Yes, I am blatantly stealing the title of this post from The Beatles. I heard about thirty of their songs last night at The Beatles Symphony Tour here in Panama City. Along with a psychedelic video backdrop, a Beatles cover band from Venezeula played all the hits accompanied by a Panamanian orchestra. I’m not a huge Beatles fan but it was pretty neat, especially after a few cold Balboas.
I feel this blog title aptly describes the journey undertaken from Panama City to San Miguel. For those of you that do not know, San Miguel is the community closest to base camp and the future site of the Kalu Yala development. San Miguel is a tiny, rural town, home to about 500, and is roughly 3 miles from Kalu Yala’s property. KY owns a house in San Miguel for interns to serve as the base for the Community Outreach and Education programs. As you can imagine, a bunch of gringos make quite the splash in such a remote place in Panama. According to longer-term Kalu Yalans, making friends in San Miguel has been quite the challenge, but necessary as all future residents and visitors to the valley must pass through this sleepy little town where everyone knows everyone. The Education and Community Outreach programs offer interns a chance to teach English in the local school and to work on various community projects. Whitney will be continuing an after school soccer program in San Miguel this fall.
The journey to San Miguel can exhaust your patience, but the peaceful tranquility gained upon arrival is worth it. Business interns first cross Parque Urraca out the front door and then about 10 lanes of traffic to get to the bus stop. After that, the bus will come between anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes later, depending on time of day, traffic, weather….
The bus that picks us up is one of the new buses of the MetroBus System, not the old spray-painted and tricked out U.S. school buses known as the Diablos Rojos that cruise around the country. The MetroBus to the town of 24 de Diciembre (yes this is actually a town named after Christmas Eve) is usually rather pleasant on a modern, air conditioned bus. Things change when you get off the bus in 24. You’re now in what I can only describe as a flea market/interstate exit with 8 lanes of traffic. With street vendors selling fruits and vegetables, pawn shops, giant grocery stores, a KFC, a casino, and all kinds of other businesses, this place is a zoo. But, the veggies are cheap and people are relatively nice. 24 isn’t a place you want to stay, but its the closest place for stocking up for a trip to San Miguel or the valley.
After getting necessary supplies, it’s time to wait at the bus terminal for our ride to San Miguel. The bus out to San Miguel does not seem to come that often. To the best that I can tell, a bus leaves the terminal every hour, but this is always subject to change. I’ve made the trip twice and had to wait quite a while both times. Thankfully, there is a stand next to the bus lines that sells batidos, ice cold Panamanian milkshakesmoothies. I recommend the mango or the strawberry.
The trip from 24 to San Miguel takes about 45 minutes as we pass through green hills and small towns, the opposite of bustling Panama City. It’s weird to be back on a former U.S. school bus as it reminds me of second grade. I easily get lost in thought as the hills roll by.
Before I know it, we’re in San Miguel. The sound of the birds and the rushing river water are refreshing. This trip, it is impossible to let anyone know that we’re coming to do a little planning for hosting guests in November; and we find the gate to the San Miguel house locked. Haley and I quickly hop over the fence and let ourselves in. Obviously, no one is there but Jorge, the house watchman and valley legend, soon stops by to check on the place. We enjoy the daylight fading and sit outside to chat for a bit about basketball (he’s a big Lakers fan but is concerned about Kobe getting old), life in the valley, volleyball, and various past interns and their escapades. It’s good to talk to him for a bit and he heads home for dinner.
We decide to cook as well. The vegetables we got from 24, two chicken breasts, rice, and pineapple for a delicious yet also healthy and cheap meal. It’s nice to have a meal plan in the city but I really miss cooking for myself and I know Haley does too. After dinner we sit outside and talk for a bit in the cool evening. As we look across the patio, we see four of the biggest toads we have ever seen! I have never seen anything like these monsters and did not want to get too close. It’s pretty quiet in San Miguel so we turn in early after sitting outside and later watching a movie.
The next morning we set out to get information on local businesses and restaurants, our purpose for coming to San Miguel. As we plan to host the first tourist trip to the valley in November, it’s important to know the hours of local restaurants and the offerings of the local adventure tourism company. Everyone we meet with is really friendly, especially the ladies at the local breakfast place. We order several cups of coffee and they chat it up with us. After speaking with them we head over to the adventure tourism company which offers ziplining and whitewater rafting. We find out their prices ($25 for an hour of ziplining and $50 for three hours of rafting) and begin a potential business relationship for the future. I doubt we will offer ziplining through them for this first trip, but it’s good to have established a contact for the future.
After hanging out in San Miguel and drinking another coffee it’s time to do the journey all over again and head back to the city. Although we’ve only spent a night here, it was refreshing to hear the river and experience a bit of small town living where there are more horses and cows in the street than cars. Everyone we encountered was extremely nice and this quick trip really left a happy feeling within me. I look forward to taking that long, windy road to San Miguel again soon.