Panama can be explained as many things, but the most fitting word is diverse. Upon arriving into the thriving metropolis that is Panama City, Kalu Yala’s trusty Toyota Fortuner drove us away from the hustle and into the small village of San Miguel. Here we stayed for a week, meeting locals, learning the culture, and exploring the many outdoor recreation spots that the area has to offer. After becoming somewhat acquainted with the village, it was time to hop on the bus and go to Hispania, our home in the city.
Panama City greets the tourist with skyscrapers, traffic, and businesses rather than the farms, dirt roads, and mountains seen in San Miguel. What a change going from a tiny town where everyone is a friend to a crowded bus of strangers passing by more strangers. Instead of campesinas, we saw businessmen wearing suits. Instead of seeing Ramon riding a horse through town, we saw the elite class driving Porsches through the city. After spending a week living and working in the city, I became somewhat familiar with the environment by meeting new friends and immersing myself in the city culture. Yet again however, once I felt acquainted, it was time to hop on a bus and ride to Pedasi, the Pacific surfing and fishing town.
My fellow intern, Jamie Schlicting, and our director, Victor Ansley, accompanied me on the trip. After a five-hour bus ride filled with blasting air conditioning and corny music videos, we finally arrived into Pedasi. We were immediately greeted by Kalu Yala’s past intern Anne Walker Harrison and dined at a local restaurant called Smiley’s. Pedasi’s coastal terrain was very different from San Miguel’s inland, agrarian atmosphere, but I was welcomed with the same friendly, small town feel that I missed in the city. Everyone wanted to be my friend, and did not hesitate to say, “buenas!” as I walked by them. After a long day of surfing in Playa Venao, we arrived back in Pedasi to a town-wide parade and celebration. What the parade was for is still unknown to me, but it was a great way to really get an appreciation of their culture. I compared this beach town to my own beach town back in the States; slow moving, friendly, and very laid back.
By going to these three very different locations in Panama during my first two weeks in the country, I am beginning to understand how very diverse Panama is. Whether one is a farmer in San Miguel, a banker in Panama City, or a fisherman in Pedasi, they are all united by a common bond: they are Panamanian. Each individual indentifies differently with their country, but all are proud of what they do in support of their families and their communities. Panama’s diversity is united by their love for their beautiful country and the prospect of making it a powerful nation.
As part of our business plan, these different cultures of Panama can be brought together at our new establishment, Casa Yala. Our first event, an art show for current resident artist Marte, turned out to be a great success. This event has set a precedent for many more events to come, thereby heightening awareness of the Casa/Kalu Yala brand for a larger clientele of business connections. Throughout these events and by hosting guests at Casa Yala, we plan on discussing with guests the possibilities of a trip to our valley. Once enough people are aware of Casa Yala, the ecotourism brand will commence with activities such as camping, horseback riding, bird watching and beach volleyball!
We have a busy summer ahead, and Kalu Yala is in a better spot now more than ever due to raised awareness and large opportunities for launching sub-brands like Casa Yala and A Taste of Panama. It’s all about networking and getting the word out.