QP Arriba workday in the Abajo community - leveling
off land where we want the water storage tanks
800 Days in Panama
Story & Photos by Eric Rosenfield
Meet Our Guest Writer
Living in the jungle-mountains of Panama's
Bocas del Toro province, Eric Rosenfield is an Environmental Health
Peace Corps Volunteer. His childhood upbringing in the suburbs
of Los Angeles and his studies in civil and environmental engineering
at the George Washington University in Washington, DC have led
him to this point: in his rural community, he is helping the indigenous
Ngabe families build gravity-fed water systems to bring running
water to their homes. He is learning about everything from organic
chocolate farming to night-fishing in the streams with a machete
to not falling while running down hillsides in rubber boots.
koin dere, my readers, as we say in my community, speaking the indigenous
language of Ngäbere. It means "very good afternoon."
And a very good afternoon it is.
Fortunately I've been lucky enough to have some time
off recently, since funding for my next aqueduct project has yet to
be filled (to donate, click
here thanks!). Panama is a very small country (about the
size of South Carolina), but it can be quite diverse in its geography
it has ocean(s), mountains, jungles, islands, rainforest. I would
describe where I live as a jungle, though a lot of the land close to
families' homes is used for farming. But even the fincas can
seem like jungles I was walking through a finca the other
day with Sanji (my puppy), and I looked up the trail and saw two guys
from my community. One had his sling shot out, which is quite common
for younger kids to carry around to kill birds and whatnot, but this
guy was not a kid, so I kind of knew something was up. Well, he shot
a few rocks at something black that I saw move between the branches
and leaves on the ground. I picked up Sanji, walked up a few feet, and
saw a HUGE black snake, making its way down into the jungle, away from
the path. It must had been seven or eight feet. Yes, it freaked me out,
and I'm super thankful that those guys got to it before I did, or Sanji
did. But anyways, moral of the story is, the jungle is everywhere
(or nowhere is safe from scary animals?).
Anyways, I've recently taken two trips to different
parts of Panama. Trips that would make you quite jealous once you see
the pictures. So I'll start with the first.
I went to Volcan Barú last month, which
is the highest point in Panama. The volcano is about 3,475 meters, or
11,400 feet high, and is located in the province of Chiriqui, south
of my home province of Bocas del Toro. So because Panama is so skinny,
from the top of Volcan Barú on a clear day it's possible to see
both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
So myself and a few other volunteers started the 13.5
kilometer (8.4 miles), six and a half hour hike up the volcano at midnight.
Yes, we climbed in the nighttime, such that we could see the sunrise
at the top. We planned the hike on the night of a full moon, so I actually
never busted out my flashlight to use the moon was bright, and
the path up the volcano wasn't too shaded. That worked out perfectly,
but unfortunately a full moon doesn't warm up the earth during the night.
It was... pretty damn cold. I want to say that the last two kilometers
were the worst the path became unshielded from the wind, so that
the breeze was strong and biting. I prepared myself, however, with two
pairs of socks, board shorts, pajama pants, regular pants, a shirt,
cardigan, hoodie, and rain jacket and I was decently okay. It certainly
wasn't the coldest I've ever been, but I had never been so cold and
far away from heat!
And the sun is out
We ended up getting to the top of Barú around
625am. As you get to the very top, you pass a whole mess of cell phone/whatever
electrical towers, which was a little weird. But to get to the very,
very top, you have to climb up some rocks (one bad step and you may
or may not fall off the volcano) and finally reach a big white cross.
We sat down, at the highest point in Panama, and watched the sun rise
over the Caribbean Sea and watched the full moon set over the Pacific
So the Volcan Barú trip was super legit. The
hike down lasted a good five hours or so, and I kind of wanted to kill
myself. My toes were DEAD, and the trail never seemed to end. But five
minutes into the hike back down, when the sun was out, I was no longer
cold and I hiked down in just board shorts and a shirt. Crazy, how the
sun works. Overall, it was well worth it, but I don't think I'll be
doing that hike again. Unless one of you wants to come visit me and
it's your dream to climb a volcano if so, I'll join you.
My second trip actually just ended I got back
yesterday from Isla Coiba. It's a reallyyyyy big island (the
largest in Central America at 194 square miles), located on the Pacific
side of Panama. A penal colony was established on the island in 1919
(almost like an Alcatraz), but it was shut down in 1998 due to... torture,
political murders, and other human rights issues. Now, Coiba is a World
Heritage Site and a national park it is protected by ANAM (Panama's
EPA equivalent), and most of the island remains ancient forest. And
in much simpler words it is BEAUTIFUL.
A group of 8 of us hired a boat driver to take us out
to Coiba as well as drive us around wherever during our two-day stay.
The trip to the island is about an hour and a half by boat.
So we had our own personal boat driver, an island with
very few people on it, and tons of sunshine (dry season in Panama's
Pacific side). The trip was wonderful. We took a trip to see the old
prison which was creepy, and made me a little nervous. But to be a prisoner
on a pristine beach... hmm. I guess it's more doable than other situations.
And the rest of the time, we snorkeled a bunch and laid
out on the beaches. The water was amazing. I saw schools of giant fish
(20 pounds or so, and dozens of them), large sea turtles, flying fish,
dolphins, needle fish, brighttttt colored fish, and a six-foot sting
ray. Our boat driver took us to seemingly random islands to snorkel.
And it was all so pretty.
I also hiked up the island to see the view of all
that lied below
See what you guys are missing, not being in Panama?
Well, I'm here for another...I don't know, actually. My two years are
up in October, but I don't want to leave just yet. So you guys have
some time to visit me - we can go to the mountains, go to the islands,
go to the jungles, or all of the above.
Ruins, Riviera Maya, Mexico; Inside
Cozumel, Mexico; Playa
del Carmen; La
Paz, Baja California Sur