The last few weeks have been exciting here in Panama. We had our first vacation, made a lot of progress on our tourism project and took another trip out to the valley.
On the vacation side:
For our first vacation, myself and 6 others took a trip out to Isla Grande. From the reviews we read online, we were expecting a quaint town with white sandy beaches. I think this is one of the cases where we should not believe the online reviews. There was only one beach on the island and it was quite small. We did have a good time meeting some of the locals and the few other backpackers on the island, but it was definitely not the beach vacation we were anticipating.
When it comes to tourism in Panama, it is so much different than in the U.S. There are so many beautiful places here that remain untouched by large scale tourism. The trip to Isla Grande was a real authentic experience. We stayed in a hostel owned by someone from Panama and ate the local food. If this quaint little island existed in the U.S., it would be likely covered in modern, large hotels. It is very interesting to visit a place that has maintained its authenticity. The lack of large, upscale infrastructure may also be the reason why it has remained mainly a domestic tourist and backpacker place to go.
On the work side:
Kimberly Hall came to speak to us. She is originally from the U.S. and moved to Panama about 6 years ago. She has had a variety of different jobs in Panama and offered the interns some words of advice. She talked about finding a good mentor who can teach us and said it does not matter what we are doing as long as we are learning a lot. This advice makes me feel better about not knowing exactly what I want to do within the realm of tourism. I know I want to do something tourism related so now I’m on the hunt for a tourism mentor. If you know of anyone- let me know!
We are making a lot of headway with the plans for our trip out to the valley with backpackers. We are working on marketing materials, competition research and did some site visits to nearby target hostels. The hostels that I visited were more than willing to work with us on the project and help to promote it. We are thinking of offering a type of FAM tour out to the valley for the hostel owners to see how great the experience is.
On one of the visits to a hostel in Casco Viejo (the old city), I passed by a restaurant I had eaten at 2 years ago when I was here in Panama. I cannot believe how much the area has changed since I was here. There is construction everywhere. Unfortunately, companies are currently buying the old buildings and tearing them down while the city is in the process of getting the buildings declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is really sad. I hope that a stop is put to this soon and the old character of the majority of the buildings is preserved instead of making that part of Panama as modern as the rest of the city is turning out to be (one of the buildings being restored is pictured below).
Two of the other interns and I spent a few days out the valley to further explore the swimming holes, trails and other activities we can offer to the backpackers who come on our first Kalu Yala Jungle Adventures trip. The valley staff was completely on board with the trip and that made the other interns and I even more excited to run the trip! We helped the valley staff carry large palm leaves down a slippery hill in the down pouring rain. It was an experience I really enjoyed though I will probably never again have the opportunity to do it.
Most days I go for a run down the boardwalk right outside our house close to Parque Urraca. It gives me some time to observe the locals in their daily life. Here are some observations I’ve made about living in Panama:
- Why do Panamanians honk when they are in stopped traffic? The car in front of you can’t go anywhere
- If I want to cross the street at a crosswalk, I have to take my life into my own hands. We have started calling crossing the street taking a death run.
- It is still very popular to rollerblade in Panama. I might get myself a pair of skates.
- There are security/police officers basically every 20 feet on the boardwalk. I’m not sure if this makes me feel safer that they are there, or feel like I shouldn’t be there.
- Panamanians are afraid of the rain. In a place where half the year is the rainy season, I just don’t understand this.
We are off to Playa Venao and Pedasi in a few days. I am looking to spending a few days laying on the beach (for real this time)!