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Austin Preparatory School Panama 2018

February 17, 2018
As soon as we got out of the airport, you could tell the difference in the culture immediately. Once we settled into Posada 1914, our trip guides, Michelle and Gilberto, took us for a walk along the shore to Casco Viejo. Along the bike and walking paths was community rec centers. Kids played basketball, soccer, ping-pong, and volleyball. Families laid on the grass or got shaved ice (to combat the heat), not unlike a Saturday afternoon in Boston Common.

The old city felt genuine. There were buildings with the original facades intact, but newly renovated apartments. These up and coming buildings were situated next to gutted ones with no roofs. The stark difference was striking. Some places only had a facade and lots of plants growing inside. The church that we went to, San Jose, was so beautiful and breathtaking. Everything was well taken care of, from the church to the houses to the shops and restaurants. The place we went for dinner was really small and cute. The food was so good and unlike anything we might get at home.

-Julia D. and Niamh G.

February 18, 2018

Today we got to see the true diversity of this beautiful country, from the city to the jungle to the sea. Upon awakening, we were immersed into a blissful world full of truly wonderful people. The morning started with breakfast, then getting packed into our four land cruisers. Our first stop was a supermarket where we were able to try numerous new Panamanian snacks. After we embarked on our adventurous drive on the windy, curvy roads through the mountains and the jungle. After two hours we arrived at the boat yard. Then we went cruising through the water to one of the 365 Kuna Yala islands. There we learned about the unique Kuna culture from exploring the museum by a very informative guide to meeting the head Kuna leader. We then had lunch on the island at a delicious restaurant. We then got back on the boat and cruised to our home for two nights, a private island. Here we swam, picked coconuts, relaxed, and played a fun game. The night ended with a tasty dinner and a journaling session. It was a great first day!

-Matt O. And Sophia R.

February 19, 2018

Today we did our first service projects with the Kuna people. We helped them paint and clean the community school to get ready for the new school year. After working for a few hours, we went to lunch in one of the classrooms where we also gave some of the donations to the women who run the school. The work we did was really helpful in making us realize how much we take for granted because we have never had to do anything without them. Many of the classrooms had windows with no coverings, so if there were large waves, they could easily crash through and flood the classrooms. We also got to spend time with the local children. We talked to them and played some basketball with them. When we took out the stickers, they were so excited and enjoyed them very much. After, we got back on the boats to head back to the island we were staying on to get ready for snorkeling. For snorkeling, we split up into two groups. Both groups saw sea urchins and fish, the first group saw lobsters and the second group saw a sting ray. After both groups had concluded the snorkeling, we had dinner and discussed the plans for the next day. We finished off the day with a Birthday Bonfire to celebrate two group members 17th birthday and made s’mores!

– Riley M.

February 20,  2018

We woke up for our last day on the island. We began our day with breakfast and a quick overview of the day. We packed up all of our stuff and loaded the boat to begin our journey back to Panama City. After the boat ride back to the mainland, we got in our jeeps and had a long, bumpy ride back home. Finally, we arrived back at the hotel and enjoyed some nice pizza. We got dressed and got our salsa on. We learned some salsa, bachata, and merengue. After our fiesta, we had some down time to listen to music and reflect on our time in Panama so far. We also learned more about the homestay community and found out which family we’d be joining for the next few days. Later in the day, we walked down to Crepes & Waffles and enjoyed millions of crepes and waffles of all sorts of flavors. There were lots of laughs as we bonded over our love for crepes. Then we walked back to the hotel and surprised the birthday twins with a cake and sang them happy birthday. We ended the day with some journaling.

-Natalia G. and Jane C.

February 21, 2018

We woke up at Posada 1914 today and we had a nice breakfast. Then, off we went to the Panama Canal. It was a huge and it is very blue. The water was filled up so high on the right side of the canal. We went up the elevator to the fourth floor to see the top view looking down at the large boats. We all saw a professional photographer with props and we all decided to get a group picture. After, we either saw the movie screening or souvenir shopped at the Panama Canal. Later in the day, we were on the road to Santa Fe. We drove 2 hours to Yuka to stop and eat a late lunch. Then after we drove 4 hours to Santa Fe to meet our families. On our way there, we sand together and bonded with each other, it became an enjoyable ride with enjoyable people. Hours later we arrived in Santa Fe and met our great families. After meeting with them, we left with them back to their house. Even though our day was long, we enjoyed every minute of it!

– Elise M. and Josh A.

February 22, 2018

Today we woke up in our homestays. We ate delicious breakfast with our families before meeting up with the group at ‘La Cancha’. Together we discussed our first nights with the families and laughed about funny experiences, we then drove to the El Carmen School to begin our service work. We split into three groups. Some of us painted walls, some gardened, and others began painting a basketball court. After many hours of hard, but meaningful work, we returned to our families for lunch. I think everyone agrees that communicating with our families was a little easier today than it was last night. After lunch we hiked through Santa Fe forest areas. The beautiful nature walk led us to a river where we got to swim, relax, and enjoy the sun. We ate dinner with our families and then gathered as a group once again for a cooking lesson. We listened and observed and even got to participate in the making of fried dough, locally known as hojaldre. After snacking and chatting, we all returned to our families for bed. Today was a very eventful day where we got to do service, explore, and immerse ourselves in the Santa Fe culture.
-Olivia P. and Gianna C.

February 23, 2018
After our second day of waking up at our homestays, we made our way back to El Carmen to continue the service work. We continued to paint the outside of the school and finish the court. After service was done for the day, we returned back to our families for lunch. We were given 2 hours of free time which we spent visiting the houses of other friends and/or exploring the town.

At 3pm we made our way to Papa Yayo’s house for a tour of his farm. After seeing, smelling, and tasting various things around the farm, such as sugar cane, cinnamon, oregano, and oranges, we visited Papa Yayo’s plethora of chickens and baby chicks. We enjoyed hojaldres and fresh orange juice made by Mama Sobieda. We returned to our homestays for dinner. The group met back together with their families at El Rancho Turistico for a Game Night. We played Uno and other card games with the community. At 8:30pm we walked back to our homestays and slept!
-Amanda C. and Tara K.

February 24, 2018

Today we met at La Cancha at 8:30am. We all went to the school for our last day of service. We tiled floors and painted lines on the court. At the end of our service, we got certificates for all of our hard work. Then we returned to our home stays around 12:30pm for lunch. After lunch, most of us went to La Cancha to play soccer and basketball with our homestay families and some local kids. Around 4pm we all returned to our houses to get ready for the good bye party and spend more time with our homestay families. Then we all met at El Rancho for the party. Each of us said our thank you letters to our families, ate a delicious dinner, and danced. Then we all went back to our houses and went to bed!
-Katie Lemons and Emma S.

February 25, 2018

Today was our last full day in Panama and our last day with our host families. We got up this morning, had breakfast, and then went to drop our bags off at El Rancho. When we dropped our bags off, they were loaded into the bus so we could leave quickly after church. The church service was done in Spanish, so we didn’t  understand most of what was going on, but we’re able to follow along. The service lasted for a little over an hour, and after we got on the bus to start the drive back to Panama City.

After driving for an hour and a half, we stopped off for lunch and Dairy Queen! From there, we continued driving for a few more hours until we arrived at the souvenir shop. We spent a fair amount of time shopping and buying gifts for our friends and families and then got back on the bus to finish the drive. We arrived in Panama City at 8pm and went to dinner at a small place in the water. Before our food came, we did some closing activities to bring an end to our trip and discuss our experience. After dinner, we went back to the hostel and headed to bed. We’re going to miss Panama, but are looking forward to seeing our families and friends!
-Riley M.