The jungle was calling, but I must go…

I made a pretty huge decision a couple months ago. It certainly wasn’t an easy one, and it definitely is leaving a bittersweet taste in my mouth as I round out my final week in the valley. Yes, you read that correctly — Michigan, I’m coming back to you.

The past year of my life has been a crazy one, and the one before that, too, to be honest. I’ve been to more countries and experienced more cultures than most people will get the opportunity to in their lifetime, and I’m eternally grateful for the chances, opportunities and sheer luck that I’ve been given. I’ve also learned a lot about myself. Solo traveling a continent definitely forces you to spend a lot of time by yourself, and you think a lot during that time. Living so closely with nature these past seven months also allowed me the time, opportunity, and environment to get to know myself. I’ve been more stressed, as well as more relaxed, than I’ve ever been this past year, and to say that this all has been an emotional roller coaster would be an incredible understatement.

There are probably at least a dozen reasons why I decided last October that I wanted to come home. While the major ones are quite too personal for a public blog post, some minor contributions most definitely have to do with the people that I spent my time with during my visit back a few months ago. I love Panama, I do, but being home and with the people that I love just felt the most right. I felt like that was where I belonged and where I was supposed to be. That’s a feeling that somehow slipped away from me here in Panama. While this country will always be a home to me, it’s not the one that I need right now.

I also think it’s time I finally chill on the airport hangs for a minute and focus on school. I’ve been so into learning about me and the world that I exist in (which by no means is a bad thing!) that I forgot that, to achieve the things that I want to achieve in my life, I need to learn academically-focused curriculum from a university to get that piece of paper that will allow me to get a job that I can make waves in. I want to do so much, and I know that I’m only twenty-one, but i already feel short on time. Graduation is not a race, but there does come a time when you have to face the reality of maybe jumping in the game too late, and y’all know I love punctuality.

Now, don’t think this means I’m not going to be traveling anymore; I don’t think I’m capable of that. Maybe just in the summer. And on weekends. And if I get my homework done for the week early and I find good airfare. ONLY THEN. And I’ll even make an effort to keep it on this continent. That’s limited, right? ………. Right?

ANYWAY.

On January 22nd, a week from tomorrow, I’ll be stepping off of a plane for the last time for a while. I swear, I actually plan to stick around this time! I think that might actually be my 2018 goal — stay in the US for at least half of this year. I’ve been going nonstop for almost two years now, and I’m exhausted, to be honest with you. I’ll still be working for my beloved Kalu Yala, just remotely. So if you see me on my laptop, I’m probably answering an onslaught of emails, so take pity on me and buy me a coffee pleaaaaase. I’m honestly so looking forward to being home in Michigan for a while. With that being said, if you’re a pal who lives somewhere in the US that I haven’t seen in a while, please talk to me, because y’all know how fast I get bored. ūüėČ

See ya soon xx

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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

Smooth Sailing – in the Canals of Amsterdam

Would like to note that the reason that I haven’t really been posting so much is because my power converter for my USA chargers broke! The only reason I have any charge on my laptop still is because I’ve been borrowing the chargers of other people in my hostels while they aren’t there… you gotta do what you gotta do. So yeah, limited power = limited posts.

Okay! So we left off on a very unfortunate day coming into London. I would now like the record to show that London was indescribably fantastic. I have never been to a more lively, exciting, and diverse place in my life. Even out in Oxfordshire, it was just gorgeous. Most of the people that I met were so wonderful and helpful, and I’ve already made a lot of friends along the way. I also last-minute was able to attend the Hero Round Table leadership conference in London, thanks to some friends who are involved in the organization of it. I also met some very interesting people there and was able to network a little with individuals of similar interests. All in all, London was beautiful and alive and amazing and I’m already looking forward to spending more time there.

From London, I flew to Denmark, and then got a text from a friend studying in Sweden, so instead of taking a train to Copenhagen, I hopped onto a train to Sweden. My weekend in Sweden was filled with biking, beer, viking castles, dancing, good pals, and tons of sunshine. I really lucked out. I wish I had planned better, because I honestly would have loved to just stay longer there, but I foolishly had already bought a return ticket. Sunday night, I took a train back to Copenhagen. Copenhagen was a very old, very wealthy city that I was only able to spend 48 hours in, but during that time, I saw a lot of really interesting things, such as Christiania, the rogue civilization that basically just does whatever they want. I also somehow met a couple people that just graduated from Michigan State University and are moving to Ann Arbor in the fall, incredibly close to me. I spent most of my time hanging with them, and I’m definitely looking forward to hanging with them when we’re all back in the states. It really is a small world.

I arrived in Amsterdam on Tuesday night, and this city does not disappoint. Again, lots of new pals. Feeling the personal growth and getting out of my social comfort zone is so good. Went out for a few drinks with a German girl and a Russian girl the first night, and it was honestly so funny and cool to all come from such different backgrounds but be having an awesome time together, drinking Abuelo rum (Yes, KY pals, I found it in AMSTERDAM) and hanging with a few Dutch dudes on the patio until the place closed. Then, when I splurged and went on the Heineken Experience VIP tour, it was just me and a huge group from Florida together. There were eight of them, all family and significant others, and we all immediately got along. This family was hilarious and dynamic and totally out of control in the most fantastic, enjoyable way. They invited me to dinner, and then to breakfast and a canal cruise with them the next morning. I am still blown away by their generosity.

So today is Friday, and of course I’ve hit some art museums and just enjoyed this beautiful city. I will say that, as far as canal cities go, Amsterdam over Venice any day of the week. A slight bump did come up when I realized that I had lost my backup credit card in Sweden, just as my limit was approaching on the one I was already using for most things. I’m running out of money now due to that very silly mistake on my part, but seeing as I go home in less than a week (WHAT???), I think I should be okay. Not a huge deal; just have to eat most of my meals from grocery stores, rather than restaurants! Luckily, I prepaid for all of my hostels and transportation. Good work, Dest.

Anywho. I have a few days left in Amstie, and then I move on to my one day in Switzerland to visit an old friend! Very stoked. Very happy. Very chill.

Good vibes, my friends xx

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!

What happens when you give me a passport

It was just a regular Tuesday afternoon. Taking a break from studying and obsessing over the poor state of my bank account, I went on to Kayak Explore to check out flights and fantasize about going somewhere not here, as I do too often (yes, I like to torture myself).

It’s all fun and games until you find round-trip airfare to Paris for $415 from Detroit.

The rest is a blur. I cleaned off my glasses in disbelief that British Airways would carry a flight this cheap. I ran to grab my credit card, and before I knew it, I had purchased a flight to Europe. I think we all knew it was just a matter of time before I cracked and left again. The price was obviously perfect, and the dates couldn’t have been more convenient: four days after my semester ends, and three weeks following. This is the universe’s future gift to me for finishing my semester. Honestly, how could I say no?

If I learned one thing in Panama, that would be to¬†always pack light. I have learned the hard way that the more you pack, the more difficult it will be to get around… which sounds completely logical when said out loud, I’m realizing, but no matter. As nice as it would be to have a suitcase to store things in, I’m thinking it’s just gonna be me and my backpack this time around. Easier to get around, more secure since I’ll be able to lock away¬†all of my belongings at hostels, and no need to waste time dropping things off at where I’m staying later when I get to a new city. I’m excited to experiment in urban backpacking; we’ll see how it goes.

So I guess that is that. If you’ll be in Europe in May, I will be running around by myself for a couple weeks so let me know! I’m currently looking at Paris, London, Amsterdam, maybe Stockholm, and Berlin, but that’s the beauty of solo travel — I can change my plans as much I want. Show me cool things! Let me in on your life!

That’s all for now. Much love 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.

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.