I am writing from Bocas del Toro, Panama after a 3-week whirlwind of travel.
I began my travels at The Rainbow Hostel, a forming community whose intention is to serve as a school for social sustainability. My time there was extremely grounding. Jananda, one of the residents had a lot of useful information about communities and projects to visit in Costa Rica. I left with a pocket full of contacts and confidence.
Before diving into the Costa Rica scene, my friend Jemma and I decided to take a side trip to Panama, which has taken us through the resplendent Panama City and the quaint mountain towns of Santa Fe and Boquette.
In Santa Fe, we toured an organic coffee cooperative called Cafe el Tute. This cooperative formed in 1937 when the Cafe Tute coffee plant began buying beans from local organic growers for a fair price. When they began, all of the machines were run manually with hand cranks and mules, today many of the machines are run on solar electric energy and processed with rainwater. Basically, this small co-op caught on to the organic, shade-grown, fair-trade coffee buzz before it was trendy!
In the breezy mountain town of Boquette we visited the natural Caldera hot springs. A collection of 12 hot pools and streams on a piece of land that was completely undeveloped. The family who lives on the land has resisted the many offers to build hotels on their land, and even to pave the roads. They have chosen to live a simple life and in their words “protect this gift from God rather than profit from it.” After explaining this in a matter of fact way, the man of the farm shouted at the treetops ”Niño! Niño!” I thought perhaps he was calling his son but from far in the forest, a monkey came bounding down from the canopy and jumped into his arms. “This isn’t my pet,” he said, ” He is completely free.” And as the monkey kissed his cheek he laughed, “This is my friend!” I also got to hold the monkey, but he wanted to nibble on my hand…
So we left the tranquil mountain towns and headed for the rowdy Isla Colon, the main island in an archipelago off the coast of Northeastern Panama called Bocas del Toro. On our first day there, I had the pleasure of meeting with Allie from the Bocas Sustainable Tourism Alliance. BSTA’s aim is to preserve the geographic character of Bocas del Toro. They have set environmental impact standards for hotels, restaurants, and tour operators. They also have programs to educate visitors on the local culture. Many businesses are catching on that being a part of BSTA has huge benefits as tourists become more educated and the demand for eco-tourism rises.
The islands of Bocas del Toro have an issue with clean drinking water. Because of this, there is a government program that provides free rainwater catchment storage tanks to homes and businesses who are willing to build the rest of the system. Unfortunately, this program does not reach the more remote islands that still have large Indigenous communities. Fortunately, the organization Operation Safe Drinking Water is attempting to remedy this problem by providing rainwater catchment systems to indigenous schools and villages. This is an excellent program that needs support. Check out the link above for more information.
On our last day in Bocas del Toro, we went on a day trip to the island of Bastimentos to visit a small shop and permaculture project called Up in the Hill. Janette and Javier, the couple who run the joint, bought what was once an abandoned banana plantation with poor soil and have transformed it into a permaculture garden with numerous native, medicinal, and food plants. Janette makes homemade chocolate and body products from materials
grown on-site. Javier is also a local surf instructor. He has built a rapport with the community, especially the youth, in this way and says that now many of them are coming to him for lessons in gardening and for plant starts from his native plant nursery. This is truly an inspiring project and family that I am honored to know about!
I am now headed back to Costa Rica to visit the San Isidro area. There are several intentional communities and farming projects in this high elevation region that I am excited to explore. I will be hosted by Finca AMRTA, a small nature reserve, and organic farm. I will be both participating in their program and using the farm as a base from which to explore the area. I will most likely be out of internet contact during the next week or so, but will surely have much to say in my next blog.
Till then, thanks for checking in…
Isabell (Liz), Appropedia Travel Intern