Initial Impressions and Stories of Panama
Time is like a clock without hands in the valley. The days are long and without any of the conveniences of the modern world, you are forced to become creative in how you spend your time. There is plenty of opportunity for reflection and lots of time to rediscover who you are without having the crutch of technology to steal your time. If you are not careful, it is easy to forget that you are camping in the middle of a jungle. That error is quickly corrected, however, when you look up and see the dense forests that surround you. It truly is an experience that could never be duplicated in words. Despite the hardships that are endured, there is this feeling that you are being filled in a way that could never be obtained in a concrete city. It is pretty incredible.
The next morning we get up early and head to Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo is one of the oldest towns in Panama and is absolutely remarkable. Many of the buildings are in various states of deterioration: scores of them in the process of being rehabbed. Graffiti is scribbled on various walls and countless roads are sectioned off, giving you a feeling of being lost in a maze. The streets are saturated with the culture of Panama; various churches, produce and meat venders, shops and restaurants line the streets. The feeling of poverty is nearly as profound as the beauty that is threaded throughout the town. One man sits on a stoop, his feet and legs covered in open sores. A handful of women, modestly dressed in traditional clothing, artfully maneuver themselves through the chaos of the streets. Armed military police stand guard at almost every street corner in town. Their presence is intimidating and strong. Laundry hangs from the porches and feral dogs wander the streets. The excitement you feel upon entering the town is soon replaced with a feeling that the beauty you see is somehow weaved into the calamity of the people who inhabit it. The visual representations are a poignant contradiction of everything beautiful and heartbreaking that exists in Casco Viejo.
Perhaps the most difficult experiences to articulate are the ones involving San Miguel. How I represent the town, and my role in it, is a fragile process. This town is so many things. It is beautiful and modest. It is humble and perhaps slightly suspicious of the house full of gringos that live down the road in the comparatively large Panamanian house. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The process of assimilating into this world is delicate. I am hesitant to reveal any of the details of this town as of yet. I want to ensure that the words used to articulate this village are as complex as the qualities within it. More to come soon…