So.... it's been forever. Ha- my last post was in February no?
Well ok, after establishing that I am in fact alive and kicking still, I can let you know what I've been up to.
I’m living in a beautiful and teensy town called San Félix which is on the edge of the western highlands of Panamá. It’s not on a map but it’s close to the Las Lajas beach on the pacific coast which you might be able to see if you’re trying to find me. What on earth am I doing here?
I’m living in a tiny house with a woman named Magdalena, a little 39-year old Colombian doctor who’s doing a research project in the indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé reserve that we’re practically ontop of here. She's maybe 4-foot-11, 90lbs and a serious hoot to live with. Her project is on the impact of nutritional deficiencies and infectious disease on pregnancy outcomes and maternal/neonatal health. I met her through McGill contacts and one thing led to another. To be honest, working on the project has been pretty crazy. I wake up every morning asking myself how on EARTH I got to where I am, and then I get out of
bed and hold on for the ride. I’m working as part of her research team in a health centre that is for high-risk pregnancies from the reserve taking data, giving interviews, spending time with the women there and giving educational talks. It worked out really well because I can help her with her project while still conducting interviews and collecting data for my own honours project on geophagy! The health centre is part of an organization that also gives training in things like sustainable agriculture, ranching, baking, artesan craft, English and Spanish classes and more. So when I’m not in the health centre with the pregnant women I’ll be volunteering on the organic farm, hog-tying cattle, baking or sewing traditional dresses with the Ngöbe-Buglé women. I probably could not have come up with anything better had I dreamt it. Also the beach at Las Lajas is pretty good for surfin'.
I’ll rewind a bit to the end of the McGill field study program in April.
The last month of the program was devoted fully to our internships. I went on more tours with my partner and supervisor into the farms where we would spend the day with the families that
run it, talking with the community about the behaviour of eating soil or clay when pregnant (or otherwise) and doing private interviews with the women. As we got better at introducing the topic and better at the one-on-one conversations, the women definitely opened up more and by the end we were really making some connections. It was always an experience on the farms but the highlights were when we spoke with someone who eats soil either now or when pregnant. One time I hiked with a woman an hour up a mountainside to take samples from where she scrapes the dirt from the ground and mud walls surrounding her hut. The project took over our minds for a few weeks, but we did get the chance to get a weekend away at a yoga retreat/camp/hippiefest in a town called El Valle de Antón, about 2 hours from the city. When not hanging around in hammocks and listening to the 13 languages around, eating awesome vegan food and playing with the puppies we did some serious hiking and ridge walking along the string of mountains around the town. Some of my favourite hiking in Panama was at La India Dormida (sleeping
Indian woman) and El Gaital ridge. One night we took a chiba bus to a nearby beach and saw the Wailers in concert (awesome). After the weekend off we pushed to finish the project by the symposium, which was a day of formal presentations in Spanish to all the NGOs, supervisors, professors and our friends. That night we had our graduation dinner at a beautiful restaurant on the canal and our professors said some really nice words, there was a typical Panamanian band, traditional dancing, mad good food and some hilarious prizes that some of us made up. After the dinner and handing in our final documents we only had 2 days to pack up, say goodbye and get out of the houses- that was it! The crew of kids on the trip had gotten really close by the end so it was a super sappy 2 days of awesome goodbye parties, photo slideshows, dinners out and teary goodbyes. We got so lucky with this crew and this program; it was so hard to see it end!!! It was made easier knowing that 8 of us made plans to do a few fun things together after it was all over.
First we went to Bocas del Toro, a much more touristy bunch of islands on the Caribbean side close to Costa Rica. We spent I think 5 nights there surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, partying with backpackers, laying around on beautiful deserted beaches that we found and relaaaaaaxing. Isla Bastimientos was less populated than the island we were staying on (Isla Colon) so we ventured over for a few days of surfing and beach camping. We didn’t know it was NOT a beginner surfing beach when we went so we were tossed around on our boards pretty good. It was strange to be a tourist after living here 4 months! But a nice reward for a semester well done. A handful of us got out of Bocas just in time to get to Costa Rica because our visas were running out. Then we could focus on what we were all really excited about: climbing the highest point in Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo! It summits a few hundred meters above Volcan Barú which we climbed in Panama in February, and the trail is longer, starts about 1200m lower and gets just as cold. It was an incredible trek and felt so good
to summit even though we missed sunrise after waking up at 3am on the 2nd day and hiking in the dark. No big deal! And who knew mountain climbing was addictive? Cerro Chirripo is the second-highest mountain in Central America, just behind Tajumulco in Guatemala, so I guess that’s what’s next, yea? yea.
After coming down off of cloud 9 on the mountain I split from the group and headed back to Panama to work out if I could in fact do my honours research project here like I planned. My original plans had fallen through so when I returned to Panama with my new visa I started from square one looking into some options I’d thought of during the semester. It wasn’t so easy but after being back for a litte while I guess I’ve organized something I’m preeeetttyyyyy excited about.
Anyway congratulations if you actually made it to the end of this abominably long post. I’ll be in better touch though now I have a plan and a home. I would love to get internet in my house to skype with y’alls but maybe we should work on getting running water first, ha. I'll only have spotty access
to emails in town BUT I do have a cell phone officially now so do call me anytime at (+507) 6963 2225 (I believe you still need to add the country code for panama in front of that, which is 011)
I love everyone so much!! I miss everyone the most when my plans falter a bit so this last week or so I've spent a lot of time thinking a lot about you all. Now I've forgotten you again (pause) NNAT!
Besos y abrazos muy fuertes,
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