Central America | Panama – Visiting volunteers near San Felix
Visiting volunteers near San Felix
I finished volunteer visits mid-February. I spent the 10th staying with Jess G, who I really admire, because she was first assigned a very developed site on the other side of the country, and after a lot of thought, felt she could be more useful in a less developed but more challenging site. So she moved to Lajero! Its a two hour hike there from the Interamerican. I think she is happy there, and they love having her. She had twisted her ankle just before I visited her, but had taped it up herself, and was going on with her business, trying to start a compost latrine project, garden and fish pond projects, and building her house.
The next day, I hiked up to Alto Guayabal with Casey Q, also a two hour hike. He lives in a corrugated tin house with a dirt floor, and we were having dinner when a red venomous snake slithered right across the floor in front of us! It soon lost its head. We later sat outside and watched the stars come out. I dont know what is more beautiful, palm trees silhouetted against a sunset, or palm trees silhouetted against a million stars. Later, I tied up my hammock in his tin house and slept there.
The next day I headed up to visit Adam G, but first met Jess M halfway up that road, because we were going to check out a site she recommended for a volunteer- Calabazal. They have been begging her for help with latrines, and she is just to busy in her community with her own project. So I met her on the dirt road to Cerro Iglesias, where Calabazal is a 20 minute hike on a foot path. Two Ngabe women were turning onto the dirt path the same time we were. Once out of view of the main dirt road, one woman pulled off her long skirt to reveal spandex shorts underneath, happily saying Im in my house now! I dont have to wear this! Jess and I walked around Calabazal. They did really want a volunteer. They wanted someone to help them with latrines, and said they built the aqueduct with help of the last volunteer in the 70s. That was 30 years ago, but they still remember his full name and talked like he was just there yesterday. It must have been 100 degrees and we were running out of water. Jess and I walked the 20 minutes back to the main dirt road and started up to Cerro Iglesias. It was so hot and the dust blowing around was fine as talcum powder. We kept hiking up and ran out of water. I couldnt believe I hadnt brought more! We were laughing about the situation, but we were miserable and literally soaked with sweat. We kept thinking a chiva would come pick us up, but it never did. We started getting desperate, and contemplated drinking untreated water from the closest faucet. Jess had friends from the states to visit, so she could not get sick because she would be leading them around Panama. I however, did not feel I had unbreakable plans for the upcoming week, so getting sick or hospitalized from bad water wouldn’t be inconvenient. So I begged at the next Ngabe house for water. No water reached their faucet, but the woman took me to a sections of PVC pipes where she pulled them apart, and filled my Nalgene, which I promptly chugged. Brave Jess endured all the way to Cerro Iglesias. We finally arrived and chugged flavored soda at the first store we came to. After resting for a bit, we continued up hill, Jess going to the road that would lead back to her community, Tolothe, and me on up to Adams. But we were intercepted by a Ngabe woman and her grown son, calling for us to come over and help them with something in English. Oh no, I thought, I am so tired! But we went over, and it turned out to be a church song. Jess read it in English: When peace like a river , and the Ngabe woman tried to imitate: Wan peesh lak a reever , so her pronunciation wasnt the best, but I was blown away by her voice! She had the most amazing singing voice Id heard in a long time!
Eventually, we continued on uphill, Jess to Tolothe, and I found Adam in his almost-built bamboo house. He hadnt moved in yet, he was living in the cooperative he works with, so it was actually a quite comfortable night since Cerro Iglesias has electricity in the coop, potable water in the taps, and I got to sleep in a real bed at the coop, not my hammock!
The next morning, instead of waiting a chiva that may not arrive, I hiked over to Oma, where the transport was much more frequent. It was an hour hike, but pretty flat, so pretty easy, and there was lovely views all the way down the Pacific. I arrived at the main road, this one paved, and started downhill to San Felix. This is the road that goes to Chami, if you go uphill. I only walked down the paved road a little way, when a huge, old green army truck came from above and stopped next to me. Great, I thought, some creepy strange men are going to try to offer me a ride. But it turned out to be Carlos, a very nice Latino teacher who has worked in Chami for years! They had taken a bunch of desks up to Chami, because the school year was about to begin. Teachers go up March 5, he told me. Students start March 12th. As we continued down, we saw Irael, the chiva ayudante, walking towards San Felix, and we picked him up too. Gracias Maestro! Hola Cristina! he yelled as he hopped in back. It was so interesting, a Chami teacher, chiva helper, and me, totally random people, but all connected by the road to Chami. Carlos and I talked about it as we drove down. Look at this beautiful paved road! Carlos said, you were here in 2004, werent you? (I was) Remember how bad this part was? Oh yea, remember how chivas used to get stuck in the mud on this hill all the time? I said and we laughed. I think we all actually miss the bad road. It just had so much character.
A couple days later I went up the same road to Cerro Tula to visit John J. Cerro Tula is a beautiful site on a ridge, so there are views in almost every direction. He has the sweetest host family, who we chatted with the rice and beans dinner they cooked over the fire. They even gave me a little piece of meat! I felt so honored.