July fourth marked the first of four days, dedicated to traveling to a volunteer’s site for our first taste of the volunteer life. Prior to my visit, I received a packing list and some basic travel instructions from the volunteer I’d be visiting. Included in these instructions was how to contact my volunteer and it stated that he’d have to hike 1.5 hours to receive phone signal. His scheduled days for phone service hiking fell on Tuesdays and Fridays so I gave him a call on Tuesday, finalized my plans, and left 6:30am on Thursday morning to make my way to his site.
The trip included a forty-five minute wait for the bus, 1.5 hours to Panama City, an hour of snacking in the food court of the bus station, a several hour bus ride with two check points, and finally a twenty minute bus ride to the site. It sounds rather unenjoyable but I spent the time with some good friends and after traveling South East Asia I’ve managed to develop a very strong sense of patience. (17 hours, 23 hours, 10 hours, etc, on public transportation did this to me haha)
The first night was spent celebrating the 4th with various drinks including home-made bottles of a local drink including the flavors of banana and avocado. A pig was also butchered and cooked in huge chunks over an open fire, que bueno. This was all followed by dancing to cheesy American songs until the general overload of being a volunteer took over and we were all asleep by roughly 10pm.
The next morning we made our way to the actual site I’d be visiting. We hopped back on a bus and took it in the direction of Agua Fria. After a short bus ride, I prepared myself for a long hike. In all, it was a two hour walk up mountains and down in to valleys. We trekked through mud up to to a foot and a half deep, small rivers, and paths with large slopes.
What we arrived to though was amazing. The volunteer I was visiting had the entire second floor of the home to himself. This included two rooms and a massive porch. It overlooked the mountains and a river that ran nearby the house. The hike drained us of our energy and we were soon asleep.
Around 5am the roosters started their song and shortly after that we began our day. We started our day off with a slow breakfast and a debate over whether to explore some caves or hike up a river and over some waterfalls. I left the decision in the hands of my volunteer and he opted for the river.
The river was relatively shallow and we were able to hike barefooted right through the middle of it. We came across several small waterfalls that were easy to climb. At one point, we took a detour away from the waterfall to check out a hydroelectric power plant a previous volunteer had installed that supplied power to the entire village.
After returning to the water, we continued on for a short distance but came across a waterfall incapable of being safely climbed and so we turned around and made our way back. Once back, we stopped to hang out at the portion of the river that ran closest to the volunteer’s house. I’m incredibly jealous of his location. This portion of the river offers a pool large enough to swim in as well as a small waterfall that is capable of offering a decent massage. We relaxed a bit and made our way back to the house. Exhausted from our hike we hung out for the rest of the day and finished off the night with some South Park.
About three in the morning I awoke to some shouting on our floor. I was disoriented and not quite sure what was going on. I shouted out to the two volunteers that were sleeping there and finally established that the one volunteer had been bitten by a scorpion. He’d lived there for a year and this was his first time… ouch. (All was well after, he killed it with a machete and the pain went away by the next morning)
We awoke the next day to the saddening realization that we would have to hike the same path again. The start of the hike was marked by an almost hour long trek straight up without a single drop and almost no flat portions. Finishing this hike with the twenty to thirty pounds on my back was an amazing feeling and we congregated ourselves with cookies and cream ice cream cones.
I joined my volunteer with some business stuff with another volunteer and then we headed off to do some pasaring. (Pasaring is a Spanglish word that means to walk around the community and make small talks in hopes of building upon these relationships later on and transforming these relationships into committees to start projects) I got the lucky chance join in some pasaring with two indigenous families of the Ipati Kuna group. At this point I don’t know much about the local groups but I plan on reading a book or two about them in the coming weeks and hope to pass along some interesting information about them. (Or maybe I’ll just recommend you read the book yourself!)
After pasaring, we traveled to the other volunteer’s house which was closer to the highway for a chilled night before heading home the next morning.
Sadly I have no pictures at this point since I’m not near a good internet connection but I hope to have a blog post up with pictures of this trip tomorrow when I head into the city for classes.