Panama 2018 blog

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Saturday - 11/24

Hiking to Bermejo Cascada

From Jenna:

Had I been informed that I would be hiking through a minefield of cow dung, I might have feigned illness this morning. Jokes!

The day started off pretty typical: awoken by a chorus of roosters, granola cereal, fresh fruit, and pancakes for breakfast, hammock swinging, and then loading up for a hike. Since there were no boats to load, we got to ride in the bed of the truck. We hiked and creek-hiked to a beautiful swimming hole and waterfall. The waterfall was breathtaking: high water gushing down, spraying us with mist, and glimmering rainbows in the air. Afterwards, we just hiked in and out of the creek and along muddy trails. At each turn and angle, the mountain range and valley looks a little different, depending on how the light hits it and where we stand. After becoming accustomed to the Appalachian foothills of east Tennessee, witnessing such a dramatic shift in climate and landscape was hard to get accustomed to. Every step in the trail and turn in the road, I just wanted to plant myself and study the view forever.

This trip has given me more than I could have ever hoped for: new friends, lots of kayaking, momentous views, delicious food, time the Panamanian families, and lots of Spanish speaking. The time has flown by, and no offense to my friends and family, I do not want to go home. I could live out the rest of my days here in Panama. T-Willy, T-Larry, and Max went out to catch some waterfalls while the rest of us hung back, read books, and played Spades. Right now, we’re getting ready for another delicious dinner prepared by Rosa and a long day of traveling ahead. I hope to see my family soon.

Friday - 11/23

Surfing on the Lower Santa Maria

From Spratt:

I didn’t write the blog yesterday because after we got back from the second kayaking adventure it was time for dinner. After dinner we played cards and I totally forgot about the blog. The next morning I was informed that the internet had gone down so I couldn’t have written the blog anyway. For any of the parents worried, we are all ok:)

The group paddled the lower Santa Maria yesterday and it was a bunch of fun. The water was much higher than it had been the time we had paddled the section before. It was a little bit scary since some of us got munched on the second rapid. After the morning paddle, Max, Isaac, and I went out with the Tims in the afternoon and did a different section of the Santa Maria. It was so big! By far the biggest section of water I have ever paddled. I would say that I miss home, but that would by lying. I can confidently say, speaking for all of us, that no one is ready to go home. We will all be terribly sad to leave this wonderful place. Since I am writing this a day late, I am pretty sure we aren’t going to kayak today. I have met some really sweet dogs here. Ronaldo, a guy who works at the hostel, has a cute, black and white puppy that stumbles around with his puppy belly and his stubby legs. We all smell horrible and as a warning to the parents, all of the laundry we are bringing home is going to smell so bad. We have all worn the same river clothes every day. I tried cacao (the fruit that makes the beans for chocolate) throughout the trip and it is way different than I expected. The beans don’t taste at all like chocolate. Be home soon. ;)

Thursday - 11/22

Exploring a new section of the Rio Santa Maria

From Isaac:

For Thanksgiving morning, the group was treated to Rosa’s cinnamon rolls, fruit, and cereal. After breakfast, we loaded our gear and headed to the middle section of the Santa Maria. After putting in, a storm rolled over the mountains creating a beautiful sight as we tackled the rapids. Even though we paddled this section earlier in the week, the change in water level created new features and challenges. After the last rapid, I helped Spratt with some roll practice before we took out and headed for the hostel. While everyone went to lunch, I stayed back and took a well-deserved nap in my favorite hammock.

When the group returned, we departed for an afternoon adventure. The Tims chose a section of the Santa Maria that had not been paddled before - a first descent for Baylor Walkabout. This was without a doubt my favorite section of the trip. It was not the most challenging whitewater, but it was enclosed by beautifully smooth rock walls. It also had an unusual river feature that formed powerful whirlpools. Since Max and I were both in play boats, we had a blast stern squirting and getting spun around by the currents. After everyone got out of the water, the real challenge began. Because the trucks could not safely maneuver all the way to the river, we had a long walk in front of us. Not everyone was thrilled with the uphill hike, but we all survived in time for Thanksgiving dinner at Rosa’s.

Thanksgiving dinner… Rosa’s pizza! Of course it was amazing. As everyone talked and played with the kids after dinner, I realized how important family is to our friends in Panama. They were the kindest people I had ever met.

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Wednesday 11/21 - Rio Bulaba

From Keegan:

Waking up to the sounds of nature is not something I am accustomed to. When making that statement, I believe I speak for more people than myself. Sure, their are noises from cars and people heading out to start their day, but it’s surprisingly calming. If I could describe this trip in one word, “calming” would be the first thing in my mind. I am writing from the second floor balcony looking out into the most gorgeous garden I’ve ever seen. In the distance are mountain peaks shrouded by fog. Birds are chirping, and I can hear the others laughing downstairs under the handmade pavilion. The air smells like life, and that’s the only way I can describe it through text. Fruits, meats, chocolates, everything tastes its own special way. Santa Fe is a truly unique place far different than what I could have imagined. The kayaking is amazing. I’m truly thankful to be here with others that love walkabout as much as I do. I look at the Tims and see a passion for teaching and sharing their vast knowledge of nature. I look at Max and Isaac in their kayaks and see confidence. I look at Rachel, Jenna, and Spratt, and see their friendships and kayaking skills growing immensely. I can’t really look at myself besides a mirror, but I can feel myself in one of the happiest places I’ve ever been. Today we kayaked the Bulaba river. We ran down until we hit the Santa Maria, the river we kayaked on the first day. This time I was much more successful at running it than the first day. The fear of going on the water has almost all but drained out of me. Max and Isaac are in their prime in tough rapids. I would like to hope one day I can keep my cool as well as they can. Rachel, Jenna, and Spratt are never afraid to try new things on the water. I’ve been reluctant to try and surf any waves, but seeing Jenna succeed has pushed me closer and closer to trying. I’m proud to say I made the decision to go on this trip. I have seen things I didn’t think possible until now. Panama is a place that constantly throws new challenges my way, but I wouldn’t want to experience it with anyone else.

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Tuesday 11/20

Lower Rio Santa Maria

From Jenna:

In any situation, we are given the option to see it one of two ways: complain about the negatives or appreciate the positives. For example, if I chose to, I could write about today like this: I woke up to the shrill call of the rooster to all his rooster friends. I reluctantly got out of bed only to get in a hammock and fall back asleep. Throughout the day of kayaking, my knees were banging inside my boat, the sun was hot, my helmet was loose, and I could not roll up after two attempts the one time I flipped over. After we took out, we had to carry our boats up this lung-destroying hill.

I could go on and on, but who wants to read that? Who wants to live their life like that? Here is how my day really went:

My alarm woke me up this morning. Not the loud musical chimes from my cell phone, but the chirps and calls of the rainforest birds. After resuming my slumber in a hammock and enjoying another one of Rosa’s breakfasts, we loaded up the trucks and headed out for a day on the lower Santa Maria river. We started off playing in a small wave and then ran a section of the river. At one surf spot, I caught the wave once or twice, but in an excitable attempt, I turned over. I managed to keep my composure and attempted to roll twice. I did not quite make it, but for the first time I stayed calm long enough to set up - and that is a step in the right direction. The river had calm sections and challenging waves. Isaac especially pushed himself as he finally got situated in his play boat. At the end of the section, we came upon a wave. A perfect wave. Isaac, Max, and T-Larry played in it. After getting accused of being an “eddy flower”, I decided to attempt it. I could not get in the first time, but the second time I adjusted my angle and glided into the wave. No feeling trumps that of gravity holding you down in the wave, the water pulling you this way or that, ruddering to keep yourself in… incredible.

The views along the river just took our breaths away. We rounded the corner to see impressive mountains bounding out of the rainforest and colorful birds flying overhead. Catholic school kids walking across bridges to and from la escuela, and massive trees jutting into the river and disrupting the flow without a care for any measly kayakers. The drive back to the hostel offered no less breathtaking panoramas as we drove through the mountains. T-Larry played Jesus, etc. by Wilco: that was nice, too. After a filling lunch of rice and beans, Max, T-Willy, and T-Larry went river scouting. Isaac and Spratt read their books. Keegan attempted conversation with the locals, and I did not see Rachel after she got out of the shower - likely taking a nap. My knowledge that I will have to leave this place holds me back from truly immersing myself , but I think I speak for everyone when I say that heaven might be on Earth, and it might be in the Panamanian rainforest.

Monday 11/19 - hiking Rio Lajas

From Rachel:

This morning, we woke up thinking that we would kayak the same route, or something similar, as yesterday. However, when we drove out to look at the river, the water level was too high. We drove out to another section of the river hoping to run that one, but this time the water level was too low. Instead of kayaking today, we went on a hike. This hike was the most beautiful hike I have ever been on. We trekked through a small river. We came to an area that the rocks we were on were elevated, and we were able to jump off into the deep water below. After we had our fill of jumping off the rocks and playing in the nearby waterfall, we continued swimming upstream in the small river. There was one area where the water was super deep and there were walls of rock on either side of the river. I looked up in between the walls of rock and at the trees canopying the river, and the image I saw was what I pictured rainforests when I thought of rainforests prior to this trip. It was beautiful. As we kept on hiking, there were many opportunities to slide and let the current carry us down smooth rocks, however I found I was not too good at this. There was one part of the hike where we strayed from the river and walked through the trees and plants. I was a little nervous about this part because I worried we would run into creatures like snakes and large spiders, but it turned out to be fine because the only wildlife we ended up seeing was a couple bright blue butterflies and a large colorful caterpillar. Overall, I think everyone thoroughly enjoyed this hike, whether it was the jumping, sliding, or simply the beautiful surroundings. After we got back to the hostal, we ate lunch. After lunch, for about an hour, the Tims and Max went out to the river to kayak for a bit while the rest of us played spades and relaxed until dinner. For not being able to kayak today, the hike was a satisfying replacement, and today was a good day.

Sunday 11/18 - Rio Santa Maria

From Max:

We arrived at Hostal la Qhia last night relatively early, but with a long day of travel behind us we went to our respective rooms and passed out. Awoken by the sound of roosters and dogs, everyone rolled out of bed with a good night’s rest and then we preceded to chow down on some grub prepared by Rosa. With the amount of teenage boys on the trip this year, there wasn’t much food to spare. After breakfast we put on our swim trunks, strapped down the kayaks, and drove to the Rio Santa Maria. As with most first days kayaking, everyone was able to get lots of practice pulling their skirts and draining boats. By the time we reached the takeout, everyone’s stomach was grumbling so we cruised back to the hostal and walked into town for some arroz con frijoles and coca-cola. Lunch put all of us in a napping mood, so we are currently lounging in hammocks and reading our books for class.

And if anyone was wondering, Rachel misses her cats, Spratt misses his dog, Jenna misses Dr. Casson, Isaac misses his aunt and uncle from Florida, and Keegan misses his bacon cheese fries dipped in ranch.  

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Saturday 11/17

After a couple of flights and a very long drive through Panama City traffic, we arrived in Santa Fe around 9:30 PM.  With sleep tonight and some of Rosa's pancakes in the morning, our kayaking adventures (and posting of pictures/stories) will begin!

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17 – depart Atlanta – arrive in Panama City - drive to Santa Fe

18 - paddle

19 - paddle

20 - paddle

21 - paddle

22 - paddle

23 - paddle

24 - drive to Panama City

25 - depart Panama City - arrive in Atlanta

Flight Schedule

November 17th

depart Atlanta (American Airlines 2344) 7:45 AM

arrive Miami 9:40 AM

depart Miami (American Airlines 2513) 10:50 AM

arrive Panama City 1:56 PM

November 25th

depart Panama City (American Airlines 2513) 2:52 PM

arrive Miami 6:00 PM

depart Miami (American Airlines 2290) 8:26 PM

arrive Atlanta 10:18 PM