This summer I traveled out of the United States for the first time; I got to journey to and explore Panama. I am grateful for this experience, which took me out of my head and bubble.

When I first landed in Panama I was immediately struck by the humidity. Being from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where there is typically no humidity at all, the 98% humidity of Panama City hit me like a truck. The air was thick and hard to suck in, but I couldn’t focus on the uncomfortable weather for long, because I was quickly distracted by the beauty of the city.

Panama City is adorned with a breathtaking skyline, that combines the tall crowded buildings of a metropolitan area with awe inspiring modern architecture, and the cherry on top is that all of this sits right by the ocean. While in Panama I explored ruins of an early Spanish settlement that was burned down by the now infamous Captain Morgan. Very early on in the tour of the ruins, Coach Tristani, one of the leaders of the student travel group I am a part of, picked up a small round fruit with green skin that had fallen from a tree off the ground and ate it. He was proud of himself for finding what he thought was edible sustenance. The berry proved for him to be more sustenance for his island macho survivalist ego, rather than nourishment for his physical flesh. He quickly informed our tour director, Gustavo of his discovery and much to his dismay Gustavo slapped the berry out of his hand. Gustavo picked one of the berries up off the ground, saying that merely touching the berry made his fingers burn and consuming this poisonous berry would send you “to the hospital or the cemetery.” As we walked on, Tristani trailed behind swishing water around his mouth and it out. This berry did not put a damper on his time abroad, he did not become ill and enjoyed himself tremendously, smiling through all the activities, even though throughout the rest of the trip he managed to lose his glasses, credit card, camera and wallet.

That afternoon we drove to ruins of a wall that separated the rich from the poor back in the Spanish Colonial era and continues to be the same barrier today. On one side of the wall houses were crumbling and their roofs covered in trash, while on the other side upscale cafes sold French pastries. In the town square some local men collected water from a pipe exposed by a hole in the concrete, while others strolled by in designer sunglasses. The disparity between classes was on full display and so was the hostility felt towards towards the rich who were moving into the urban neighborhood, therefore driving up the costs to live there and subsequently displacing the poor who had lived there first. Signs protesting the gentrification of this neighborhood decorated the square.

It is very easy to not see past the bubble I live in and become self pitying, materialistic and yearning for more. This trip will always be a reminder to be grateful and to always work and fight for the improvement of the lives of those who live in conditions like these. Traveling gave me a new appreciation for the life I get to live and gave me the opportunity to have wonderful adventures (along with stories to share!). I am grateful for the perspective that travel has provided me and look forward to all future journeys.

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