Three months ago I awoke from a dead sleep with a terrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was four days away from heading to Panama for three months. I knew little of the company I was going to work for and even less about the country in which it operated. Qualms aside, I grabbed my four enormous bags (I didn’t know what to bring so I brought it all) jumped aboard the plane and met my future head-on. Now it is my last day in Panama, and I cannot quite comprehend this little factoid. I have lived a full and rich life in those three months and gained the companions and wherewithal that accompanies such a wondrous and fruitful existence. In the last fourth year I have explored jungles, built indigenous structures, rode horses through rivers by moonlight, danced at hotel openings, ate chicken colons (not proud of this one), listened to The Hobbit on audio book on a beach by a fire, I rode bulls in a rodeo for Christ’s sake. Now I don’t believe in closure (nothing that has affected my life this greatly will ever be a fully finished story) but I would like to acknowledge just a few of the incredible people who provided the catalyst for my exploits.
Anne Walker: Your amazing indomitable positive outlook creates such a welcome reprieve for those who may have been worn thin, those with culture shock, the tired, the morose, the lost. You made my experience here all the better by simply being you. I cannot remember a time you flashed your smile my way and I could help but smile right back.
Johnny: If an army marches on its stomach, then I would have marched to the pits of hell with you. Nothing could lift our spirits after endless days of relentless heat in the jungle like one of your amazing meals, especially when it was accompanied by a half day at the beach.
Ashley: I would never have had this opportunity if it was not for you. The simple email you wrote that was forwarded to me sparked this whole fire. My entire stay in Panama I never heard you utter an ill word, or give anything but positive advice.
Brigitte: I never knew so much tenacity could be contained in such a small package. You could propel any one to try their hardest just by presenting your example. I remember wrestling a log back to camp one afternoon. When I reached the wood pile I slammed it down in exhaustion (it weighed a hundred pounds if it weighed an ounce) and before it came to rest you had it in your arms and were off with it. You were an amazing director, and your zest for life and adventure permeates your entire being.
Victor: If anyone belongs here it’s you. The relationships you have fostered throughout Panama have created a priceless webbing of opportunities for every intern and director that comes through Kalu Yala. One of my most cherished memories is our epic horse ride into the valley. We arrived in san Miguel around 10:00 A.M. to meet the owner of the horses we were going to ride. We met him at a fonda on the outskirts of town deeply entrenched in a drinking circle. He asked if we would like a beer and we accepted (little did we know that we had just entered this devilish circumference of libations). When we finally saddled the horses and headed down the trail, my head was on the London side of foggy. Our horses were ancient and at multiple intervals looked at us as if to say, “O.K. now it’s our turn to ride you.” But through all of this, the part that sticks out the most is riding back through the river silhouetted by the moon and our ride’s headlights. It was that moment that I realized how unique the whole of my Kalu Yala experience has been.
Kylie and Ian: What a duo you make; each of you so level headed and thoughtful. Multiple times you created a clam in a situation that could have easily have been storms if hotter head prevailed. Beyond this, you provided such a wealth of knowledge for all to share. It is a wonderful thing, how willing you both are to share what you have learned and how willing you are to learn more. You two embody the free flow of ideas that Kalu Yala is constructing.
Max: You are undeniable. The way you have immersed yourself in the culture of Panama and Kalu Yala is a benchmark that all who know you can only hope to achieve. Your guidance and tutelage has been paramount to my growth as an intern and a person. I truly cherish the conversations we have had. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have given me.
Jimmy: The farmer who planted the seed that became the sapling, which will become the great oak of Kalu Yala. You have created a wondrous world in the jungles of Panama then invited us all to come along. Beyond what you have created, you continually instill in others the courage to create as well. Listening to you talk, a person would jump from the Golden Gate Bridge if only you told them they had wings.
Interns (Machete Mobers): What would this have been without such a fantastic group? It is rare to find a gaggle of people this big who mesh so well. I arrived knowing at one point I would become irritated with everyone, but here I am in the proverbial terminal wish I had more time to spend with you all. Thank you for making every moment of my adventure so happy and memorable. I do and always will count you all among my closest friends.
Once again I say thank you all for all you have given me and I can only hope I have given back in turn. In parting, I say I refuse to let this journey fade into memory. Instead I choose to make it a catalyst for my future. I have immeasurably grown in the past three months, and set sail to new adventures, all the while flipping life on it is head.