- Watching baby whales near Isla Boca Brava
- A mysterious place
- From drugs to eco-hostel
- The lagendary scavenger hunt
- The occasional treat
- Let´s make some organic coffee!
- Direttisima to Costa Rica
It has been a while since I wrote last, the reason is that we have spent a couple of days in the middle of the Panamanian jungle, far from any internet connection. We are now in Puerto Viejo, the first town when crossing the border into Costa Rica on the Caribbean side. Last time I wrote we were in the jungle of Santa Fe, around 500km from Puerto Viejo. But we didn’t head straight into the jungle again, first it was time to see some whales!
Watching baby whales near Isla Boca Brava
Our plan was to head to Santa Catalina, a surfer´s town fairly close to Santa Fe on the Pacific side. However, other travelers told us that it was quite expensive and most of all quite dirty. So we changed our minds and headed to Isla Boca Brava, a little island located in a marine national park on the Pacific side.
After quite a chaotic ride we reached the only hostel/hotel on the island, which is located on a cliff overlooking the ocean, with a nice open air restaurant with hammocks and dogs, so perfect for us. The island itself is fairly big, covered by dense jungle and black sand beaches. Even on the short path from the communal area to our little room we could spot huge green iguanas, vultures and hear the howler monkeys, which are not that big but make a quite terrifying noise, hence the name.
Other travelers had told us about this place and most of all the day tour it offers, which gives you the possibility to watch humpback whales in the marine park. These animals live in the Canadian sea for most of the year, but migrate to Central American waters around this time of the year, many of them with little babys.
We went on a little boat, watching out for any water fountains above the surface of the water, which occur whenever the whales come up to breath. The adult ones need to do so only once every twenty minutes, however, the one we spotted had a baby which needs more oxygen and therefore swam quite close to the surface. We spent quite a while watching these majestic animals and when you see them that close you realize just how big they are, simply huge.
The rest of the day we spent on two different deserted islands, full of jungle and wildlife. Dozens of different kinds of colorful crabs live on these volcanic sand beaches and it is quite fascinating to watch them dig their holes into the sand, just to be washed away by the next wave, and then start over again.
A mysterious place
Isla Boca Brava was very expensive though. Since there is only one accommodation on the island, which is catered mostly to regular resort tourists, there is no way of getting cheaper food or cooking your own stuff. As a result, we didn’t want to stay that long and decided to head off after 2 nights.
A lot of travelers we met in Panama told us about this mystical hostel in the middle of the jungle, far away from any town or civilization. The opinion was unanimously fantastic and we decided that we had to check this place out on the way to the Caribbean side.
I did what I always do if I have the chance and checked some reviews of the place. On Tripadvisor it had more than any other hostel I have ever seen, around 80 of them, out of which 90% where just amazed and the other 10% completely pissed off. The former praised simply everything about the place, the latter fell down from the 14 feet bunk beds.
From drugs to eco-hostel
We took a bus which dropped us off in heavy rain on the middle of a curvy jungle road high up in the mountains and our search for the Lost and Found began, a place where people lose their life journey just in order to find it during their stay, supposedly.
The path up to the hostel is steep and the monsoon rain literally started the moment we stepped out of the bus. Monsoon season might be overrated, but we did get soaking wet on the way up there. In these moments we remember how great it is to have a backpack with less than 8kg each, it just makes it so much easier. The tiring hike was rewarded with one of the best places I have stayed at during my travels, one of those places where you don’t want to leave. A place where you feel like you have become part of a community, of a family.
The Lost and Found was established 6 years ago by two Canadians. At first a bunch of crazy travelers lived there for around half a year living off hallucinogenic substances and against the will of the government, which didn’t like these foreign young people setting up a hostel in the middle of a natural reserve. A lot of time has passed, and now this hostel is an exemplary eco-hostel, which raises money for the maintenance of the mountain trails and employs local people to do tours (and is drug free).
The Lost and Found consists of a couple of houses scattered around the jungle: a shower house, a toilet, a bar, the main open air building with kitchen and a dorm with the highest bunk beds I have ever seen, two people in each bed. If you want to go to the toilet at night you literally have to walk 100m through the jungle.
Most people who go there “volunteer”, that is to say they take care of the reception for 3 days a week and get free accommodation in return. Moreover, every single one has to contribute something before he leaves, which can be anything from improving the logistics to painting a wall. Even the management and everything else is done by volunteers, all in their 20s and 30s, which makes this place seem more like a unique jungle community of young people than a hostel. The best bit about it is that all the party travelers who head straight to Bocas Del Toro avoid it and only very likeminded people decide to walk up the jungle to spend some days, weeks, months and sometimes years in a place that is different from any other place I have been to.
The legendary scavenger hunt
So what can you do up there? When we were there, it rained a lot, starting around 1pm and finishing only at night. We didn’t really bother, since every single person we met had so much to tell. Starting from the crazy English reptile fanatic who would tell you his face to face encounters with 6m alligators, to the Russian girl who answers the question “how long have you been travelling” with a plains “7 years”, to the two people who are travelling with a 7 dollars a day budget (between the two), on bicycles all the way from Mexico. The people there were just very special, open minded, liberal, international and social. We spent days talking about frustrating US politics with resigned Americans, alternative state systems with Italians and the astonishingly high percentage of STD infected travelers in Canada. I even met a person from Bolzano up there, literally 20 minutes from the place I was born in northern Italy.
Other than that, as I seem to have quite clear already, the Lost and Found is in the middle of the jungle and the creative minds behind this hostel (so every single traveler who decides to volunteer here) have created all sorts of activities in the beautiful jungle. We decided to go for the adventurous treasure hunt, which starts in a labyrinth close to the hostel and takes you through the forest for hours to be eventually rewarded with a free drink in the bar. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the third clue, supposedly located inside a giant tree with a trunk composed by three different trees and lianas hanging down from the top. We also reached a beautiful river, cooold but amazing and, as I always do, I took a nice dip in it to cool down from all the walking. Only the very heavy monsoon rain (again) forced us to sprint back to the hostel. If he had had more time, dozens of waterfalls, pools, viewpoints and wildlife would have waited for us to be explored in walking distance from the Lost and Found.
At night finally, everyone waits for that bell to ring which starts the happy hour in the bar, 1 dollar drinks. When I say bar think of a little hut built and decorated by people like me in the middle of the jungle with a monkey outside. Inside, we spent one entire night listening to songs played on a guitar passed from one to the other and sang altogether (the percentage of proper travelers playing the guitar is very high, and some of them unleash their hidden talents as soon as they get the chance). On other nights we learned and played the funniest card game I ever played, “Pounce”, which brought me close to a nerve breakdown and multi-task genius Cecilia to unknown satisfaction levels.
On the last night then we took part in one of the Lost and Found´s legendary foosball tournaments. Everyone would join, even if they do not know how to play. We were 16 people, in 8 teams, competing for the heavily priced title of Lost and Found foosball champion (4 free drinks for the winner). With my transatlantic partner Brittany (usually just referred to as the “Dream Team”), we destroyed every obstacle on our way to glory, just to raise the inexistent trophy after 3 rough games against French, Mexicans, Americans, Italians and Austrians. Unfortunately, Celia could not unleash her incredible skills (and this is not ironic, her defense reminds me of Kahn/Demichelis/Lucio´s best times) in a team with a Basque.
I could have spent so much longer up there, surrounded by amazing people who make the Lost and Found what it is, a place where likeminded people from all over the world live in a liberal community: fulfilling, inspiring, awesome.
The occasional treat
The Lost and Found was also perfect to safe money: the first night we paid 22 dollars (average in Panama for the cheapest accommodation for two people), then on the second 16, on the third 10 and the fourth is for free, awesome! Moreover, I took one for the team, walked to the nearest village in heavy rain and bought tons of rice, lentils, vegetables and chicken. At night we prepared dinners that made every other present traveler jealous. We even tried to prepare some local stuff, such as yucca fries with a tomato/garlic/chilly dip – very good stuff.
But we are not hardcore budget travelers. Although we try to cut it down as much as we can, however, when we get the chance to do something awesome (whale tour for example) we do have a little bit of money to do it. So at the Lost and Found we decided to go on an organic coffee tour, which consists in spending half a day on the farm of Don Cune, a local jungle farmer who decided to switch from pesticides to organic 20 years ago and has a farm (more of a beautiful fruit garden) open to visitors.
Our guide was Nico, an American who spent 4 years in the American Peace Corps in a little Panamanian jungle village alone, setting up water projects for the community. He then started at the Lost and Found as a tour guide, as he knows everything about the local cultures and farmers.
Let´s make some organic coffee
The history of coffee starts with a legend around 1500 years ago in Ethiopia: a goat farmer saw how his animals started eating fruit from a bush. After a while, the goats started dancing with each other. Curious, the farmer picked some himself, ate them, and found himself dancing with the goats. He then brought the fruit to the local shaman, who said that they were evil and through them into the fire. An unknown smell spread around the village, all the people came out of their huts and coffee was born.
Centuries later, the Arabs invaded this area, took the coffee with them up to Turkey, from where it got to Vienna, still famous for its Cafes. The Spanish brought it with them to Central America, however, it was not until a couple of years ago that Panama´s coffee made it to the world stage. An American went to Africa and brought back a couple of beans with an exceptional taste. He started growing them around Boquete and called it Geisha (nothing to do with Japan, but it was his closest pronunciation of the real African name). Nowadays, Geisha sells for around 100-300 dollars per pound and is one of the most requested coffee types in the world.
Don Cune produces different kinds. When we were there we followed the entire process: picking the red fruit, drying it, crushing the shells with an ancient wooden tool, roasting them in a pan, grinding them and, of course, drinking the coffee. It was really nice because Don Cune´s farm has nothing to do with the traditional cultivation of fruits or crops. In his garden, hundreds of different trees, herbs, fruits and vegetables live side by side to ensure a high biodiversity. He told us how monocultures destroy nature and result in ever-growing demand for pesticides. Don Cune, on the other hand, uses plants and trees which might seem useless to attract certain bugs, which in turn kill malicious insects.
We loved it because his farm is just like the Garden of Eden, full of colors, animals and fruit. We also got to press sugar cane with an ancient method of slamming one tree on another with the cane in-between. Done Cune then added fresh orange-lime and wild chilly. So good. All of this followed by a meal prepared with his products.
Direttisima to Costa Rica
Following the principle “leave when it´s nicest”, we said good-bye after 5 incredible days at the Lost and Found, knowing that, even if we came back, this place would not be the same. The people who we met made it so special, and hopefully my classic 2 hours monologue praising Bavaria and the Oktoberfest in particular has proven effective and people will come visit.
The next stop on the way to Costa Rica is usually Bocas Del Toro, an archipelago in the Caribbean. Every single traveler we have met has been there, however, no one seemed really amazed by it. It seems more like a Thailand style party place, where the local ethnic minority lives in extreme poverty while westerners drink their Cuba Libre and eat seafood. We have already been to paradise islands in San Blas, so we changed our plans and headed straight to Costa Rica, more precisely to Puerto Viejo, a laid back Caribbean town with endless palm fringed beaches, colorfully painted houses, fresh fish, abundance of juicy fruit and reggae music everywhere.
Also, we are getting closer to our main destination: the sloths sanctuary. It is only 40km away from here and we sloth drawings already appear everywhere in this place. So we are getting there!
After this, we want to head to Tortugero, a remote beach town famous for the thousands of sea-turtles which fill its beaches at this time of the year to lay their eggs. And then, we decided to head to Nicaragua, just because every single person who has been there says it is the best country in Central America, and the cheapest. Also, the travelers in the Lost and Found told us about another eco-hostel on Isla Ometepe, which we definitely want to check out.
So we are doing great and are now more relaxed, inspired and happy than ever!
Hasta luego viejos