In Peace Corps in Panama, we lived in a village that was on the edge of what was accessible by vehicle. The lower part of our village was reliably accessible, but the upper part, where we lived, was only accessible in the dry season, and even then it was rough.
Walking was the main mode of travel there.
We walked everywhere. To all the farmers we worked with, to all the forestry groups we worked with. To the tienda, to the bus stop. Up and down (because there was no flat land in our village, or anywhere nearby, for that matter). We grew what we called “campo calves”—massive calf muscles that would have made an Elizabethan swoon.
Walking was such a natural mode of transport, that when we decided to visit a friend, Gareth, who lived on the other side of the mountains (hills, really, the continental divide is very low in Panama), we decided to walk.
First stop was our friend, Paul’s house, an hour up the mountain from our place. Paul went with us. Paul, Gareth, my husband, and I regularly met up for late-night Dungeons and Dragons sessions—a modified version that used only the two ordinary dice we had with us. This was to be an epic journey to play D&D.
After picking up Paul, we climbed further, to El Valle, where we spent the night with one of Paul’s friends there. We found ourselves without breakfast in the morning, so we shouldered our packs and set off with nothing but a cup of coffee in our stomachs.
Not to worry, we soon came across a campesino willing to sell us some bananas, and we ate as we walked.
We had only a vague notion of how to get where we were going, but all paths lead somewhere in the Panamanian countryside, and with regular stops along the way to ask directions, we managed a good pace.
Along the way we talked and laughed, we met campesinos, we enjoyed beautiful views. When we finally trudged into Gareth’s yard late in the afternoon, we felt we’d seen the world.
I have visited many friends since then, but that trip stands out as the best journey ever.