The Permaquest continues! I’m finally living the dream :)
I’m currently outside of Penonome, Panama at Finca Perezosos, or the lazy man’s farm http://www.organicpanamapermaculture.com/. Perezoso means lazy & sloth. I got here about a week ago now and I’ve been learning a lot about tropical farming, permaculture, “chopping and dropping”, and living the lady life. Lazy farming, so you come back in 5 years and the farm is still functioning as a system. Cool.
I was at Celina’s farm, Tocori Verde, and I felt I needed to do more farming. Celina was in the middle of opening her new store in downtown Puerto Viejo and there wasen’t a whole lot for me to do on the farm. I helped out with the store called Planeta Verde or Green Planet, by painting, preparing, etc., but I felt called to the farm. I was a bit defeated after looking into a few Costa Rican projects that would charge me $400-$500 per month just to come and volunteer. I understand that food is expensive in Costa Rica and I’d be gaining a lot of valuable knowledge, but damn! You want me to pay YOU how much so I can work? No can do.
I had found some beautiful eco projects and stayed at a beautiful organic farm/homestead, but I had not yet stayed on a permaculture farm 1.5 months into my journey *gasp!* What was stopping me? Money, I suppose. Time to change my perspective. So I gave Celina some notice that I was probably going to leave Costa Rica and attempt meeting a friend in Boas del Toro, Panama. Panama is notoriously cheaper than Costa Rica. I ended up leaving from Celina’s a few days later, passing by Niko’s on the way to El Mecanico, where I’d arranged to be picked up by a shuttle service to Panama.
The main thing I noticed on either side of the boarder was it was Chiquita Banana country. Seriously. All that was visable for miles, er… kilometros was banana plantations and some homes and school children. We passed conveyer belts with blue plastic banana bags that had precious bananas inside, once hanging from the trees. Banana Rebulic indeed.
We- and by we I mean me and 4 other extranjeros- had to get out of the van to go to the customs office and have our passports stamped. We walked over a train tressle, did the same on the Panamanian side and additionally pay $3. Next we got into another van with a different driver and drove for about 1.5 hours through Panama to a boat dock- also Banana Republic with big Chiquita containers. Some government officials came to talk to us, sounds like they were having some problems with the boarder inspectors chargin $5 instead of $3. I had to fill out a document stating that I was charged fairly (which I was). We put our backpacks on the boat and headed out to Bocas del Toro!
As we left the boat dock, I noticed canoes full of little school kids in blue uniforms, unaccompanied by adults. What was this aquatic world I was entering? After about a 30 min boat ride, we arrived in Bocas Town and I found a hostel with 2 of the girls from my shuttle. We settled in and went to Star Fish beach, which had some seriously huge star fish. It also had a significant amount of trash- I guess we’re not in Costa Rica anymore! The next day I took a tour for $20 of 3 islands, saw dolphins, and we snorked at a beautiful reef- good deal. After a few days of seeing some picturesque beaches, and a mama and baby sloth, and living it up a bit too much that I had one of those “what am I doing!?” moments. Oh and I barely missed crossing paths with my friend and she was no longer there. I went to sleep confused as to why I was in Bocas del Toro, which had a Spring Break vibe, and not at a farm studying permaculture. I awoke at Aqua Lounge Hostel around 8AM while everyone else slept. I suppose I was still on on an early schedule from living farm life. I got on my computer determined to find a permaculture project in Panama.
I found Finca Perezosos right away. I decided just to cut to the chase and call the number on the website and see if they had any volunteer positions available. The owner, Jon, answered and asked me to call back a bit later. I wrote an email and he said he had availability! Yeah! I ended up bumping into a friend shortly after and spending the day at the beach and then we island hopped to Bastimentos Island- the Jamaican Island. Basically, everyone there is Jamaican or a Jamaican decendent. Everyone is “cool” and they “respect the light”. Everyone speeks Jamaican English and Spanish. Whoa! Beautiful! I instantly fell in love. I stayed in Bastamentos for 3 nights, with the excuse of waiting around a bit for a different friend who was supposed to get to Bocas who never did, but got to enjoy paradise. Many ideas a’brewing and it came to me that here is a place with beautiful people, beautiful islands, beautiful ocean, and a whole lot of trash. So much trash that I don’t see how tourists will keep coming if the trash problem keeps growing. Costa Rica has their trash problem figured out far more than Panama. Bocas, especially Bastamentos is a place I could actually have a positive impact.
The icing on the cake:
Here’s a little story from my 1st day in Bastamentos: While out swimming, my friend and I had a very disgusting experience. I started to feel panic-ey, like I was in some very dirty water. “What’s that!?” I said, “A jellyfish?” I started to see more and more of these white “jellyfish”. I felt like I didn’t want to be in the water and I climbed out. My friend was less hesitant and pulled a black plastic bag from the water. As he pulled, the bag broke and about 100 of the “jellyfish” came pouring out on & around him. We realized they weren’t jellyfish but in reality poopy baby wipes that had been thrown “away” with some sort of alcohol & other chemicals that were now burning his hands. Gross! We got out of the water quickly, a bit shaken from our gross experience. It really hit me hard. I’m interested in having a future eco project/ farm in a place like Bastimentos- something to empower the local youth with a community center and a community garden for whoever wants to come be part of something beautiful, with lots of volunteers, and a bed and breakfast for eco-tourists (and boy, are there a lot of tourists…).
I’ve been reading The Human Farm by Katie Smith which is about the agricultural history of Honduras, which talks about school gardens as a means of getting parents involved. Cool. I also talked with some locals in Bastamentos who thought an after school program would be great- those kids only go to school 4 hours a day! It woudn’t have to be just environmental, but a friend was talking about giving incentives for bags of beach trash- nice.
Anyway, I left Bocas (finally) via a 2 boats, a cab, and 2 busses, and I met some cool people on the way. One was the victim of a brown recluse spider bite , which is apparently flesh-eating but not fatal, on their way to the hospital… And the other was this chick who lives & surfs in Bocas del Toro who wants to talk more about a community center- nice!
I finally made it to Penonome by nightfall- the geographic center of Panama- and was picked up by Jon- El Perezoso- the farm owner. I’ve been sort of isolated but it is nice to have time to read and learn some cool tropical farm design concepts and hang out in nature. There is a beautiful river and I’m about 1.5 hours from Panama City, where I will soon be visiting. And I am looking to participate in a local 10K on Sunday morning- we will see how that goes! Anyway, suerte y amor de Panama!