Four of us had set out on a two day adventure to the Momoni Valley, which surrounds the Centro Madrono property. We began at about 10:30 a.m., on a typical cloudy morning, and although it seemed to be just another morning, further to my knowledge I would find that it was not just another three hour hike through the rainforest. Slipping in the mud was another type of rhythm, but the spiders and the snakes enclosing in on us, were obstacles that I could not simply take as another detail. I considered them a death threat! (Sandwiched between two guys on either end of me) Trailing two guys, while two trailed me, we stopped to observe two spiders that were in our path. They were nearly the size of my hand. John and I, the only gringos to embark in this adventure, were the only ones to take fright. The others had merely laughed. What we Americans normally evoke as fear, they take in as their own kind, their own nature. I take several pictures at all different angles, making sure that the only thing bringing the spider and I closer, was the zoom button on my camera.
Hours go by and the sun hits my skin for the first time thus far and continues the magnetic force throughout the entire trail. We stop at a small shack in at the top of the first climb, and sit for a typical Panamanian chat. Thirty minutes pass and it seemed a lifetime, because it was all a pure lack of understanding to what I understood as a slur of Spanish. The owner to the house, sat with three children. Her eyes glared upon mine, as she sat in a loosely woven hammock, one arm around her youngest daughter and one arm supporting her head. She appeared as if holding her head up from exhaustion. There was one room, four children, herself and her husband. Her eyes did not leave my figure. This was not because she was anxious to find why I was roaming through these hills with several men, but why on earth I had done wrong. Why I was white, and carrying a backpack, and not at home tending to my kids? The uncomfortable sting in my stomach kept my eyes fixed on her feet. Both had warts of some sort and deeply woven cracks that ran from the bottom of her big toe, onto the top of her flat foot. These feet were more than a symbol of lacking value, but also a demonstration of a women’s role in this society.
We continue, and five hours into the journey, we stop at the next village for lunch. This is when I wanted my invisible blanket. This is when I wanted to run away and hide, away from the never-ending unwelcoming faces. This is when I missed my comfort zone, my language to further explain my thoughts, and my full expression. My expression that sits beneath my wet feet, seemed as unimportant as the women’s feet. Now I was transforming slowly, unexpectedly, into the perseverance of this culture.
The man tending to the village store wore a large body and an old age. He started by just staring at me. It was not a look of disgust, but rather, of deep curiosity and he guided the conversation solely towards a Spanish lecture explaining why I was stupid to be hiking through the Momoni Valley, with a large backpack, without a baby niño on my back, and without a husband. He continued telling me that his son would be happy to take me in as his wife in Panama City. I quickly responded that I would rather not, but thank you. He then gave me a cold shoulder and went inside.
Eight hours in, eight hours the next day, and four villages visited. An experience that made this culture stand as something beautiful, but in desperate need for resources and circumference and towards myself, I stand silent and still in desperate need for the invisible blanket.
Caitlin Bush is a Pinhead Intern. Her internship is in Panama with Earth Train. She will be finishing her senior year at Telluride High School when she returns from Panama.