As I write my blog entry, I begin to eye my suitcase. I know how close we are to the end of the semester, and I’m already feeling nostalgia for my time here in Bocas. My friends at home asked what the best part of Panama has been, and it was a question that I didn’t think I could answer. How could I possibly pick just one aspect of this amazing place?

For starters, I love the wildlife and the environment here. Just today a group of howler monkeys with their babies came by to hang out with us at lunch. Twice I’ve spotted a sloth outside the dorm. Naturally I thought of these things first, and while I do love them, they have not been my favorite part of Panama.

As part of the ethnographic research group that studied tourism in Bastimentos Town, I had the privilege of speaking with many locals in Bastimentos and hearing their accounts of their lives here in Panama. Men and women from 18 to 85 years old took the time to speak with us about their daily lives, their feelings about environmental protection, and how they see their home changing.

I was genuinely touched by the hospitality we experienced at every single home. Children ran barefoot from house to house as we passed down the main street and people I knew waved in greeting. We were invited into homes, shown family photos, served food, and always surrounded by smiling kids. As the sights and sounds of Bastimentos enveloped me, I got to listen to life stories and passionate opinions on tourism and environmental issues.

I was quick to notice how much people in Bastimentos cared about the future of their island. A sense of island pride is palpable, especially on Bastimentos Day, when a parade and festival is held to celebrate the island. There is a feeling of community on Bastimentos that is unique. Friends sit on their porches, chatting and cooking as the afternoon goes by. As I sit among them on a hot afternoon, I know beyond a doubt it is the people here that make Panama so special to me.