’s how close I thought I was to dying. Luckily, after one last good upchuck from my body, I finally began to feel almost okay(ish) yesterday, and continue to feel better by the hour. I even ate a sandwich today! That’s the first actual thing I’ve eaten since Saturday. I think I had even come to terms with the fact that I was not going to be able to do this, but somehow, the universe pulled through, and here I am. I’m just thankful that all this didn’t happen while I was abroad.

Until then, I still have one final left, which I definitely need to study for.

Cheers, and more to come next week!

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.

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…

Cue the Van Halen song…

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

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

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

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

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

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