Blog : bocas del toro

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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Whether Willy Wonka or Bocas Bonkers…it’s all about chocolate

Whether Willy Wonka or Bocas Bonkers…it’s all about chocolate

As many of you will know, we’re not just developing a treehouse retreat, we’re also developing a chocolate farm. Part of the bíku land is a cacao plantation. Bocas del Toro – home to the bíku retreat – is the cacao-growing region of Panama. And boy does it produce wonderful cacao. To stay on the pulse of what’s going on in the chocolate world, we’ve been going to the Chocolate Show for the past couple of years. Any excuse to eat chocolate!

This year did not disappoint; bigger and better than ever. There was great effort promoting Peru and the Dominican Republic, among others, as cacao producing countries. Our aim is to get Panama representatives at the show one year – to introduce people to the delights the small isthmus has to offer.

I wanted you to get to know three companies I met this year that really wowed me with their business aims as well as tantalised my taste buds!

Harry Specters

 

Harry Specters is a very special chocolatier indeed. As its strap line suggests, ‘Enjoy the chocolate, Love the cause’, the company is driven by a greater social purpose. The company offers employment to young people with autism, but goes beyond that by providing a number of programmes to boost confidence and self esteem. Find out more. It’s truly inspiring to see how the social impact element is core to what the company does. As if this wasn’t enough – the chocolates are exquisite. I picked up a couple of early Christmas presents from their stall. I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to keep my mitts off the gifts before December! My family might have to do with empty chocolate boxes on December 25!

Beau Cacao

Offering single estate chocolate using cacao grown in Malaysia, Beau Cacao’s chocolate is stunning – the epitome of indulgence. The company sources the cacao beans directly from small-scale farmers and handle the production themselves – all in all better for the farmers, better for the industry and better for the chocolate! It’s great to see a company so passionate about what they are crafting and offering to us chocolate lovers, as well as about the sourcing of cacao and the sustainability of the business.

I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of chocolate bars (as pictured): Asajaya 2014, 73% – beans grown by Mr Chang(!) – amazing caramel tones, rich and smooth; and Serian 2014, 72% – beans grown by Mr Cyril(!) – a much more earthy, smoky flavour. Honestly, chocolate like nothing I’ve tasted before. My favourite thing? The fact that the company tells you who has grown the beans and the year in which the beans were harvested – genius.

CACAOTALES

I spent a good amount of time speaking to Luis Mancini from CACAOTALES – thank you for your time Luis, and sorry that I took up so much of it! Luis is a cacao farmer, from Peru. He feels strongly about supporting the farmers, giving them the best price for their cacao, and in doing so ‘helping them rediscover their dignity and pride’. Luis set up CACAOTALES to find other cacao smallholders in Peru, like himself, and facilitate direct trade – connecting the best farmers with the best artisan chocolatiers.

I’ll be in touch Luis – looking forward to future collaboration.

A great day out, ate at least half my weight in chocolate (and don’t regret it a bit!)

Until next time, #liveslow!

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Inspired by social business

Inspired by social business

This week we’ve posted a few things on social media about projects and people that inspire us. Inspiration and being inspired keeps us pursuing our dream. It pushes us forward and it keeps us going on those really tough days when we question and doubt ourselves and wonder what the hell we’re doing!!

Face your fears

Whenever we tell people about our bíku project, their initial reaction is wow – that’s so exciting, and so cool. Of course we love this reaction because what we’re trying to achieve is exciting (to us), it is amazing and we love it. But, sometimes, doing something different is terrifying! Every day we need to push ourselves to make sure that we reach our goal. There are no personal trainers organising our routine or our daily plans, no one shouting at us when we feel like giving up. We have to do this ourselves – which at times can be really tough. Having people and projects to inspire us is even more important at these low points. They remind us that doing the impossible, is possible!

Ariel faces another fear…his fear of frogs. And with Bocas del Toro full of these amazing guys – poison dart frogs – he’s going to have to get over his fear, fast!

Who inspires us?

So – who are our main inspirations? Well, some are closer to home, including friends and family, and others are world renowned. For me, Muhammad Yunus is a huge inspiration for our biku project and on a personal level. I’m not sure how Yunus would describe himself. By education he is an economist, but I think he was one of if not the very first, true social entrepreneur. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding and his work with Grameen Bank, which was and remains a pioneer in providing microfinance for the poor. For all you creatives and social business…ers of the future, the Grameen Creative Lab is a great way to keep up to date with anything social business related!

Yunus has dedicated his life to helping people break out of poverty, and has always kept principles of sustainability at the core of his work. Looking at what Yunus has achieved, at what Grameen has achieved, it just seems impossible. A glance at the ‘Grameen Family’ section of the Yunus Centre website shows the magnitude of this man’s work. If you want to know more about Yunus and how Grameen began, I would strongly recommend that you read Yunus’s book, ‘Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs’.

From being inspired to inspiring others

We’re inspired every day – often by people who are working on personal, creative projects or in the community. They are driven by passion rather than a desire for recognition. We try to surround ourselves with people who are inspiring, people who don’t settle for the status quo – you know who you are! We can only hope that one day we can inspire others. That would be an honour.

#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 connections

Bocas connections

Panama visit – day 9. Things are really ramping up with only a few days left before we fly back to the UK, and still so much to do! Day 9 was a busy day on the Bocas islands, reconnecting with old Bocas contacts and making new ones – all for future collaboration with bíku.

bíku, a business to benefit Bocas

We haven’t written much about this yet, but we will run bíku as a social enterprise; ie a revenue generating business whose main aim is to address social issues. The profits from bíku will be reinvested in the local community, primarily to develop community led social businesses. There is already a lot of great work being done in Bocas for the conservation of the natural environment as well as the culture, especially of the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous community, and the history of the place. As they say, there is great strength in numbers. Since the inception of our bíku plans, we have been meeting with people working in Bocas with similar aims as our own – so that we can collaborate with them once we’re up and running.

One of these people is Angel – who we wrote about in yesterday’s blog. It’s always good to catch up with him; he is looking forward to seeing our project come to fruition. Angel knows everything about and everyone in Bocas! He’s at the core of a lot of the great work happening here. He told us about some very interesting developments in Bocas. In conjunction with the Panama tourism authority (ATP) a museum is being developed on the main island, Isla Colón, to share with tourists the rich history of the Bocas islands. The other is a work in progress regarding the restriction of tour boats going to Dolphin Bay (Bahia de los Delfines). The hope is that there will be a restricted number of tours a day, working to a schedule. This development is a long time coming and will be a huge benefit to the dolphins and other marine life in the area.

So fresh and so clean

Another of our visits was to Punta Coco, which is a small company that makes organic soaps and other toiletries from pure Bocas coconut! We were lucky enough to come away from the meeting with a number of goodies to try … Only local, and only the best for our bíku guests. And only things that we have tested and approved first!


Punta de Coco soap slab

Up in the hill

Finally, as you might have seen from our Instagram stories, we also visited ‘Up in the hill’ on Isla Bastimentos. After a 20 minute walk up the hill, making our way through tropical rainforest and stopping for the occasional photograph and insect / bird interrogation, we reached our final destination ‘Up in the hill’. This place is a real tropical hideaway – an ecolodge, cacao farm, coffee and organic product shop. It is run by a Scottish and Argentinian couple who actually met in Bocas. They originally came to Bocas, separately, some 20 years ago volunteering with the turtle conservation work. Anyone who comes to Bocas should definitely visit this hidden treasure. There is great coffee, chocolate, and conversation waiting for you after the long, uphill walk! And we completely agree with their slogan, ‘Good things come in the trees’!

Ariel tucked away at Up in the hill

Remember – sign up to our mailing list before 7 August and be in with a chance of winning a 4-night stay in the Cotswolds.

Until next time, #liveslow.

Waking up to the sounds of nature

Waking up to the sounds of nature

Panama visit – day 8. Wow the time really is going quickly – we only wish we could extend our stay for at least a month or more! Our four days in Panama City were busy, with meetings to discuss our project and following leads with potential investors. We’ve got another round of meetings lined up for when we are back in the City next week. Following an 11 hour bus journey from the City on Tuesday night, we arrived in Bocas del Toro (Bocas) early Wednesday morning.

For those of you hoping to travel to Bocas in the future, we recommend the 45 minute flight over the 11 hour bus journey! We will definitely be flying from the islands to the City on our return.

Bocas vibes

Bocas del Toro sits in stark contrast to the City. You won’t find any one-two hour (or more!) traffic jams (known as el tranque) here! The pace of life slows and even for the most hardened city dweller, it really is impossible to move at anything faster than a sloth’s pace once you set foot here. Bocas gets you … with the morning chattering of the migrating Bocas parakeets, the warm air, slight sea breeze and backdrop of cloud forest … all you can do is relax, breathe and take in the place, culture, people and nature. It envelopes you.

Business meetings exist in Bocas, of course, but they are of a very different nature and may last an afternoon – if not a whole day! Other than business – which is the reason for our trip – for Ariel Bocas is home. It’s a chance to catch up with his family – sister, nephew, mum, aunts, uncles, cousins and the wider town(!) – there’s never a dull moment. And much of the conversation revolves around food – namely what someone is going to cook that day, where they can get the freshest mackerel or other necessary fish / meat and who’s going to help.

The meetings continue

Today we’re heading from the port town of Almirante – where we’re staying – to the main Bocas island, Isla Colón. We’ll be meeting with a contact we met out here back in 2014, an Argentinian gentleman who has been living in Bocas for the best part of 20 years if not more, and who has seen an enormous change in the islands. He has dedicated his life to promoting conservation in the region, including working with Sea Turtle Conservancy, as well as protecting and preserving the way of life of the indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé community, through Alianza Bocas. We very much hope that he continues to be a friend and someone with whom we can collaborate in the future through bíku.

Stick with us over the next week to stay up to date with our project news.

Remember – sign up to our mailing list before 7 August and be in with a chance of winning a 4-night stay in the Cotswolds.

Until next time, #liveslow.

Bocas del Toro – what’s in a name?

Bocas del Toro – what’s in a name?

The history of a place has always fascinated me. The more you learn about a place’s history, the more you tend to understand traditions, behaviours and attitudes. You can begin to understand the people. How much about where you live or where you’re from do you know? Ariel is from Bocas del Toro, Panama, and knows it as the place where he grew up, the place that holds his childhood memories, and the place where his family still lives today. I know Bocas as a ‘newcomer’, in part through the eyes of Ariel – meeting his family and friends and experiencing local Bocas life – and in part as a tourist / traveller – seeing everything for the first time.

Our treehouse project has been and continues to be a fascinating journey for both me and Ariel, perhaps for different reasons. We are learning things about Bocas as well as ourselves! So, what’s the history of Bocas – and what’s in a name?

A brief history – Christopher Columbus

Bocas del Toro is a region of Panama, in the very north west of the country. For non-Spanish speakers, this name translates as ‘the Bull’s Mouth’, or ‘The Mouth of the Bull’. So, how did the province come by this name?

There doesn’t seem to be a definite answer but there are, rather, stories and speculation. Cristopher Columbus ‘discovered’ Bocas del Toro in 1502. I use quotation marks when I say ‘discovered’ as indigenous communities had been living in Bocas del Toro (as it is now known) for thousands of years before Columbus’s arrival. Columbus (re)named a number of the islands and the main bay: Bahía de Almirante (Admiral’s Bay), Isla Colón (Columbus Island), Isla Cristóbal (Christopher Island) and Isla Bastimentos (bastimentos meaning ‘supplies’ as Isla Bastimentos is where Columbus resupplied his ships). Read more about Bocas del Toro’s history on the Lonely Planet’s website.

Some say that Bocas del Toro was also named by Christopher Columbus. Some say the he named it after various waterfalls that had the shape of a bull’s mouth, some think he named it after a large rock formation on Bastimentos Island which has the form of a bull lying down, and others say it’s named after the sound of waves hitting the rock on Bastimentos Island – making a noise reminiscent of a raging bull!

However, others think the name comes from the Indian word ‘cacique’ which means Chief of the region – who was known as Boka Toro.

Indigenous community

There is little known – at least written or outside of the indigenous community of Bocas del Toro – about the original, indigenous names of the Bocas islands and other landmarks in the province. For any of you who follow us on Instagram, you will have recently seen that we posted about a gentleman called Mr Pineda. Mr Pineda is on a mission to shed light on the history of the indigenous community of Bocas del Toro, including the names of the islands and other sites in Bocas. If we get the opportunity, we would very much like to be a part of Mr Pineda’s journey to do this – and to learn more about Bocas del Toro before Columbus’s arrival!

Bocas del Toro visit

We’re heading to Bocas next week for our last recce ahead of the crowdfund for our project later this year. We will be posting live on Instagram and Twitter – and may be blogging daily!

Until then – can’t wait! Remember #liveslow. And – watch out for our next competition, starting next week, and see what you could win by just signing up to our mailing list this month!

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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Wellness tourism: the naked truth

Wellness tourism: the naked truth

I have always assumed that any travel outside of business travel has some kind of health benefit to the traveller. We use holidays, after all, as respite and escape from the daily grind. But holidays can be stressful in themselves, and we can find it hard – even on holiday – to truly ‘switch off’. In today’s age of social media and 24-hour digital connectivity it’s not surprising that travel focused exclusively on benefiting the mind, body and soul – wellness tourism – has grown and continues to grow exponentially.

Wellness tourism is expanding 50 per cent faster than the overall tourism industry; it is set to be a $679 billion market by the end of 2017[1]. The Virtuoso Blog puts wellness tourism at 15 per cent of global travel – second only to cultural tourism. And, with wellness travellers spending 130 per cent more than the average traveller[2], the tourism industry will make sure that this trend is here to stay!

‘We shape our buildings, and afterwards, they shape us’

The tourism industry is tapping in to the wider trends of the global $3.7 trillion wellness industry. ‘Wellness architecture’ – a trend identified in the Global Wellness Summit’s, ‘2017 Wellness Trends’ report – is particularly interesting. The report describes this as ‘creating designs and using materials that improve the health and happiness of the humans who actually live and work in them’. It goes on to say that ‘hotels and wellness retreats need to be leaders in the wellness architecture revolution’, and we could not agree more!

Wellness is a key focus for us and our architects, in designing the b í k u treehouse retreat. Put simply, we want to create buildings with a soul. This means working with and not against nature to make sure that our guests feel an intimate connection with their surroundings as well as with themselves. And treehouses, for us, are childhood dreams turned in to reality; they can inspire people to dream, as we did when we were children.

The sound of silence

The 2017 Wellness Trends report identifies ‘silence’ as another wellness trend. For me, personally, silence is my escapism, it’s how I try to stay sane in a world full of noise and chaos. To me the sound of silence is the sound of nature, away from man-made noise. It’s those Sunday summer days lounging in the countryside, lying on the grass and losing yourself gazing at the clouds, hearing the breeze in the trees and birds chirping. I haven’t done that in a while! The report describes this so well, as the ‘nature of noise’.

At b í k u – the retreat will be nestled in nature, sat within primary jungle on an isolated island – surrounded by all the natural sounds that Bocas del Toro (Panama) has to offer! For us, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Breathe at b í k u

Our b í k u treehouse retreat will be built for people to take a breath! To take a breath from the humdrum of modern life – and breathe in nature, community, place and culture. We want our guests’ experience to be a unique one. We want guests to feel ‘wellness’ from start to finish, tailored to each individual – from farm-to-table dining, the silence of nature, nature walks, quiet canoeing, to surfing, sailing, yoga, meditation and more! We will offer the added wellness of mind, knowing that by just supporting b í k u and staying with us you will be benefiting the local community, as we will reinvest in social and environmental projects, locally.

Travel with a purpose, travel to be well – #liveslow and #livehappy

Sign up to our mailing list this month to be in with a chance to WIN a one night’s stay at ACE Hotel London Shoreditch!

Until the next time!

 

Footnotes

[1] CREST’s report, The Case for Responsible Travel: Trends & Statistics 2016

[2] The 2016 Virtuoso Luxe Report

What makes a treehouse a treehouse?

What makes a treehouse a treehouse?

Our quest to create unique and magical treehouses for our b í k u retreat has led us to ask the question, ‘What makes a treehouse a treehouse?’ Before we began our journey, we didn’t think there was much debate around what constitutes a treehouse – but, along the way we have found treehouses of all shapes and sizes, including some that are not even built in trees! We were shocked too!

For us, there are three essentials of a treehouse, as well some added bonuses which make a treehouse stay truly unbeatable. At b í k u – we’re aiming for the fundamentals as well as that icing on the cake!

Essentials of a treehouse

A treehouse must be:

  1. Off the ground
  2. In a tree (number 2 normally helps with number 1!)
  3. Magical!

Added bonuses for treetop living

For an amazing treetop stay, your treehouse should have:

  1. A unique design
  2. A swing bridge (of course – and perhaps a spiral staircase)
  3. An amazing view

When is a treehouse not a treehouse?

Most common definitions of a treehouse mention a structure that is built in a tree. The Treehouse Guide further defines a treehouse as, ‘A structure built in or around a tree which interacts with, and relies upon, the tree for its support. A treehouse consists of a roofed platform defining a sheltered space which may be fully enclosed for protection from the elements’.

I love the question that the Guide then asks, ‘Is it acceptable to use ground supports for a treehouse?’ And the answer is, it depends! This is clearly a hot topic of debate within the treehouse community.

The Guide also sets out three scenarios when a structure is not a treehouse, including when the house is fully ground supported and when the tree support is not structurally critical.

We have to say that on our journey, we’ve come across a large number of places misdefined as treehouses. And, it can be hugely disappointing when you’re looking forward to all the magic, nostalgia and quirkiness of a treehouse stay and, instead, find yourself in a building on stilts. Don’t get us wrong, there are some truly amazing and unique retreats and structures built in tree canopies that are magical – which we would love to stay at. But, please, just don’t call them a treehouse.

Living-room treehouses

living-room, in Powys, Wales, does everything you’d expect and want from a treehouse, and more! Phenomenally designed, the treehouses almost disappear into the woodland. Nature and sustainability have been taken deeply into consideration. The treehouses are a piece of hobbit-like magic in a hidden valley that take you away from the daily grind to chance encounters with fairy tale creatures and …. Welsh sheep! It’s a beautiful place to be.

Photos from our visit to living-room, back in 2015.

 

 

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