When the Spring 2012 interns arrived in Panama we dedicated the first week to orientation. During this time we discussed briefly on the health, safety, emergency plans and venomous snakes and insects to be aware of. Also, Anne Shingler presented an informational video on Leave No Trace Ethics. I would like to summarize and reiterate these important facts for future potential interns and visitors. Some of this information may seem commonly understood yet often undervalued which can lead to unnecessary suffering. The following information is geared around life in the Kalu Yala valley.
Well, DUH….I know I should do the following…
- Drink water! It’s hot here and if you’re working hard or hiking in the sun, drink more than you think you need. Also, if your pee is yellow orange that’s a sure sign that you need to be drinking more liquids and no, I don’t mean cervesa.
- Repeatedly put sunscreen on. I’m talking, lather yourself in it so you look like a ghost. At least put a good amount on, let it soak into your skin then rub the rest in. Put more on after swimming and sweating, it sucks but mix all that goopy goodness in. I’m telling you, you will be glad you did!
- Look where you’re going. Nothing’s worse than looking at that beautiful volleyball court you just made when you walk right into a snake then you spend weeks in the hospital instead of in the sand!
- Tell someone where you’re going and don’t go alone, buddy up! This is very important in the jungle because most of us foreigner’s aren’t used to this type of environment and are unfamiliar with the area. If you want to go on a hike somewhere bring a friend along with you and make sure someone knows where you are going. If you can, provide a time frame so people know whether to be concerned after so many hours.
And some more useful advice…
- Pack out what you pack in, in fact, why not pack MORE out than what you packed in? If you see some trash along the way, take it back with you.
- Contained designated fire pits.
- Evacuate the contents of your bladder 200 feet away from water sources. If you want to dooky use the awesome bamboo compost toilet we have but if you can’t, dig a hole at least 6 to 10 inches deep and bury it also away from water.
- Filter any water you plan to drink from streams and river, or use iodine.
- Designate an area for eating and cooking. We now have an awesome kitchen and dining area that is well shaded. Some things we can do to help minimize our impacts here are drinking any leftover food juice and or dispersing our dish and food water.
- Cross rivers and streams with caution, you don’t have to wear Care Bear floaties on your arms, I mean, you can if you want to, just be cautious of slippery rocks and swift currents.
- Be considerate of others, in particular, the Campecino’s live nearby and even though they might not know you’re saying, it’s probably still annoying.
- Don’t feed wildlife because they will haunt you and make you feel bad every time you see them. But seriously, our food is not good for them so make Chef Johnny proud and eat all of your food. The dogs here are masters of trickery and do have homes.
- Put trash, recycling, and compost in their respective containers. Bags must be hung high up on the poles to prevent animals from getting into them.
- Take pictures and leave what you find. That flower may look beautiful in your hair for a day but that hummingbird could have used the nectar for survival.
- Don’t eat any wild fruits or plants unless you know what it is. Again, would you like more time spent in the hospital or on the sand? You’re choice.
- Stay on designated trails. Team Honeycreepers are currently creating trails in the area. The flora here grows fast but there are particular areas that can be easily impacted.
The creepy crawlies…
- The two most venomous snakes in the valley are the Ferdelance and the Rainforest Hognosed Pit-viper. If you get bitten, ACT QUICKLY, follow these four steps:
- Try to identify the snake, kill it if you can and take it with you. Notice if it has a bulge from recently eating.
- Try to remain calm and if you have to hike out, have someone carry you.
- Do NOT put a tourniquet on.
- Go directly to the Chepo Hospital, an hour and twenty minutes away from the valley.
- Poisonous spiders are not common in the valley but some people have had spider bites, creepy, but nothing to worry about.
- Mosquitos aren’t as bad as I thought they would be but still use prevent measures as some mosquitos carry diseases.
- Sand fly bites are similar to mosquito bites, don’t scratch them or they can become ulcers.
- Ants here have a fierce bite but are not that dangerous.
- Zac Long found a small scorpion in his hammock, if stung, don’t pinch the stinger out but scrape it out with a plastic card.
- A few of us got ticks, one of them being me. Make sure to grasp the head of the tick with tweezers and pull them out otherwise they stay latched on.
I have a routine throughout the day. If I am heading out into the jungle I wear pants, shirt or tank top and boots. I lather myself in sunscreen and spray my clothes with insect repellant. I always bring a small first aid kit with me, sunscreen, water, food, and a long sleeved shirt. Shake out your shoes, clothes, and bed sheets because you never know what decided it might be a nice home. By afternoon reapply sunscreen and bug spray, put on the long sleeved shirt if you have to be in the sun for an extended amount of time. Before night fall get prepared. If you’ve been working at camp with sandals on, it would be a good idea to put some boots on because there are a lot of insects that come out at night. Also, don’t forget the headlamp.
- Pay attention to your body, common illness can be aggravated by lack of rest, water, and any stressors. Use the first aid kit provided by the company to mend any wounds and let others know about any concerns you might have about how you’re feeling or any particular weird looking rashes or wounds. We want you to keep all of your limbs so we can keep you working!
- Do not use power tools or the generator without permission.If you don’t know how to use a particular tool, just ask someone for advice, everyone here has different skills to contribute and this is a safe learning environment.
- During orientation week we had to write down any allergic reactions we have in case of an emergency. They have an epi-pen on site and a very well laid out health emergency policies and procedures. The emergency coordinator here is Biology Director, Max Cooper.
Safety and respect for the wilderness in the valley and everywhere else you go in life are invaluable sources of knowledge. We are all stewards of this earth and can make a difference. If you follow this advice you can spend more time on the volleyball court and in the jungle instead of laying in a hospital bed!