While trying to explain to my mother what I’ve been doing the past month and where I’m staying and when I can make contact with her (along with assuring her of my safety and caution every couple hours) I’ve realized that, at least to her, Panama is and has been a dark, enigmatic void of scary jungles, poisonous water, and ever lurking danger. While this illustration may for her describe nearly everyplace out of her field of vision while her children are in question, it is the purpose of this entry dispel such mystery and provide a walkthrough of a typical day as a Kalu Yala intern.
Some quick things to know: I live in ‘The Valley’, which is our name for the huge amount of property the company Kalu Yala owns in Panama. The Valley and surrounding land are inhabited only by ourselves and the ‘campesinos’, Panamanian mountain men who own ranches or work for ranchers. It lies approximately two miles from the nearest town San Miguel, though that two miles takes nearly two hours to traverse due to the fact that the hike in is almost entirely uphill. The company also owns a large house in San Miguel, a small, rural town (though very beautiful), and the interns living there do a great deal of community outreach work and teach in the local school. Another two hours journey by bus will take you from San Miguel to Panama City and the company hostel, a big pink building rented out to people for revenue, the only place of the three with reliable internet access, and also the home of the business interns who do… actually, we’re not really sure what it is the business interns do. Anyway, we live in the Valley in stints of 10 days, from Tuesday until the Thursday of the next week, and the later half of Thursday through Monday are our days off to go wherever we please, whether it be between the Kalu Yala locations, the beach, or a huge variety of tourism destinations here in Panama.
In the Valley, my day begins sometime between 6:30 and 7 AM each morning to the sight of warm yellow sunlight rising above the tips of the lush green mountains which surround us. Once fully roused I forcibly remove myself from the cot in which I have been sleeping, climb down from the second story of the rancho that serves as my shelter from the elements (our broken tent isn’t quite up to the job, although I hear it’s holding together slightly better than one of the others currently in the process of developing its very own aquatic ecosystem), and await breakfast time. Until it arrives, however, I like to kick back in a hammock and enjoy a book or simply the view before me. Soon the chefs are up and cooking to the beat of whatever music they are playing (lately a fitting soundtrack of Eddy Vedder’s performances from the movie Into the Wild) and breakfast is served by about 8:30.
The official work day begins at 9, and then we are off working on various tasks according to our respective internship program. As an agriculture intern, I am often doing jobs like working on our gardens, fencing them, planting seeds, trees, and plants, clearing weeds, reading farming and agriculture textbooks, planning crop and plant placements, and other such tasks. There is a lot else going on as well: the bio team is forever on excursions observing and identifying plant and animal life and exploring the vast amount of company property (such as the summit they have dubbed Candy Mountain, which may or may not contain a candycane forest or chocolate river), animal science has been hard at work finishing their chicken coup complete with a screened run, a bathouse (no, not for us, jerk), and very soon a new horse stable, and outdoor recreation in conjunction with some business team representatives have been working on marking and cleaning up trails through the mountains with the intent to put together and market eco-tourism packages filled with such activities for those crazy enough to join us in the wilderness. Around 1 in the afternoon our work is interrupted by the manic cries of chief chef Largo announcing far and wide that lunch is served, and once our appetites are sated and co-chef Alex has given up trying to force third and fourth helpings on our plates like your grandmother does at every family gathering, it’s back to work.
Finally, the closing bell rings at 4, and after that our time is our own. We all gather underneath the rancho and the cabana to hang out and talk for a while, often times a volleyball game will form, and I usually find myself with my nose in a book or a pen in my hand, writing. I especially love it when the skies darken and a storm rolls over us to put me into a lazy, contented trance, which is fairly often in the rainy season. Every day a group goes down to the river to swim and bathe before dinner, although I soon learned that ‘clean’ is a relative term in the valley. Eventually a hot dinner is cooked up and served by mad geniuses Largo and Alex (who else but a mad genius thinks up deep fried pineapple or peanut butter apple pancakes?) and we eat by tiki-torch light amongst the company of friends. Finally, by about 10 in the evening, I ready myself for bed, climb up to the second story of the rancho, slide underneath a sleeping bag to shield myself from the cold winds of our lofty elevation, and drift off to sleep under the moonlit sky to the bright, sporadic flashes of fireflies and silent strikes of lightning far beyond the mountains which enclose us within our home, the Valley.