In December 2016 I found myself in the jungles of Panamá, bordering the Guna Yala territory I was (and to this day, still am) hoping to visit. The intentions to film the effects of climate change on people living in the most vulnerable areas of the American continent were interrupted by a lack of experience, guidance, and – of course – money, and so my travels brought me to some unexpected places. Most of them beautiful, but with a stinging undertone of Westernization that even the most beautiful surroundings could not completely take my mind of.
Below are some excerpts of the logbook I wrote at the time.
Logbook #1: Jungle Reflections
A week in recovery from our jungle adventure. My eardrums still complain, the mud has not completely abandoned its new home (my feet), and a tiny tropical spider hitchhiked in my backpack to find itself in a hostel quite some distance from its natural habitat. The adventure was a two-faced one; on one side, a beautiful jungle whose sounds entered our wall-less bedroom at night and opened its arms to us in the morning to come and explore the endless green beauty. On the other side, a community not unlike the one from The Beach, sleepless nights and plastic plates with salted spaghetti three times a day. Needless to say, I much preferred face number one, so I did my best to ignore face number two and enjoy the green canopy of trees, the waving blue of the natural pools and waterfalls and the vibrant yellow of our little neighbours’ dresses.
I feel bad about complaining. I am going to complain anyway.
Such an incredible place, stunning art crafted by mother
nature for everybody to enjoy – and yet it is for sale. Any person with enough
green papers in his wallet can walk up to this beautiful piece of earth, throw
some money at it and call it his. He plants a hostel, exploits the surroundings
and disturbs the natural, quiet beauty with never-ending music blasted from the
speakers. But everything is fine, because he puts some plants in the soil at
random and calls his lodge “eco”. Never mind that half the crop dies in a week
because it is planted in the wrong spot, and the other half will never grow
because they are planted too close together. Never mind all the local people
that could have planted that food properly and actually eat it. Never mind the 7-year-old girl that lives next to
a 24/7 disco and will grow up thinking that partying, drinking and smoking on
the daily is the American dream to chase. And, of course, never mind the people
that once called this land their home, that knew how to take care of it and
live with it instead of just on it,
and that are now pushed into the corner to make way for the Great White Greed.
But I do mind – how could I not?
Combining our travels with Workaway (exchanging some hours of work for a place to stay) has many advantages: We don’t pay any accommodation, we meet a lot of people (some locals if we’re lucky), get to exchange our skills while learning new ones and the hours not working can be spent working on our project. Overall, it’s a good deal. It is a pity when you run into places like these, that have the privilege of being in an untouched piece of nature and completely abuse it, when you were hoping to encounter something close to the opposite.
So, in case you are looking into doing some Workawaying yourself: “eco” is not always friendly…
Logbook #2: The Waiting Room in the Oven
When searching for the coffee in the kitchen leaves you dripping in sweat, the most activity you’ve done in two days is hobbling to the grocery store and back, and moving away from the fan takes all the willpower in the world and more – that’s when it is fair to call your hostel an oven.
We could have known that coming to the dry arch of Panama would mean some heat and faltering showers, but man, this is really, really, hot. Of course, my northern internal heating system that kindly keeps me warm and cosy during cold winters is not taking the hint, and continues to work tirelessly through the sweaty nights. So, incapable of doing much else, we spend our days waiting. Waiting for the next Workaway address to confirm. Waiting for the water to make its way to the shower. Waiting for a cloud to provide some desperately needed relieve from the burning ball of heat in the clear blue sky. Waiting, waiting, waiting… For something, anything, to happen that will give us the feeling that we are at least moving forward, that we are not standing still and that we are making some progress.
After the project’s rough start and not particularly smooth continuation, one does begin to wonder how to finish. Some money would have definitely smoothed our way, but being two 20-something “independent film makers” frankly does not help that cause. At all. With empty wallets it is then. Maybe some replies from the right people? Not much luck there either, as indigenous communities – after being slaughtered by outsiders for centuries – have often learned their lesson the hard way and are not too keen on letting just anybody in their territory. Which is a good thing, of course, just not very convenient in this particular case…
And so we wait. We send more messages, we continue to research potential stories, we sweat a lot, we develop a new-found love for ventilation systems, and we continue to wait for the stepping stone to part two of film making: the actual filming…