Life in the banana-lands

Awesome tractor-bus outside Las Tablas

Other long-term travelers out there might be familiar with the feeling of “the travel grind.”  To me, it’s how you feel when traveling becomes too routine and nothing feels fresh anymore.  We were kind of suffering from it in Panamá as we were mostly sticking to big touristy sites due to lack of time.  Nothing was feeling authentic or real.  Everyone spoke English and everything was too easy.  We were feeling too much like tourists instead of travelers.

Then, we found the perfect remedy!  Thanks to Couchsurfing, we hooked up with a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small village in the rural mainland of Bocas province.  We stayed with Doug in Las Tablas for two nights, getting a taste of life in “el campo” and meeting some real off-the-beaten-track Panamánians.

Las Tablas is in the heart of the banana-growing lands, where it’s very hot and rainy.  Chiquita Banana is headquartered nearby and thus almost everyone in this area is employed growing bananas which are shipped to the US and Canada.

Miles of banana trees. The sign says "Don't enter or you might get crop-dusted."

Since I did a stint in the Peace Corps in Tanzania, it was really fun for me to reminisce and to compare Doug’s situation with how my life was.  Panamá is a lot further along development-wise than Tanzania, but big parts of the Peace Corps life are the same everywhere.  Doug was definitely a local celebrity known by everyone in town.  Kids would yell, “Hello, teacher!” as he walked by, and he always had to stop to talk to all his fans.  Add Zach and me to the mix and we created quite a spectacle.  Three gringos in town, oh my!

Kids in Doug's host family

Hanging out in Las Tablas helped us feel more connected to Panamánian culture.  It was refreshing to be in a place were there are never any tourists and the pace of life is slower.  The best part of our stay was just walking around the village, greeting kids and practicing our Spanish with all of Doug’s friends.  Las Tablas welcomed us with open arms and we couldn’t stop smiling while we were there.  The Peace Corps life is truly a challenge, but the rewards of being so totally accepted by a completely different culture seem abundant.

Doug and some of his students

We realized that we need to do more of this stuff!  The problem is that there’s just so much we feel like we HAVE to see and we have so little time left!  We’re definitely going to try to hook up with at least one other Peace Corps Volunteer though!

The Idea

Hellooooooo blogland! This is Carrie, one of the three co-conspirators behind La Aventura Project. Since my cronies, Zach and Melissa, are lagging slightly in joining this online escapade (WRITE YOUR BIOS PEOPLE!!!), I decided I’d jump on in and whip up the first blog entry!
So what is this all about?  Well, basically, we are just three friends who need an adventure.  Here’s my side of the story:
I returned to the US in March 2010 from being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania.  That was an experience that rocked my world so much, and if anything, made my desire to “settle down and get a grown-up job” even weaker than it had been.  So my boyfriend Zach and I started brainstorming.  We knew we wanted to go somewhere for a long time in order to stay in each stop along the way for weeks and really learn as we travelled.  South America just made sense.  It’s relatively inexpensive to fly there from the US, it would give us the chance to learn Spanish, and there are a plethora of volunteer opportunities.  Not to mention the continent offers remarkable adventures in unexplored wildernesses, urban metropoli, and everywhere in between.  So the destination was set.  Next we asked our friend Melissa if she’d like to join.  She shouted (well, shouted via text message) “hell yes!” without a second thought, as we knew she would.  And our little posse of three was born!
This fall we will each pack a backpack and set off, me with my camera in hand, on our adventure.  We don’t really know what exactly we will do or discover, but we bet it’s going to be exciting.  My hope is not only to create an interesting travel documentary, but to go on a journey where we have new experiences each day, where we can let go of the pressures of American young adulthood, and truly open ourselves to unknown places, cultures, and people.
Although we want our trip to remain mostly unplanned and open-ended, there is still a lot of pre-planning involved in abandoning everything here and taking off on this excursion.  So until we get on that plane in just nine more months, this blog will document our preparation, as well as our expectations, thoughts, fears, and anything else we find interesting!  (And yes, there will be a VIDEO TRAILER coming sometime next month.)  So welcome to the ride!