First week of orientation I learned sometimes you just have to lower your standards… and that, in this case, is not a bad thing. The whole Kalu Yala way of life is about freeing yourself from the “gringo” way of thinking, and embracing and utilizing the resources available to you.
For the first time ever, not even fathoming, but participating, I ate fresh fruit from a tree. Limes, coconut, and mangos grow all around us in the yard of Casa Llena, including a resident cat, two chickens, and rooster named Alejandro. I gave in and tasted the mango, which I don’t particularly like regularly, and thought it was delicious! Oh, how I’ve seen and tasted the freshness of life! … the resident female chickens successfully lay eggs, BTW.
My other means of violating my comfort zone was sleeping in little or no air, amongst others, and just sharing living spaces with them period, while Alejandro runs the yard cock-a-doodling all night long. I had become accustom to living alone these past 5 years, and never with roommates much less strangers. I realized that it was unnecessary for me to feel I need to be in my own and same element all the time and that I had to get au-natural and embrace this living space and what life has to offer in general.
At the end of our first week, all the house and city interns took a trip into the valley, to visit the first of one of Kalu Yala’s up and coming land development sites. A bunch of interns studying agriculture, biology, and animal science amongst other things, live in the valley, EVERY DAY, for at least 10 days straight before being allowed to take a 3 day vacation at Casa Llena or in Panama City. However, they are oblivious to the outside world and couldn’t wait to share their wonderous playground with us.
First, the hike up there was trying! If it had not been for friendly locals on horseback taking my backpack and another giving me a ride up the last horrendous hills, I wouldn’t have made it. I would have just sat there, or rolled back down the mountain or died. I’m thinking my asthma and MVP in conjunction with elevation overwhelmed me. And no, MVP has nothing to do with being a valuable player… it’s mitral valve prolapse. My heart was on overload and couldn’t take it! The trek up into the mountains is definitely for the able-bodied and experienced. And most probably, it’s only a one-time experience for me. I salute and envy the valley hikers.
Once up there, my comfort level was again tested before I warmed up to the situation: I had to sleep outside! I had to use the restroom in outhouses and dump the bucket out myself. I had to eat off of dishes that were washed outside with no running water. I had to maneuver muddy man-made paths littered with water puddles and horse manure… . I enjoyed myself, which made me proud.
Kalu Yala is not about getting what you want. It’s about appreciating what you have, making the best of it, and working towards better. Although the language barriers, food preparation and consumption, and living situations are testing me, I’ve experienced beautiful things I would never give back.
The nearest city is 24 de deciembre and is full of commercial retail, people and vendors and more prominent than those three- trash. The beauty of the land no longer exists. Here in San Miguel, there are unpaved, clay roads and only 3 restaurants and 2 stores. The town center or downtown area consists of a fork in the road where all 5 of these things are located.
There’s a beautiful river, the Pacora, with large, old mountain boulders, smoothed by the clear flowing waters that run right in front of Casa Llena. The river, hills and mountains are visible from the house’s balcony, and at night, the lack of city light pollution displays a sky that mimics a black backdrop full of glitter. A less than 20-30 minute hike up and pass the church will take you to a secluded, pristine 6ft waterfall. I can say with confidence that this place certainly rivals paradise.
Up and inside the valley, base camp is surrounded by breath-taking mountain tops and three rivers- Tres Brazos. The swimming holes in the area are plentiful and gorgeous. The scenery alone leaves you in awe of nature and God’s grace. The night I first slept outdoors, I lay under the stars in my hammock with my mosquito net and a blanket. I stared at the sky until falling asleep… between unconsciousness I woke only to automatically look up at the stars again until dozing back off.
Before my nightcap, I sat on the second level of an open-air cabana the Kalu Yala valley crew is constructing, watching the fireflies come out. It was beautiful, they were plentiful and it was like none other I’d even seen. They rose out of the grass and brush, up through the air and into the trees as they circled their way into the sky. Then the stars came out. And there was peace for me… and Kalu Yala came full circle. This is why I am here…to sustain this place, this feeling… .
Again, there are no words. It is simply amazing here and I am totally convinced I’ve embarked upon a life-changing journey this summer… and not even mine alone, but my families, friends, Kalu Yala colleagues and the San Miguel community. Now, that’s change you can believe in.