Happy Little Girl

Volunteering With A Budding Indigenous Tourism Group In Chichica, Panama

To be honest, saying I volunteered here is a bit of a stretch. I was supposed to be here for a week, but in the end I was only here for 24 hours. Since I moved my trip from Panama to Colombia up a week, I lost the week I would have liked to spend here.

After spending a night in the city of David courtesy of the Panamanian Immigration System, I took the two hour bus ride to Tole where I then caught a pickup truck that took me 35 minutes up into the mountains to Chichica.

The pickup truck ended up being full of boxes belonging to one of the passengers. Many were put on the roof, but when it started to rain they were all thrown inside the bed of the truck with us. Below is a short video of the journey before it started raining.

Chichica, Panama

I arrived to the house where Jessica lives, the Peace Corps Volunteer who is diligently working to make her community a better place. I found her via her blog. Panama was the hardest place to find volunteering experiences so far. I’m not sure why, but after visiting my awesome friend with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, I reached out to some Peace Corps volunteers in Panama.

Jessica didn’t disappoint. I had a wonderful time there, though it was too short.

Her community belongs to the Ngäbe tribe. I don’t know what it was, but they had the best teeth I’ve ever seen. Seriously, everyone had bright white, straight teeth.

The community reminded me of my time in rural El Salvador, but these people have no connection to the electricity grid. Interestingly, after my volunteering experience in Honduras, many families had solar panel systems similar to the one I set up up.

House With Solar Panel On Roof

House With Solar Panel On Roof

House With Solar Panel On Roof

House With Solar Panel On Roof

After dropping off my stuff with the family I’d be staying with I went out with Jessica. She had to deliver notes to some people in the community. It gave me an opportunity to see how stunningly beautiful this place is. I mean, for real. It’s stunningly beautiful and I must have told her several times that where we were standing was a million-dollar view.

Million-Dollar View

Below is a video with a small panorama of the landscape one of the houses we visited calls its backyard. Pictures of mountains never come out well, but you’ll have to trust me that it was stunning!

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

I couldn’t resist taking this picture of contrasts – old vs. new.

Old vs New

Old vs New

When we’d arrive at someone’s house, the custom was often quite similar. If they invited you to come in and sit down, you had to talk and accept any offerings like coffee, snacks, etc. Jessica could, on days like this, have no problem surviving on the offerings she is given.

Seeing your coffee cooked by burning a piece of wood adds a whole new element of guilt for indulging in the pleasure of coffee. And refusing their offering is considered rude. Unfortunately, I had to at one house because, without realizing it, they put milk in it (I’m lactose intolerant and didn’t have my pills on me). It was the day I was leaving and couldn’t take any chances of having a problem while traveling since the buses don’t have bathrooms. But Jessica explained I am allergic the way many people there have an allergy to pork, which I didn’t know existed.

On the way home, we stopped at a small store. These small stores sell the basic necessities and refrigerated pleasures like ice cream since the homes don’t have refrigerators.

Jessica And The Awesome Ladies

Jessica And The Awesome Ladies

We stopped and talked with the guy running the store and two husband-wife pairs that were already there. One of the ladies was quite a character and we had a great time! She simultaneously adopted me as her godson and gave me a Ngäbe name: Icho. You can see that happen below (in Spanish).

Sunset In Chichica

Sunset In Chichica

That night I spoke with the president of the association they are building. He is quite young at 24, but full of energy and ideas. I offered some of my ideas, like partnering with hostels in David and making connections with other indigenous groups in other parts of the country doing the same thing to help each other out, etc. So let’s see how it goes.

I also helped them create a one-page advertisement that can be posted in hostels, handed out to tourists, etc. It showcases their wonderful nature, culture, and hospitality offerings. I hope it’ll draw in tourists, because they are the real deal in a game plagued by fake experiences passed off as authentic.

The Sun

The next day I woke up early as is customary in the countryside everywhere. I don’t know how to explain it, but the sun felt absolutely wonderful. It wasn’t too hot yet, but the sun’s intensity just felt spectacular on my skin. Quite a contrast from freezing in Cartago, Costa Rica! I took a shower and, thanks to the warm sun, decided to wash my clothes even though I’d be leaving in seven hours. I trusted the sun would do its job! And I wasn’t the only one who took in the warm, morning sun!

Washing My Clothes

Washing My Clothes

Enjoying The Morning Sun

Enjoying The Morning Sun

Enjoying The Morning Sun

Enjoying The Morning Sun

Enjoying The Morning Sun

Enjoying The Morning Sun

Village House Visit

We went around visiting more houses, passing out notes and talking to them. We visited this house, for example. They harvest coffee and for the first time I was able to see dry coffee beans. I saw raw ones at Macaw Mountain Bird Park, but these ones were edible.

Coffee Harvesting House

Coffee Harvesting House

Coffee Beans Drying In The Sun

Coffee Beans Drying In The Sun

They explained the process to me a bit. I guess you dry out the beans, which you can see here. Then they remove the shell, roast them, and then grind them up into a powder. The roasting is what really gives the coffee its flavor. I ate some of these beans and they didn’t taste good.

Garbage Burning Pit

Garbage Burning Pit

Unfortunately, I saw some of the similar problems that plague other parts of Central America here. For example, here is a pit for burning garbage. There is no garbage collection and it’s pretty much their only option. I’ve already written about the pitfalls of this, but it’s still sad every time I see it.

 

Food

I had some amazing food here and got to try some new things. First, there was “nancy” or the mirabelle plum. It’s really small, the size of a berry, and they make a juice out of it. Below you can see a collection of them in the bottle, plus my hard-boiled eggs and yuca.

Nancy Fruit Juice And Eggs With Yuca

Nancy Fruit Juice And Eggs With Yuca

Deer And Bananas

Deer And Bananas

Despite being from Ohio, where deer are abundant and eaten during hunting season, I had deer for the first time here. Yes, there is a tropical species of deer! It was a simple dish of deer and bananas, but it was really good.

Other Pictures

These didn’t really fit anywhere else, but I wanted to share them.

My Accommodations

My Accommodations

I forgot what they are called, but there is some bug here, smaller than a mosquito, that does a number on your skin. I got a few bites on my arms, but everyone is pretty bitten up. It was one of the first things I noticed when I got here.

Horrible Bug Bites

Horrible Bug Bites

Colorful Bird

Colorful Bird

Beautiful Flower

Beautiful Flower

December 8th was Mothers Day in Panama. It’s a pretty big deal and it’s a national holiday. Here is a little girl, and then her siblings, holding the mother’s day card they made for their mom!

Happy Little Girl With Mother's Day Card

Happy Little Girl With Mother’s Day Card

Happy Siblings With Mother's Day Card

Happy Siblings With Mother’s Day Card

Conclusion

In the end, it was a wonderful experience. I hope the brochure I made for them will help attract others up the mountain to experience what I experienced and more.

Perpetually On The Move

Perpetually On The Move

The house I stayed in was owned by two grandparents. Their kids are all married and off living on their own (but close by). Just before I caught the truck to go back to Tole and then on to Santiago, the grandma thanked me for coming. She said it had been a long time since she had a son in the house and she was sad to see me go. What more needs to be said?

11 replies
  1. Jessica R.
    Jessica R. says:

    Awesome post, Adam! I love all of the pictures and all the good things you had to say. I’m glad that you enjoyed your time here. Just the other day the group reminded me that you are supposed to be the ‘honored’ one for the town fair in March! Haha. I hope that Colombia/Venezuela are equally enjoyable!

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] the awesome Peace Corps Volunteer I stayed with in Chichica, Panama just wrote this amazing article about where the money flows in her […]

  2. […] Guatemala, and Honduras. It meant filling a bucket and dumping it on myself in El Salvador and Panama, and it meant cold showers in Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, and Colombia. Pretty self […]

  3. […] blogging about their experience and reached out to them. Jessica answered my call and I visited her budding culture/eco-tourism group in Panama. I will try this method some more going forward since Peace Corps Volunteers are often in remote […]

  4. […] – This would have been handy when I lived in the country side of Yoloaiquin, El Salvador or Chichica, Panama. But when I think of the numerous times I’ve used my cell phone as a really bad flashlight, […]

  5. […] get to Panama City, I left Chichica at 3:30pm for Tole. In Tole, I took the last bus to Santiago. Then I hung out in Santiago from 7pm […]

  6. […] I mentioned in Panama, Jessica, the Peace Corps Volunteer, is very plugged in to her community. Mark’s community is significantly bigger, and the fabric of […]

  7. […] to http://www.happinessplunge.com for the pictures. Share this:EmailPrintFacebookLinkedInMoreTwitterRedditDiggStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to […]

  8. […] happens to be very cheap. I’d much rather sleep on the floor in an indigenous community in Chichia, Panama than in the Ritz Carlton in Paris.The biggest expense in travel is accommodation. But as I already […]

  9. […] Volunteering With A Budding Indigenous Tourism Group In Chichica, Panama. […]

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