After our first orientation week as interns, we all decided to take a trip to a Pedasi and the surrounding areas for the weekend. Though it was a five-hour bus ride, we were told this was one of the places you “just had to visit.” Inspired and excited for the adventure, we took off, packed shoulder to shoulder on a small Chiva bus.
We didn’t get there until after dark, but Dim’s Hostal was really nice, clean with A/C, our own shower, and breakfast included! When we woke up the next morning, after eating a delicious breakfast (it’s always better when it’s free or included!), we set off for the beach. The moment we had all been waiting for…surf-able waves crashing along the shore, coconut trees lining the dunes, birds chirping away…it was a true paradise.
It was also really hot. Even after swimming, the sand was scorching and the sweat was dripping. That was the point where we spotted the green coconuts atop the coconut tree, and began to crave the ultimate hydration of coconut water. Inexperienced, we took a long stick and starting poking away at a lonely coconut. Eventually it worked, but our beginner method of getting the coconut was laughed at by some locals. They watched as we struggled, then came over and showed us how it was really done. One of them climbed up the tree and selected coconuts that he would toss down to his friend. Prepared with a machete, the sliced away at the side of the coconut until there was a perfect little hole to drink the water from. Then we found a brown coconut, cracked it, and ate the meat inside. It was like wild tropical candy!
They were super friendly and began talking to us about the wild life surrounding us, and even offered to take us on a mini tour of “el bosque” (the forest). Super excited, we agreed and began the journey through the forest, out some dunes, up the beach and ended at a small outdoor house-like structure that looked like it was straight from Baywatch.
On our little tour, our guides were awesome in that they talked about and explained wild fruits, different types of trees, and animals that lived around there. We came upon these small orange fruits, the name which I couldn’t understand, that would fall to the ground when they were ready to eat. They had the texture of a plum, the size of a cherry (with a pit), and a sweet yet tart taste. They fell from a tall, thirty-foot tree that was also a great tree for shade.
Further into our little tour, we discovered trees with thorns that looked like shark teeth, skinny trees made up of solid hardwood (good for construction), and a variety of different palm trees. We came out of the bosque right where a small lake met the beach, apparently a body of water where crocodiles roam and you can’t swim. Then we climbed down a dune hill to the waterfront, where we found two vertebrae of a whale! We carried the massive bone up to the “Baywatch house,” and used it as a new piece of furniture!
Not only did we get to meet some awesome, accommodating locals, we also got to experience an insight into the biodiverse nature that thrives in a tropical setting. For me, this was the beginning to the foundation of my biological studies here in Panama. Most likely, some of these species don’t exist on Kalu Yala’s property in the valley, but on the other hand, some probably do! Even if they don’t, experiencing the knowledge of the local people and learning the countless varieties of plants and animals should be a good start to learning and expanding my knowledge of biology in the valley. I look forward to networking with the team and the surroundning campasino’s (people living in the valley) to learn and apply biological information to the Kalu Yala team and projects.