For my second Panamanian vacation, my fellow interns and I did a three night stay in Playa Venao. The interns and I stayed at Eco Venao, which is a reforestation project and lodging. This was my first run in with ecotourism in Panama. I couldn’t help but to draw parallels between Eco Venao and Kalu Yala.
Eco Venao is a gorgeous property beautifully landscaped with variety of tropical vegetation. There are defined hiking trails. Indigenous wood from plantations is used in all structures, which include the lodges, huts, and the restaurant and bar. Their commitment to recycling, using water saving devices, and solar energy sources is shared value of Kalu Yala. Once Kalu Yala starts development, I envision a lot of these same things.
Huts with really steep palm roofs were all over the property. A couple of weeks ago, I spent half the week hauling palm in the valley for a rancho that we are currently building. The main takeaway is that it takes a lot of work to build one roof, and the roof has to be replaced every five years. To me, that is a quick turnaround considering the amount of physical effort one expends.
Standing under the restaurant roof at Eco Venao, which is about three times the size of our rancho, I was thinking, “Replacing the roof on this must be awful.” My body hurt just thinking about it. I commented on how much palm is needed for all of their huts when I realized the manager didn’t really have a clue about how the roof is made or why it’s sustainable. This was disappointing for me. Once I realized this, I knew an engaging conversation about the reforestation project of Eco Venao would be out of the question.
Ecotourism will become a big part of Kalu Yala. When we have backpackers come out to visit the valley this semester for a long weekend trip, I want all the interns and not just the directors to be at least somewhat informed about everything we are doing in the valley. Just because we are business interns and our main focus is providing hospitality and marketing for the project doesn’t mean that we are exempt from understanding valley projects.
Since there are only eight interns this semester, I think this can be achieved. The best way to learn is to come out to the valley and work with the valley directors and their campesino friends, whose knowledge is invaluable. Thus far, five business interns and one director have all left the city and helped haul palm leaves off the hillside. Being out in the valley and working under such knowledgeable directors who are willing to teach has given me so much insight into how jungle processes work.
I am a thankful for this internship opportunity because it has given me the ability to be in the field learning. This knowledge base will enable all of us be better hosts and marketers for Kalu Yala because we’ll understand and appreciate the valley for what it is at this stage of development.