The San Isidro, Costa Rica area… a grassroots epicenter!

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I am writing from Finca Amrta, a small nature reserve, and farm in the foothills of the Talamaca mountains in Costa Rica’s southern zone. Finca Amrta has, among other things, served as a base for me to explore the area around San Isidro, Costa Rica. This area has so much to offer and is truly the epicenter of an ecological, grassroots, back to the earth movement here in Costa Rica! I have barely been able to scratch the surface of what this area has to offer in my 10 days here. Within a 30km range of where I sit there are, according to my locally verified list, 14 established Appropriate Technology/permaculture farm/school/intentional community type places…Incredible!

Each Thursday there is a farmer’s market and most of the organizations, farms, and groups in the area meet here to sell their overflow and to connect and build community. At the last market, I was able to make quite a few contacts and was invited to visit several projects in the area. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to make a choice, bounce around like a butterfly, briefly introducing people to Appropedia and getting a glimpse of what their project is about, or… try to cover just a few projects in depth.

My decision was to visit just a few places and attempt more in-depth documentation of their projects. So I am working on pages about some of the elegant “low-tech” projects at Finca Amrta and New Dawn. Both farms have been a presence in the area for over 20 years and have some simple solutions figured out for this particular climate in regards to farming, bamboo building, composting systems, etc. My hosts and the stewards of Finca Amrta, Susanna and Miguel, have been dedicated to living and demonstrating ecological land use and earth-based principles since they bought this land in 1989. My time here has been deeply grounding and enriching. Simply following Susanna and Miguel to watching them work and live has been nothing short of awe-inspiring.

As an added bonus, renowned medicinal plant expert Ed Bernhardt, N.D., and his wife Jessica live just next door. Ed has been working with tropical medicinal plants & gardens in Costa Rica for 20+ years and he and his wife now run the New Dawn school where they teach natural health care and permaculture classes on their land where students can eat from the garden and live in their bamboo- waddle and daub cabin (Appropedia page coming soon!)

Despite my decision to stay put, I couldn’t resist the invitation to make one quick stop to visit Finca Fruicion, mostly because I felt a connection with Alana, Jason, and their amazing new arrival (baby boy) Cedar. On the bus ride over to, I asked the woman next to me if she knew which stop to get off for Finca Fruicion. As it turns out, this woman was Desiree Wells, who is now living and offering permaculture courses on the farm. Alana and Jason just bought the farm in 2008, are raising 2 young boys, and just had a 3rd in May. Given the circumstances, I assumed I would be visiting a site with still very much in its infancy. I am happy to admit I was completely incorrect in my assumptions and am blown away with their accomplishments which include (among other things): tilapia aquaculture ponds, a chicken coop, a goat pen, a thatched roof rancho, biodiesel run school bus cabins, a greenhouse, composting toilets, solar-heated showers, the sturdy beginnings of permaculture gardens, and over 150 young fruit trees! . Needless to say I could not document these projects during my one-day stay. Looks like we need another Appropedia Travel Intern to follow up on this gem of a project (as well as numerous others in the area and, actually, in the world)!

This area is also a hot-spot for anyone interested in learning about bamboo construction. I will soon be posting pages documenting some of the bamboo-building methods my good friend Arya has learned while working at the local bamboo shop. Also, Arya and I paid a visit to another larger bamboo factory in the area called Bambu Tico. We were quite inspired by their operation and the myriad of bamboo products they have to offer.

I have to say that my favorite tidbit about bamboo construction came from Ed over at New Dawn; his simple bamboo-curing method. Simply cut the pieces of bamboo you would like to use and leave them standing in the bamboo stand for about 2 months resting on a rock (so they don’t act as straws). The bamboo stand acts as a natural pest and mold repellent for the curing bamboo. After a few months in the stand remove the bamboo and let the pieces bake in the sun for about 2 weeks. .. and that is that! It has worked for Ed and his building for years!

My fantastic voyage is approaching its last stop, one of my favorite places in the world: Rancho Mastatal!!! They have some amazing natural buildings, composting toilets, permaculture gardens, a bio-digester, solar electric and water, rainwater catch, and more! I was lucky enough to visit Rancho Mastatal 4 years ago; the spirit of the land and the community made a lasting impression and I am excited to return and to have a chance to share what is happening there with the Appropedia community!

That’s all for now. Thanks for checking in!

Travel Intern in Panama

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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

Day in the life of a Travel Intern

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On our journey from the rainforest to Lima, we decided to stopped for a few days in the cultural mecca of Cusco, Peru. But a funny thing happened on the way to Cusco…

After an entire night of bus travel on the winding mountain roads I woke up out of my half slumber to find that we were in complete standstill traffic about 30 minutes (by bus) outside of Cusco. The road was blocked and we would be waiting until nightfall. After inquiring with the driver and some of the locals, we were assured that our best and safest option was to walk 4 hours to Cusco down the road. I had naively assumed the block had been caused by a rock slide, as the steep terrain seemed to threaten collapse around every turn of the highway.

I had to  laugh when we came to the first block… it was simply a few logs that blocked the way and a collection of  about 20 people. I approached the group of elderly women sitting atop the logs and asked about the situation. In broken Spanish they more or less said, “We do not have water to grow plants or to live. We do not have access to the lake from which we have always gotten our water. The lake is also becoming very polluted. We want enough clean water to live and we will wait here until our message is heard.”

The sights long the the 30km of road were nothing less than surreal. For over 30 Kilometers, the road was blocked by rocks, boulders, logs, small fires, chunks of metal, glittering broken glass and hundreds of people young and old. This was a major, multi-pueblo, direct-action protest aimed at getting the attention of the Peruvian government.

The walk was very long and difficult, about 30km ( 20miles) on pavement in the mid-day sun. Though I had to fight to keep my spirits up, there was an undeniable beauty in being able to walk this long stretch of highway without a single car passing. There were only mountains splattered with pinkish mud and sagebrush, similarly pink adobe houses, and the faces of countless smiling,relentless people.

As we neared Cusco we saw that the Peruvian Army had arrived in drones to clear the streets. It has been difficult for me to find this story covered in the media, but as far as I can tell from talking with the people, the issue is water privatization. The people get their water from one lake. Someone owns or has recently bought the lake and this private or new owner raised the price of water so that the people could no longer afford enough water to grow crops. This is a simplified version of the story, but it is the only information that was consistent among all the people I questioned.

I am by no means an educated authority on these issues, but I know that these situations are not black and white. If someone owns the water, there is the danger that the people will not have access to what they need, however, there can also be problems when no one feels responsible for a resource.
I am aware that this is an age old debate and as I said, I know only enough to know that I know nothing about this, but I do think it is an issue worth thinking about. I know alternatives exist and I look forward to comments and peoples opinion on these issues. Please enlighten me.

Well, there is much more to say but that all for today. Be sure to check out my next blog (coming very soon) in which I hope to talk a bit about my process as I figure out what it means to be an Appropedia Travel Intern.

Thanks for cheking in!
Isabell

Isabell Kimbrough: First Travel Intern, First Blog

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Hola! Isabell Kimbrough here! I have begun my journey and stint as Appropedia’s first travel intern.  (Follow the links for more info.)

In a nutshell, I just graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in Botany and a passion for conservation and sustainable living. I saved my pennies for quite some time in order to do some traveling in South and Central America; and while I commend those who are able to travel free as a breeze, I come from a world of structure and need to feel that I am on some sort of mission as I wander. This is where Appropedia fits in. Members of the board of Appropedia had already birthed the idea of the “travel intern”, someone who would, during their travels, visit and report on successful projects for Appropedia. My internship is the trial run of this idea. I am excited and honored to have this opportunity.

I have begun my adventures and am writing from the rainforest town of Puerto Maldanado, Peru. My dearest friend Kat Fountain has been working on a conservation project in the state of Madre de Dios Peru, deep in the Amazon. It just so happened that she needed a field assistant and I just so happened to be a qualified biologist. What luck! So I joined her at the Sachavacayoc field station, a center for research, education, and ecotourism. For a week we rose before the sun and spent the day exploring and experiencing the incredible Amazon rainforest.

This Amazonian hardwood tree named “La Purma” is 500 years old!

I have learned a lot in a week, not only about the local flora and fauna but also about the situation of the people. Those working to protect and conserve this incredibly rich and biodiverse region of Peru face many threats and obstacles to conservation including (but not limited to): mining and subsequent mineral contamination in the water, logging for hardwoods, cattle farming, drilling for Petroleum, and slash and burn agriculture. The situation is, of course, very complicated and when taken as a whole, has the potential to be a little overwhelming. However, many of the conservationists and scientists I have spoken with here have a great deal of hope.

I personally find a sparkle of hope in this: There are many people and organizations whose sole (and soul) purpose is to protect this precious piece of the world. One of the biggest problems conservationists faced is the lack of communication between groups and organizations that share the same goals. Call me idealistic, but it is my belief that as infrastructure for communication improves and these groups continue to collaborate and organize, the looming problems I mentioned before are well within our power to change. As we all know, even the biggest changes happen poco a poco.

This is why I am grateful to be a part of the Appropedia community. Every page, and each connection made, is a step towards change. Perhaps some of you have heard the expression “the revolution will not be televised!” I agree. I think it is being documented in Appropedia.org!

Till next time… Isabell