A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things - air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky - all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do - especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”
“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.”
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”
Many more stories from the backpacker trail to come...
The following are from my old blog about buying land and building an eco-resort... I would still love to offer insight to those who have questions about these experiences..
A) Neil Young
B) A hairball Andrew coughed up after he decided licking himself is better than cold showers.
C) A small possum.
D) A caterpillar
Drum roll please.... It actually is D. I thought it was a small rodent until I saw its underside. Now that I have a picture of this caterpillar it will yield significantly less points in The Lost and Found hunting expedition. What? We plan to lend cameras to people and award points for interesting wildlife photos. 5 points for a morpho butterfly, 10 with its wings open. All the way up to 2000 points for the black panther. Points are redeemable for food, drinks and accommodation. The crab on the right is common in the rainy season. The guy on the right is a cacomistle. Just about as cute as Dokada Fanning running from aliens. These guys call out to each other and playfully jump from tree to tree. They are hard to photograph though.
The tarantulas are hard to find but if you know just which rock to look under they can be found. I used to be afraid of these guys until one party when a Texan buddy of mine picked one up and squeezed some of its venom into a shot glass, added tequila and then tossed it back. Now I am afraid of my Texan buddy.
So when you're at The Lost and Found bring your camera and keep your eyes open.
A lifelong friend visited me last week and recommended the movie Garden State. Zach Braff is swimming in a pool with Natalie Portman (Note to self: my new goal is to write a movie script in which I’m swimming with Natalie) and talking about his return to his childhood home. He told her he felt he was chasing an idea of home no longer attainable or that was imaginary to begin with. The nostalgia of the past drove him to look in the corridors of his former home only to find them empty and he found only distance when trying to connect with old friends.You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in...isn't really your home anymore.All of a sudden, even though you have some place where you put your shit...…that idea of home is gone.You feel like you can never get it back.It's like you feel homesick for a place that doesn't even exist.Maybe it's like this rite of passage, you know?You won't ever have that feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself. Another lifelong friend gave me a call today. She felt nostalgic after getting into contact with someone who after many years longed for the good old days when they rode in fields now being appropriated by a growing city on horses that since passed.Most of you who read this blog have left home. But to make it easier we left with those promises that we would write, we would stay in touch, and that when we return it would be like not a day has passed. And then one day we realize this was all a lie of convenience.Yeah, times change. When we see old friends we don’t always relate in the ways we used to... we get older... we make different choices. Would we really want it any other way?And this is why I am grateful I had visit from an old friend I share a long road of memories with and his new wife that he will make an even longer road of memories.At the end of Garden State, after unsuccessfully trying to return home, Zach Braff is standing on the edge of an abyss in the pouring rain. But he’s standing with a new friend and an old friend. And that moment, I’m sure, is fuel for future nostalgia.Plenty of room for old and new when The Lost and Found is finally built. And plenty of room for more days we will one day be nostalgic for. These are photos of old friends meeting new friends here in Panama.“Understand that friends come and go but a precious few hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps between geography and lifestyle because the older you get the more you need people that knew you when you were young.” – Baz Lauman from Always Wear Sunscreen
The Other Side of the Rainbow
But a time will come when these numbers have all ended. And all I've ever seen will be forgotten. Won't you come... To my funeral when my days are done
Life's not long... And so I hope when I am finally dead and gone...That you'll gather round when I am lowered into the ground -- The Crash Test Dummies
Greg Lamb passed away Sunday morning of a sudden and massive heart attack. He was an expat Calgarian that fueled his bed and breakfast with raw, in your face, friendliness. This brought an eclectic group of people around but not always the actual electricity. I had forgotten, until his wake, that it was him and his friendly bed and breakfast that brought Andrew and I to many of the people we know and work with here. Andrew and I would sit around a table near the pool, sometimes with our builder and architect, always with a few drinks. Two things Greg would love to give, whether you needed them or not, were drinks and advice. If there is a heaven, Greg is up there with an Atlas beer in one hand, a butt in the other, and he’s saying with a sincere look, No God, I don’t think you understand. You’re not listening. And God is listening mostly for the entertainment value.
Andrew was a pallbearer and literally buried his friend yesterday. Greg has me thinking about my own funeral and I guess more importantly about my life. People were really left unprepared, guessing at what Greg would have wanted and what to do.
So here it is: My last will and testament, if you want something of mine and it isn’t here then speak now or forever hold your peace.
Patrick Sean McGreer’s Last Will and Testament
For my ex-girlfriends: Nothing
For my family: Nothing
For my friends: Nothing
For my wife and kids: Nothing
O.K. This is a trick – I have very little but my resort (and debt)... I’m not married and have no kids. If I had a wife I guess I would leave her everything except my shares of the Lost and Found which I think some should go to Andrew so that he becomes a major shareholder. Unless, of course, my last words are Honey what are you doing with that knife? Owe! OK, very funny now put that down. Really… Ahhhhh
I think leaving money for people when you’re dead and gone is silly. Spend it all when you’re alive. Of course I don’t know when I’ll die so there might be some left over which I would like spent as much on my friends as on the ridiculously high costs of laying someone to rest.
I was never particularly high maintenance while alive so I don’t plan to be while dead. So maybe all of these things can’t be done. Whatever, I’m dead. Just don’t let Andrew do that Weekend At Bernie’s thing at the beach with my corpse.
First my estate should pay for the damn hospital bills and funeral. Actually if I could jam on those bills I would. Rather spend it on fun things. If I have credit card bills for God sake don’t let those greedy bastards get any of it. Next, my estate can pay for a nice little service in Edmonton for those who can’t make it to Panama. If my mother is still alive (Good God I hope I outlive her) then it should be in a Church. If not, a hall or someone’s house is fine. I don’t understand why some priest who never knew the deceased is allowed to speak. Someone may as well say, Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to honor #456-B's life before consigning him to lot #5, space #A-16. Praise God.
People can cry (video tape this and post it on the Internet so I can check it out… heaven is not heaven if it has no WiFi) for a while and stuff but I would want people to have a good time. Really I’m dead, I’m not in pain. Stop your blubbering. Someone should reserve the roof of The Black Dog (The Wooftop) (unless it’s winter then reserve The Underdog) Everyone should drink all they want and talk about the good times and funny Patrick stories, even the embarrassing ones and my estate will pay for the Grasshoppers and Trad. If I can really transcend the realm of the dead I’ll come say hi to each of you in the toilette there so be open to the spirit realm when you use the john. hostel panama Backpacker Hostel Panama backpacker hostel panama backpacker hostel panama backpacker hostel panama backpacker hostel panama My real funeral I’d like to take place at, you guessed it, The Lost and Found. If there are people at my wake that would really like to go to the funeral at The Lost and Found but really don’t have the cash, then I’d like my estate to foot the bill for a few friends that can’t afford it. Unless I’m rich when I die, in which case, everyone and their dates can come and it’s all on me. Hell first class if my accountant OK’s it.
Don’t know if it’s legal but I’d like a funeral pyre at The Lost and Found and I’d like it to be set in something like a burning man thing. Big party. Lots of food and alcohol. My favorite songs. The above quoted Crash Test Dummies song. Light My Fire for when the thing is set ablaze. Only the Good Die Young with the volume turned up at the part where Billy Joel sings I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners have much more fun. (Also Warren Zevon -- Keep me in your heart for a while.) I’d like my ashes collected and mixed with colored sand for a Mandela to be set under glass in a small round structure in the middle of the hedge maze. Maybe there can be a plaque or something that has my last words. I don’t know something like I’ll go to your funeral if you go to mine. I’ll have to give that some more thought.
Anyone who would like to speak can do so. Just try to keep the whole Patrick was great thing to less than 2 minutes and someone should read this first:
Funny how people who die become the greatest person you ever knew. So let me just say it now before others speak. I’m the greatest blah blah blah. Done. I read somewhere that people’s number one fear is public speaking and the number two fear is death. And here I am public speaking while dead. Fearless I am. Actually this is kinda spooky. I’m dead. Weird, eh?
Don't praise me or be sad but remember and share the times I lived my life the fullest I could. Whatever that means. I hope I tried to the end.
Joseph Campbell: People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.
Lester Burnham: Maybe I should be just down right pissed off that I’m dead. But it's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst ...And then I remember ... to relax, and not try to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. Don't worry ... you will someday.
Goodbye Greg. Catch you on the flip side. Have a cold Atlas waiting for me.
Sign, Sign, everywhere a Sign.
The SIGN blew over again. Ahrrrrg. But this time it was stolen. Can’t imagine there’s much of a market for a big yellow and red sign that has The Lost and Found written on it. If anyone comes across it at Sotheby’s or something then let me know. (Sorry Selina). MY FRIEND from Panama City painted it. She’s now in NYC studying art but I guess now she has to come back to paint another sign.
Pushing Sand and Moving Rock – By Andrew
....and muscle... to avoid environmentally damaging equipment.
Goodbye 2005 -- The Asian Tsunami and my beginning
Eight years ago I spent my first real Christmas outside Canada alone in Thailand after taking a teaching course in Bangkok. Last year was also Christmas alone in Thailand but it was different. The Asian tsunami, I know now, will always be the anniversary of a new beginning.
I was up unusually early on the island of Koh Lanta shopping for a shaving cream and razor when the shop became eerily empty. I learned later that a big wave hit the beach and the water receded. It attracted many, including those in the shop, down to the beach to watch the strange spectacle. I waited. I heard that people were throwing flapping fish back into the water as divers suddenly standing instead of swimming began to run to shore. The second wave hit in confusion and I saw people running for their lives between the bungalows. I couldn't see the water at this point and thought some of the Muslim, Buddhist violence had spilled over into the tourist areas. Then I saw more running and screaming and dark, swirling water carrying people. I turned and ran with the others.
What happened on Koh Lanta was nothing like Phuket or Koh Phi Phi (my original destination that I skipped because it was over booked) I saw scrapes and cuts and scared panicked faces. Waiting on on high ground with people searching for loved ones was heart wrenching. About sixty of us were waiting on high ground when a German man on a scooter drove up the dusty road and shouted ¨Veronica¨ about four or five times at the suddenly silent crowd before dropping his head and riding away. On my island, about 14 died. I didn't´t learn for sure until the next day that this indeed was a tsunami and how many had died on other islands.Just before dusk I wandered down to my cabin complex to find the main kitchen and reception completely shattered. It was dark and I needed light. The tourist at the pricey complex next door reluctantly leant me a flashlight under strict condescending orders that I return it. I found my bungalow and pulled a fire extinguisher from the wall to bust open my door. Water had filled and thrown things about but didn't destroy my stuff. My camera on a high shelf was fine but anything paper, the original copy of my degree, work reference letters, etc were all destroyed. I loaded everything into a black garbage bag and headed down to the beach to wash the sand from my backpack and shoes. The sand was filled with random objects, a tire, a dolls head, an open suitcase. I wandered in search of a place to sleep but prices were inflated more than 1000%. I saw fires high up on the gravel quarry where I and others first took refuge. I got a six pack and joined the suddenly open and warm Scandinavian tourists too frightened to go back to the beach.
Well I drank the six pack, talked around the fire and finally slept on a log. I woke with my backpack with two sandy pairs of shoes, luckily my wallet and passport in my back pocket and a jacket (given to me by a girlfriend in Turkey which is now the longest material possession I have owned) but my bag with all my other possessions were stolen.I had witnessed helpful Thais carry the wounded to the hospitals on their minibikes through the dangerous mud and give away water and food. And I had experienced the greed of a 1000% rise in hotel prices and most of my possessions stolen.
Days after I wandered down the beach and watched wealthy tourists sit as if nothing happened. I witnessed backpackers helping rebuild the place many of them called home. Over the last eight years I´ve lived in Thailand, Turkey, Central Europe, New York and Korea. Each time I made friends and each time it was hard to say goodbye. After Korea I decided it was enough and began shopping for my home.Now I´ve stopped globe trotting and found Panama. I just celebrated my first Christmas and New Year´s Eve, exactly one year after the tsunami disaster. Exactly one year in my pursuit to find home. I´ve written about searching for land and building structures and business ideas but what will make The Lost and Found a special place will not be the bricks and mortar but the community. The friends. I don´t even really know yet who will join Andrew and I but I feel the beginning of a community. Since I spent the last few days with my lawyer, builder and architect and with the type of people that really will make The Lost and Found special... a home, I decided to just finish this blog with their faces.
At three P.M. I’m bouncing down a rather nice stretch of the PAN AMERICAN HIGHWAY. My seat is the swing seat – vacant at the beginning of the trip but intermittently occupied by passengers on short trips. I thought of spreading my legs out and feigning sleep to discourage new passengers from encroaching on my butt space. But I wasn’t feeling particularly sleepy or selfish. I decided to let myself be amused by the open seat lottery. A Ngobe Indian woman (Six months in Panama and I still can’t pronounce this) sits next to me. She wears the traditional blue dress and smells of open fire smoke. She has the vacant eyes that most of these Indians have. I’d love to hear her story. I make a promise that one day I will. She’s gone and an old man that looks something like THIS, sits next to me. ¨Funky Town¨ by Lipps Inc. is being played over the radio speaker. I look out into the bright sunshine and smile. First I smile because the annoying reggaeton (rap/reggae mix) music constantly interrupted by the radio DJ´s bull horn, screaming and laughing isn’t playing and second because ¨Funky Town¨ brings back a distinct memory from my childhood.
I turn to the old man next to me. He sees me smile and gives back a wide toothless grin. ¨Remember this one? ¨ I ask him knowing he won’t understand. He smiles wider but says nothing.
It was the summer between grade three and grade four when I bought the Funky Town 45, the first music I ever bought. I was moving from Edmonton, a metropolis I thought, to a small town in Northern Alberta. When I hear the song I remember being in the basement of a friend’s house in the big city and daydreaming about moving to this small town.
Gotta make a move to a town that’s right for me
A town to keep me movin’ keep me groovin’ with some energy
Well I talk about it talk about it talk about it talk about it
Well I talk about talk about talk about movin’
Gotta move on Gotta move on Gotta move on
I still remember the images I had in my head while I was sitting in that basement listening. They were of me as some rich kid in this town I hadn’t yet seen. Rich just because I was from a big city and I thought everything in a smaller town must be cheaper. I pictured myself riding around gravel roads, the only kid in town with a dirt bike. (Never got it) The tallest image on the horizon is a church bell. How is it that a song can bring back childhood images from decades ago that were pure fantasy to begin with? -- One of my favorite quotes from The Sheltering Sky:
Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.
I’ve been going through moments of caution when I think about my life’s plans and investing in The Lost and Found. Should I pump my life’s savings in or keep something in my retirement fund? There was the bitter European Know-It-All that flat out asked, ¨Where is your land?¨ ¨On the road to Chirique Grande,¨ I told him. He smirked and said condescendingly, ¨It will never work.¨ Holy shit. Is he right?
But then sitting on the bus next to the toothless man, listening to eighties music I think about how lucky I am. I think about how everything does only happen only a certain number of times. And at this moment one of them is repeating. There must be a playful god of retroactivity – Retrometrius? And she is visiting me again on this bus. Was it the Indian woman? I Fantasize about The Lost and Found, my new home approaching. ¨Gotta make a move to a town that’s right for me.¨ And I think Fuck it. Give it all. Events do repeat themselves but life is not an inexhaustible well.
Andrew and I searched high and low, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and in two continents in search of land. (Editors note: this not an exaggeration as all of this is possible to do in Panama in just a weekend) We wrote about our favorite places on this blog and rated them. In the end chose none of them.
Found-- 11 hectares plus of virgin rainforest in the cool, MIST SHROUDED MOUNTAINS of Fortuna Park with views of the Pacific Ocean and towering volcanoes.
How Did We Do It?
There are plenty of great sources of information on Panama. The Escape Artist http://www.escapeartist.com/ and International Living http://www.internationalliving.com/ are inspirational. Their pictures and stories inspired me to come to Panama. But their detailed information (usually for sale) makes Panama seem like a daunting puzzle.
When we looked for land we used few of these online resources. Real Estate agents were to be a last resort. Panamanians who price land that have access to great resources are aware of the mad rush for land and price their land in the stratosphere. A tiny vacant lot on a noisy road in Bouqete is on sale for $100 000. We traveled like our future guests will travel -- by bus with the Lonely Planet in hand. We checked the Spanish language newspapers. We met travelers and locals and we told them exactly what we were up to. We looked at the web sites but they only frustrated us with high prices. In the end it was a phone number on a sign on the side of the road that led us to our land.I’m not saying it was easy or that Panama is a breeze to navigate. It isn’t. There is no secret ´How to´ manual. ¨Take it easy, breath, people have done this before, it can be done, our lawyer said after I spat out, ¨What... park... land... cut trees... approval? Road... how... access... approval... Corporation... Buy... Sell...What? ¨
Andrew and I just took it one step at time. We found the hotel with the Lonely Planet. We met a nice lady in our hotel who recommend a lawyer. We checked the prolific writers on Yahoo groups like Panama Real Estate ttp://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/Panama_Real_Estate/ for references (found two) or warnings (none) and our lawyer recommended a good legal surveyor, and so on. Things roll -- no magic, no expensive ´How to Manual´. (If you’re out there searching for land however, please send us specific questions.)We got a good deal because we weren’t competing with any of the other forces that drive up the value of the property. The land is too steep for farmland and it’s in the park anyway. And those in the retirement communities filled with those looking for Florida at half the price I guess were unaware of this new road.The spot is ideal. It’s a 45 min. drive from David, a modern city with 24 hour restaurants and shopping and an airport where you can catch a one hour, $60 flight to anywhere in the country. And as Fortuna would have it (sorry) we discovered by accident a brand spanking new road, paved just weeks ago that takes you to Bouquete, the number on retirement haven in the world, in just 45 min. The PAVED ROAD in front of our land has busses from David fly past every 20 min. to take travelers on to Bocas Del Toro. (Our land begins to the right of the road in the photo.)We’re thrilled because the majority of backpackers that travel around Panama will pass by our place, The Lost and Found Eco Resort. The backpackers that land in Panama City and take the bus to Bocas will pass by as well as the ones coming from Costa Rica through Bocas and on to the city or Chiriqui highlands. Either way, if they’re taking the bus around Panama and hitting at least a couple of major spots, they will pass by our place. (And see the big sign) And The Lost and Found will offer one of the only places to stay to break up a long Panama City, Bocas trip.But right at our property you feel as though you’re in the middle of nowhere. There’s not much near by but a small restaurant for sale, a gas station, park ranger's station and a lovely Bed and Breakfast run by a friendly Swiss couple, called Finca La Suiza. They have over two hundred hectares winding around the cloud forest in and out of the park.
The Lonely Planet wrote a stellar description of this place so we hope to benefit from the fact that as isolated as this area may seem, it’s already on the Lonely Planet radar. A few km down the road, 5 hectares are for sale, for U.S. $120 000. The land owner is preparing this for a retirement community.The closest village is Gualaca, about a half hour down the mountain. The village has a SCHOOL we hope might want to work with us on a community outreach program in which long term travelers staying with us can volunteer to teach at in return for free accommodation. And just minutes from the town, up the road toward our property is a charming little STREAM, just wide enough for an inner tubing excursion. It empties into this SWIMMING HOLE.
Our land is actually titled land inside a protected park. A path used by park rangers runs through our property and into the endless hectares of hiking trails in the park. Because we’re in the park we’ll need an environmental impact assessment and approval to cut any trees. Perfect for an eco-friendly resort. We think we’ll have a road through our NEIGHBOUR´S property that will lead to the center of the land where there is a FLAT PART that may be good for the first building and the hedge maze.THIS is the view just off our property. At this point the land is far too LUSH to see past the jungle but you can imagine what the view would be like from a tree-house or in an area slightly cleared of undergrowth. There’s cell phone access all over the property and a small creak runs through it. Cool breezes will blow through the yoga hall with the smoke from incense drifting down to hedge maze. The Lost and Found will be place travelers will want to put their packs down for a while. The Lost and Found is now taking reservations now for some time in the next six months to two years. Leave your reservation in the comments section here we’ll pencil you in. First come first served.
My Dream Resort
A tired backpacker sees the huge colorful hand painted sign for The Lost and Found Lodge and Cabins on the side of the road. She knows the bus driver has stopped at the right place. She’s holding the flyer for a 25% discount for an eight day massage course she got at her hostel in David, Panama’s third largest city. She’s always wanted to learn massage but mostly she’s tired of the road and wants to put her pack down for a few days in a comfortable place, challenge herself by learning something new and above all be in a friendly environment that facilitates meeting and interacting with other backpackers.
After the short hike into the virgin jungle rainforest she’s greeted by one of the friendly owners. She is offered the customary free drink the other backpackers have been talking about, a shooter called The Bite, a drop of the snake wine (with a real snake in the bottle), tequila and a dash of Tabasco. Instead she opts for the free massage given by one of the former massage students who had taken the course the previous week and needs to practice. She’s thinking about trying out a three day fast directed by one of the doctors that runs the health centre. Maybe she’ll do the eight day fast if it goes well or might just try sticking to the raw, fresh and organic menu. There are bright signs that were made by other backpackers in the art centre pointing the direction to the climbing wall, the horse stables, the organic and of course the garden with the famous labyrinth and hedge maze. But she’s given the tour anyway. She’s shown where the backpackers are staying in hammocks for two dollars. It looks something like THIS. The TENTS are a buck more and tree houses a few bucks more but she decided to splurge and stay in one of the cabins. Her pyramid shaped cabin is actually owned by a woman in Amsterdam who stays in Panama only for the winters. Actually most of the cabins are owned by individuals. Some live there year round others rent out on a rotating basis when they’re away. Some are painted in bright psychedelic colors and are given names like The Cuckoo’s Nest and The House of Usher. Hers is named Luxor. It might look like THIS but a little smaller.She puts her pack down and uses the outdoor shower, shielded by simple bamboo behind her cabin. Then she wanders down to the main lodge and finds other back packers playing darts, ping pong and board games. Others are just relaxing, drinking local Panamanian beers. They just help themselves to the fridge and mark down whatever they drink next to their names.
The walls are covered with posters about the many activities and courses. There’s a rock climbing wall, river rafting trips, mountain bike tours, a four day eco-adventure survival course/trek to the Caribbean. (The possibilities of the courses offered are endless, almost everyone has something to teach – painting, arts and crafts, meditation, massage, yoga, Tai Chi, every kind of dance lesson, Spanish and English classes, archery, beer and wine making, breath mechanics, guitar lessons or other music lessons, creative writing seminars, maybe poetry open mike nights, fitness classes, running groups, first aid classes, Shamanism, organic farming and cooking.)
She steps into the library where a couple of people are quietly reading. The walls are covered with pictures of FAMOUS LABYRINTHS from around the world. She had almost forgotten about that. So she leaves the lodge, crosses past the badminton nets and sees THE ENTRANCE to the four acre HEDGE MAZE THAT LOOKS LIKE THIS. She wanders around listening to the birds, stopping occasionally to breathe in the flowers and gaze up at the mountains. She’s sees an old man doing Tai Chi next to a small statue of a Greek god. She looks down and almost missed a cryptic message made of broken ceramic pieces on the path. Half an hour later she comes to a clearing and sees several others tanning themselves next to a large fountain slightly resembling a big bird bath. “Is this the end?” she asks. She learns the hedge maze isn’t about beginning and ending. She wanders more and finds a smaller stone labyrinth maybe LIKE THIS and a little later, THE TOWER. She climbs the tower and sees the stunning view above the trees. She noticed she only saw a few of the things in the maze. She missed the two guys PLAYING CHESS on the life sized chess board. There she finds a map and has a birds eye view of the maze to help her find her way out.Back at the lodge she re-unites with the massage instructor she got the flyer from. He tells her there’s a demonstration by one of the former students and a short question and answer session for those who’ve signed up for the course. The course starts in two days. “It can’t start tomorrow,” her instructor says, “There’s family dinner (common group meal) then a kite and paper lantern parade, then drumming by the fire pit and drinking and dancing until dawn.”She does indeed dance ‘till dawn and needs the day after hangover special. An aspirin and ice blended orange juice, made with the fresh oranges grown in the orchard. She lies in one of the hammock areas near the lodge that is playing the softer music. She listens to Bob Dylan thinking about the new friends she met the night before and how many days she wants to extend her trip. When she falls asleep she thinks about how much she can get for her car back home and the possibilities of buying one of the cabins herself. She heard at family dinner she gets a cheaper monthly rate if she volunteers to teach English to children at one of schools in the town nearby. Her life has changed.I dream about a place like this I think it’s all still in the realm of the possible. I’d love to hear your dream place in the comments field. Or tell me what things you would add to make this place even better.I imagine this place would start with an inexpensive hammock and tent area like those I wrote about in a previous blog. People can come and stay for free if they help and given free materials to help create the art. The instructors also stay for free. At first the instructors can ask for donations from the students. Of course it may take time at first to find students but putting up posters and handing out discount flyers at other backpacker centres will help. Later when they hit their stride and have satisfied customers, they can charge a set price, a certain percent goes to the lodge but they still don’t pay for their accommodations.
This works because both the instructors and the lodge will have it in their best interest to get customers and promote the place. The instructors really don’t risk anything but their time.I don’t imagine backpackers paying to stay either until, the restaurant, and the lodge is running efficiently. When things start to run I can see asking for donations but I think it’s better to have a solid reputation and a good customer base before asking for money. When prices are introduced I don’t imagine them to high except for luxury things like the Internet. We could also rent binoculars and cameras for bird watching. All profit can be reinvested in the project to continue building cabins or add things like a climbing wall or swimming pool. The profit for the owners will be made through their investment in the land. If enough land is bought a percentage can be sold. The value of the land will be much higher when there is a reputable eco-friendly resort next to it. Individual lots with cabins can also be sold.There are several ways to participate in this project. One is to invest with us.
Andrew and I will buy land but we would also speak with anyone who wants to invest with us and help shape the vision of The Panama Project. Those with less money can save now to buy a cabin later to rent out or sell at later date. We might consider pre-selling cabins at a reduced rate. If there is profit from the sale it can be used to fund expansion of the lodge. If you have a skill like cooking, we might consider contracting out our restaurant. Those without money can also participate. Once we’re up and running anyone with a skill or art to teach can stay for free. We won’t ask for a percentage until you’re up and running smoothly. Polish up on your skills now, save a few dollars to offset your costs and come down. Or come down and work at a place like Los Quetzeles (previous blog) or teach English until construction starts. Before we’re open to the public anyone wanting to come down to paint and create art or even just hammer nails can have free room and board. And there are ways to participate that I haven’t even thought of.
Andrew and I are close to choosing land. The next steps would be getting a lawyer, negotiating, drawing up buy/sell agreement between us, surveying the land and contracting an architect to make blueprints before doing my favorite part – planting the hedge seedlings for the labyrinth. When construction starts depends on what we pay for our land but it may have to wait one year for us to round up more cash. Once construction does start the first thing we’ll put up will be simple kitchen, and a tent/hammock area. When that’s finished we’ll be ready to invite anyone interested to come and start developing the artwork, and if there are instructors, start offering courses to the few backpackers that wander in. And the ball starts rolling.
I left my run down $72 dollar a night, hostel in Manhattan and took a $60 cab to Newark airport. The lady at the US Airways check in was no lady. “You have no onward ticket. You can’t get on this plane.” She scolded with the condescending glare of a middle school math teacher two years away from receiving her pension and one month away from burning out. I have a long list of travel woes, but in brief I had to pull out the credit card and had a hell of time getting a refund later from US Airways for my ticket back to the States.
I wandered the next day. To be objective it was mix of excitement and dread. I wandered down AVENIDA CENTRAL an exciting crowded mix of every kind of person except it seemed, gringos. At the Parque Santa Ana I saw the landmark COCA COLA CAFÉ but made a wrong turn HERE and wandered down one of the dangerous areas called Chorrillo. When I day dreamed in Korea about my first few months here I thought I would buy a volkeswagon van and sell cocktails out the back to learn about business in Panama. They worked in Bangkok and I thought they might work in Casco Viejo. But when I was looking at the dilapidated BUILDINGS in Chorillo I thought these people will drink all the booze, then drink the gas except for the little they leave to cook me to sell my flesh out of the back of their new van.Casco Viejo and Why People Are Falling In Love With ItI was relieved when I actually found CASCO VIEJO. LAUGHING CHILDREN playing on cobblestone STREETS. Life is not a road but ALLEYWAYS and PIAZZAS I read once on the wall of hostel in Budapest. Casco Viejo certainly has those. There are stunning views of PANAMA CITY. Andrew and I went back there to take a closer look and we found a beautifully restored condo development. We made a quick video. CLICK HERE and be patient for the download.Not Perfect YetBut Casco Viejo doesn’t have the people on an afternoon stroll with their gelatos. No groups of backpackers hanging out playing hacky sack. No buskers. But if should. There are a few nice restaurants, but the clubs and bars fell out of vogue with most Panamanians. TAKE FIVE a cool, sleepy jazz bar that reflects its namesake was the busiest place when I ventured there on weekend night.Casco Viejo is as beautiful as any European city and I can see why foreigners are buying up the property and doing their best to renovate and promote it.
For sure, it was not love at first sight when I arrived. Hot, scary sometimes and filled with the shock of how much work was ahead of me to turn my dreams into action. I couldn’t find a Greenwich Village type coffee shop with someone reading a Hemmingway novel I could approach. There was no ready made expat community playing pool in bars. (You have to find them on the web www.expatsinpanama.com) But then I remembered that I chose this place because I wanted more of a homogeneous atmosphere without the US and Them I experienced in Asia. The reasons the foreigners are not crowded into their own coffee shops and bars is because Panamanians are people you want to know and their bars places you want to be. You don’t have to huddle with your own. This might take more work – it means learning the language.There is a lot of work to be done to make Casco Viejo the next Paris of 20’s. There’s a lot of work for me and The Panama Project. But the most rewarding goals are often the most difficult to achieve. But that is what is exciting about Panama. It’s not quite here yet, but those that are building it feel the excitement, challenge and sometimes frustration of being the ones responsible for bringing it.
Best Hostels in the World
The top three places I’ve ever been in reverse order:
3) Kadir’s Tree Houses in Olympus, Turkey -- a national park with a phenomenon that I’ve been told gave rise to the Chimera myth. From deep within the bowels of the earth gases ignite when they reach the oxygen at the surface. The fires used to be large enough to be seen many miles from the coast. There is also a nice pebble beach that has a kind of Galleon type ship called a Gullet moored offshore carrying backpackers that stay in the tree houses built amongst Roman Ruins. But this is not why people stay. It’s the communal tree houses run by Kadir that make people set their packs down for longer than they thought. Breakfast in the big common hall. Psychedelic painted tree houses with names like – The White House, The House of Usher, Jabbah the Hut. There’s a common fire pit that has nightly congregations. This is one of the places I keep in mind when I dream of building something in Panama.
2) Finca Ixobel, Guatemala -- In the middle of nowhere in Guatemala, set among buried Mayan Pyramids and deep limestone caves. An American woman kept it going after her husband was killed in the savage civil war. The parrot interrupted my chess game, the monkey could unscrew my toothpaste top and devour it, I almost lost my life in a river cave, poisonous snakes abound but it makes number two. Again the communal aspect hooked me. Just take beer from the fridge and mark it down. The bill was bigger than I thought when she added up all those after dinner coffees and cinnamon buns. The activities made me stay. Maps for self guided tours through caves and a big common room for group dinners make it a place to think about when I dream about what to do here.
3) Haad Tien, Koh Pha-Ngan, Thailand -- I call it the Hippy Beach in a short sighted description to those who need the short hand. Some landed on the beach and saw the hugging and dancing and strange clothes and thought it was a cult. Spontaneous hugging and dancing? Must be a cult. I was fleeing the desolation of post tsunami Koh Lanta and then the impersonal TV sets and horny tourists of Haad Rin. (Well I wouldn’t have fled if they were female) I was going to leave Haad Tien after the massage course but stayed to have a credit card mailed to me that was taken by the horrible disastrous Tsunami. Then the Shamanism course started and I decided to hang with new friends after old friends left.Then there was Church to stay for. In the fifties people in North America went to church to show off their new hat and to see and be seen and to catch up with gossip. Haad Tien is the centre of three beaches accessible only by long tail boats when the waves aren’t too high or by a two hour trek through the jungle. The three beaches come together once a week, to gossip, to show off new clothes, to dance – wel