There is really no other way to describe being at this point in my time in Panama without saying that time really does fly by. Panama now feels like another home to me as do the people I have been surrounded now feel like family. My experience here in Panama was perfectly summed up and put into perspective on my last trip to the valley.
To get to the valley from Hispania, you take the city metro bus 1 hour to venticuatro. From there you take a Diablo Rojo (the public bus system of privately owned old US school buses) to San Miguel which is another hour. Once in San Miguel, the hike takes about 1 1/2 hours starting in town and ending at basecamp. Upon returning from vacation on a national holiday weekend, I left for the valley early Sunday morning to ensure I would be out there to complete my medicinal garden project in time. Normally within 15 minutes of waiting you catch the city metrobus. However, due to the holiday weekend only a handful had passed in 45 minutes so I began walking back to Hispania when I saw a La Dona bus going in the opposite direction. Luckily, I ran back to the stop and caught the bus to venticuatro. Here you can wait anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours depending on the mood of the bus driver and how quickly he would like to leave. When I arrived there was a long line for the San Miguel bus which we have now learned means that it will be leaving soon as there are enough people to fill it up. This was a great sign since at this point I didn’t know if buses would be going out there on the holiday weekend.
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Within a few minutes we left the terminal and went down back roads as the normal ones were blocked off. (Side note: I don’t think a day went by this semester that we didn’t hear drums being played somewhere as both students and adults we practicing for the patriotic parades that took place over the weekend). It took much longer than usual to pass points I recognized and after an hour the bus stopped as cars were in the streets and we couldn’t pass through. Everyone started getting off the bus so I asked the bus driver how could I get to San Miguel. He told me I needed to walk through the town next to the parade and maybe on the other side I would find buses.
So I start laughing as I find myself in the middle of a huge Panamanian celebration with my backpack, nike shorts, and tank top on. After walking up the street, I realized I was in La Mesa, where I taught Adult English classes with Brigette every Monday during the semester. A few minutes later, I spotted one of my students who laughed at my predicament and told me to stay and hang out with her as they were dancing in the street.
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Once the parade neared the end, I began to look again for the bus. The first car in the line was a cattle car with one milk canister strapped in the back, a car I have seen going in and out of the valley many times. The driver made eye contact with me and asked if I was going to los tres brazos. I nearly screamed I was so excited when he motioned for me to get in the car. It was Camillo Jr., the son of the man Camillo Sr. who normally drives the truck into the valley.
Once we got to San Miguel, he brought me to Casa Llena to see if anyone was home before I made the trek into the valley. No one was there and I thanked him for the ride and told him I was going to start the hike. He thoroughly insisted he give me a ride and off we went in his truck through the unruly road leading to the valley. Mid way through we started talking about music and how he loves electronic. I pulled out my ipod and plugged it into his stereo blasting Afrojack and Benny Benassi. He dropped me off at the river right before base camp and then he returned back to San Miguel.
This normal trip turned adventure meant so much to me because I not only was able to break through the language barrier and finally speak Spanish to a certain extent, but through speaking I have developed friendships within the community. Those friendships were proven on my trip as they were happy to help me, hang out with me, and genuinely do a favor for me asking nothing in return. I would say that Sunday was a small example of how those friendships have expanded to other community members. To top it off, the next night I talked with Jorge about the medicinal garden and what kind of plants I was looking for. He returned the next day with 12 different plants from his garden, another example of how incredible these people are. I am sad to leave them, leave my Kalu Yala family, and Panama alike. I have finally figured it all out and now it is time to leave, but I am happy to go with a great sense of satisfaction with so many new lessons learned and success here in Panama.