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The boy is back in town

The boy is back in town

Contemplating my journey back to London tomorrow – I have been in Panama now for just over two months – I am not looking forward to the change in temperature! I do love the fact that I can live here (Panama) and just wear shorts and flip flops all year long come rain or shine (except on a bus journey from the City to Bocas (del Toro)).

A tourist in my home

I must say, even though I was born here and lived here until I was 18 years old, I do feel like a tourist at times. If I really think about it I have pretty much lived most of my adult life out of Panama, which to me sounds (and feels) a bit weird. A lot has changed since I last spent a significant amount of time in my home country.

The heat. The heat is something you have to adapt to. It can get crazy hot in the City. Once you get to Bocas you can feel the cool breeze coming from the sea. I love Panama but I love being in Bocas. I guess it’s where I find my peace and also being there with the people, the local community and family, reminds me of why we are doing this.

Cherish moments

It’s true what they say and it might sound cliché but you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. And it has taken me over 20 years to realize this, but it also made realize that you must cherish moments, life, family, friends, and make the most of any situation. Life is too damn short – you’re here today, gone tomorrow.

Being in Panama these past months, I’ve also seen how politics is involved in most things here, well, I guess that’s the same everywhere, but it feels very heavy here. It’s truly ‘who you know’ and not ‘what you know’. You have to combine the ‘know-who’ with the ‘know-how’. And because of this, a lot that should get done doesn’t get done – a tale that’s true in a number of places around the world. Sometimes it frustrates me as you can see what needs to be done, but that doesn’t always take priority on the political agenda. This makes me feel even more strongly that if we want change, a lot of that has to come from us, and the business community can play a big part in this – especially a social business.

But for all these things, there is no other place like Panama on the planet. The place, the people, the culture is unique. You have to truly immerse yourself in it and you will then fall in love with what I believe to be a little piece of paradise on Earth.

Until the next time, #liveslow! And I guess we all will, with Christmas and the holiday season coming up!

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News from the isthmus

News from the isthmus

Hello my treetop lovers,

As some of you already know, we decided to divide and conquer! I have been in Panama for the past couple of weeks now, hunting down potential investors, following up leads, speaking to potential partners and just getting the bíku name out there.

Back home

I must say it has been great to be living back home after so many years away. In some ways I feel the same way I felt when I first moved to the UK, a period of adjustment and getting used to the way of life. Having left Panama at 17/18 years old you could say I have lived away for most of my adult life. So it’s getting used to the changes that have happened in Panama since I left.

Even though only two weeks, it has been a bit difficult at times but we are prepared for this and as they say – you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Follow those leads

I’ve been knocking on those doors, email ‘stalking’, WhatsApp..ing, whatever it takes to get bíku off the ground. I have some exciting meetings lined up in the next few weeks – and Zabrina has got some exciting things in the pipeline back in London, so watch this space.

I want to leave you with something that I read a while ago: inspiration is like bathing, it’s very effective but it must be practised on a regular basis(!).

Stay inspired mi gente.

Until next time, #liveslow!

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Chasing the dream

Chasing the dream

Well well well…

I guess the time of talking is over and the time of doing is now. I am going back to Panama in a few days (three days and counting!) to seek investment for bíku. In all honesty, I am nervous as hell, I guess because I want this to work – not just for me and my partner but for the local community in Bocas del Toro, and for my family. I am excited to be going back home to do this. It feels right to be on this journey.
I remember a speech that Steve Jobs did some years ago. He said you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect the dots looking backwards. I now understand what he meant by that. I needed to go through my life journey to get to this point, but don’t get me wrong, I believe this is just the beginning!

Last day in the ‘office’

As I write this blog I am preparing to go in for my last day of work at Ace Hotel. I can’t believe that I have been there for four years; how time flies. It has taught me a lot, of what to do and what not to do in the hospitality industry.
So, before I keep blabbing on, whatever it is that you are dreaming of,  don’t let anything or anyone stop you. BE UNSTOPPABLE…and that’s how I am feeling right now.
Let’s do this.
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Until the next time, #liveslow!
I love you Tiyanna, Declan and Coco.
@heylooktheresnathan

@heylooktheresnathan

Someone who has inspired me since the very first day that I met him – since the very first conversation I had with him when he was still working at Ace Hotel (London) – is my good friend Nathan Miller…documentary filmmaker extraordinaire.

A lot of people – including me – are inspired by well-known, successful individuals who have already been through their struggle to get where they are today, those who are already ‘on the other side’. But – for me, what is even more inspiring is seeing the journey, seeing someone going through that ‘struggle’ and making sacrifices today for where they want to be tomorrow, not knowing but believing in getting to that ‘other side’. Meet Nathan Miller.

A higher education

I remember one conversation in particular that I had with Nathan about him telling his parents, teachers and friends that he – at the age of 17 – was not planning to go to university. Instead, he was going to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. He wanted to show young people in the community that anything is possible if you believe. I’m sure you can imagine what the response was, the ‘are you sures’ and ‘how are you going to do thats’.

But Nathan, more than having a dream had the vision, and that is something I took away that day. He taught me that you are never too old to learn and you are never too young to teach.

He knew what he wanted so clearly that he could step in to it like it had already happened.

The grind

He had his drive, his determination, his commitment from such a young age. When others were partying and doing teenage things he was grinding. Wow, what a guy. I am so proud to call him my friend.

Monday marked the release of Nathan’s fourth documentary, ‘Northside’, which looks at Toronto’s rap scene. Reviews have been stunning, it has been described as a ‘must-watch’. Check out Nathan’s profile on Instagram for the link to watch on YouTube.

You inspire me, brother.

Until next time … #liveslow!

Being philoslothical

Being philoslothical

Welcome to the first of our weekly Wednesday blogs! What can you expect from these posts? Well, they will be a place where you can find out more about us, about the inspiration behind the bíku project, and our thoughts and comments on issues close to our and bíku’s heart. And what better place to start than to look at the philosophy, or should we say philoslothy (does that work?), behind bíku and what we are trying to achieve.

This first post is a short introduction to one of bíku’s guiding principles: being philoslothical! So what does this mean? Well, being philoslothical is really a way of life, a way of life that we’d like to share with our guests when they come to stay with us at bíku, and something that hopefully can find its place – even if only in a small way – in our guests’ everyday living, after their break with us.

What does it mean?

Being philoslothical will mean different things to different people, but at its core and to us it means:

  • Being a responsible traveller: respecting the local culture, customs and natural environment
  • Pausing for thought (as the native Bocas del Toro sloths do! In fact, they don’t do much more than pausing for thought)
  • Thinking about how your actions affect others and your surroundings
  • Enjoying every moment
  • Natural luxury
  • Living slow! (Bocas … and sloth style)

It’s pretty simple, but these are things that are so easy to forget in our ‘tweeting, twerking’, modern-day world. As they say, ‘it’s the simple things’ … (I never know the end of that saying…can someone help?).

Told you it was a short one! Until next week.

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter – @bikupanama – and let us know what #beingphiloslothical means to you.

#liveslow all you treetop living lovers.

Bocas chronicles – the young entrepreneur

Bocas chronicles – the young entrepreneur

From a very early age my mum made sure she taught me the value of work and independence. One of the ways for my mum to generate some extra money was to make tamales on the weekend. A tamal is a traditional Latin American dish made from a corn dough. So, you could say that my first ever job was to help my mum make and sell tamales.

Cooking tamales

To cook tamales the main thing you need is a banana leaf. This is what the tamal is cooked in. My first job on a Saturday morning was to take my machete – I was 13(!) – go to the forest (tropical) and cut down some banana leaves for the tamales. I remember watching the sloths in the surrounding trees while I was cutting the banana leaves. I would bring back the leaves to my mum, wash them, cut them down to size and get them ready for the corn filling.

My next job would be to grind the corn into a paste, manually. That was tough! My mum would do the rest. She would use a filling of either pork or chicken, which would have been cooked almost like a stew, along with egg, onion and olives. First she would put the corn dough / paste in the panama leaf, then place on top the chicken or pork, a few olives and egg, then fold up the banana leaf and tie the ‘parcel’ with string. She would then boil the parcel – for about half an hour to forty minutes. Then it’s done. Tamales!

The young entrepreneur

My mum would give me the list of the people who had placed orders. I would jump on my bicycle and go and deliver them. Without knowing it at the time, my mum was teaching me the meaning of entrepreneurship. I used to sell pattie for my Gran too –  as well as journey cake. But – well – that’s another story!

Until next time. Live slow!

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Bocas chronicles – memories of the Boy from Bocas

Bocas chronicles – memories of the Boy from Bocas

This little snippet is about me growing up in Bocas – and lets you in on a secret about what young Bocas school boys sometimes get up to on those hot island days!

I was bordering my teenage years – around 11 or 12 – and I remember one day at school a few of us decided to skip the last class and go for a swim down by the docks in Almirante. So the group of us left, still in our school uniform, got down to the docks and stripped down to our pants (underwear – for any American English speaker reading this!). This was what I can only describe as a complete care free, joyful moment – it was fun. We were jumping in the water, throwing each other in – simple bliss. All this until we saw our teacher walking down the road shouting our names. At this point we knew there was no point of running anywhere, we were caught, literally with our pants down!

The group of us went from complete happiness to complete terror of the consequences that were to come. All I could think was it was fun while it lasted. The worst part about it was still to come when the teacher said, ‘You wait until I tell your mum!’ The scolding was severe – but that blissful afternoon had been worth it.

Remembering moments like this is what makes me think that whatever you are doing make sure that you enjoy the journey, because life is too short.

Bocas boys will be Bocas boys

On our recent trip back to Bocas in March, I saw a similar group of school boys having the same kind of fun. Rather than the sea, they were swimming and jumping in the Rio Oeste river and balancing on (and falling off) a floating tree trunk. They hadn’t removed a single piece of their school uniform and were drenched. I hope they enjoyed it while it lasted … before the scolding …

Until the next one. #theslothlife

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Bocas chronicles – Meet Sergio

Bocas chronicles – Meet Sergio

I’m going to be writing a series of short blogs to introduce you to some of the Bocas people – for better or for worse. With b í k u, we want to give you a unique experience, a boutique experience. To us, and hopefully to you, that means meeting the Bocas beyond the beaches.

The people of Bocas is what makes the place so special. They create the vibrancy, the colour – and the craziness! Like any place, Bocas has its good, its bad and even its ugly! I want to share with you some of the local flavour – snippets of its everyday people. There is only so much that can be described with words – you’ll have to experience the rest when you come and stay in our b í k u treehouses.

In this first instalment I want to introduce you to Sergio. Like Cher and Prince, he needs no second name!

Meet Sergio

Sergio is in my opinion the essence of Bocas del Toro; he has a character like no other! I have known Sergio since forever, and can’t remember Bocas without him. As you can see from the main picture, like a true Bocas man, he knows how to stay out of the sun and not get burnt. The photo was taken on our recent March trip to Bocas when we went on a private Pepe Tour – I’d highly recommend it.

Sergio works for Pepe Tours, in Almirante – as a general boatman. The story of Sergio is one of ups and downs – like many people in Bocas – but he now has the opportunity to turn his life around in a positive way by working with Pepe and showing travellers his beautiful Bocas.

On our Pepe Tour – moored up on the beautiful Islas Zapatillas

Sergio – and people like Sergio – are one of the main reasons for us starting b í k u. I want to help empower people like Sergio as well as the young generation that are coming up, to show them that even though we may come from a small little town, on a tiny little speck of this world, we can still do big things and should not stop dreaming big.

We are not defined by our circumstance.

Until the next time – #slothlife

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3 ‘must tries’ when in Bocas

3 ‘must tries’ when in Bocas

Hi all, Ariel here. Today I want to share a part of the ‘real Bocas’ with you. These probably aren’t things you’ll hear from travel guides! Here are three things you must try when in Bocas. Heed this advice – it’s from a true ‘Bocas man’ – as we say.

 ONE – ‘dollar bag’

First things first, the famous ‘one-dollar bag’. This is actually now two dollars!! – inflation even reaches Bocas! Funnily enough, we still call it a one-dollar bag – or just ‘dollar bag’. This is Bocas’s version of a take away. It’s made up of fried chicken or fish and guess what else? … patacones! You can also have it with yucca, or as some of us may know it, cassava. I love this.

My mum getting our dollar bag in Almirante, Bocas del Toro. This is the best dollar bag around.

TWO – hot pepper sauce

Hot pepper sauce … Bocas style. This is not tabasco, it’s hot pepper sauce, Bocas style. This is on every table in every restaurant and in every household, used at every meal time. It’s Bocas’s equivalent of salt and pepper. As a matter of fact, you can skip the salt and pepper, but not the hot pepper sauce. And at $1.50 a bottle – it’s a bargain. Hot pepper sauce, love it!

THREE – agua de sapo

Now, this one is to wash down the dollar bag and the little bit of spice from the hot pepper sauce, it’s called ‘agua de sapo’. Translated this means ‘frog’s water’. Now I know it sounds gross, but stay with me. It’s called agua de sapo because it’s made from brown sugar mixed with lots of lime and water, so it has a misty, brown ‘dirty’ water look. But believe me, it’s the most refreshing, thirst quenching drink around!!! This might be a little bit trickier to find for the average tourist. But if you do find it, take a picture drinking it and post on Instagram with the hashtags #aguadesapo #bikutreehouse

Look out for a short video next week on our Instagram or Facebook, where I’ll tell you about patacones, and will try to do a video demo!

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Boy from Bocas

Boy from Bocas

Welcome to b í k u’s first blog post and the beginning of our journey. We wanted to tell you a little bit more about us and why the project is so important. In this first post, you will hear from one half of b í k u, co-founder Ariel Stephenson.

How old are you in this photo and can you tell us a bit about what you are wearing?

I must be around 8 or 9 – I was trying to think how old I was when I danced “Tipico”; the national Panamanian dance. I’m wearing the Tipico attire! The shirt is called a “Guayavera”. The hat is an actual Panama hat, a “Tipico” Panama hat. The “Panama hat” that people from around the world know and love, actually originates from Ecuador; the hat got its name after its point of sale rather than its place of origin. Many of these hats were worn by the supervisors and foremen who worked on the construction of the Panama Canal.

 You are from Panama, from Bocas del Toro. Which part of Bocas are you from?

I’m from Almirante. This the coastal, port town where people catch the water taxis to the islands. I also lived on the main island, Isla Colón, for some time, while my mother was studying to become a nurse.

What makes you proud of being from Bocas / Almirante?

What makes me proud is the people. It sounds like a cliché but the people are just different. They say good morning, they say good evening, they invite you into their homes for food. People will try to help you in any way that they can – it’s just an amazing community with a beautiful culture; one that I’m proud to be from.


What is your earliest memory of growing up in Bocas?

I think my earliest memory is of the Sunday excursions from Almirante to the beaches on the islands. This was before the age of the water taxis – so the journey was a lot longer than the 15-20 minute journey now. There used to be a big boat called Isla Colón and everyone – from Almirante to Changinola – used to take that boat from Almirante to the islands, every Sunday, to spend the day on the beach. The whole family would go, grandchildren, children, parents, grandparents – your next door neighbours and their family. And you can’t go anywhere in Bocas without some Bocas food! The evening before the outing, my mum would cook – rice and peas and all that good stuff; come Sunday morning, off we’d go!


How long have you been working in the hospitality industry and how did you get into it?

I’ve been working in the hospitality industry for over 20 years, now. Wow – time goes quickly! So…how did I get into it? Well, there was no work in Bocas at that time, when I was younger. I started university in the City but couldn’t keep up with it because of funds and working night shifts meant I was falling asleep in class. I made the decision to start working on cruise ships to raise money so I could come back to Panama and continue with university, and the rest, as they say, is history. I worked on the ships for about five years and then came to London, and have been working in the industry ever since.

 

Can you tell us a little bit more about b í k u?

You’ll have to stick with us over the next few months to find out more about the project and our journey. b í k u is something we’ve wanted to create for a while – it is a treehouse hideaway and chocolate farm, on a tropical island in the sun!

Bocas is the cacao growing region of Panama, so we want to make the most of that and produce chocolate for the guests.

b í k u will be a boutique retreat offering the highest level of customer service, a service that you’d expect in hotels in New York and London – but obviously with that tropical twist! We want to start with three treehouses and a few glamping “pods”, but would not want to grow to more than 10 treehouses maximum, that’s probably too many.

Our aim with b í k u is to create a unique travel experience for our guests to know the true character of Bocas. b í k u will bring something different to Bocas!


What inspired this project and what keeps you motivated?

My biggest inspiration is family. Two key family members who meant and still mean a lot to me are my grandmother and my uncle, both of whom, unfortunately, passed away a few years ago now. I think about them every day, and their spirit keeps me moving, keeps me motivated and guides me. I have a lot of family who still live in Bocas, our family is part of the fabric of the place. I have to do something that will make a change in Bocas – in the local community, something that will help others, even if it’s only one person. You’ve got to start somewhere.

 

Why treehouses?

Why not!? Everyone as a child is fascinated by treehouses – that sense of exploration and freedom, sleeping in the trees with nature, listening to the birds chattering away. We want to create something different – to allow people to switch off and become completely immersed in their surroundings. You can do some amazing designs with treehouses. And the design element is really important for b í k u. At the moment we’re working with our architects to finalise the designs. The concept designs we have so far are amazing … nothing like it in Bocas – or in Panama!

 

There are a few eco lodges in Bocas, so how will b í k u differentiate itself?

There’s definitely a gap in the market in Bocas for a place that offers a truly personal customer service that – in addition – focuses on design and reinvests in the local community.   b í k u will provide a level of personalised service that you’d expect in a top hotel in New York or London.

The fact that I’m Panamanian, from Bocas del Toro, is a huge differentiator. This is a whole separate discussion, but, in Bocas there are very few – if any – local “Bocatoreños” (locals from Bocas) who own and run any of the hotels or eco lodges. The vast majority have been set up by foreigners. I’ll be happy if I can, in some way, inspire others from here, from Bocas, to have greater aspirations, to inspire people to be greater than their circumstances.

As we’ll be raising the capital for the treehouse build from crowdfunding – b í k u will be unique in being funded by the community for the community. We will reinvest in the community, including in the development and preservation of the environment, the economy, the local community and culture. We see business education as a top priority – to help people develop the tools to create a sustainable income for themselves and the ability to teach that to their children and future generations. I dream big – if I didn’t, then we wouldn’t be doing this. I dream of creating something akin to the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – who knows, perhaps we could even tie up with them, as one of its two centres is based in the Caribbean.

 

Describe Bocas in three words

Three words … that’s not enough!!! That’s a difficult one. Three words … I’d say “home, relaxing and ‘nice’”! There’s a certain reply in Panama that people give to those of us from Bocas. When we’re asked where we’re from and we reply “Bocas”, the Panamanian response is just … “nice”. Perhaps that’s enough to sum it up!

 

Give us an unexpected fact about you

Perhaps something unexpected from a man who is dreaming of building treehouses is that I’m actually scared of heights! Some irony, I know. I also have a frog phobia, which again, is kind of ironic seeing as Bocas is famous for its poison dart frogs!

 

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