The traveling I have done in my life has mainly been to tourist locations, where people coming and going are simply a part of the landscape. San Miguel is about as far as you could get from any tourist spot, a small rural village of about 500 residents, occupied mainly by the descendants of four original families. By now they are aware of the Kalu Yala presence – the valley crew staggering out to Tres Brazos with massive backpacks, after school programs, and English classes.
Although they know who we are, and what we are doing, being an outsider in San Miguel still attracts some attention. Behaviors that are “normal” in my American life, stick out quite a bit in a Panamanian town.
One of the first nights in our San Miguel house, when we found out we were living with a skilled yogi, we did some yoga out on the driveway. Halfway through the practice we had an audience of kids outside our gate, giggling and doing the poses with us.
Another attraction for the children of San Miguel, is going for a run. No one here seems to jog (maybe a good move due to the massive hills and 90 degree weather). A few times when I was running along the river I gained a following of barefoot, shirtless children that ran along side with me, totally amused, and maybe confused.
I’ve been working on building a garden path for our house and in an effort to use local materials I have been lugging rocks from the river. This certainly earns some curious stares – I can only imagine what the people relaxing by the river are thinking -why is this crazy girl filling up a bucket with rocks? One man walking by asked our cook Noris if I was “playing”… carrying heavy loads of rocks in the Panama heat is no game to me!
One of my favorite moments was a group of girls on the chiva to San Miguel who told me I had pretty hair (blonde stands out a bit) then asked me where I was from. When I said New York all the kids surrounding me got wide eyed, saying “Wow!!!!”
It can be an uneasy feeling when you realize just how much you stand out. When people look towards you with strange curiosity, it gives you a certain sense of awareness about your actions and behaviors that you would not have otherwise, and teaches you more about yourself. The benefit of being an outsider in a foreign rural town, where tourists do not roam, is you learn a lot about yourself and you are in for a really interesting authentic experience.