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Panama Changemakers in Paradise 2017 (Session 1)

June 26, 2017

Hello friends, family, or whoever else is reading this! This is the first blog of Panama so sit back and enjoy reading. We landed in Panama later at night around 7:45pm. During the plane ride when we approached this beautiful country, it was dark but the water was lit up by a lot of boats. The city itself was lit up and when we landed we collected our baggage and were on our way. We met up with some of the staff at the airport and made our way to the bus. After a fairly short ride through Panama City, we arrived at the hostel we were staying in, which was a small tropical-themed homey house/inn. It was surprising and different to us as the hostel looked tiny compared to the towering skyscrapers directly surrounding it – something that we wouldn’t really find in the U.S. We divided up into two rooms (which were air conditioned), ate some light foods, and spent the rest of the evening hanging out at this pristine little inn. Additionally, there was a rock climbing wall on the side of the hostel (don’t worry parents, it was safe), and some of us spent time doing that. After a long day, we made our way back to the rooms and called it a night, feeling excited for more adventures that are yet to come in this stunningly beautiful and culturally unique country.

-Madeleine B.

June 27, 2017

Today we woke up bright and early at about 7:30am. We ate breakfast which consisted of yogurt, cereal, toast, fruit and WATER!!!! After eating we walked along the Pacific coast area and did some team bonding activities. We did this bizarre dragon game which proved to be difficult and came to the conclusion that if we all worked together we would have been successful. After that, we made a group contract out of a collaboration of different rules that the group should follow. For example, staying positive, be inclusive, step out of your comfort zone etc.… We recorded the contract on a Panamanian flag. After that we went back to the hostel and ate pizza (juxtaposition). After eating we went to a center which hosts children with cancer and leukemia. They pay for their room, meals, transportation, and treatments. It was called Fanlyc. The organization is the only center in Panama that treats children with leukemia and cancer with only have rooms for 24 people. We started are community service, and helped decorate donation boxes because that is the only way they are able to raise their money for the organization. After the center, we returned to the hostel for resting, volleyball, soccer, singing, and ukulele playing. Soon after we hit the city for our first night out to dinner. It was the perfect first day in Panama and we are all bonding and becoming friends.

-Lauren B.

June 28, 2017

Today we had a later start at around 8:30am when we started our walk to Casco Viejo. This is the 2nd established city in Panama and the colonial buildings still stand, some more than others. Between the tiny streets and brightly pained buildings contrasted with the modern cars, we took a tour around the old city led by our tour guide, Alon. The Americas were founded in 1492 and the Spanish wasted no time to find Panama in 1509, their long history of pirates and conquistadores in addition to conflicts with the indigenous people, this is what makes Panama the diverse country that it is today. After a filling lunch and browsing the nearby bazaar, we headed to Miraflores, one of the three locks of the Panama Canal. We had the special opportunity to watch not only one, but two ships pass through the canal! Then, we watched a ten-minute movie (in Spanish!) about how the canal works along with why it’s there. The canal has made Panama a more developed country and allowed this friendly country to have relations with other countries. Later we will head out to dinner after a long and fulfilling day. We all can’t wait for Kuna Yala tomorrow and the other adventures to come.
– Anayah T.

June 29, 2018

We started our day with a dance class. We practiced many kinds of dance like salsa and bachata. Some of us were more coordinated than others, but oh well. That lasted about an hour and was filled with blood, tears, and mostly sweat. Then, we ate some Greek foo for lunch, refilled our water bottles, and loaded up these big ol’ cars with our backpacks (which were stuffed to the brim with enough clothes to last a month even thought we are only staying at the island for four nights). Then we jumped into the cars and started our journey to the Kuna Yala islands which was a bit of an adventure which consisted of a big turns and loud, but fantastic music. When we got to the end of the road, we jumped out and got on a small boat and took a 20-minute ride to Nubesidub Island which is the most freaking beautiful island in the world. It is so small that you can walk across it in about a minute. It is surrounded by the clearest crystal blue-green water which is the perfect lukewarm water temperature. The sand is silky soft and there are hammocks for us to lounge in. The grass on the island is lush and spongy and the palm trees provide cooling shade. We are staying in small bamboo stake huts with sandy floors. The family is kind and a good host to our crazy group. We swam in the water all afternoon and relaxed on the beaches. Later we watched the pink sunset and ate either fresh fish or chicken. Tomorrow we start our community service, so adios!
– Hana Z.

June 30, 2017

Today we were awoken bright and early to the sound of a conch shell. The sound of the waves hitting the shore made getting up at 7:30am worth it. We were then served eggs, and two round pieces of bread. Though it doesn’t sound like much, this meal was very filling. After breakfast, we packed our bags, filled up our water bottles, and lathered ourselves in bug spray and sun screen. Once our wonderful guide Gilberto arrived, we hopped on the boat and set off to a nearby island named Corbisky. This island was home to about 200 hardworking people. We walked to the school which consisted of 80 kids but only had 3 classrooms. Here we broke up into groups and went into the classrooms. We were greeted by several smiling faces and spent the whole afternoon playing, teaching, and interacting with the kids. After the school work part was over, we all hit the court and played volleyball, football, soccer, and basketball with the kids. A big plate of rice, vegetables, and chicken was calling our names in the eating area. Once we finished, we hit the boat back to our island and spent the rest of the day snorkeling and enjoying the clear blue water.
– Taty G.

July 1, 2017

Today we hit the Caribbean waters early and headed to Carti. Our first stop on this highly-populated island was La Casa de Congreso. In this building, every important meeting or gathering occurs. With the island’s Silas, or chief, laying in a hammock in the middle and los voseros, spokespeople for all on the island, beside him, we learned about their very democratic society and what it meant to be an autonomous people in Panama. And for them, it means everything. After, we walked to the Museo Cultural where we met Davies, a man that has been working on building up this museum for 25 years. Davies taught us about the spirit filled molas, a traditional tapestry for Kunas, the Revolución de Dules, and so much more. After a long and hot morning, we headed to lunch and ate…FISH, that’s right you guessed it, but this time some brave souls ate the fish eyes, which were described as squishy and slimy. We had the chance to do some more service work, where five of us went to the library and spent time organizing books, while the other five sweat like waterfalls as they were helping to build a cultural and education center for the community. We had the opportunity to watch the traditional Kuna dance and attempted to learn it as well. We said our goodbyes and departed for Ico Dub, a more touristy island with clear waters and fish of all colors. After swimming and exploring, we headed back to the island, and played a couple rounds of volleyball until it got too dark to see. After dinner, we got to know each other more and danced to our favorite reggaeton song, Despacito. We can’t wait for more of the adventures that the Kuna Islands have to bring! Hasta manana!

-Anayah T.

July 2, 2017

To close off our breathtaking three days in the San Blas Islands, we took a break from service today and explored some of the other islands around us. Right after breakfast, we took off on our first boat ride to Isla Perro. On that island, we had the opportunity to snorkel around a sunken ship and a giant coral reef that surrounded the island. After snorkeling, everyone danced around in the ocean and tanned in the sun. We then headed to Isla Banedub for a much-needed lunch break. The group then spent time walking out on the sand bar of the island and playing volleyball with some of the local Kunas. Around 2:30 we got back onto the boat and headed to our last island of the day, La Piscina. The island was a large sand bar, filled with tons of starfish. Everyone was amazed by how clear and beautiful the water was. Before we left to return back to Nubesidub, we all took a moment to take in our surroundings and appreciate everything that the San Blas Islands has to offer. Though we are leaving Nubesidub tomorrow, we are all so excited to continue on this fantastic journey.

-Sophie M.

July 3, 2017

We departed from the beautiful island of Kuna Yala and headed back to the main land where we saw another group of students ready for the island. Then, we took 4×4 cars back to the hostel in Panama City. After a bumpy and unpleasant ride back, the majority of the group was in a deep sleep. Once we arrived at Posada 1914, we met up with another group that was going to Kuna Yala and described to them the beauty of the private island and how stunning the experience was. We then waited (for what felt like eternity because we had been traveling in the car for so long) for our lunch, which consisted of fresh tortillas and a choice of chicken, vegetable, or steak. Once our rooms were ready, we ran in “fighting” for the shower due to salty hair, sticky skin, and sandy feet. After our showers, we plucked eyebrows, talked about life, and then headed back out to dinner. We arrived at Market – a more “fancy” and nice restaurant where they served delicious burgers, pastas, and wraps. Our filling meal left us in a food coma and we walked off our dinner back to the hostel where we talked about the 6-hour journey to come and got to know who our host families were. Mark and Asia explained how we would need to communicate with our host families so they knew how to make us comfortable. Our service projects are expected to be a little different like improving the system they have in place. We have a 6-hour bus ride ahead of us, so bye for now!

-Grace E.

July 4, 2017

After breakfast, we prepared ourselves for our homestays by getting with our homestay buddy and we were given a scenario.  These scenarios consisted of things we might encounter.  We then acted out how we would approach the issue.  One example was what we would do if our “little brother” was in our room touching all of our things.  After we presented our different skits to the group, we got on the bus to the San Juan.  An hour and a half into the trip, we made our first stop at a grocery store and picked up some snacks for the homestay.  Then, we stopped for lunch at a pizza/empanada place.  On Kuna Yala, we picked up a new friend named Pablo (a coconut).  He’s been the baby of the group and even got a baby chair at the restaurant.  After, we got back on the bus and traveled for a couple more hours, we made a second stop for supplies.  Finally, we arrived in San Juan where we met our homestay families and watched a group of high schoolers perform a traditional dance of Panama.  They welcomed us to San Juan and after watching, we grabbed our luggage and went our separate ways.

-Claire W.

July 5, 2017

Today we woke up to the sound of roosters and got to spend our first morning with our lovely host families. Once breakfast was over we all get ready to meet at the main house.  Here, we got to catch up with each other and go through the ‘to do’ list.  Before we got to work, we took a tour of the small town.  During the tour we saw the town’s church, pigs, an many, many, many chickens.  After our tour, it was grind time, sop we walked over to the rusty water tank and began to use our elbow grease.  Slowly, yet surely, the water tank got cleaned.  After our hard work was finished, we all went to our houses for lunch.  Our work did not stop there.  After lunch, we met again at the main house.  Here we came up  with lesson plans to teach English, made bingo cards, and practiced our plans for the high school visit tomorrow.   After the thunder storm passed, we were able to go home and spend the rest of the afternoon getting to know our families.

-Taty  G.

July 6, 2017

Today our second full day in San Juan started bright and early.  We work up and had a wonderful breakfast with our amazing host family.  Then, with our bellies full of yummy food, we met with the locals that would be helping us replace the water pipes (out with the old/ in with the new!).  After gluing and connecting the pipes,  we went our separate ways to eat another yummy meal for lunch.  After lunch, we put our teacher shoes on and set off to the high school to teach English, while doing fun activities with the students.  After teaching, we went back to our host families to help prepare a meal for the dinner party that would include every host family and some locals.  Even a few dogs, chickens, and fireflies joined us.  Then came 6:00PM and we all gathered to sing and dance along to the music.  Our day ended with joy.  Now it’s time for another adventurous day of service.

-Angel Z.

July 7, 2017

Today in San Juan we woke up bright and early again. We started off the day with service work and laid out and glued pipes to create a more reliable source of water for the community. After working until about 12pm, we headed to our homestays for a delicious lunch. Soon after our stomachs were filled, we made our way to a neighboring town called San Francisco. We visited a unique church that was built in the 1600’s and admired it’s beauty. We then took a short bus ride to a nearby waterfall. The waterfall was beautiful and the water was a refreshing break from the hot Panama sun. The group also came across a puppy that was a size of a football and we instantly fell in love. The whole group had a blast taking picture and jumping off the surrounding rocks into the lagoon. We spent the whole afternoon there and then were taken home to shower up and get ready for the community dinner and bonfire. All of the host families children danced with the group and roasted marshmallows around the fire. After a delicious BBQ, we all headed home after an exhausting and exciting day.
– Desi L.

July 8, 2017
Today we go the chance to take a break from the service work in San Juan and go to a waterfall in San Francisco. The group piled on to a bus and drove about 45 minutes to a bridge that overlooked the waterfall. Everyone quickly got out of the bus and began walking alongside the river to the waterfall. After a short hike, the group made it to the top. We spent most of the morning there enjoying the area around us and taking lots of pictures beneath the waterfall. The group then left and headed back to San Juan. On our way we stopped at an open market and a little restaurant to eat lunch. We arrived back in San Juan around 5pm and took some well deserved naps before the night’s community activity. Tonight we had a talent show and everyone showcased their many skills to the community and now, my friends, family, and strangers who are reading this, that is all. The end!

– Sophie M.

July 9, 2017
Today was our second to last day in San Juan. We spent some time reflecting on three different things: What we expected coming to San Juan: something that surprised us, and something that we wanted to bring home. After sharing and discussing this, we began and finished (!) painting the water tank for San Juan. This being our last day of hard labor service, we put all of our effort into getting it done. After lunch, we all gathered and headed to the river. Then it was time to head back to our homestay, eat dinner, and spend the rest of the night with our families.

– Angel Z.

July 10, 2017
Today was the last day of our home stays and and we knew that we were all sad to leave. We began the day with doing activities such as four-square, limbo, and relay races with the middle school kids. After lots of laughs, we headed with them over to the soccer field to play a game. The game lasted about an hour and some of the girls split off to Asia’s and Mark’s home stay to pet little chicks. After leaving the chicks, a very sad event, we all made our way home for a delicious last lunch at our home stays. We spent the afternoon spending time with the families and writing thank you cards that we read out loud at the “despedida”. The party was full of dancing, food, and the little kids running around and giggling. After the party ended, we all walked home with our families and said a sad last buenas noches.

-Desi L.

July 11, 2017
We began the day by packing our suitcases and saying our goodbyes to our host families. After a sad, teary-eyed 5-minutes, we were all on our way to Santa Catalina. Our trip would be a bus ride of 3 hours filled with cool music, deep sleeps, and watching a movie. About an hour in, we stopped in Santiago and had delicious milkshakes and sandwiches. We then hit the road again and continued watching our movie and laughing hysterically at most of the jokes. Once we had arrived, we quickly changed into our swimsuits and headed into the water on the beautiful black sandy beaches. After swimming through the waves and warm waters, we changed for dinner and headed to the restaurant at the hotel where we had a delicious pasta meal that filled us up. Once we had all finished, we played a game of Wear wolves (which is similar to the game mafia) where 3 people are the wear wolves are trying to “kill” the rest of the group. After a fun day of traveling, we got ready for bed and ready to start the day tomorrow bright and early.

-Grace E.

July 12, 2017
Today we woke up bright and early for our first day in Santa Catalina. After getting ready, we made our way to the cozy, palmtree-lined restaurant for breakfast. It was delicious, but also fairly brief, as a day on Coiba Island, a world renowned snorkeling destination, was in our midst. After a short drive to the water’s edge, the group loaded onto two boats for the island. The ride lasted about an hour, but the spectacular views, and a few breaching whales, kept us content. When we arrived at our destination, Javier, our tour guide led us past the beach to where a hike began. Along the way we learned about different species of plants, birds, and monkeys. One tree preserved here is in high demand because its wood can withstand years without rotting and also termites. After the hike we ended up on another beach and were taken to another island close by. There were hermit crabs everywhere, literally swarming the floor. We then went snorkeling in the pristine blue water, admiring the coral reefs below (without trying to harm the ecosystem we were in). After adventures snorkeling, we took it to the shade where where we ate lunch, leaving our leftovers for the army of hermit crabs. After a while on this unreal piece of paradise, we headed back, passing by a few dolphins, a whale appearance (and the police). We passed through the town on the way back and spent the rest of the evening at the surf camp/hostel. We walked into town for dinner at a pizzeria and then went to bed.

-Madeleine B.