Travel Intern in Panama

I am writing from Bocas del Toro, Panama after a 3 week whirl wind of travel.

The Rainbow Hostel

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.

Liz and Jemma
Liz and Jemma

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.

Organic coffee cooperative El TuteIn 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 which 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 tree tops ”Niño! Niño!” MonkeyI 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 an environmental impact standards for hotels, restaurants, and tour operators. They also have programs to educating 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 which 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 who 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.

Rainwater catchment tank being installed at indigenous school house

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 and 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 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!

A chocolate seed pod and processed cocoa

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

Chiapas Rainwater

(This is part of a five project series on HSU Chiapas 2010 started here)

Part of rainwater team building a system in a community near Acteal.

Rain.  Coming back from a summer in Mexico, everyone expects me to be tanner. Like other assumptions about a country as big and diverse as Mexico, not necessary so…  San Cristobal de las Casas was gorgeous.  San Cristobal was interesting.  San Cristobal had great coffee, chocolate, people, languages, music and fun.  San Cristobal was not that sunny… in fact, it rained about an inch per week during the five weeks of Appropriate Technology classes. There is a dry season, we just weren’t there for it.  The rain is enjoyable, but the waterborne and foodborne illnesses that affect many (including me and the students) are not. It was in that context that we were so excited to have one of the five projects for the Humboldt State University – Chiapas 2010, full immersion in Spanish and Appropriate Technology, summer abroad program be rainwater catchment systems.
Rainwater Catchment At A Glance
Description: Catching rainwater (often before it hits the ground), filtering and storing it for future use.
Inputs: rain
Outputs: Usable, potable if filtered, water
Improvements: reduced run-off and erosion, increased access to clean water, reduced time spent collecting and transporting water, reduced mosquito breeding areas near home

The whole rainwater catchment team building in Chiapas.

A team of four students collaborated with local designers and community members to build three systems: one with the appropriate technology demonstration home of Juan Hidalgo in San Cristobal and two with a community near Acteal. The student designers went through a few iterations at the demo house, testing and finding leaks, until they got it right. They then used that information to design and build the systems with the more rural community.  They also worked with Otros Mundos to start the construction of two 20,000 liter ferrocement tanks for storage.  Here is their rainwater system documentation in English and Spanish.  Here is some of the needed math for design.
Their innovations:
  • Using a first flush in Chiapas (I haven’t seen it other places here)
  • Using a PVC cap with one hole drilled high (for drainage and a cord for removing it) as the drain of the first flush. Having this hole high on the end-cap of a 90 degree elbow will keep it from plugging soon and keep the spray away from the house and into a bucket for reuse.
  • Using used vegetable oil to protect the wood supports.
  • Using costales (earth bags) for the base of one system.
  • Using tamped sand, instead of concrete, for the supports of one system.
  • Using wire to keep bent roofing metal in a channel shape.
Next steps:
  • Finish the ferrocement tanks in the community.
  • Revisit the systems in one year to see what went wrong.
  • Innovate!
  • Build a database of local rainwater systems (see image) and feedbacks.
  • Re-Innovate!
  • Workshops and community meetings on rainwater collection and water in general.
different (and probably better) way to use PVC with Rainwater Catchment
*This image is not our rainwater system, but it is the coolest way I have seen PVC used as a gutter (which is usually a big pain and doesn’t work all that well). We are going to try out this system at Otros Mundos.  In this image, Tania and Claudia are assessing its construction.  Now take that system and get a first flush on it and you’d probably have one great system!

Chiapas Rainwater

(This is part of a five project series on HSU Chiapas 2010 started here)

Part of rainwater team building a system in a community near Acteal.

Rain.  Coming back from a summer in Mexico, everyone expects me to be tanner. Like other assumptions about a country as big and diverse as Mexico, not necessary so…  San Cristobal de las Casas was gorgeous.  San Cristobal was interesting.  San Cristobal had great coffee, chocolate, people, languages, music and fun.  San Cristobal was not that sunny… in fact, it rained about an inch per week during the five weeks of Appropriate Technology classes. There is a dry season, we just weren’t there for it.  The rain is enjoyable, but the waterborne and foodborne illnesses that affect many (including me and the students) are not. It was in that context that we were so excited to have one of the five projects for the Humboldt State University – Chiapas 2010, full immersion in Spanish and Appropriate Technology, summer abroad program be rainwater catchment systems.
Rainwater Catchment At A Glance
Description: Catching rainwater (often before it hits the ground), filtering and storing it for future use.
Inputs: rain
Outputs: Usable, potable if filtered, water
Improvements: reduced run-off and erosion, increased access to clean water, reduced time spent collecting and transporting water, reduced mosquito breeding areas near home

The whole rainwater catchment team building in Chiapas.

A team of four students collaborated with local designers and community members to build three systems: one with the appropriate technology demonstration home of Juan Hidalgo in San Cristobal and two with a community near Acteal. The student designers went through a few iterations at the demo house, testing and finding leaks, until they got it right. They then used that information to design and build the systems with the more rural community.  They also worked with Otros Mundos to start the construction of two 20,000 liter ferrocement tanks for storage.  Here is their rainwater system documentation in English and Spanish.  Here is some of the needed math for design.
Their innovations:
  • Using a first flush in Chiapas (I haven’t seen it other places here)
  • Using a PVC cap with one hole drilled high (for drainage and a cord for removing it) as the drain of the first flush. Having this hole high on the end-cap of a 90 degree elbow will keep it from plugging soon and keep the spray away from the house and into a bucket for reuse.
  • Using used vegetable oil to protect the wood supports.
  • Using costales (earth bags) for the base of one system.
  • Using tamped sand, instead of concrete, for the supports of one system.
  • Using wire to keep bent roofing metal in a channel shape.
Next steps:
  • Finish the ferrocement tanks in the community.
  • Revisit the systems in one year to see what went wrong.
  • Innovate!
  • Build a database of local rainwater systems (see image) and feedbacks.
  • Re-Innovate!
  • Workshops and community meetings on rainwater collection and water in general.
different (and probably better) way to use PVC with Rainwater Catchment
*This image is not our rainwater system, but it is the coolest way I have seen PVC used as a gutter (which is usually a big pain and doesn’t work all that well). We are going to try out this system at Otros Mundos.  In this image, Tania and Claudia are assessing its construction.  Now take that system and get a first flush on it and you’d probably have one great system!

HSU Chiapas 2010 Follow-up


A monument to the December 22, 1997 Masacre in Acteal

After the Zapatista armed uprising in Chiapas during the 1990’s, you may find it surprising that the Humboldt State University, Spanish and Appropriate Technology, summer abroad program had to move from Coahuila in Northern Mexico to Chiapas in Southern Mexico for safety reasons.  Yet, that is where we found ourselves this year… with the drug war ravaging much of Northern Mexico we were unable to return to our friends, colleagues and projects in the beautiful oasis town of Parras de la Fuente, Coahuila, Mexico.

For those same safety reasons, after four consecutive years, we had cancelled the 2009 program completely. This year we moved it to the ethereal San Cristobal de las Casas and surrounding villages in Chiapas, Mexico. This summer’s projects were very exciting. Thanks, in large part, to the great organizations we worked with, especially our incredible project and community liaison – Otros Mundos.
Over the next two weeks, I will share the inputs, outputs, improvements, innovations and learnings from each of the following HSU Chiapas 2010 projects:
  • Improved cookstoves
  • Microhydro feasibility study
  • Windbelts
  • A biodigester
  • Rainwater catchment systems

some of the HSU Chiapas 2010 students studying microhydro

Travel Intern: Back to work after a….Peruvian appendectomy!?!

Ed: This was written 7 days ago, but we were only able to post it now. We’ll have another update from Isabel very soon.

Hello, this is Appropedia Travel intern, Isabel.

I arrived in Costa Rica today after a series of interesting detours…

My last blog was written about a month ago from the dreamy town of Mancora, Peru where I was attending a refresher week of Spanish classes and falling in love with surfing. I left Mancora near the end of June, feeling healthy and once again confident with my Spanish skills.

I accompanied my fried Kat to the airport in Lima, sad to see her go, but excited to dive into my internship with a visit to the office of Soluciones Practicas, an incredible organization using appropriate technology to address poverty in Peru.

Unfortunately, the day before my appointment, I began having terrible stomach pains and the owner of my hostel, Francis, insisted that I visit the hospital. After 11 hours in the emergency room and a myriad of tests, I was told I had appendicitis and needed to have surgery…right there in the Lima Hospital. I will soon be posting a personal blog with all of the exciting and nitty-gritty details of the Peruvian appendectomy and 5 days spent in the hospital.

For the purposes of this blog, I will say only that it was a life changing experience. I will also say that I couldn’t have done it without the kindness of a stranger, Francis Chauvel, owner of  Albergue Miraflores House Hostel.  He stayed with me in the ER, contacted my family, visited me in the hospital everyday, and threw a Welcome home partyfor me when I came back to the hostel!!! …Thanks Francis!

During my stay at the hospital, my mother (who was perhaps more traumatized by the experience than I was) asked me to come home to recover. I happily complied with her request and spent the monthof July in Tennessee with my family, following the doctor ordered diet (which was quite restrictive) and sleeping off the anesthesia in my system. After a full month of rest I feel both mentally and physically strong and ready to continue traveling.

I am excited to visit a few projects in Panama and Costa Rica and to return to Rancho Mastatal, an environmental learning and sustainable living center, which has become somewhat of a second home to me in Costa Rica.

As always, my schedule is flexible and I welcome suggestions for projects and places to visit in Panama and Costa Rica.

Hopefully I will have better luck this time around!

Thanks for checking in, Isabel